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Gary Allan, ‘Set You Free’ Is an Emotional, Hopeful Journey

Gary Allan
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Gary Allan subscribes to Gene Watson‘s school of country music, agreeing with the legend that people really do want to hear a sad song.

“Nobody cares if I’m happy, why would you want to write about that?” muses the singer-songwriter. “I don’t want to hear songs about how sunshiny things are. I like the songs that are cutting edge and real heart-wrenchers.”

So why then, is Gary’s fastest-rising single, “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” a song filled with hope? Well, it was actually born of a not-so-sunshiny situation.

“I wrote the song with Hillary Lindsey and Matt Warren, and Matt was kind of going through a hard time,” Gary tells The Boot. “He was going through a dry spell, like all writers do, and he hadn’t been writing many songs. He was doing yard work one day, weed eating, and he hit a rock and it hit the house and then bounced back and hit him in the forehead. He was pissed, and he called me and talked to me about it … He had the line, ‘Every storm runs out of rain.’”

The song was released as the first single from Gary’s new album, Set You Free, and became his fastest-rising single to date. So, his record label decided it would be best to move the album’s release from March to today (Jan. 22).

“It never works that way,” Gary admits with a laugh. “Usually it goes the other way; they push the album back! I’m super excited, and it feels great to have new music out there.”

Gary says releasing new music is always nerve-racking, partly because of his ritual of not listening to anyone but himself when it comes to choosing which songs to put on an album. “I am so anti-people’s opinions when I’m making a record, but when it’s finished and I put it out there, I hope somebody likes it. This is one of my favorite things I’ve done, so I’ll be anxious to see what people think.

“I never watch the charts; it’s something I can’t control and it drives me batty,” continues the California native, who has sold more than 7 million albums in his illustrious career. “But it’s been so long since we had anything out there, I’ve watched every inch of what ‘Every Storm’ is doing, and it’s been a blast to watch it grow. I like to watch what resonates with people and what they gravitate toward … It is a song about hope, and the timing, with the recent storms and floods, our country needs hope. I think that’s why it’s doing so well.”

Gary, who wrote five of the album’s 12 tracks, approached the making of this project a bit differently than he has in the past. He co-produced every song on the project, but with three different producers: Mark Wright on four songs, Jay Joyce on another four songs and Greg Droman on four songs.

“I recorded the album during the transition of label heads and no one realized what I was doing until I turned it in,” Gary smiles, as he admits using the record label changes in his favor. “When you have one producer, you sometimes allow a song to get in there as an album cut. But with different producers, each one is competing to have the best songs and hopefully songs that are good enough to be released as singles, so I think the overall album and the quality of songs were better because of it. I forced myself to stretch on this one, because I had time, and I think you need to do something new to keep reinventing yourself.”

Gary goes on to admit that when he turned in the album, Universal Music Group Nashville’s new CEO, Mike Dungan, was not told about the four different producers. But it didn’t matter; he loved it from start to finish. “In another world, where there are egos everywhere, I couldn’t see a label head saying, ‘Go do what you want.’ I think because of the way it fell out, I’ll get to do this lots more times,” says Gary.

And lots more often, hopefully. Before Set You Free, Gary hadn’t released new music in more than two years. A speed bump in his career came in the form of vocal surgery, which he had in January of 2011 to remove a polyp from his vocal cord. The surgery was beyond successful. “I don’t think I realized it at the time, but there were a few years where I couldn’t hit the falsetto notes, like the ones in ‘Smoke Rings in the Dark,’” Gary says. “After the surgery, it was like I was 18 again.”

The 45-year-old singer hopes fans will listen to Set You Free from start to finish, as he painstakingly sequenced the album’s tracks to take listeners on the journey of a relationship. “When I got the songs in the order I liked I realized what I had done was create a story line so that it played like a breakup,” he explains. “The first song is ‘Tough Goodbye,’ and then I went through all the emotions of a breakup, all way to the healing song, ‘Good as New.’ So the album covers the gamut of a breakup and the first stages of healing.”

In between the first and last notes are songs that cover an array of emotions, from the anger in “Bones” to the sadness of “You Without Me,” a song that demands a close listen to know what’s going on. Gary admits it was hard to write that one without giving away the hook before getting to the chorus, which reveals that the guy so desperately in love is actually pining for the ex who is now with another man.

Gary’s favorite song on the album is “One More Time,” a song written out of the same session that yielded “Every Storm.” “We wanted to write an introspective song. I had just lost my dad, and we talked about the people we had lost in our lives. We kept thinking, ‘What would you say when you get to the pearly gates?’ And that was how the song started. I said I would want one more time, I’m not ready to be here. It’s very therapeutic to write with Hillary and Matt because we kick our emotions around so much.”

Another favorite is “Pieces,” co-written with Sarah Buxton and Odie Blackmon. “He’s one of my long time buddies,” Gary says. When I first came to town, I would live on his couch. So it’s always fun to have success with your friends. The song is about something I believe, which is how you take something, good or bad, from everyone you meet. The song talks about all the pieces you take with you, whether you know someone for an hour or for a long time.”

Set You Free is the country icon’s ninth studio album. It gets its name from a line in “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).” “That’s like the flavor of every song on there,” Gary explains of his title choice. “The whole album has hope and was timely for me, too. I’ve waited a long time to get back on the radio.”

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