Gary Allan: Music, Awards and Politics

With his new album, See If I Care on the shelves, Gary Allan has a lot to talk about these days. From videos and awards shows, to downloading and his platform for an imaginary political campaign, here’s what Allan had to say when he invited CMT Radio’s Angela Gimlin aboard his bus for a recent interview.

CMT Radio: In a way, the album’s title, See If I Care, describes you and your attitude but not in a negative way.
Allan: Right, I think that’s why it is the album name. Nobody else wanted that but me. I thought sitting on a shelf that was great because I think that has been my attitude throughout my career. That I’m going to do what I want, and if you guys want to buy it or the label wants to back it, that’s cool. But if not, I will be doing my thing over here. I think it made for a longer road for us, but I think it’s going to make for a longer career.

CMT Radio: So you fought for that?
Allan: Absolutely. Everybody wanted A Showman’s Life. … If you own the album and you listen to it all, the song “A Showman’s Life” [written by Jesse Winchester] is so autobiographical. But if you haven’t bought the record and you are looking at it on the shelf — that’s the point of See If I Care. That is why it mattered.

CMT Radio: When your kids heard the song “Tough Little Boys,” what was their reaction?

Allan: They dug it, and when they saw the video they dug it. They all wanted to be in it. I’ve always been real protective just about how much publicity my family gets because when I’m home, there is definitely no rock star vibe in our home. I’m Dad, and they’re kids, and I go pick them up from school, so I was worried about having their faces on TV. That was a tough thing to have other people’s kids in there whenever my kids wanted to do it. I hope they’ll understand when they are older. It was a safety thing for me.

CMT Radio: How do you pick the songs for your album?
Allan: I’ll listen to songs, and I will usually narrow my record to like 20 or 30 songs, and then I will wear it out and listen to them and listen to them. Some of them you’ll get sick of, and some of them will start to pop. To me, that’s what gives an album depth. That’s what will make you listen to an album over and over. On Smoke Rings in the Dark, it was songs like “Green Fields.” It’s those ones that you don’t get the first pass, but the more you hear them, it’s like, “Man, that’s cool!” I try to make sure that there are those on the record, too, so that the record has depth.

CMT Radio: Do you think today’s country music is too nice?
Allan: It’s a lot more politically correct than it used to be. I think that we’ve lost a lot of edge. There used to be so much more character, I guess, in country music. Now, I keep hearing this demographic called the “soccer mom” and I don’t think any of my heroes gave a s— if the “soccer moms” listened to their albums. I feel like when it’s too politically correct, you lose the kids, because the kids want to see the edge in something. There are ways to do that without going off the deep end. I feel like kids want a part of something that is cool. When I was a kid, I didn’t care what you listened to, there was a cool factor to country music cause you had Waylon and Kristofferson, and you had Willie and Haggard. Those are real life people. I think that we’ve lost a lot of that today.

CMT Radio: I find that interesting because they are saying that some of these huge acts did time in jail, and they were cheaters, pill poppers and all these things. It’s like they’ve lived the hard life and now they have a story to tell, and you don’t have many artists like that anymore.
Allan: Yeah. Now it’s a guy that a great producer found and threw a hat on and told him what to wear and say. You see a lot of that stuff. I feel like there are still a lot of those really cool people, you just have to dig to find them. They are usually not in the Top 10 on the charts, but there are still some very cool people out there. You just have to look below the surface.

CMT Radio: What was going through your head when you were nominated for the CMA Horizon award?
Allan: Well, you know, shoot, we’ve been doing this for eight years on this label, so it caught us off guard. But I think I’ve felt like an outsider to the town and to all the award shows since I’ve got here. It’s just good to be recognized.

CMT Radio: What do you think of the nominees in other CMA categories this year?
Allan: I don’t even know who else was nominated.

CMT Radio: Just for a prime example: Faith Hill and Shania Twain were left off.
Allan: And?

CMT Radio: Female nominees were Terri Clark, Dolly Parton, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss. … A lot of people were shocked because Shania and Faith didn’t get a nomination.

Allan: Right. Yeah, I’ve never paid attention. I don’t think I’ve ever really cared, and I think it’s because there are so much politics involved in that stuff and not enough heart.

CMT Radio: Speaking of politics, recently a lot of celebrities have commented on the election in California.
Allan: Yeah, I just wanted to announce that I, too, am running for governor of California, being from California! (a few claps) Thank you! (laughs)

CMT Radio: What would your platform be?
Allan: You know, I think we’re going to feed the homeless and lower taxes. That’s what we’re going to do. They can smoke in bars, and we’ll legalize medical marijuana usage and that kind of stuff. (laughs.) Medical reasons! You are forced to do that for medical reasons.

CMT Radio: What is your opinion on that whole political circus in California?
Allan: It’s a circus. I think Arnold Schwarzenegger is the best candidate because I think he’s not driven by money, and he’s not going to make near what he did make in movies being governor. So I do think that he would be their best that way. Things are so messed up out there. They just raised taxes. They just tripled license registration for vehicles. It’s crazy out there right now. It’s a circus, just like it looks.

CMT Radio: One of the biggest things going on right now in music today is music downloading. Where do you stand on the issue?
Allan: Well, obviously if people weren’t doing it, I would make more money. I don’t think there is a way to stop it, especially because of how young the people are that are doing it. I think it would be great if they could find a way to stop them from doing it on their computers. I’ve got kids, and my kids bring home burned CDs from other kids, and they trade music at school. Back in California I saw it almost daily. The kids were so computer literate there at 10 and 12, that they always had new CDs and new music. I make most of my money on the road, so I don’t have strong feelings for it either way. Outside of that, obviously I would make more money. I’ve heard people say that they think they are losing three CDs to one. That means if I would have recouped at a million dollars, I would have made $3 million that year. (laughs) So when you think of that you can get angry, I guess, or bummed out, but what’s money?

CMT Radio: It seems like a good reason record sales are down.

Allan: That is why all the record labels are folding into each other, just downsizing. It is going to get worse before it gets better. I hope that it doesn’t affect the music. I think that is my biggest fear. If budgets keep getting cut like they are, eventually budgets are going to get cut for people’s albums because there is not as much money being made off the albums, so there is not going to be as much money going in to making the album. I think that people don’t realize that for a good record, you can spend a half a million dollars. I think most of the ones that go out of Nashville are done between two and three hundred thousand dollars. I mean that’s a lot of money to make everything right, and make it as good as it can be. You don’t get paid until after that is all recouped, and usually you’re a million in the hole by the time all that happens. So your [royalty] money is everything past a million records, and nothing is being sold like that right now. It’s crazy.