Gary Allan Returns With Living Hard

New CD Features "Watching Airplanes"

Gary Allan has a full slate for the rest of the year. In addition to issuing a new album, Living Hard, he’s opening the final leg of Keith Urban’s world tour. Here, the California native talks about why songwriting is like group therapy, how he keeps his music authentic and what he’s doing in the grocery store in the wee hours of the morning.

CMT: Taking a year off to work on this album, what aspects of your life did you find most inspiring?

Gary Allan: Well I’ve been through a lot the last couple of years. I lost my wife a couple of years ago. So I think I draw from that. I think the more you’ve been through, the more you have to say as a writer and the deeper you can reach emotionally. So it would probably be easier not to be a good writer. (laughs)

Do you regard this album as a collection of redemption songs?

No, this is more like turning. This is more changing. I think I’ve been through a lot, and like I said, this is like an upswing of change. There’s a lot of party atmosphere in this, and a lot of getting back on track. There’s a song on there called “Learning How to Bend” that’s talking about learning how to bend and cope with the way life is today.

Is it really therapeutic for you to share your music with thousands of other people?

I don’t think it’s therapeutic to share it with everybody. I think it’s therapeutic to write it. I’ve got four or five people that I write with. It’s very much like group therapy. We all get together and talk about what’s going on in our lives. If you can talk about really emotional stuff, then you get really emotional songs.

What can your fans understand about you personally through this record?

They’ll get a good sense of where I’m at. They’ll get a good sense that I’m OK. I don’t think there’s anything my fans don’t know about me. I’m an open book.

What was the most attractive quality of “Watching Airplanes” that made you release it as a single?

To me, it just sounds like a hit. I love the attitude of it. I love that he’s sitting there watching airplanes buzz, trying to figure out which one his girl’s on. I love the whole thing of it. I think it’s the most reflective of my live show on a record that I’ve done. I think that the people that have only listened to my albums will think this is a bit of a change. But I think that if you go to my live show you’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s exactly what Gary does.’ I’m not that much different on the stage as I am off the stage.

Is that how you keep authenticity in your music?

Exactly. I think it’s all gone through me. I think if you have too many opinions on an album, then you start losing the common thread of it. I’ve done what I’ve wanted from day one. I got into a lot of arguments the first couple of records, not really that I had a chip on my shoulder about doing things my way but more ignorance that I didn’t know everybody wasn’t doing it their own way. When they’d try to make new things different, it would just be like, “No, this is my record.”

What’s your favorite part of making a record?

Probably the writing process. That’s the most creative part. I think you already have all the stuff mapped out in your head by the time you get into the studio, so it’s fun to do that. But my favorite is the actual making stuff up — sitting here, me and [a writer], not knowing anything, pulling something out and having a cool song at the end.

What kind of musical influences are you hoping to learn from Keith Urban when you go on tour with him?

I’ve never seen him play, so I’ve got no idea. I’m sure I’ll steal something from him. I steal something from everybody.

What are you looking forward to the most about touring with Keith Urban?

I have a ton of respect for Keith musically. I think he’s a good guy. I like what he does. I think it’s going to be a good match and a fun tour. I’ve talked to him in the past, but it’s always been in bars, or I run into him at the oddest places, like grocery stores at 2 o’clock in the morning and things like that. That’s when most of my conversations have been with Keith, but I’m looking forward to it. I make records so that I can tour. Some people love to make records. I love to make music, but that’s not my rush. I make music so I can play live. I love to be able to make people laugh. I love to be able to make people cry. I think that when you come to my show, I’m going to take you through a range of emotions. And I think that’s what a concert’s all about. You want to escape reality from the second you walk in that door, and I try to do that for you.

What are you buying at the grocery store at 2 a.m.?

It’s usually a Ben & Jerry’s run if you’re there at 2 o’clock, isn’t it? (laughs)

Lauren Tingle is a production associate with CMT Radio.