Gary Allan knows he’s taken some time off. But he’s gearing up for his return.
“I switched [record labels] from MCA to EMI, and that took some time,” Allan told me over the phone last week. “But I’ve stayed touring in the meantime, and it’s really all about making sure you’re not getting jaded. It’s so easy to get jaded and unhappy that it’s nice to be happy. But I think I’m at a good place right now.”
Country singer Allan, who will play the Nutty Brown Cafe in Austin Saturday night, last released a full album in 2013 with “Set You Free.” Since then, he’s switched record labels and released a few non-album singles— “Hangover Tonight” and “Do You Wish It Was Me”— that peaked at No. 49 and No. 57 on country airplay, respectively. Those two songs may be on the new album, scheduled to come out this year.
“It’s just a matter of seeing which ones hit on the radio,” Allan said. “If I put something out that doesn’t go high enough on the charts, it gives me another chance to put out another song and see how that one does. That’s always really been my strategy. It can kind of get frustrating at times— I have an album out there ready to go, but we need some hits to send to radio to anchor it, but that’s just always been the strategy.”
His new single, “Mess Me Up,” out May 22, has been played live at shows off and on since 2015. It will be familiar to fans of his output, which largely consists of songs with sad subject matter, like “Songs About Rain,” “Life Ain’t always Beautiful,” “Watching Airplanes” and “Get Off On The Pain.”
“I’ve just always liked sad songs, and I had to teach myself to not write like that,” Allan said. “I think eventually people just didn’t want to be sad. So that ‘Every Storm Runs Out of Rain’ song, that was fun to write because on the surface the title looks sad, but really it’s my version of a happy song. Growing up I always loved the really sad stuff, like ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ and things like that. And I listen to a lot of pop, a lot of rock, a lot of punk, but I always think that stuff is for the weekend and country music encapsulates your Monday—Friday.”
However, Allan said most of the songs he’s recorded for his upcoming album are decidedly lighter fare. And the lack of albums since 2013 hasn’t shrunk his fan base, he said.
“My shows don’t really suffer at all, the fans come out to see the old hits, and that’s what we usually play. And I’m well aware that’s a choice, to tour, and I’m very fortunate that I can still go out and tour and people see me.
“I try to keep my shows a blanket of a little bit of everything, so we might give the fans a little bit of the new stuff, but overwhelmingly, it’ll be the old hits. I remember I saw Stevie Wonder in Nashville once and he played for two and a half hours and not one song was a song I knew, so I went home and changed up my set list, ‘cause I always want the people to be singing along.”
No matter what happens, Allan said, he’s still happy to just be playing music.
“The main thing is to just not get jaded. It’s always interesting to see where the music goes, and I’m just happy to be part of the gang.”