Penthouse Retrospective

by Alanna Nash Originally Published: December, 2010

Gary Allan | 10 Years Ago This Month

Gary Allan has bypassed the manufactured hits and easy path to stardom, opting instead to chronicle the deeper potholes along the road of life. It’s working for him.

Penthouse Magazine - December 2010No Regrets

Gary Allan could be called the Jack Kerouac of country music. The 43-year-old singer-songwriter is a maverick whose music hangs out in the dark corners of Nashville’s psyche. He writes emotion-packed hits about life’s harsher struggles-and he knows what he’s talking about. One night in October 2004, his 36-year-old wife, Angela, was feeling ill. She sent him out of the bedroom for a soda. While standing in the kitchen, Allan heard a loud pop and thought Angela had thrown something, only to discover she had stuck a pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Allan’s releases since then have continued to relate his life experiences, and allowed him to express his grief.

Though he played his major-label showcase in 1996-an eternity ago in the music business-he has just now moved from supporting-act status to headlining theatres and arenas, despite releasing back-to-back platinum records and selling more than six million albums to date. And that’s just the way he likes it. This epitome of cerebral country cool with four No. l hits and more than ten Top 10 singles never likes to get anywhere in a hurry.

Gary Allan Herzberg grew up in Huntington Beach, California, and spent his days surfing the bright waters of the Pacific, his nights in the dim blue-collar bars, playing both shit-kicker country and attitude-laced punk. Whatever he did, he immersed himself in it, a philosophy that sticks today. The motorcycle enthusiast is also an avid golfer, replete in Payne Stewart knickers. (“My 16-year-old was hilarious. She said, ‘Dad, what are you doing? You look like a dork.’”)

From the beginning, it was obvious that you knew who you were, musically. Rather than shoot up quickly, you’ve slowly built a solid career. But was it your plan to take this many years to get where you are now?

I don’t know if it was my plan to take this many years, but we definitely knew that it was going to be a slow burning. I had a lot of talks with everybody about that, and I had to get it across that we were never going to be the latest, greatest thing because those always burn out. I just like to make music. I try to stay out of the way and let somebody else handle the politics side and sell it.

What was the turning point for where you are now?

I have no idea, because my touring is bigger than it’s ever been by a long shot, and way ahead of [how much I get played on] radio.

I feel like the label’s got to catch up to what we’ve got going. It’s a fairly wide demographic, but our audience is pretty young. I noticed when we played with Brooks & Dunn that their crowds were a lot older.

Hard to believe Brooks & Dunn won’t be around anymore.

Yeah, I’m sure they were both ready to get rid of each other for a while. But there’s so much history there. They’re a class act, and very personable. I toured with Alan Jackson twice and never met him. But I talked to those guys dang near every day. I learned a lot from them on how to treat other acts. They’re quality people; just really cool.

The Gary Allan style has broadened through the years. How do you see the evolution of your sound? Beginning with the Bakersfield influence, right?

Yeah. And now it’s more rocklin’. I tell people that we quit playing country music when the radio quit playing it. I try to make a well-rounded album, but I want stuff that really cuts to the bone, that has a lot of emotion and layers to it, so you never catch it all on the first listen. I never thought that I had to have a big arena song on each album. If a song doesn’t move me, I can’t do it. And there have been lots of big hits [by other songwriters] that I passed on, but I just wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for singing them.

Let’s talk about your current album, Get Off on the Pain. It seems a continuum of your previous work, but it also stretches you.

I think this one says I’m doin’ okay, if you’re still looking at me through my wife and the things that I have been through. It says I’m sleepin’ okay, and that I’m in a great place with all of it. There’s a lot of reflection, and a lot in there that I touched on, on the other albums, but stylistically I was still able to do things I hadn’t done before. “Kiss Me When I’m Down” was a pop song when I got it.

The title song seems to sum up everything you’re about. I like this line: “I ain’t really happy until the sky starts driving rain.” Rain is a metaphor that has run through a number of your songs.

There’s been a lot of rain in my life and career.

The maverick singer-songwriter has almost become cliche in modern culture, but Gary Allan proudly leads the life in the real world.

Leave a Reply