And yet you have a real affinity for water, having grown up around it. What does it mean to you?
It’s the most energy. When I was a kid I spent every morning in it before school, and then when I moved to Tennessee, that was all I really cared about-that I lived by water. I live on a lake in Hendersonville. I find myself going out there in the middle of the night all the time, just sittin’ on the dock. I’ll take my guitar down there when I know nobody can hear.
No surfing in Tennessee though, right?
No, we wakeboard. That was the most aggressive thing that I could find to do on the water without waves. It’s about jumpin’ from wake to wake, getting a lot of air.
I want to read you something you said about being on the road: “You’ll never hear me singing about tractors or farms, just because I don’t know anything about that stuff. Wrong roads and dark horses I know about. That’s my whole life. I love a long shot. Still, I think the pain can get to be some kind of a positive for me, because it connects to everything I ever dreamed of. It’s confirmation of the actual existence of this big musical drama, the result of the dream.”
Well, I’ve hired people and they get so beat up by the road so quick. Doesn’t matter if you are tired in the morning, you wake up and you shake it off and you go to the gym and sweat out whatever it was that you did and you take your happy ass in there and you start the party over. It’s relentless, but it’s everything that I love. The whole reason I make music is so that I can play large. And in getting to go out and do that for everybody, it almost doesn’t matter what the cost is. You’ve got to get off on it.
So in a sense the road is therapy for Gary Allan?
Absolutely. Writing is the biggest therapy for me, but no matter what you’re going through, when you get on the stage you forget it all. That’s the only time you don’t feel the pain, because you have to be so focused on what you’re doing that it all goes away.
Most artists are really misfits. If they weren’t able to be creative, they’d be in a world of trouble.
I agree. I love kicking around every emotion with my friends. That totally got me through my wife’s passing.
“No Regrets,” a song you wrote about Angela’s death, is the cornerstone of the new album.
Yeah, there are a lot of tears and a lot of truth in that song. When I look back, I’ve got a clear conscience. I don’t have any regrets.
I did all I could, and I loved her.
There’s a lot of love still there.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Why did she choose to leave?
Oh, there are so many theories on that. I think she was bipolar, and they were treating her [migraine] headaches with a lot of depression drugs, and she just spun out and got into a place where I don’t even think she knew it was real, and she shot herself. She was just in a lot of pain.
A lot of psychotropic drugs increase the risk of suicide.
Yeah. It’s shocking to me that just a regular doctor can prescribe those. Going back through it, nobody really did anything blatantly wrong, but at best the doctors were firing at about 30 percent. Nobody had a grip on it, and it’s really disappointing how obvious the cycle was, in hindsight.
Did you see it coming?
No, she never said anything to me about killing herself, and after it happened, everybody was shocked that I had never heard that. But not even once did anybody bring that up to me, and evidently she had told a few people.
How did you deal with it emotionally?
Music. I was a wreck for a long time. The roughest part was dealing with the kids, but I think that was what helped me the most, because I had six of them [three of his own and three of Angela’s]. I took them all to therapy. I don’t think I drank or smoked pot for almost nine months; I just panicked that I was going to drop the ball on somebody. I wanted to do it right and make sure I had everybody covered. I went to see principals and teachers, because I knew that everybody needed a lot of help. And they are all solid. They came through it really well.
Have you forgiven Angela?
I have. She was such a great mom, and I can’t imagine that if she gave an inkling of thought to her kids … it’s just mind-blowing.