“If it’s not right, you shouldn’t put it out.” So says Gary Allan, talking about the nearly three years between his last release and his brand-new album Set You Free, which recently hit stores.
And something must be “right,” because this week, Set You Free debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200 album chart, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The first single from Set you Free, “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” is Number One on the country singles chart this week as well.
As Gary explained in an interview with Pat and Tom from Sacramento station KNCI, this in some ways worked to his advantage. It also inadvertently led to him trying some new approaches to the recording process.
“We had a label head change,” he explains — last year, the outgoing Luke Lewis was replaced by Mike Dungan, who is now Chairman & CEO of Universal Music Nashville Entertainment. So “I did the whole album kind of in the blurry zone” during that transition time, Gary says.
His reasons make good sense. “I heard one guy was getting phased out, so if I had given him my record, I’d [be] in the middle of a failed record right now. So I waited until he was gone.”
In the past, Gary has always worked with producer Mark Wright. On Set You Free, however, he worked with three producers–one of which was himself.
“On this album, since like I said, I did it in the blurry zone when nobody was looking, I cut five songs myself with my road band, five songs with Mark Wright, and then I cut five songs with Jay Joyce.” (Greg Droman is also listed as coproducer on four of the tracks alongside Gary.)
Gary also said this made for some healthy competition. Usually, he explains, if you’re cutting an album with like 15 songs, there’s a few songs that might not be as single-worthy as others–and that’s OK. But because each producer was only cutting five songs, “we all ended up competing with each other, because everybody wanted the singles.” (The final track list for Set You Free features 12 songs–five produced by Joyce, four by Allan and Droman, and three with credit to Allan and Wright.)
Recording those songs with his road band was also a new tactic for Gary. And as he explains, it gave him a different sort of sound. That, he says, is because many artists, when they enter a Nashville studio, “use the same players.”
Those sessions were also his first time producing. And one of the results he wound up with was “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” which just happens to be the Number One song on country radio this week.
And he seems pretty happy with how things went, which may lead to more work for him down the road. “Because ‘Every Storm’ is so successful, I’m sure they’re going to ask me to produce the next album.”
He mentioned some favorites on the album, include “Sand in My Soul” and “It Ain’t the Whiskey.” Regarding the latter, “to me that’s one of the most cutting songs I have. Especially in an acoustic setting. It’s about being in an AA meeting, [with] everybody talking about how whiskey’s hurting them. And he [the protagonist] stands up and says, ‘it’s her that’s killing me, it’s not the whiskey.’ Jay Joyce cut that track.” Gary says that, at Jay’s request, he also played all the acoustic and electric guitars on that song–which isn’t something he normally does.
As he was assembling the tracks and playing with the song titles, he says, “I started to realize that what I was doing, it read like a breakup. So it goes from tough goodbye, through all the emotions of a breakup, and then winds up with ‘Good As New.'”
– Tom Mailey, KNCI/Sacramento and Kurt Wolff, Radio.com