Q&A: Gary Allan
National Finals Rodeo week is a December fixture in Las Vegas and Gary Allan is one of the most prominent country music artists who always comes to town to celebrate. With his independent, rebellious style, classic sound and dedication to song craft, it’s no wonder Allan has achieved a rare longevity and consistency in the ever-changing industry, dropping hits from 2003’s “Nothing On But the Radio” to 2013’s “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).” Allan recently re-signed with Universal Music Group Nashville and is wrapping up his 10th studio album for upcoming release. This year he’ll perform Dec. 14-15 at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel.
It’s December and that means you’re back in Las Vegas, like clockwork. How many years have you been doing this?
At least 20. I remember I got signed in ’96 and I don’t think I’ve missed a year since then. I grew up in Orange County and I used to always end the year with a birthday drive up to Vegas, and now I’m in Nashville so it’s the last trek to the West Coast at the end of the year. It’s definitely important to be there and have a presence in Las Vegas.
Why? Is Vegas one of your favorite places to go or to perform?
It’s definitely top 10. There are some pretty magical venues and the only reason it’s not higher is the venue has changed. But it was a magical place for me growing up, too. When I was a kid of 16 or 17, my best friend’s dad was the general manager of the Stardust. This was like ’78, the mob days. We would go stay there every other weekend and he lived on the top floor. I learned then that I really didn’t miss anything before noon but I missed a lot of stuff after midnight, and that probably ruined me as a kid.
You have several No. 1 singles and so many favorites spread over 11 albums. Is it getting difficult to assemble your setlist and still find some room for newer material?
Yes. It’s always hard to go out and play any new songs because you have to take out a hit. We go back and forth and switch it up every year, whether we want to keep current or do all hits. This year it’s all hits. I took the stars of all the records. But I just cut four new songs in the studio so I may pick one of those, or two.
You’re known for doing things your way, maintaining your sound and style through the years. Has your creative process changed much through your career?
It has. It has shortened, the whole industry has. You used to have a staff of songwriters and you’d write with them and pick out the stars of the session, make a demo and pass it around town. The whole town (Nashville) has lost the demo phase. Everyone is doing things in-house and transferring to the studio. I’ve always had to bend a little to get my music to sound as current as it needs to be to get on the radio but this is probably the most difficult time I’ve seen. Country music used to be the most organic thing on the radio and we were proud of it.
You have definitely been called a country throwback. Is that due to your parents’ influence? Your father was a musician.
I love all the old stuff but it’s always been evolving. There are no genres anymore where it used to be very distinct. Country has always been happy not being as big as other genres, but that has changed. It’s the same thing with hip-hop. Now even hip-hop stations are playing Adele. So I don’t know what happens when we all get in the middle. I tend to drift out of the lane a bit then I don’t like it and I jump right back in. But the ones I’ve always been influenced by is everything by Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash.
You’ve kept busy with a different creative business. How long have you been making jewelry?
About a three years. I had a men’s store in Nashville for a long time and I met a silversmith that way and talked him into showing me how to caste silver and gold. I was having some trouble with my label at the time and had to go dark for a while, so I went to a full-on jeweler’s school and learned how to do it. Later one of my kids had graduated and was working as an accountant and didn’t like it, so she went to stone-setting school. Now I’ll make a couple pieces and my daughter will make a thousand from those and sell them online. It’s ended up being a pretty cool business.