Anyone who knows Gary Allan, or is at least a fan of his music, knows how rare it is to not see Gary on a stage somewhere in the world. But for 462 days, like the rest of us, Gary was sidelined by the pandemic. But thankfully, Gary and his band have now returned to delighting his fans at venues around the U.S.A. And to make things even better, Gary released his new album, Ruthless on June 25, 2021. The album, his 10th studio record, continues to display the growth shown in Allan’s recent albums while maintaining his signature sound that has endeared him to his loyal fans. While I could go on and on about Gary Allan and his new music, I think I will let the man himself fill you in. That’s right! Gary was kind enough to answer some questions that I had for him about the new record, his return to performing live, and we even talked about his appreciation of vinyl records! It is an absolute thrill for us to be able to bring this interview to you. Enjoy hearing from Gary and then be sure to secure your copy of Ruthless if you have not already!
The Music Room: Having seen you play live every chance we could get over the years, we have heard some of the songs on the record played live. Songs like “Unfiltered,” “High As I Ever Been,” and most recently, “SEX.” What was the first song written on the record and when does it date back to? What is the newest song written for the record, and when does it date back to?
Gary Allan: I am not exactly sure on when they were written, but “Till It Felt Like You,” “Pretty Damn Close,” and “The Hard Way” were all cut during the first recording session in 2014. The last recording session was right before the pandemic in January of 2020. We cut “Ruthless,” “Trouble Knows Trouble,” “Slide,” “Waste of a Whiskey Drink,” “Temptation,” and “SEX” over two days. I then went on an African Safari and came back just as the pandemic brought everything to a halt. I am glad we got that last session in when we did.
TMR: When you announced the record during the live stream back in May, you mentioned that you recorded Ruthless with the band that you recorded the Smoke Rings record with. There are definitely those moments throughout the record where you can hear that distinct sound, especially on some of the guitar work. What lead you to get that group back to record this project? What do you feel using that band brought to the project?
GA: We started cutting songs for this record in May 2014. We used a mix of studio musicians and my road band and then some sessions with just my road band. Following the success of the 20th anniversary of Smoke Rings, we started talking about that sound and how the 90’s sound was starting to creep back into mainstream country. That gave us the idea of going back in the studio with Mark Wright and Tony Brown. Once they were on board, we thought it would be good to get as many of the players from the Smoke Rings sessions as well. It was like a big reunion in the studio and once everyone started playing, that distinct sound was there.
TMR: I feel like you have also taken chances with your music, but it really feels like starting with the Living Hard record you really tried to grow and try new things with each record. Your last record, Set You Free had some songs that were like nothing you had done before like “Sand in Soul,” “No Worries,” and especially “Drop.” Ruthless seems to continue that trend with the R & B influence of “Ruthless,” and the Hawaiian/Jazz fusion of “Little Glass of Wine.” Is this something that you set out to do when you look for material for a record? How do you find that balance of those songs that are just 100% Gary Allan cuts, and those tracks that stretch you to new places?
GA: I’ve always felt that music evolves with time and you have to find a way to evolve with it, but still remain true to yourself. That is where the balance comes into play. I love all kinds of music and genres, so it is fun to pull some of those influences into my music. That is where those songs come into play. I have always wanted to cut “Little Glass of Wine.” I loved Jesse Winchester’s version and had it in my head how I wanted to do it. We took a stab at it and I am really happy with how it turned out.
TMR: I would think putting a setlist together has to be a tough job already with the incredible body of work that you already have, how are you going to incorporate these new tunes into the set? How many of the new tracks do you see getting into the set on a given night?
GA: I went to a show a few years ago and the artist did not play any hits. He played for over two hours and it was all new stuff. I like to hear new stuff, but I also feel fans come to hear the songs they love. You have to find that balance in the setlist. I try to do the hits, the fan favorites that may not have been singles, and then sprinkle in some new songs. We try to change it up every so often, but still, keep that format.
TMR: Speaking of the live set, you are such a road warrior, I am sure this past year and a half had to be a change for you. What was the best part of the forced break from the road for you, and what did it feel like for you on that first night back at Billy Bob’s?
GA: It was a long 462 days between shows. Since I was 14, I have never gone that long between shows. It felt odd not to play, but I enjoyed all the extra time I got to spend with my family. I think we were all a bit nervous for the first show, but it felt great to step out on that stage again.
TMR: I am so excited that Ruthless is getting released on the vinyl format. And not just released…there are some awesome options for vinyl collectors with the different pressings. Are you into the vinyl format? If so, can you tell us a little bit about your collection? Any certain favorite records? Where do you like to get your albums? Old vs. new? etc.
GA: I’ve always been into vinyl. I have a record player in my living room with a collection of vinyl from classic country to Sinatra. I’ve had most of my collection for years, but I have added a few new ones. It is cool to have some of my music on vinyl now, especially the colored versions. I hope this trend keeps going and we get to release more vinyl albums.
Revisit our Ruthless Album Review
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