Gary Allan has come a long way in his 17-year recording career, and even the titles of his three most recent albums tell a story – “Living Hard,” “Get Off on the Pain” and “Set You Free.”
Allan brings his “Free & Easy Tour,” with Sheryl Crow and special guest Maggie Rose, to the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. During a phone interview with Allan between shows in Moline and Terre Haute, Ind., he talked about his throat surgery, writing for the first time with women and being considered one of country music’s sexiest men.
About six months before recording his most recent album, Allan underwent surgery to remove a polyp growing between his vocal cords.
“Because of the location of it, my vocal cords couldn’t come together to reach the high notes. It took a long time to figure out what it was. At first I thought it was a lifestyle issue, so I quit drinking, quit smoking.
“It just didn’t get any better. I would start to lose my voice by about the third song every night,” Allan said.
A routine physical exam revealed the issue.
“After taking care of it, my voice is like I’m 17 again,” Allan said.
Although it was his ninth studio album, Allan’s most recent represented a first – the first time Allan had written music with women. Of the five songs he co-wrote, four were co-written with three different women – Sarah Buxton, Hillary Lindsey and Rachel Proctor.
“Every time I’ve written with (Hillary Lindsey) and my buddy, Matt Warren, we end up with like nine starts of a song because it seemed like we were always branching off into some other subject.
“We’d come back and write one or two of those and have four or five more ideas. Once you get that kind of rhythm going, you try to ride it out the best you can,” Allan said.
The first single from the album is one of those songs, “Every Storm Runs Out of Rain.” Lindsey also provides background vocals – another first.
Allan said women bring a different perspective to the table.
“I was looking for a change. I like really heart-wrenching songs, but Hillary taught me how to spin that into a positive. ‘Every Storm’ insinuates it’s a depressing song, but it’s actually uplifting, and people want to listen to it,” he said.
Although touring with Crow would seem to provide an opportunity to write some music together, Allan said it hasn’t happened – yet.
“We’ve talked about it; we just haven’t done it,” he said.
If the music didn’t keep him busy enough, Allan opened a men’s clothing store in Nashville two years ago – The Label.
“It’s high-end rock wear, custom stuff, high-end suits, jewelry and even a few guitars,” Allan said. The store has become a family affair with his kids working there after school and on weekends.
Anyone who has followed Allan’s career also has seen new tattoos appear, most notably on his right arm.
“They are stories in my life, something I thought I should mark, memories. All of them were designed by me. There are a lot of beers and tears in there – more than I can explain in five minutes,” Allan said.
On a lighter note, Allan is in the running for Country Weekly magazine’s sexiest man of 2013.
“That stuff just makes me laugh,” he said, with a deep chuckle. “It makes me uncomfortable because it has nothing to do with the music.”
And Allan is all about the music.
With three platinum and four gold albums to his credit, Allan said he doesn’t write for the awards. “I appreciate them, and it’s good to look back and see what you’ve accomplished, but we write what we feel and try to make it sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
“Music reflects where I am in life. It has to ring true with me and affect me in some way. I like story songs – songs that make you laugh, make you cry.”
If you go
What: Gary Allan and Sheryl Crow's "Free & Easy Tour," with special guest Maggie Rose
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: NIU Convocation Center, 1525 W. Lincoln Highway, DeKalb
Tickets: $35 to $55 at Convocation Center box office or www.Ticketmaster.com