Songwriting proves to be therapy for Gary Allan

When it was released on Tuesday, Gary Allan's
When it was released on Tuesday, Gary Allan's "Set You Free" skyrocketed to the top of the iTunes all-genre albums chart.

Gary Allan is the most upbeat “anti-Hallmark card” guy you’ve ever met.

He laughs when I tell him that a reviewer described him that way because of his history of writing depressing, soul-searing music.

“I gravitate toward the heart-wrenching stuff. That’s my favorite stuff to hear, to write, so it’s harder for me to keep it positive, upbeat,” he says.

He has plenty of reasons to sing sad songs. He’s twice divorced, and his third wife, Angela Herzberg, shot and killed herself shortly after Gary and his kids returned from a Halloween party in 2004. And he sang plenty of sad songs. “Tough All Over,” released in 2005 was like an emotional punch to the gut — song after song of heartache and despair.

But time does heal most wounds — and for Allan, so does music and good friends.

“Songwriting — that’s the best therapy there is for me. No matter what you are feeling inside, you can invite your friends over and kick around whatever emotion there is,” he says. “There’s so much healing in that. Pretty expensive therapy, though — making records. And I made that record.”

He’s played music as long as he can remember, but he can’t ever remember being this excited about music. I talked to him on Monday afternoon, the day before the release of his new album, “Set You Free,” and he joked that he might not be able to sleep that night awaiting the release of the album.

“This is my favorite album. I can say that. When I finish an album, I listen to it once or twice and I’m sick of it. This one, I’m still listening to it.”

A lot of other people are listening too. When it was released on Tuesday, it skyrocketed to the top of the iTunes all-genre albums chart. His first single, “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” has been downloaded more than 700,000 times, is headed to the top of the radio chart, and is the reason the album’s release date was jumped ahead two months. The song’s theme is overwhelmingly positive and hopeful.

“I see myself singing that message to someone,” Allan says of the song that he co-wrote with Matt Warren and Hillary Lindsey. “I tried to make sure every line was positive. I had my kids in mind a lot. This was something I’d want to say to them.”

The ironic thing is that women have caused Allan so much pain in his life, but women have helped bring him to the place where he is personally and professionally. Lindsey, Rachel Proctor, and Sarah Buxton were Allan’s main songwriting partners for this album.

“This album is more positive compared to the other ones. I consciously tried not to write down. I had never written with girls before. This was more positive. They just think differently.”

Wednesday night, Allan played “Every Storm” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. As he sang, he threw his head back, stretched his arms out - and smiled. At last, he truly is free.

Brian Dugger’s column on country music runs in The Blade the last Saturday of every month. Contact him at or on Twitter @DuggerCountry.