Gary Allan talks new album, Cutler, surfing

Gary Allan triumphantly returned to No. 1 on the country charts for the first time since 2004. Lloyd Bishop/Getty Images

Gary Allan is back on tour with a new album out called “Set You Free,” his first album since 2009 and the 10th of his career. The country singer-songwriter, perhaps best known for "Man to Man" and "Tough Little Boys," said that 2013 has started out with a slow roll, but that it’s great to be back in action.

“We’ve been doing a radio tour to kind of reintroduce myself to people," he said. "The album’s been a long time coming, but it’s great to be back in the top 5 again and performing live.”

Allan’s lead song off the new album, "Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)," first hit the country music airwaves in September 2012 before the full album was released in late January. Since then, “Every Storm” reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, giving Allan his fourth country No. 1, and his first since his “Nothing On but the Radio” in late 2004.

Allen says that he loves songwriting and that his fire hasn’t flickered. The artistic process at this point in his career is about growing and “just simply about having a little more life experience.”

In truth, Allan has been through a lot. After a prosperous career that started with packed gigs and strong record sales, Allan put his career on hold for a while in 2005, a year after his wife had committed suicide. After a pause, Allan put out two emotional and critically acclaimed albums, "Tough All Over" and "Living Hard." Since then, Allan again has found solace in playing live.

“Me, I love being on the road. I know some people don’t, but I definitely make records so that I can be out on tour," he said. "I do most of my actual writing in the winter when I have time to ponder.”

Allan’s current tour resumes March 23 in Austin, Texas, before hitting the East Coast, South and Midwest, with gig dates stretching to August.

“I’ve always been really lucky. We’ve always had a really young crowd. Mostly good-looking girls,” he said with a laugh. “Other musicians with us always comment on that. But we’ve got a great audience.”

Back to songwriting: Allan notes that technology and hia smartphone help him document creative thoughts on the road.

“Throughout the year I write down some hooks and phrases instantly on my iPhone. And the cool thing is that you can share everything these days," he said. "I can go ahead and record a part of a song right there and hit send to share with someone that I’m writing with.”

One other avenue where Allan has found solace, new energy and some peace of mind between gigs comes in the form of watersports.

“I’ve been surfing my whole life and I love watersports," he said. "I grew up in Orange County [Calif.], so I pretty much surfed every day before and after school as a kid, and I still go on surf trips.”

Allan mentions that he commuted to California from his longtime Tennessee home for 10 years, in part to continue surfing and take up its soothing and calming effects.

“With surfing,” he said, “people go out into the water to do their own thing. And it’s pretty much everybody keeping to themselves.”

Surfing, one of Allan’s lifelong loves, did fit the bill for a while. But eventually he moved on to watersports of a different flavor.

“I just decided I spent a little too much time in airports (flying to California), so eventually I moved everyone out here onto the edge of a lake just north of Nashville, and now we wakeboard.”

Allan says wakeboarding -- a style of board-riding behind a boat, which combines foundations of water skiing, snowboarding and surfing -- is more social, more vigorous and has an entirely different vibe.

“Wakeboarding doesn’t have that same cruisey feeling, where I just paddle out into the water to be by myself. You have to have people around you to wakeboard. But it’s definitely a great workout, and it can be as aggressive as you want.”

But water sports and music are not all that Allan, now 45, does to keep super-fit and happy.

“I do yoga everyday … hot yoga in the mornings right after I wake up.” Allan says his preference for hot yoga, or bikram, comes from the fact that heat boosts circulation and flexibility, while punching out its own cathartic effects.

With the Super Bowl over and baseball season looming, Allan mentions he’s a fan of all sports, but doesn’t commit to following any team or sport he can’t participate in.

“I played sports my whole life. But my problem is that I just don’t like to watch a lot of TV. I played football, baseball, the whole nine yards," he said. "But I hate blowing my Sunday just watching the talking box.”

Which isn’t such a bad thing, especially when one of your best buddies is NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. Allan got to know Cutler, a one-time Nashville local and former Vanderbilt star, mostly “just hanging out over at my house in the summer.”

“Jay is a great guy. That’s all I’ve ever done with him, is just hang," Allan said. "I haven’t seen him much since he got married. But he’s cool and kinda quiet and to himself.”

He also said that Cutler was present at Red Rocks, Colo., and in the video for the 2007 single, “Watching Airplanes." Good camaraderie and hang time aside, Allan hints that it is a good thing Cutler can throw a football. “Jay couldn’t wakeboard for sure, though. He was way too big,” he said.

Beyond the exhilaration he gets from touring, Allan said, staying active is key to more than just being healthy. He spoke of a mentor, country music legend Harlan Howard.

“Harlan once told me when I was young, 'You sure can play, but you haven’t lived,' " Allan said, "and he joked that hard spells and getting divorced a few times is what really made a songwriter.”

But Allan hints that his other pastimes have their own positive influence.

“Part of it is living in Tennessee and all the activity of living here,” Allan said. “But I think just being active and the better I feel, the more creative I am.”