Country singer-songwriter Gary Allan knows all too well about coping with loss and the healing power of music.
Allan, who appears 8 p.m. Friday, March 28, at the House of Blues at the Showboat Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City, had just begun to establish himself in Nashville a decade ago when he suffered a terrible personal tragedy. In 2004, his third wife, Angela Herzberg, committed suicide at their Music City home.
The southern California native channeled his grief through his music, releasing the highly personal “Tough All Over” (MCA Nashville). The 2005 album went gold and produced hits in “Best I Ever Had” and “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful.”
Over the subsequent decade, Allan has continued to tour and make new albums, but it took him several years before he would even do interviews, let alone discuss his wife’s death.
Known for being a contemporary interpreter of the so-called “Bakersfield Sound” made famous by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, Allan has released four additional studio records, including last year’s “Set You Free.”
Allan, in an email interview, talks about his love of honkytonk, finding the right tonal mix on his records and how music rescued him during his darkest times.
Q: Your latest album “Set You Free” has become of your biggest critical and commercial successes. Why do you think it clicked?
A: I believe every album reflects where I am in life at that moment. “Set You Free” has songs about hope and redemption, as well as broken hearts and pain. I can relate to all of those feelings. I think working with different producers also gave the album a bit of a different sound. I got to use my road band on the things I produced with Greg Droman, and those were some of my favorite tracks.
I also co-wrote with women for the first time on this record. I honestly didn’t realize that I had never done it before. I think they helped bring a little more emotion to my writing, and you can hear and feel that in those tracks.
Q: You came up through the honkytonk circuit performing with your dad’s band. What did that experience teach you about performing?
A: Those experiences made me who I am today. I started playing that circuit with my brother and my dad and eventually stepped out on my own. At that point, I realized I had to learn to connect with everyone in that crowd. It didn’t matter if the venue held 20 people or 500 people; I needed to make each person feel like I was playing just for them.
The venues have gotten larger over the years, but I still try to make it feel like we are in a honkytonk, and I want everyone up and having a blast.
Q: Can you talk about the songwriters and performers that you liked coming up and how they helped shape your own music?
A: Growing up in California, I was naturally drawn to the Bakersfield Sound. My dad loved all those guys, and they have been a huge influence on me. Not only did I originally want to sound like Buck (Owens) and Merle (Haggard), but I wanted to have a career like theirs.
Haggard is one of the best songwriters of all time, with hit after hit, yet he always made it look so simple. He writes what he is passionate about, and what he believes in. and I’ve tried to follow that same philosophy.
Q: Will you be previewing any new songs in A.C.? Do you have any specific plans to head back into the studio?
A: I am throwing in a few new songs here and there — not every night, but when the feeling hits me. I’ve been writing a lot, and I like to test some of those songs on the fans and get their responses.
When I’ve been home, I’ve pretty much been writing every day and doing demos at night. I like to have everything together, and then start culling through my songs and outside songs, until we feel we have the right mix for the next album.
Once I feel I have that mix, I’ll head into the studio.
Q: Did you consider stopping performing when your wife died? How has being an artist and a performer helped you to move forward with your life?
A: People say music can be healing, and I agree with that completely, Writing and performing have been therapy for me. It has given me an outlet for my grief and for all the positives in my life.