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American Idol Kris Allen on Why ‘Heartless’ Is on His New Album and ‘No Boundaries’ Isn’t

In the six months since American Idol viewers elected Kris Allen 2009’s best singer, the Jacksonville, Arkansas native has played concerts in more than 50 cities, as well as co-written and recorded the dozen songs (plus three bonus tracks) that comprise his major-label debut. In advance of the November 17 release of Kris Allen, we spoke to him by phone about the stresses of a speedy album-making process and why Kanye’s outburst at the VMAs didn’t affect his record’s track list.

The Idol finale was on May 20, then you were on the Idols tour from July until the beginning of September. That didn’t leave you with much time to record this album. How stressful was it?
It definitely had its stressful moments. We knew we had to get it out — you have to capitalize on, you know, coming right off the show. But writing an album in four months while on tour for three is crazy, and I’ve never heard of anyone doing it that fast, other than other Idol people. It is very stressful, but you have to put the stress aside and think about the rest of it. Because this [album] is gonna last forever, so you really have to think about that.

You said in an interview that the song “Let It Rain” was written about being frustrated with the recording process. Your quote was, “You have to compromise, artists and labels don’t always see eye to eye.”
Well, it’s not that … Well, when you’re recording an album, artists have what they feel like is good music, and the label, they’re trying to sell the album. So those two ideas clash sometimes, but in the end it always works out. When you put the two together, that’s a good thing. You want the artist to have good music and a good album, and the label wants it to sell as well. Sometimes that was a little hard to deal with. I had to come to some compromises with the label, but it all turned out really well. Absolutely no hard feelings at all toward the label. Jive has been really, really good to me.

Can you give me a specific example of something you had to compromise on?
Right. Maybe. Maybe I wanted a song on there that didn’t end up on the album or maybe … More than anything it was just frustrating going through this whole thing as quick as it was. I probably got frustrated unwarranted sometimes. And that’s definitely the case sometimes, where I got frustrated at people who maybe I shouldn’t have.

Most of the songs on the album are about breakups or troubled relationships. Why?
Yeah, it’s funny. When you write an album and you’re writing about relationships, the stuff that I’ve been through in my relationships, 99 percent of it is really good, but it’s that one percent that always inspires you to write a song. It’s easy to write a song about the hard times you’re going through. It’s harder to write a song about the good times. So that’s why some of those songs are about the hard times in a relationship.

Do you have a favorite song on the record?
You know what? I do. One of my favorite ones is “Red Guitar,” because I wrote it a couple years ago and I was happy that it ended up on the album. It’s just one that’s stuck with me for a long time. It has a cool story behind it: I bought my wife a red guitar for her birthday and she never played it. So we ended up hanging it up on the wall as a decoration. And one random day, I pulled it off and started playing it, and the song came out. It ended up being a metaphor for how I feel about my wife.

You include your cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless” as a bonus track. After his outburst at the VMAs, was there a discussion about leaving that song off the record?
I think there was a small discussion about it. We were like, “Maybe this isn’t the best idea.” But we’re not gonna base everything on what he does. So it was a discussion, but it ended really quickly. We were doing a show [the night it happened]. But when we got back on the bus, we heard about it. I think we saw on Twitter, there was like, “Did you hear what Kanye did?” And we were like, “What the heck did Kanye do this time?” It was a little like, “What the heck, why would he do that?” It was the wrong thing to do and maybe he’s learned from it. I hope so.

One track that’s not on the album is “No Boundaries.” Why not?
I think there was a discussion about it. But we felt like we had a lot better stuff than that song to go on the album.

Who else’s music have you been listening to lately?
I listen to music all the time, driving in my car. That’s what inspired me as a kid, just listening. I listen to a lot of stuff. It’s weird, lately I’ve been listening to a lot of old Switchfoot stuff. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m excited about their new album.

Are you actually driving the car you won on American Idol? Is it hard making it out of parking lots with half of America knowing what your car looks like?
I am! I’m driving the car that I won on the show. It’s a really nice car. It’s a different color than the one that they gave us on the show. I went with a black one.

American Idol Kris Allen on Why ‘Heartless’ Is on His New Album and ‘No Boundaries’ Isn’t