For three records, Andrew Ripp has been controlled by fear. "As a musician, you put your heart into a piece of music that you are promoting as you: It's your heart, your name, your face," he says. "And then you put it out there and people can do whatever they want with it." With each release, the singer-songwriter found himself increasingly unable to let go of stats, sales, and reviews-and the process was nearly crippling him.

His life wasn't always this panic-ridden. Born and raised outside of Chicago, Ripp was a jock whose musical talents lay dormant until he was a teen. Immediately after high school, Ripp headed for Los Angeles and dabbled in both songwriting and community college. In 2004, he started cowriting with Ryan Cabrera-the Nick Jonas of that era-and four of Ripp's songs made it onto the pop star's next record. That coup bought him a few years of no-pressure writing, but with all of his friends busy with school or work, he found himself alone. And drinking. "I'm thankful for that time," Ripp says, "but I was an absolute mess."

With support from his now-wife Carly and what he calls his "come-to-Jesus moment," Ripp eventually abandoned the partying lifestyle. Soon after becoming sober, he got a call from Nashville-based artist Dave Barnes, who had two requests for Ripp: to open a few shows for him-and to move to Nashville. Upon arriving in Music City, Ripp shed his lonely songwriter persona. He partnered with an artist development company, Be Music & Entertainment, and joined Barnes' tightknit singer-songwriter circle, which also includes Ben Rector and Steve Moakler.

Barnes stepped in to produce his second album, and Grammy winner Charlie Peacock helmed his third, 2013's Won't Let Go. As that title suggests, Ripp's anxiety was surging, so he turned to producer Ed Cash for his next project-and some guidance. Through conversations with Cash, Ripp reached a breakthrough in keeping his fear at bay: He'd been free all along, he learned, he just hadn't known it. "You know how you hear something for the millionth time but it feels like the first time?" Ripp says. "I realized that this fight is not something I can win. I just needed somebody who was willing to pull that out of me."

The newly released Andrew Ripp was originally due back in January. But after contemplating what he'd recorded, Ripp concluded that it didn't fully represent his two-year-long showdown with fear. "I thought, 'If this is my last record, this isn't how I want to go out,'" he adds. In the past, Ripp says, he wouldn't have been able to admit the first incarnation's shortcomings out of concern that he'd messed up budgets and deadlines. But armed with his newfound fearlessness, he regrouped and rewrote. By spring, half of the record had been replaced with bolder, more powerful tracks-like "Animal," a battle cry in his war against fear. The new album, he adds, is the arrival of a new artist. "It's coming from a very healthy place. I don't want to say I'm not affected by the way people will respond, but I'm more aware of what matters-and it's not how they respond," Ripp says. "What matters is how I got to the place of making the record that I wanted to make. It's the best thing I possibly could have ever done."

[Katy Lindenmuth for Nashville Lifestyles]