Phillip Phillips holds the record for all-time best-selling song from an American Idol winner, but over the last several years the singer was worried his career was permanently stalled.
In early 2015, the star, 27, filed a lawsuit against Idol‘s production company 19 Entertainment, claiming they “manipulated” him into accepting jobs and were being “oppressive” about his career. Then more than a year later, 19 Entertainment hit back with a complaint alleging Phillips was holding on to as much as $1 million of their money.
“It was really tough,” Phillips — who wasn’t allowed to release new music until he reached a settlement with 19 Entertainment last June — tells PEOPLE exclusively about the legal battle in this week’s issue. “I thought, ‘Man, is this ever going to end? Will I ever be able to release new music?’ a little depressed about it and also anxious trying to figure out what I can do to push things forward.”
Several songs on his personal new album Collateral were inspired by the difficult period, which also included one of the happiest days of his life — his wedding to longtime love Hannah Phillips.
“I had a lot to tell in these songs because so much happened in these past three years,” says the songwriter, who heads out on tour Feb. 9. “These songs came alongside some hard times but also some good times. There’s some heartbreak in there that’s not necessarily heartbreak of a girl and a guy.”
For all the details on Phillips’ new album and married life, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
Phillips credits his wife for getting him through the “scary” time and says she’s been by his side through life’s toughest moments, including his experience on Idol.
“We’re best friends and have been through a lot together,” says the singer, who secretly had eight operations due to chronic kidney problems during his Idol run. “I was 21 and was also really sick. I wanted to quit because I was just hurting so bad. I could barely walk 50 yards without having to sit down, and she really helped me through that. She would help me walk and do so much. She’s the one that keeps me going.”
Looking back on the last few years, “it was scary at times,” says Hannah, 25. “It was just so many unknowns and we were just in this limbo. But we got to have this time where we were newlyweds kind of doing nothing. There were parts of it that were really a blessing in a way. We had to keep a positive attitude the entire time.”
One of the most heartfelt songs on Phillips’ album — “Dance with Me” — was written for Hannah as their first dance song on their wedding day. “She told me I have to play it at every show now,” jokes Phillips. “We love that song so much.”
The couple plans to head out on tour together along with their dog, and “we’re looking forward to it,” adds Phillips. “It’s the first headlining tour I’ve done in a while. I’m a little nervous and it’s kind of scary, but it’s also really exciting.”
In the next few years, the couple may expand their family with kids — but are eyeing a French bulldog for Hannah first. “That’s been a long time coming, a whole relationship coming,” says Phillips. “She has always wanted one!”
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Whatever the future holds, the singer knows he and Hannah will remain a team.
Says the star: “I’ll hopefully still be touring and putting out some music and just enjoying growing old together. We’re not promised tomorrow, so you want to make the most of it.”