Fame often has a chilling effect on one’s psyche. However much as he’s done his entire life, when faced with a No. 1 major label debut album in 2014’s Ignite the Night, as well as a pair of Top 5 singles with the RIAA Platinum-certified “Ready Set Roll” and Gold-certified “Gonna Wanna Tonight,” Chase Rice turned his cheek and took the path less traveled. As he readily recounts, the country music maverick has only grown more self-aware, mature and grateful in the wake of his success. “I’m a different person in a lot of ways,” Rice says looking back at his y
“The only formula is putting out good music,” says Chase Rice. “It’s as simple as that. I’m not letting anyone or anything get in the way of that anymore. ”
Rice has released three albums—including, most recently, 2014’s Ignite the Night, which hit No. 1 on the country charts and reached the top five of the Top 200—but with Lambs & Lions, he is making a fresh start. With a new label and a renewed sense of creative purpose, he is making music that draws from multiple sources and influences, but is unified by his vision, integrity, and honesty.
“This is an album that stands for what I stand for,” says Rice. “I don’t think of myself as a country artist specifically—I’m here to be an artist, period. I’m very proud of the country genre, and I think we have some big country radio songs on here, but outside of that, there’s a story I wanted to tell, regardless of genre. I had to completely put out of my mind what anyone else would think. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I took it as far as I possibly could.
The ten songs on Lambs & Lions derive from Rice’s life and experience, triumphs and disappointments, and ultimately his determination to stand up for his convictions. Produced by Chris DeStefano, Mac MacAnally and, most surprisingly, Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Cold War Kids), Lambs & Lions offers up sounds from the unsettling strings and horns on the title track to the spare piano and swelling choir of “Amen.” And if it took him walking out on his record company and finding a new home to get there, it also reflects the unconventional path that led him to make music in the first place.
That tobacco town where I grew up
The tailgate down on a jacked-up truck
A ring we earned 'cause we owned that state
A tombstone with my daddy's name…
And I need someone to remind me who I am
Oh, Carolina can
Born in Florida and raised on a farm in Asheville, North Carolina, Rice was a promising linebacker at the University of North Carolina. “Football wired me for the rest of my life,” he says, “including in some wrong ways. So, I’ve had to learn to be more sensitive and when to be more aggressive. It’s a focus you carry on to everything you do in life.”
Encouraged by his father, he began playing guitar and writing songs in college. After his father died and an injury ended his football career, music became his solace during a period of depression. (The slogan he took to writing inside the brim of his baseball caps, "HDEU," served as a reminder to keep his head down, working, but his eyes up, looking forward to the future—and now inspires his clothing company, Head Down Eyes Up.)
After college, Rice was selected as a NASCAR pit crew member, winning two championships with the Lowes teams, and then took time away to escape and became a contestant on Survivor: Nicaragua. But his heart never left music, and he knew he had to take his shot at Nashville. Soon after arriving, he was part of the team that wrote Florida Georgia Line’s diamond-certified smash “Cruise.” After a couple of independent album releases of his own, Rice signed a major label deal.
It was the peak moment for country songs about girls, trucks, and parties, and the Ignite the Night album spun off several hit singles, including the platinum “Ready Set Roll” and gold “Gonna Wanna Tonight.” Rice still feels connected to this work. “I can still completely relate to those songs,” he says. “I’m still proud of that record. It got people to come to the shows, put me on a farm I otherwise would never have, and made me into the artist I am today.”
He points to the song “Carolina Can” as a breakthrough for him personally with his writing. “It’s rare to have a song that’s so truthful,” he says. “The title is one state, one place—it tells my story—but anybody can relate to feeling and sentiment. It’s just a huge honor to have a song like that in our arsenal when we take the stage.” It would be a turning point not just in his songwriting, but in his goals and ambitions.
It’s the soundtrack to our lives
It’s the only reason why
A kid from Carolina would drive to Nashville to chase a dream without a dime…
For a second we’re bullet proof
We get lost in a song or two
The world don’t move, and all I need is you and three chords and the truth
—“Three Chords & The Truth”
After one frustrating conversation with an executive, Rice went home, called his team, and informed them that he wanted out of his deal. “The more shows I kept playing, the more I learned that what I really needed was to get a record out!,” he says. “So I put my foot down and when I found that label didn’t have the same plan as I did, I just said, ‘let’s go our separate ways’—and I have zero problem with that. I was confident about that decision, and I believed in the album I was making. Looking back at that period I realize now that it was really about me needing to bet on myself before expecting others to do that as well.”
One song he believed in was “Three Chords & the Truth,” a tribute to the power of discovering the songs—“Amazing Grace,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Mama Tried,”—that changed his life. “I had actually wanted that to be the next single after ‘Gonna Wanna Tonight,’” he says. “It’s personal as it details going back to high school and what it meant to me to hear those songs for the first time.”
He kept writing for an album that he hoped would be out more than a year ago. “It was a long, long process,” he says. “But some of my favorite songs wouldn’t have been on here if I hadn’t kept going. It didn’t change completely, but it gave me time to analyze and make the songs better.”
Born and bred to be dangerous
We Might Roar
On a Saturday night get that look in our eyes and we're striking like lightning
Some may say we're too loud, some may say we're too proud
Well there's lambs and there's lions
Enter Broken Bow Records, home of Jason Aldean and Dustin Lynch, which decided to give Rice and Lambs & Lions a chance. “I had all these songs, and I knew I wanted to tell a story, but I wasn’t sure what that was,” says Rice. “I wanted each song to have its own identity, and it would fill the album with what it needed.”
But he felt sure that a song called “Lions” would be the title track. “I wanted to write something you would listen to in the locker room before you go out and crush it on the football field,” he says. “It means even more to me now because I had to weather a lot of storms, fight for my career—and see how much it motivates me.”
Elsewhere, Lambs & Lions draws on pop (the irresistible hooks of “Eyes on You”), rock, even old-school country sounds, ending with Rice’s version of iconic singer and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux's "This Cowboy's Hat," performed with LeDoux's son Ned. “The lines between genres are getting thinner and thinner—that’s the world we live in,” he says. “So I decided even more not to pander to what anybody wants me to do. The only way to make it successful is to make it true to me.”
Chase Rice points to a number of other artists as inspirations—Chesney, Garth Brooks, Eric Church, Bruce Springsteen, Darius Rucker (“My God, he changed completely!”). But he says that he holds no single musician as a role model. “Every artist needs to figure out their own way,” he says. “There are so many right ways to do it. The best way is just to be yourself and be good to people. I think you do that and you’ll be alright.”ounger self, who moved to Nashville following the sudden death of his father “having no clue what the hell I was doing,” wrote a batch of killer songs and went for broke in the country music industry. “I was searching,” Rice says. “I didn’t know who I was as an artist. But now, it’s a new me. It’s a whole new deal. Now I know exactly where I am in life.” He laughs. “Well, not exactly. But I’ve got a better idea, anyway.”
The past few years have been monumental ones for Rice: following the release of Ignite the Night, the 31-year-old budding superstar toured the world with four massive headlining tours and stadium-show opening runs for country megastars including Kenny Chesney and Dierks Bentley. “I was just having fun. I was riding the wave,” he says.
Most recently, Rice released a new single from his forthcoming studio album, “Everybody We Know Does,” a rowdy rocker he says instantly took him back in his mind to the Fairview, North Carolina farm on which he was raised. “I wanted to have an in-the-moment song of what me and my friends do and how we live,” he says of the song, which his ultra-dedicated fanbase has already responded to with adoration. “People showing up, being so passionate about my music, that makes me proud of this life and what we – my band, my team and I – have built, man,” he continues. “When crowds are showing up singing non-singles louder than the singles, that gives me the confidence that they’ve got my back and that these songs are their lives, too.”
Despite his swelling popularity, Rice still says he sees himself and his longtime band as underdogs. It’s a healthy mindset, he says, that keeps the fire burning in his belly. “It allows you to still have that drive, still have that reason to keep trying to move forward and make the music better,” he explains. “When I’m the underdog, look out. When someone tells me we’re not going to do something, you’d better get your ass ready, because we’re gonna do it!”
Rice admits the enormous success of the Gold-certified Ignite the Night caught him by surprise. It’s not that he wasn’t confident in his songs, he says, but rather that the project was him “throwing darts on a map and seeing where we were gonna go.” Still, even as his career exploded, Rice says the death of his father when the singer was only 22 loomed large. Turning to God and, in turn, releasing himself of the associated burden of his pain gave him permission to be his best self. “You’d be shocked at the amount of pressure it takes off your shoulders,” he says. It also freed him up to follow his creative muse like never before. “Someone who is lost is going to follow the crowd,” Rice says. “Someone who knows where they’re going and is their own person is going to chart their own course.”
“It’s still a continuous climb up the mountain,” Rice, who says he’s never been more “open and honest” in song, says of evolving his craft and looking forward to what the future holds for him. Ask him though what propels him forward and the country star will tell you it’s undoubtedly a continuous drive to prove his earliest fans right. “You guys chose to bet on me as one of your favorite artists back when it was just 500 people in a room,” he wants them to know. “I told you we were doing this thing and that I couldn’t do it without you. And now we’re doing it!”.