(Note: On May 15, Rice tore his pectoral muscle while filming the video for “Eyes on You,” and required surgery. Three days later, with his right arm in a sling, he was on stage in front of a sold-out crowd in South Carolina and reveling in the energy of them singing the song along with him. In a news release post-show, he said that despite the injury, he is adamant that no shows will be canceled as he continues to tour.
Chase Rice took an unusual road from North Carolina to Nashville recording artist. He went from college football, to NASCAR, to a contestant on “Survivor,” to Nashville, to co-writing on Florida Georgia Line’s Diamond-certified smash “Cruise” (he and Brian Kelley have been friends since they were kids in Florida) to two independent albums, and finally a record label deal with Broken Bow Records. And he managed to win the hearts of music fans along the way with songs like “Ready Set Roll,” “Gonna Wanna Tonight” and “Three Chords and the Truth.”
“I thought it was going to be a No. 1 song,” Rice said of “Three Chords” in a recent phone interview. “You never know how radio is going to do. They’re being supportive of me and BBR is kicking it.”
Chase Rice will be kicking it at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at the Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, Charles Town, West Virginia. Tickets are specially priced starting at $45 and a special promotion of buy three get one free. Details at www.hollywoodcasinocharlestown.com.
“Three Chords and the Truth” was the first single from his current album and a good back to radio song, Rice said. “Eyes on You” is the current single and, he noted, is moving up the charts faster than “Three Chords,” a tribute to the power of discovering the songs that changed his life (“Amazing Grace,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Mama Tried” among them).
It wasn’t easy to get to where he is today. After releasing two independent albums, Rice was signed by a major label and released his full-length album “Ignite the Night” in 2014. But he sensed that label didn’t have the same level of passion for his brand of music that he did.
“When you don’t have that passion (and support), it’s like a cancer and you need to get rid of it. Get it out of my life,” he told his management team. He wanted out of the deal.
“(The music label) let me go. That’s another tell-tale sign of not being passionate about what I was doing,” said the 32-year-old Rice.
He took a few years off, but continued to write new music for an album and touring for fans who loved his music, including the songs on his November 2017 release on Broken Bow Records, “Lambs & Lions.”
“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 there, 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.”
The 10 tracks on “Lambs & Lions” derive from his life and experience, triumphs and disappointments, and his determination to stand up for his convictions. Songwriting is not easy, he said. “You gotta dive deeper or you end up with the same old [b.s.]. I had to dive deeper. I’m not looking for ‘that’s cool!’ I’m looking for great.”
Already looking forward to the next album, Rice said “the stuff I’m writing now is different than what I wrote for ‘Lambs & Lions’. It has an edgy, acoustic, folk, pop sound.
The crooked road to country
Rice played football at UNC, Chapel Hill, until a career-ending injury took him out of the game. “Football wired me for the rest of my life,” he says. “It’s a focus you carry o to everything you do in life.”
His dad encouraged him to play guitar and write songs. Sadly, the first song he wrote was a tribute to his dad. During what he calls a period of depression, he took to writing “HDEU” in permanent marker on the inside brim of his baseball caps. It served as a reminder to him to keep his “head down, eyes up,” to keep working and looking forward to the future. Fans were soon wearing his HEDU logo on their own caps and tattoos. That inspired Rice to create his Head Down, Eyes Up clothing company.
“I went to Lids and had them make 30 hats and sold them all,” Rice said. The clothing, he said, is secondary to the message. “I just people to have that [HEDU] mentality.”
After graduating from UNC, Rice was hired as a NASCAR pit crew member for Hendrick Motorsports’ 48 team of Jimmie Johnson. He was a jack man and rear tire changer for the 48 team in 2009 and 2010, two of Johnson’s championship years.
“Under Chad [Knaus], his crew chief, you’re working for the best. Chad is tough to work for, but if you want to be great, he’s the guy you want to work for,” Rice said. “You gotta be perfect.”
Through the encouragement of a friend, he applied for and was a contestant on the TV show “Survivor: Nicaraugra,” where he was first runner-up.
“It was a cool opportunity at the time,” Rice said.
He lost a lot of weight during the filming and when he returned to NASCAR for his old job, he was told he needed to bulk up first. That opened the door for him to head to Nashville and follow his passion for music. But neither NASCAR or “Survivor” opened any doors for him on Music Row.
Rice said that if you come to one of his shows you will want to go to a second show. “I bring a lot of passion” to his live shows, he said.