Photo: Jason Myers
Chase Rice On His Brotherhood With Florida Georgia Line, Being Unafraid Of "Bro-Country" And Finishing 'The Album'
When people make the delineation between "real country" and "pop country," which clichés do they lob at the oft-maligned version? They might cite trucks, dogs and America—or the mere act of sitting around a firepit, quaffing brews and discussing the man upstairs. Enter Chase Rice, who does not care even a little bit about what the critics think—or subverting their expectations.
For those opposed to such themes, one of his latest tunes is a provocation: "Drinkin' Beer. Talkin' God, Amen." "The biggest thing for me with that is, that's my life. If you've got a problem with it, go listen to somebody else's music," Rice tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom from his Nashville home. "That's literally what I did over the last year: Sat around a fire and drank a piss-load of beer."
And if even the most ardent "real country" gatekeeper doesn't at least mumble the chorus under their breath for the rest of the day, they must not know a hook when they hear one.
"Drinkin' Beer. Talkin' God, Amen." is part of the bluntly titled The Album, Rice's three-part smorgasbord that has trickled onto streaming services over the past year and change. (Part I arrived in January; Part II joined it mid-year.) The final third—nicknamed Part III—is out now and marks the completion of this boozy, earworm-filled triptych, which also boasts bangers like "Forever to Go" and "Down Home Runs Deep."
Now that The Album is done and Rice can dust off his hands, what's to come? Those would be the tunes Rice wrote during quarantine—and they promise to dig even deeper into his psyche. No matter what the results will be, though, know this: Rice will be himself, and not what anyone wishes he was.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Rice to discuss his long history with collaborators the Florida Georgia Line, sloughing off the "bro-country" conversation and what's next as gigs rev up again.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Tell me how you teamed up with Florida Georgia Line. What's your history with those guys?
I grew up playing little league baseball and soccer with Brian [Kelley], so we grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida, together. He's been a huge, huge part of my journey, to be honest.
I moved to Nashville and lived in a house with him and Tyler [Hubbard]. But even before I moved to Nashville, he was playing guitar; I learned to play guitar during that time. [I was] probably in high school. He moved to Nashville, and the first time I ever visited, he said, "Yeah, you're gonna meet my buddy Tyler later. We're kind of starting this duo called Florida Georgia Line." This is probably back in 2009. The first time I ever visited, though, we played around at a place called Hotel Indigo. I was in the middle, Tyler was at my right and Brian was at my left. That was the first time I was like, "Damn, y'all are dialed." I had never even sung into a microphone before, so I was the rookie. Then, I moved to Nashville in 2010, we wrote "Cruise" probably in 2011, and it was off to the races for me as a musician, me as a writer.
Then, we went our separate ways because we wrote a ton of songs together, but when that happened, it was just like, "Damn. They're flying." They skyrocketed. Then, I was left to go figure out who I was as a writer and how I could get better at writing songs without them, which was huge.
Ten years later, here we are, back together. It was kind of Brian's idea. He heard the song on Instagram and was like, "Hey man, this is badass. Let's go [do it] like the old days. Let's produce it together and just have some fun doing music again." [Then,] Brian texted me one night and was like, "Hey man, I'll tell you how we make this special." It [would be] a CRFGL collab. As soon as he said that, I was like, "Yep, perfect."
It's interesting how you guys took different trajectories. Before you came into your own, how did you know they had something special going musically?
I can tell you right away: That first time at Hotel Indigo, I was like, "Man, these guys are good." They had something special. They had a connection. They worked well together. Their voices were great together. But the songs they were writing were them. Whether they were hits or not back then, they were them. They owned who they were.
The day we wrote "Cruise," I remember Brian being like, "Man, we were writing for meals all the time." On the day we wrote that, I was like, "Man, this is huge for FGL. I'm telling you." He believed in it more than anybody. At that point, they had Joey Moi, who kind of grabbed ahold of them a little bit. All I knew was that he was the producer for Nickelback. I was like, "Damn. That's big!"
Joey really brought that song to life—Joey's and Tyler's voices together. So when that happened, I remember one day, he came home from tour. They were kind of the opening band on everything. They were out there working it. I said, "Do you think we're actually going to have a No. 1 off this thing?" He was like, "Ah, dude. It's just a matter of how long it's going to be No. 1."
It seems like you have that quality in your music too. You're not afraid to be yourself.
I think the biggest thing for me was once they went and did their thing, that was when I had to figure out what my thing was. "Who am I? What the hell am I going to sing about?" And that was when my voice really started homing in. That led all the way up to 2017, when "Eyes on You" happened. That was the beginning of me figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do. It took me that long!
I was like: I don't care! I don't care what people say about my music anymore. Because I'm looking out and that's what matters. People out there at the shows, screaming the songs back to me. That's what matters. Because there was a whole movement of people hating bro-country, whatever you want to call it. I was just like, "Man, I'm not being sucked into that anymore." Around 2017, I was like: I'm going to what I want to do, come hell or high water. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. At least I was myself.
That's continued into the album. That's continued into "Drinkin' Beer, Talkin' God" and "Lonely if You Are." Even on Pt. III, it's got a song called "The Nights" on it that's completely different than "If I Didn't Have You." They're completely different things, but they're both me. That's where I'm at. I'm just really enjoying making my own music.
Do you consider yourself to have a little bit of EDM in your sound?
Yeah, I mean, s**t, I go back in the day to Foo Fighters, Green Day, all the way to Eminem, Blink-182. So many different influences. Also, I have Garth Brooks, George Strait, Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney. I've got a lot of different noises in my head of what I want to do, and that's the hardest part about albums when you're an artist like that: You've got to figure out what makes the album, what puts it together and [which] your songs you're willing to move forward with.
Obviously, those artists are so different, but I think what binds them is big hooks and big melodies. That "walloping a ball out of the park" feeling. I feel that quality in your music.
That depends on who I'm writing with. I wrote a song two days ago with Rhett Akins and Chris LaCorte. Freaking huge melodies. Anthems. Holy s**t. I'm going to sing the hell out of this. Then, I've got three songs that I sat right here and wrote with just me and an acoustic guitar, and those are completely different. So, that's part of the challenge: Piecing those [together] and putting them on a record. But if it's my voice and it's me singing a song and making sure that I believe it, then it all comes together and it's OK.
Going back to "bro-country": It seems kind of like you're taking those tropes and bending them to your will. Somebody might sniff at that music and be like, "Oh, it's just about beer and God." And you're like, 'That's exactly what it's about."
The biggest thing for me with that is, that's my life. If you've got a problem with it, go listen to somebody else's music. That's literally what I did over the last year: Sat around a fire and drank a piss-load of beer. It wasn't just God; we had conversations about everything. About my buddy's kids, about life, about our pasts, about our struggles, about what we're excited about.
And God's a big part of that. God's a big part of my life. Not because I'm this guy who's going to preach to people, who's got his s**t together. God's a part of my life because I'm f**ked up. That's a lot of the conversations I had with buddies last year, and beers were involved. When alcohol's involved, the truth tends to come out, for whatever reason.
I'm going to sing about what's in my life, and that's been even more solidified through the last year. Living life normally again for the first time in 10 years. That's why I'm real excited about Pt. III, but I'm also real excited about what's coming next. That's going to be the songs I wrote mostly during quarantine.
It sounds like you're going to go even deeper, more introspective than before.
It's going to have some dark stuff. It's also got a lot of positive stuff. It's not close to done. I'm figuring it out. I'm not trying to write anymore. You walk in at 11:00 and leave at 4. It's like: Man, I'm tired of that. I'm never going to do that again, really. When I'm home during the week, when I'm touring, I'm going to chill. I'm going to relax. I'm going to golf.
And then, when it's time to home in and write a record—which is what I'm going to do; I think we're going to Montana for about four days to write—it's all we're doing. We're going to fish; if we don't write a song that day, whatever. We're going to get ideas, piece them together, and by the time we leave that retreat, we're going to have exactly what we need.