Lee Brice is heading for a show in Texas. It's another rollercoaster turn of events in 2020 for the singer-songwriter - having contracted the virus himself last month, causing him to pull out of his CMA Awards performance with Carly Pearce a couple of days before the ceremony was meant to take place. It's happening in a year where his stock has never been so high, with two singles appearing in Billboard's top 10 for 2020 (the only artist to appear twice in the list), his first CMA Award win for 'I Hope You're Happy Now' - his duet with Pearce - and the fact he's celebrating the 10th anniversary of the release of his debut record with the release of 'Hey World', his fifth.
Unsurprisingly for Brice, he's taking it all in his stride, lapping at the opportunity to get to play some songs to any audience - particularly highlights from his brand new, global-greeting album. "It's only half the members, but we're going treat it like a full band set. I'm going to play a full electric, alongside our drummer and bass player. That's really all you need to have. We're calling it the COVID band".
Despite the rising numbers in cases and continued anxiety surrounding the pandemic around Christmas, it's difficult to reject the opportunity to play live when the chance safely arises. It's also a hopeful sign of the possibilities that are forthcoming, with all fingers crossed for 2021. Brice has also jumped at the opportunity to have the time to reflect and re-cooperate, precious time with his family being at the top of his list.
It's almost easy to forget that Brice himself contracted COVID-19. As he falls across the big lounger in the back of his ranch, surrounded by titular deer heads that hold pride of place across the room, he seems refreshed, grateful in the respect that the opportunity to recollect and reconnect has been afforded to him. It's also allowed him to take stock of his career and what's truly important, reflecting upon his belief and opinion of the industry, its current state and his place within it.
So, I guess a good place to start would be does this new record feel like a chapter closer, or a new chapter beginning?
You know, a little bit of both, I guess. it feels a little more like a beginning. I'm a competitive person, even against myself. The roots that I grew up in were taking pride in what you do and working hard at it and getting better. So even before my first records, I was always trying to make the next one better than the last one. You know, although I love my first and second record, this brand-new record we just put out was me trying to outdo myself and make a better record than I've ever made. Through all this, we've been pretty fortunate on the professional side, we've been very blessed and we're going try to just keep that train rolling. I want to just start from here and continue to go up.
I think when you have the longevity that you have as an artist, it shines through no matter what. It speaks to an audience more so than the numbers that everyone worries over. To me, if you constantly spend sort of your time trying to work the route to success, it’s almost like the authenticity is lost?
Now, yeah, you can't, you can never do that. I learned that very quickly, I never wanted to do that. It’s tempting for sure - say a new sound comes out, Florida Georgia line, or it's Sam Hunt or whatever. People start to chase that sound, yet you're never going to match that. You're never going to be Jason Aldean because he's there, they're already playing his records. So they're not going to play another record that sounds like that. I remember I was in Vegas a few years back and I saw this kid on stage in this bar there, it's called Losers in Nashville, but they made a duplicate of it there in the MGM in Vegas. There was a kid up there singing and he just seemed really, really authentic and real. He just did a couple songs and I caught him as he got offstage. We were just standing beside some little slot machines. I said “Hey man, I think what you're doing can be great - just keep being who you are, who that person was I just saw on stage and that's going to be the reason why you can be a superstar”. It was Morgan Wallen. You’ve got to be yourself and not try to chase somebody else, because once you start chasing, you're behind the ball.
I think Morgan's a prime example of an artist going out doing what he wants to do. His personality rolls through his music, personality is still such an integral part of it. Listeners can sense inauthenticity.
They can. Even if Morgan still sounds pop, it's not like he's doing some kind of crazy, different sound. But he is being himself. I think, number one, people are looking for anything to listen to. Then in the process of listening, what is it that stands out to them? It’s the people who are pretty real.
I'm a real song guy and a lot of times with radio, which is all I've had for years, it's harder sometimes to get those songs played."
The game is changing so much, streaming has become such a massive part and radio still just about has its say but is definitely having to adapt. I think it's just becoming such a different ball game?
It is, we've always been who we are, almost to a fault a little bit. I'm a real song guy and a lot of times with radio, which is all I've had for years, it's harder sometimes to get those songs played. You’ve got to work harder so that you’ll be around for a while and not just be here today and gone tomorrow. I think’s that all starting to catch up to me now, now that I've also walked that line of wanting to put out something that people can sink their teeth into. I can go right, if you like ‘More Beer’, I’ll write it well enough and write it with enough meat that there's something you could take away from it that says I this is who I am.
What have you personally taken from this year?
I got to spend a lot of time with my family and it’s been beautiful. I would have been gone dude, I’d go for three weeks, get home for 24 hours and then I’m gone for another two weeks, especially through the spring, the summer, the fall festivals, because that's where we make any money we're going to make. You think you know your kids, you know, they're your children. Then you spend 24/7 with them for eight months, then you really, really get to know them on a whole other level. Which you then start to appreciate and realize “gosh, I I've been gone a lot”. I was missed a lot. So it does make me think about the future, when things do get back up rolling really hard, I'm going to have to really prioritize. It's got to be looked at in a different way, although I'm looking forward to getting back out there and rocking it out, of course, but then my kids are at ages are 12 and 7. These years, days and months are just flying by, and they need daddy a bunch. So there’ll be a different way looking at the schedule and how we approach it.
Lee Brice's new album 'Hey World' is out now via Curb Records.
Photography courtesy of Curb Records / Lime Tree Music.