Chase Rice walking in the wilderness against a sunset backdrop

Interview: Chase Rice on ‘Fireside’, His New Album - and Why He Walked Away From The Hottest Label in Town

May 9, 2024 12:03 pm GMT
Last Edited May 11, 2024 10:18 pm GMT

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In 2012, the touch-paper for a new era of country music was lit by the release of Florida Georgia Line's ‘Cruise’.

The muscled-up, electric-guitar-propelled and Hip-Hop-infused sound of this Diamond-certified monster hit went on to define what would later be called, often derogatorily, 'Bro-Country’.

While that chart-topper had a seismic ripple-effect on the genre at large, it also had a career-altering impact on one of the songs' co-writers: Chase Rice. After striking gold so early on, over the course of four studio albums, Rice zeroed in on the ‘Cruise’ blueprint and picked up a handful of Top Ten hits and No. 1s.

However, in 2022 - ten years after the release of ‘Cruise’ - Chase Rice took to his socials to announce that he was done “chasin’ whatever bullshit thing I thought I was supposed to be doing”, and followed this up with the release of the eclectic, alt-leaning I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell.

It was met with widespread critical acclaim, but fans were curious: was this simply a passion project, a brief detour to scratch a fleeting creative itch, or was this the new Chase Rice - for good?

As he readies the lead single from his next album and sits down with Holler to discuss what listeners can expect, it's clear he'll be sticking with the sparser, rawer ambience of I Hate Cowboys in the long-run. He openly frames the first decade of his career as a “watered down” version of himself, and even apologises for not giving fans his true artistic self sooner. Rest assured that's all changed now.

“I was trying to be as successful as ‘Cruise’ and I wasn't good enough to do that - and those are two very dangerous things”, Rice reflects, before crediting the reset offered by COVID as offering him the dawning realisation that he was pursuing the wrong path, “It finally allowed me to step back and realise this is who I am. Whether you have success with it or not, forget about success and go be who you are - because if I'm not being myself, then what the hell's the point anyway”.

After rebuilding from the ground up with I Hate Cowboys, Chase Rice is now releasing the first song from his keenly awaited follow-up, the long-teased and viral ‘Fireside’.

Although he speaks about this next chapter as a “continuation” of the previous record sonically, a number of factors have ensured this is, in many ways, a fresh start entirely.

Crucially, Chase Rice made the bold decision to exercise a clause in his contract to leave Broken Bow Records for this album. With BBR helping to create a wave of today's country superstars, such as Lainey Wilson, Jelly Roll and Jason Aldean, the choice to walk away from their wealth of resources was not made lightly.

At the end of the day, he explains, it came down to the mantra that underpins Rice's new direction: authenticity. “We've always been conscious of being like, ‘Hey, let's just be cool to everybody, man’. Like, ‘Hey Radio, we love you. But what I've done with you the last 10 years was on me, I apologise to you...This is me’. That was a very freeing mindset to have, and that weighed heavily when leaving Broken Bow”.

He expands, “They're having a ton of success, but I'm not sure they fully understand what I'm trying to do...I tried to make it work with Broken Bow for a while - and hell, if we go to Radio again one day, we may use their team because I love the people over there...But I thought let's just step away, and then the risk is on me. It's not on Broken Bow, with me pushing them to try to do something I'm not sure they understand. That way, we're completely free. That was the biggest thing for me, I wanted to be able to do what I wanted, without hearing ‘No, you can't record’ or ‘Let's wait on this’. We don't want to wait on anything, we want to go when it's our time. This independent way was the best way to do that”.

I Hate Cowboys was a melting pot of outlaw, Americana and rock, with Rice's ability to pen a commercial country earworm still radiating through tracks such as ‘Bad Day To Be A Beer’.

The new single, ‘Fireside’, signifies a shift towards the folk-country intersection occupied by the likes of Noah Kahan and Zach Bryan, with Chase Rice's charismatic vocals reverberating as he yearns for a night with his love. After our conversation, he plays us a couple of further unreleased tracks, including the witty, nimbly composed musing on what matters in life, ‘Numbers’, and the haunting pre-break-up track, ‘That Word Don't Work No More’.

The keystone, though, is ‘Go Down Singin’, a defiant, autobiographical battle-cry that's pervaded by warmth, acceptance and self-awareness, with Rice documenting the emotions that led to his new sound and the end of his BBR relationship.

Rice describes ‘Go Down Singin’ as “the beginning” of the album, and it's currently a prime candidate for the title-track. It captures the spirit of the Floridian's latest musical adventure, as he eschews the sales statistics and RIAA plaques that fuelled the first ten years of his career in favour of championing real, honest songwriting that resonates with him, regardless of how it fares on the charts.

“If I go down, at least I go down singing, man”, Rice underlines with a renewed sense of vigour. “I'm pumped. I'm singing what I want and what I love. I'm singing about who I am now, as opposed to trying to chase who another artist is. That, to me, is the sentiment of this entire album. It was all falling apart with Broken Bow while we were recording this record, so ‘Go Down Singin’ became the heart of this project. It tells the story that I was living while we were recording this album”.

Much of the new record is coloured by Chase Rice's appreciation for Mumford & Sons (with their fiddle-player even appearing on ‘Fireside’) and Kings of Leon. Even so, the strands that tie together the new album feel cut from the same cloth as I Hate Cowboys, as Rice doubles down on the sound he's been searching for since 2012.

It's fascinating hearing him discuss his older material, something he still performs but with a fresh ruggedness and stripped-back feel that aligns with his post-COVID era. There's a distance, and even a gentle disdain, but Rice also repeatedly embraces that period as “part of my story”. Although the emphasis has been placed on the evolved musicality of I Hate Cowboys and ‘Fireside’, perhaps the most stark difference is his means of storytelling.

During his so-called ‘Bro-Country’ phase, he would hang his narratives on broader country themes and tropes. Now, he conveys his sentiments through much more specific and evocative vignettes, with the perfect example being ‘Bench Seat’, an intricate, visceral story of a man being saved through a dog's companionship. Similarly, the Lori McKenna-assisted ‘That Word Don't Work No More’ transports you to the apathy and hollowness of the kitchen in which the couple fight. ‘Numbers’ utilises a clever flurry of figures and numerically-based phrases not as a gimmick, but as an ornate means through which Rice charmingly portrays the magic of life's little things.

He concludes, “If I was gonna go down on this record and this be the last album I ever put out, I would want people to say I was an authentic songwriter, that I put the songwriting first and I didn't go after the popular sound - I went after my sound...You get bits of unique songwriting on all my old records, dating back to ‘Jack Daniels and Jesus’ and ‘Carolina Can’. But the authenticity behind the songwriting on this new album is extreme. I'm proud of it in a way that I've never been proud before. I love my last record, but I think this one's on a whole different level”.

If any fans had lingering doubts about Chase Rice's pivot away from the mainstream and towards more rustic, alt-country textures, the courage - and, as he points out, the risk - of relinquishing his BBR backing will have surely extinguished their uncertainties. In this landscape of a multiplicity of country sub-genres all jostling for supremacy, and pop artists venturing into Music City, motives are questioned and authenticity has undoubtedly become the currency of modern country music.

If authenticity is how we judge today's artists, then look no further than Chase Rice, as he bets it all on a sound and an album that digs deeper than he's ever been before.

In addition, Chase Rice touched on when he hopes to release the new project, working with Lori McKenna, the prospect of an international tour and more:

On plans for an acoustic project:

“I think Cowboys was a very ignorant album - and I say that in a positive way. We had no idea what was going to happen. I was working with a new producer, Oscar Charles, on a bunch of songs we were recording in my living room. We struck magic, in my opinion. But it was the start of something great - I don't think it was a masterpiece by any means. It was a foundation for ‘Who is this guy?’ It's the first time I've ever shown people fully who I am on a record. We didn't think about singles or Radio, we didn't think about any of that. We just wanted to make a great record and show people who I am. And that's what Oscar's so good at doing.

“With this new album, we honed in on that more. To me, they're the same project, so much so that I want to put the last record and this record together, and maybe do them all acoustically and call it the ‘Fireside Sessions’...Because that's the origin of how every one of these songs was written. That to me would be the next big step, putting these two albums together featuring every single songwriter, because songwriters are a way bigger part of what we do than they get credit for”.

On not imitating other artists:

“We've never thought ‘Screw Radio’ or ‘Screw the mainstream charts’. We're still very welcoming to that, but whether it's Country Radio or mainstream listeners, they don't want to hear Noah Kahan Jr., Zach Bryan Jr. or Florida Georgia Line Jr. - which is what I feel like I was. I created that for myself for years. They want to hear new artists, they want to hear somebody who's creating their own thing”.

On ‘Fireside’:

“‘Fireside’ was a surprise, to be honest. I loved the song, but I had no idea it would turn into what it is. I've had more people hit me up about this song than any other song in my career.

“It started with Jackson Dean, Oscar Charles and Jonathan Sherwood. They wrote the song first, and I heard it as a fan, which was cool, because I said to Oscar, “Man, our live show's missing this folky thing, which we didn't tap into on my last record’. I'm a big fan of Noah Kahan, Mumford & Sons, Kings of Leon and I love what Zach Bryan's doing. The key with all that is you can't chase that, you have to create your own version of that. I was in Bozeman, Montana, and I listened to ‘Fireside’ with some of my hunting buddies, and I was like, ‘Holy shit’...So I took it and Oscar and I made it more my own. I added some stuff to it, and that's when it really became mine as an artist. But man, those guys deserve more credit than I do for writing that song, because they started it and they brought it to me. But it's really cool to see the evolution of that one, where it went from a Jackson Dean song, because he's singing the demo, to me thinking, ‘What would I do on an acoustic guitar? How would I play it?’ Because I don't want to sound like Jackson. I don't want to sound like any of these artists”.

On his next album's release date:

“I think we're leaning towards late summer. I'd like to put it out while we're still touring with Dierks Bentley, and we end with him in October. So hopefully [it'll be out] by July, August. But at the same time, we're the only ones promoting this album now...So we want to give ‘Fireside’ time to catch, we want to give ‘Go Down Singin’ time if that's the next song that we put out, and I think it should be because I want people to hear the heart of the album before it's fully out”.

On recreating the photo of his father from the I Hate Cowboys artwork:

“We're going out to Wyoming, because I want to recreate that picture of my dad on the Cowboys record. It was taken in Wyoming, so we don't want to go to Nashville, let's go to the heart of where that picture was taken in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and let's just see what happens. Let's show the world who I am, and leave no doubt anymore. That isn't the new Chase Rice, this is finally the Chase Rice we knew was there the whole time. That's gonna start in Wyoming for the visual aspect of the album. The recording aspect is already done”.

On writing with Lori McKenna:

“I was blessed enough to be able to write with Lori McKenna...Lori couldn't have helped me in the last ten years of my career because she's so brilliant at what she does, and I was so far away from that...We wrote a song called, ‘You in ‘85’, which is all about mine and my dad's relationship. I know I sing a lot about my dad on the last record, I'm singing about him on this one too. That's a process in my life I've never healed from, losing him at 22 years old, so I'm going to keep going down that road until I'm healed up, and I don't know when that'll ever be. ‘You in ‘85’ asks ‘What if I could be there in 1985 as a grown man with you, or you could be here now, as a grown man with me - what would that relationship look like?’ It's a beautiful song, it's gonna be the last song on the album.

“There's another song called ‘That Word Don't Work No More’, and that's going to be featuring Lori. It's a story about a couple meeting, and all the different words that describe their relationship as they've lived through it. But those words don't work anymore. That is such a story-song - there's not even a chorus”.

On adapting his setlist:

"Originally, we were playing the entire Cowboys record with only a few hits. Now, I'm playing all of them - ‘Ready Set Roll’, ‘Drinkin’ Beer'. 'Talkin’ God'. 'Amen’, ‘Eyes On You’ and ‘Lonely’. Those are probably my four biggest hits. There's a way to honour those songs and that period of my career, as opposed to just talking complete trash about them, because those were a big part of my story.

So we play some of the old songs but we go through and tell the story of how I've evolved to this point. The funny part about it was I thought I had this brilliant new idea to play through the different parts of my life in the past ten years. I'm like telling the guys like, ‘Nobody's done this!’ as the Taylor Swift Eras tour is happening. ‘Well, actually the biggest star on the planet is doing it right now...!’"

On a UK/Europe tour:

“First of all, I'm a huge Man City fan, so I've got to get over there for a game. I love Europe in general, because there are so many different cultures within one little area. I love the pubs, the atmosphere and the way people listen to music. There aren't necessarily the rowdy crowds we have over here. There are more listening crowds that want to hear stuff that's right in line with what I'm singing now. It's time to get back there ASAP, and I'd like to do it as early as the beginning of next year”.

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Written by Maxim Mower
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