“On a scale of 1 to 10, be an 11.”
Singer/songwriter Chase Rice has applied the words of his high school football coach, Bobby Poss, in a series of accomplishments that others merely contemplate – he’s been the starting linebacker for the University of North Carolina; a member of a NASCAR pit crew; a touring artist who sold out strings of venues across the country without a record company, a manager or a song on the radio; and a co-writer of a record-setting, many-times multi-platinum single, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” There are few Nashville artists who can match Rice for his drive, his relentless energy and his confidence. And even fewer who are positioned as well to succeed.
After moving to Music City in late 2010, Rice recorded an album, Dirt Road Communion, on his own Dack Janiel’s label and quickly beat the odds. He landed it on the Billboard Country Album chart, and launched one of his singles, “How She Rolls,” onto Hot Country Songs. In a world dominated by corporations, that’s no small feat for an artist working on his own.
“Cruise,” meanwhile, is a certified “11,” a song that literally re-wrote the country music history books, setting an all-time record by spending more weeks at #1 on the country singles chart than any other song. It generated a second life when a remix featuring rapper Nelly landed in the Top 5 on the pop chart. “Cruise” sold more than 5 million copies through mid-2013, though Rice – in diehard “11” fashion – refuses to rest on that accomplishment. Or to let it define him.
“It’s not normal what it’s done,” Rice says. “I understand that. But I want it to be a song of the past for me as a writer. ‘Cruise’ is a once-in-a-lifetime song for most writers. I am very appreciative of it, but I’m about a lot more than just one song.”
“Cruise” did, though, draw more attention to Rice’s own artistic career, which is already on a fast track. In conjunction with Dirt Road Communion, he hit the road on a heavy touring schedule, playing more than 150 dates annually, building a fan base and honing his skills. He sold out a dozen venues from Florida to Illinois, even while operating without a formal record company and without radio play.
His latest set of tracks, recorded with producer/engineers Chris Destefano, Scott Cooke, and Chad Carlson, demonstrate how deep the foundation runs. Rice owns a sandy resonance and a Southern-bred masculine quality that bears some resemblance to country stalwart Tim McGraw. But he also has a penchant for edgy musical adventure. “Party Up” applies compact banjo riffs and jangly guitar to build a laid back anthem. “Look At My Truck” blends small-town images – a Bible, a shotgun and Goodyear tires – with an intricate acoustic guitar and a signature hip-hop influenced synth line. And “Ready, Set, Roll” manages to balance mainstream country with a quirky electronica that owes a debt to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.”
That non-traditional mix of sound and style is intentional for Rice, as he daringly dials his brand of country up to 11.
“I want to do something different,” Rice maintains. “I don’t want to go out there and sing the same old thing. Whether it’s the way I sing it, what I’m singing about or the production of it, I want it to be something fresh and new. If people like it, then great. If people don’t, then great. I’m gonna do what I want to do.”
What he wants to do most is build a career, and his approach – using sold-out concerts to aggressively establish a fan base before they signed with a label – is the same one that Brantley Gilbert, The Eli Young Band, Eric Church, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line used.
It’s allowed him time to develop on his own, to forge a party sound that borrows from some very divergent influences. His history is an odd brew – part Garth Brooks, part Eminem, part George Strait, part Wiz Khalifa. The end result is an unusual combination that’s true to his musical heritage – and to his competitive intensity.
“I say ‘Let’s get weird’ a whole lot with the music,” Rice says. “I want people to kind of shake their heads and say, ‘Did he really just say that?’ Or ‘Did I really just hear that right?’ I don’t want it to be the same old thing. Once you get to your limit, push it to the next.”
Be an 11.