Things are going well for Chase Rice, and the rising country star expects they’re going to get a lot better soon.
“The tour is rolling along,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It beats the hell out of where we were this time last year. We’re selling out about every show we’re doing and we still haven’t had a top 10 single in the last two years.”
That sell-out streak continues with Saturday’s show at the Knitting Factory.
He had high hopes for “Eyes on You,” the sultry, mid-tempo number that Rice’s released in August. It’s a hit in concert, but it peaked at only No. 42 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
“It’s a monster song,” he said. “When crowds are singing it as loud as they are singing it, you know you’ve got a monster it. I’ve had that feeling before. First with ‘Cruise’ Brian (Kelley of Florida Georgia Line) went crazy cause he knew it was a hit. For me, it was ‘Ready Set Roll.’ ”
“And I’ve got a few more to follow it up,” Rice said. “It’s about to get real fun now. It’s headed in an amazing direction. It’s been a frustrating few years.”
Much of that frustration came when Rice got sideways with Columbia Records, the label that he’d been with since 2014. Rice said he was fortunate to land a deal with Broken Bow Records, the Nashville indie label that’s home to Jason Aldean and Dustin Lynch.
Broken Bow, Rice said, understands what he’s about and is giving him the right kind of support. Columbia, suffice it to say, did not. Which keeps Rice fired up.
“I’m not going to write a song about the old label to say screw off,” Rice said. “It does motivate me a little bit to get better – to make the people at that label know they were wrong.”
That kind of competitive motivation is something that Rice, who grew up an athlete in North Carolina and was playing linebacker at the University of North Carolina before an ACL injury ended a promising football career, takes from sports.
In fact, he said, sports has a direct connection to his entire career – even if that kind of driven competitiveness doesn’t always fit in the music business.
“I believe it’s entirely direct. I learned everything I know about form sports,” Rice said. “That mentality in our world can get you in trouble because they don’t know how to handle it. But if the music is connecting with the fans, I don’t care. If you don’t believe in it, get the (expletive) out of the way.”
Get out of the way is what Rice had to do when he joined the Hendricks Motorsports pit crew as a tire changer for Ryan Newman’s Nationwide Series car before moving up to work on Jimmie Johnson’s Sprint Series car.
“Jumping in front of a car coming at you at 60 miles per hour is exhilarating,” Rice said. “It let me keep my sports thing going. Fortunately, I never took a car in the leg or the head.”
Then came a stint on “Survivor: Nicaragua” where he made it into the final three, but didn’t win the $1 million on the CBS reality show. That show aired in 2010, the year that Rice, who had begun playing his guitar in college, started his country career.
By 2012, he’d co-written “Cruise” and in 2013, released “Ready Set Roll,” the EP and top 10 song that got him hooked up with Columbia.
“Ignite The Night,” his 2014 album, yielded “Gonna Wanna Tonight,” his second top 10. But the other singles from the album stalled, leading to his split from the label and presenting him with a live-show challenge.
“The trick for me has been to put out a 90-minute show when we’ve only had two hits on the radio,” Rice said. “We’ve figured out how to do it. The cool thing is my fans listen to the albums. ‘Ignite the Night’ went platinum not long ago. They make it easy for me. They show up, they sing the songs and they sing them passionately and proud.”
In fact, Rice maintains that the lack of radio play has, in a way, worked to his advantage, forcing him to build a solid, extremely loyal fan base a few dozen, then a few hundred people at a time.
“If you’re just relying on radio, that can be disastrous,” he said. “We were playing bars to 200, or 100. Then we’d go back and have 500, go back and have 1,000, then 2,000. We’ve made it work. Every artist, even the biggest ones, have dry times at radio. It happened to be early in my career. It didn’t kill us, but did it stall us on the way to the big arenas? Absolutely.”
“Eyes on You” is the second single off “Lions & Lambs,” Rice’s 2017 Broken Bow Records debut. That album is filled with music that purists deride as not being real country. That, however, doesn’t bother Rice – at least not now.
“The big thing, back with ‘Cruise’ was ‘this isn’t country, this is (crap) , this is pop.’ They had a name for it, ‘bro country’,” he said. “I actually did get caught up in it for awhile. When I started writing better songs, I stopped worrying about it. If I believe in it, if it’s a good song, that’s all that matters.’
To close “Lions & Lambs,” Rice found one of those good country songs that he didn’t write – Chris LeDoux’s classic “This Cowboy’s Hat.”
“I grew up on Garth and Chris,” Rice said. “I didn’t listen to any other music until I was in high school. To have Ned LeDoux on it and Mac McAnally, who worked with Chris, produce was great, special. And it’s my favorite LeDoux song.”
Rice said he doesn’t always play the song live. But it has made it into his shows, which are getting bigger and bigger.
“What’s going to happen when the hits come?” Rice asked. “I don’t know for sure. But It’s going to be wild.”
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