US Country singer-songwriter Chase Rice has gone Platinum multiple times, co-written a Diamond-certified hit, and last year reached No. 1 with his single ‘Eyes On You’. Off the back of his latest project, The Album Pt. 1, he tells Maxim Mower why he feels like he’s just getting started…

Hi Chase! Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat today. So, I think it’s fair to say you haven’t gone down the traditional route to becoming a chart-topping Country artist. You’ve been a football linebacker, a NASCAR pit crew member, and a reality TV star. Did you always know in your heart you wanted to be a Country singer-songwriter, or was it a passion you discovered over time?

No, not at all – it was definitely discovered. I was 21 when I learnt to play the guitar. I remember my college roommate saying I should be a Country singer, and it felt like he’d just told me to be an astronaut! That’s how far from reality it felt. I wrote my first song in 2008 after my dad died, and I really enjoyed the process of it. It still wasn’t a focus, I just enjoyed doing it. Then in 2012, I’m one of the writers on Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’, and it was then that I realised it’s something I’m pretty good at, and something I could make money doing. It’s evolved a lot, and I’ve become a much better writer, producer and singer. It feels like The Album Pt. 1 is the beginning of my career, which sounds crazy because I’ve been doing this for ten years!

You mentioned your co-write on the smash hit ‘Cruise’ – a historic 24-week No. 1, and one of the best selling Country songs of the 2010s – and this came very early on in your career. Did this instant success spur you on in your songwriting, or did it add a whole lot of pressure to try and recreate the success of ‘Cruise’?

It was definitely before my time of really earning it. I was coming off ‘Cruise’ into ‘Ready Set Roll’ [Chase’s 2014 hit single], and I was thrown into a fire that I didn’t know how to handle. I didn’t enjoy it, and I didn’t appreciate it for what it was. I remember talking to Garth Brooks, and I said out loud, ‘Music is the easiest thing I’ve ever done’, and it was, it was so easy. But then everyone at my label got fired, I left the label, got re-signed, and that brought me back down to reality. It’s made me work my ass off so much harder, but the product is so much better because of it.

Talking of Country legend Garth Brooks, you recently opened up for him in front of over 70,000 fans in Detroit, and I read that the first concert you ever went to as a child was a Garth Brooks concert. What do you think baby Chase Rice would have said at that concert, if you’d told him he’d one day be up on that stage opening for Garth?

Nah, he wouldn’t have believed it! And that’s why I think this time around the success that’s happened, this success compared to the ‘Ready Set Roll’ days, it’s so much more fun because I can sit back and enjoy it. But now this time it’s deserved, we’ve earned it. We’re at a place now where we belong. Whether it’s our crowd or not, we’re going to make sure to bust our ass to make sure it is our crowd next time around. I never expected it as a kid, but it’s cool to be in a place where Garth is not just a mentor, and obviously a huge inspiration for me, because now this is a guy that I actually work with and make music with. To work with a guy like him, that’s earned, and I’m appreciative of this opportunity.

In your latest music video for ‘Lonely If You Are’, you and your band get replaced by childhood ‘mini-me’ versions. You’re at the top of the Country game right now, and there’s going to be a lot of people looking up to you. As a role model, what’s the main message you want to get across through your music to young Country fans across the world?

For every song I put out, that it’s me, and I’m not trying to be anyone else or another artist. That’s the best place to be at, when you finally realise ‘this is what I do best’, and you just try and own it. Another artist does what they do way better than I ever would, but nobody else can be me, and I’m just owning what I’m putting out and enjoying where I am with the music. That’s what I’d say to anyone getting into this – figure out the music you want to make, and be the best you can be.

What made you want to release The Album in parts, and how many can we expect?

That’s a good question. To me it’s the way people consume music these days – some people buy it, some stream it, some only listen to singles and not albums. I feel like giving less music more often gives the songs more of an opportunity to have the life they deserve. If you drop fifteen at one time, you just choose three or four to listen to and never hear the rest. But with only seven at once, you have the opportunity to listen to all of them. I’m not just releasing a single or two with five fillers, either – I wanted every song to be worthy of a single. That’s a big focus for me for The Album Pt. 2, and we’ve all just been talking about it right now. It’ll probably drop around April or May, and it’ll probably be less than seven songs. But it’ll be the same in that I want every song to be good enough to be a single. And to answer your second question, I don’t know when it’ll stop. There could be three, four, maybe even seven parts!

You’ve said that you feel The Album Pt. 1 is your best body of work to date. What makes this album particularly special for you?

I just think the singing, the production, and the writing is much better. Music is my life right now, and it wasn’t always a priority. At first, I enjoyed the partying aspect of it to be honest, and now that’s not my focus at all – my focus is on the music. I’m focussing hard on making the best music I’ve ever made, and I think that really shows on The Album Pt. 1. I think ‘Eyes On You’ kicked it off, and that could’ve easily been on Pt. 1. Also songs like ‘Forever To Go’ and ‘Messy’, they really encapsulate who I am as an artist.

There are a lot of different genres and styles infused into the mix on this project. ‘Everywhere’, for example, wouldn’t sound out of place on an Imagine Dragons record. When making an album, is it always a goal of yours to try and surprise people and explore different sounds?

I definitely want to explore different sounds, but I don’t really try to make it a point to surprise people, as that would make it different for me. Every song needs to have its own identity. For example, ‘Saved Me’ and ‘Lions’ [from 2017 album Lambs & Lions] are two completely different songs, but they’re still me. ‘Messy’ and ‘Everywhere’ are completely different, but again they’re still me. I love exploring these different sounds, and they don’t need to all sound the same.

I read somewhere that the entire album is about one person. Do you ever get nervous when you’re about to release quite personal songs about an ex, about how they’re going to take it?

Yeah, that’s the tough part. I do this for a living, but she doesn’t have a way to defend herself, and I’m mindful of that. I’m not going to say too much that she wouldn’t want people to know. She’s heard it, and I’ve talked to her since, and she’s good with everything. You want to be real, but not throw her under the bus.

You recently toured around the UK, and you take a keen interest in UK culture, more-so than most other US Country artists. You’re a big Manchester City fan, for example, and your song 25 Wexford Street is all about Dublin. What is it that draws you to the UK?

I think it’s just how you guys have taken me in with open arms. The first time I played there, we pretty much sold out every show, and it was just me and a guitar. We decided to go there before Country2Country [Europe’s biggest Country music festival] had started up, to build our own foundations, before I brought the band over. We built from the ground up, and you guys have treated me so well from the beginning. It’s like I’m coming home every time I go over there, I could even see myself coming over there and writing. I just love the people, and that’s why I put out 25 Wexford Street, and did a UK version of ‘On Tonight’ [from Lambs & Lions], because that’s how the crowd in London sang it. You guys have been amazing to me.

You’re known for your anthems, and these translate especially well to live performances. How big a part do the live shows play in your mind when you’re creating an album?

Yeah it’s huge, because our live shows have been the day one thing for us, before we ever had anything mainstream. Whether it was media, articles, radio play – before we had anything, we had a live show. I want the songs to help us keep the energy of the live show. But that doesn’t always mean high energy, for example ‘Forever To Go’ is just me and a guitar. I always want to pay respect to our live shows, and right now I do feel like we’re missing something from the setlist, so I’m going to make sure there’s a real high energy song on Pt. 2.

Which other artists are inspiring you right now?

That’s a great question! It’s funny you mentioned Imagine Dragons earlier, because I listened to them this morning. I respect the hell out of Eric Church for being who he is, I’ve always respected and loved his music. I listen to a lot of Garth Brooks, and hearing some live recordings of his stuff is definitely inspiring. I just did an acoustic thing with Kyle Cook from Matchbox Twenty, he’s created a sound that hasn’t been done before, and they’ve paved their own path. I’m all over the map, I love so many different artists.

I saw on Instagram you hit up Ed Sheeran asking for a potential collab. Has he come through yet, and could this be something to look forward to on The Album Pt. 2…?

I think it would be too soon for Pt. 2 to be honest, but I hope it’ll happen soon! I got to hang with him at the O2 – he’s obviously on top of the world, and I’d love to write a song with him and sing it together. I would definitely say it’s a possibility for the future.

Music is such a special medium through which artists can really help listeners when they’re going through something. If you could pick just one song that you’d want listeners to pay especially close attention to, the lyrics of which you feel can help people the most, which song would it be?

There’s a lot. ‘Eyes On You’ is probably my favourite to play loud because of the crowds. But if I could only sing one more song, it would be ‘Jack Daniels and Jesus’ [from 2014 album Ignite the Night]. That for me is a real song, it has a great story and lesson behind it. It’s probably one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written.

Are you planning on returning to play in the UK anytime soon?

100% – that’s a given. We’ll be coming back bigger and better with our live show, and I want to work our way into arenas. And we’ll hopefully be bringing Pt. 2 and maybe even Pt. 3 over with us!

Chase Rice’s latest project, The Album Pt. 1, is out now on all streaming services. Check out his music video for ‘Lonely If You Are’ here.