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Game-Changer: Chase Rice Clearing His Own Path to Country Stardom

Chase Rice
Mat Haward, Getty Images

Chase Rice is a confident man. Stand next to the former college linebacker and quickly find yourself lost in a country forest of muscle and testosterone. He’s tall, he’s thick, he’s quick to the point, and if he smiles, it’s only a sly grin that does little to lift the low brim of his HDEU ball cap. It’s difficult to imagine the ‘Ready Set Roll’ singer in a belly laugh.

Rice isn’t overtly gregarious or extroverted, but he’s far from standoffish. Within a few moments of meeting him you’ll decide if you like or are intimated by his focus and determination. And he’s fine with either.

The songs on the new ‘Ignite the Night’ album are a good representation of all sides of his personality. There’s the high-powered flamethrowers that reflect his live show. Then, there are more introspective ballads that find a man nervously revealing his vulnerabilities. Bring up his late father and watch his expression change. It’s been six years since a heart attack took Daniel Rice, who was then battling melanoma. Chase clearly misses him like he was here just yesterday.

"It’s honest,” Rice says. “Most of the time you start with just a kiss and then all of a sudden you’re naked and doing whatever."

“I”m gonna go with no,” he says, smiling when asked if his father — a fan of traditional country — would like his new album.

Rice softens and his eyes light up as he tells the story of convincing his parents to buy him a guitar. It was eight or nine years ago, he reveals to Taste of Country. He wanted a Martin D18 guitar and didn’t have the money to buy it, so he’d asked his parents to help, but his dad was hesitant.

“He said, ‘You’re playing guitar, but you ain’t singing? You’re never gonna get these girls at Carolina if you don’t start signing,’” Rice remembers.

So he agreed to sing for them in the family living room. Three songs — one each by Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks — made up the mini-concert. It’d be the only time Rice’s father would see him perform live.

“I sang them, and they were bad guitar playing,” the singer says, laughing. “I don’t know what I was singing that day, but it was good enough for him so I got that guitar and that was a big boost in my career, because I had a sweet guitar and I wanted to get better at it. And I also started singing so it kind of broke my shell.”

The Macklemore Deal

Rice began to take music more seriously after playing college football at the University of North Carolina. He wore No. 44 and had NFL dreams before an injury ended his career. Ask and he’ll tell you he still fights off an urge to thump a chicken-legged running back bursting through the two-hole.

From there it was a short career in the NASCAR pits, working on Jimmie Johnson’s championship teams. Rice also appeared and finished second on the CBS reality show ‘Survivor,’ winning $100,000, with which he began to build his road show. Co-writing ‘Cruise’ for Florida Georgia Line has helped that cause, but being independent wasn’t a means to a lucrative record deal.

Chase Rice
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Rice is a rare artist with the smarts, patience and money to nurture an independent career, and he doesn’t plan on changing a thing now that he’s finding commercial success.

“Why would I let a record company come in and say, ‘You know, you’ve done it like this, good job we’re gonna do it like this now,’” Rice asks in a way that makes you wonder why more don’t follow his lead. It’s difficult to find a country artist in the last decade that has found success as an indie artist. The best comparison comes from pop music.

“I’ve heard it said — now it’s the Macklemore deal of country music, which it is,” the rising star says, referring to the Grammy-winning, American hip-hop artist. “Because he stayed independent and he pushed the independent thing, but what people didn’t know was he had Warner working his single to radio.”

Similarly, Rice has Columbia Records — a relationship he will only praise. But he’s not a Sony or Columbia artist. Rice paid for the recording of ‘Ignite the Night’ and the promotion. He chooses the songs and he chooses the singles, although he knows it’d be foolish not to consider advice from the label.

At every step, he’s fronting the cash — a tremendous risk which brings tremendous freedom to record only what he — and his fans — want to hear. There’s never a need to compromise. Why would he play it safe?

Sonically, ‘Ignite the Night’ draws a line almost immediately. ‘Ready Set Roll’ is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of song, with one lyric in particular drawing ire from haters.

Ready set let’s roll / Ready set let’s ride / Get your little fine ass on the step / Shimmy up inside,” Rice sings. Yes, he’s heard the criticism. But his eyes quit dancing around to find sharp focus when asked how he feels about it.

“I want the people that love me to absolutely love me and my music and be passionate,” he says, grinning. “I don’t want just people to like me. I want people to be passionate, crazy about, not even me, the music.”

Then comes the challenge. “And if there’s gonna be people that hate me, hate me. Be passionate. I want everybody to be passionate and you’re not going to do that by playing safe. And I’m not playing safe.”

There’s more where that came from. ‘Do It Like This’ throttles forward even faster. It rides an edgy, thumping beat, driven by synth.

Lines like “Your tan lines were the map for my hands to find their way,” in ‘Beach Town’ and “Victoria’s Secret there peeking out / It’d be a damn good secret to keep,” on ‘MMM Girl’ pour on the sexuality.

Then there’s ’50 Shades of Crazy,’ which includes Rice’s favorite lyric: “It starts with just a kiss, and then we take innocent, put it in the rear view mirror and haul ass straight for sin.

“It’s honest,” Rice says. “Most of the time you start with just a kiss, and then all of a sudden you’re naked and doing whatever.”

HDEU

Fans are going to learn that this singer loves to party, and he likes to party with beautiful women.

“But they’re gonna also learn that there’s another side to me,” he says. “‘Jack Daniels & Jesus,’ the piano version of it is just me and a piano. And it’s my life in a song. It’s a pretty down time in my life.”

“I’ve seen the light, I’ve seen the darkness / Only God knows where my heart is / I’ve got my strength and Lord knows I’ve got my weakness / Oh, I’m lost somewhere between Jack Daniels and Jesus.”

Daniel Rice would like ‘Beach Town,’ ‘Carolina Can’ and even ‘Ready Set Roll,’ but others on ‘Ignite the Night’ may get Chase slapped.

His goal is to create a setlist of songs his fans will sing back to him with as much enthusiasm as they do ‘Ready Set Roll.’ “I don’t want my fans to sing my songs and stand there, I’m want them raging. I want ‘em partying,” the singer assures. “I want ‘em screaming my songs at me, which is why I put out the songs I put out.”

“The only way I know to do music is be honest,” he says, “and I think that’s made my fans extremely loyal, because I’m just a regular dude up there doing music. I’m not some superstar, and if I ever become a superstar, screw that … I’ll hopefully be a regular superstar.”

"I want people to be passionate, crazy about, not even me, the music. And if there’s gonna be people that hate me, hate me. Be passionate."

‘Ignite the Night’ was released on Chase’s father’s birthday, which was coincidence. “But an awesome coincidence, and hopefully it’s a happy birthday for him,” he says. There’s not really a “dad song” on the album, but his influence and his lessons support every step — first tentative, and now full of confidence — the singer has taken.

“Pray, aim high and stay focused,” Daniel Rice wrote to Chase when he was still at UNC, battling for a starting job. “Wait, be still and stay patient …. Love, Dad.”

Rice has turned that message around some, but kept its simple, honest meaning. He wears shirts and ball caps that read “HDEU.” That’s short for Head Down, Eyes Up. Because the truth is, while the 29-year-old is confident in his abilities, he’s also aware of areas he can improve upon. And he knows country music can be a competition, with a dozen people hoping you’ll fail for every dozen cheering you on.

“There’s way better singers out there, there’s way better writers,” he says. “There’s way better looking dudes or girls out there, but they’re not going to outwork me, and I learned that at Carolina.”

Chase Rice Didn’t Think ‘Cruise’ Would Be a Hit

Next: Sexiest Men in Country - 2014 Edition

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