Darius Rucker has been delivering hit country singles ever since crossing over into the format. Fans have embraced the singer -- who, before embarking on a country music career, was better known as the frontman of Grammy Award winning pop-rock band Hootie and the Blowfish -- with open arms, due to his honest passion for making music.

In 2012, Rucker will begin work on his third solo country project. The singer recently performed several of his hits (and even a Christmas song, 'Candy Cane Christmas') at an intimate Grammy Artists Revealed concert in the Big Apple to "try to bring a little country music to New York City," and he will continue to hit the road non-stop as the new year approaches, alongside fellow country hitmakers Lady Antebellum. Taste of Country sat down with Rucker prior to the holidays to get a sneak peek of what next year holds for the famed singer-songwriter.

After releasing 'I Got Nothin',' the third single from your sophomore country album, will you be releasing another song from that album or will you be going on to work on your next album?
I don’t know. We’re already working on the next record, and the year’s up. I think we’re going to start recording soon. I don’t know if we’re going to go another one off this record or if we’re going to wait for the next record, but the year’s up and we’ll probably have another single in February.

So what can your fans expect to hear from you with this next album?
I’m going to try to make the best record I’ve made yet. That’s my goal. [My producer] Frank and I have got some really cool songs, and we’ve heard some really cool songs that people have sent us. We’ve got some stuff to be really proud of. With this record, I want country music to say, "Hey, he can stay," you know what I mean? The first record was "Welcome!" The next record was "OK -- that’s great." But I want them to now say "OK. He can stay."

Will you be changing your strategy up at all with the way you make this project?
That’s one thing you really can’t say until you have all the songs. When we’ve got the number of songs we are going to put on this album and we’re sitting there, we can either say, "All right, that is what we’re going to do," or "All right, we need to write some more songs."

Did you find that writing for this next album was more difficult with the amount of time you've spent on the road with Brad Paisley (and on other big tours) this past year?
Yeah! But it wasn’t too hard because we had people coming out, so we did that. Then when I’m off, Tuesdays are my writing day. One or two people come in town on Tuesday … and it’s also my golf course day [laughs]. So they come in on Tuesday and we write.

In what ways have you noticed your songwriting evolving since being in Nashville and spending so much time around some of the amazing writers in this town?
I’m starting to write more on my own -- by myself -- than I was before. I write with so many amazing writers. I’m influenced by so many guys. Rivers Rutherford, I’ve studied him like a book every time we’ve written together. I just watch him and take mental notes the whole time we write. Chris DuBois and Ashley Gorley, when I write with those guys, I just sit and take notes. I was writing with Liz Rose the other day … just taking notes, man. Everybody! I hate to just name people, because I’ve done it with everybody I’ve written with. I love writing with them. They’re great people. I’ve got some really great friends. I am just really loving music right now. I’m writing, and I love it.

You were recently included on the Lionel Richie country duets album, 'Tuskegee,' which will be released next year. Can you talk about that experience?
The Lionel Richie project is one of the first times in my career  -- it has been less than a handful of times -- that somebody of that caliber has called me and said, "Hey man, will you come sing with me?" I was blown away by that. Then to be told, "We’re calling you early, so you can choose any song you want to do … what song would you like?" I mean … really [laughs]?

What made you go with choosing 'Stuck on You' for your song on that album?
Probably my absolute favorite Lionel Richie/Commodores song ever was 'Jesus Is Love,' but I sung 'Stuck on You' in the car driving along or riding along with my mom. When I heard I was going to sing with him, there was no other song I wanted to do. I just thought we’d sound great singing that song together.

You recently sang the song with Lionel at the CMA Awards. You two looked like you have a great bond on and off the stage.
He’s probably more of my DNA than an idol. He’s part of what I am. For him to be that cool … I mean, I met some of my idols that were some of the most bitter people in the world -- music people that before I met them, I just wanted to hang out and have a beer. After I met them, I never wanted to be in their presence again. But with Lionel … I can’t wait until I can see him again. I text him all the time! When I was at home and on my birthday, this package comes to my house. It was from Lionel Richie! Are you serious? Are you serious? Lionel Richie sent me a birthday present? That was one of the three I got that day [laughs]!

Next month you will be heading out with Lady Antebellum on their Own the Night Tour. Do you ever see yourself doing headlining tours again, this time as a solo artist?
Justin Moore and I were talking about that very thing when we were out on Brad’s tour. I said, "I don’t want to headline anymore." He said, "Really? Why?" I said, "Dude, there is no place we’re playing right now that I haven’t sold out [with Hootie and the Blowfish]." When we go out with Lady A, there’s not going to be a single building we’ll play that I haven’t sold out twice. I’m not trying to get there again. I’m excited to play music, but I’m old,man … I like playing for 50 minutes [laughs]!

Do you think you will try to do some songwriting with Hillary, Dave and Charles while on that tour?
Oh yeah, I’m sure we’ll write songs. There’s so much time when you’re on the road, and we’re starting in the winter. You don’t get to play a lot of golf up in Michigan that time of year [laughs]. So I’m sure there will be a lot of songwriting on that tour.

What are you looking forward to the most about that run with Lady A?
What I’m looking forward to the most is becoming better friends with the three of them. I think I’m already pretty good friends with them, but when you tour together every day, you gel. I love the relationships I had with Brad … we’ll always be friends. I’m also looking forward to playing. You know me -- I only want to open up anyway [laughs]! This is like heaven to me! I’m going out with one of the biggest bands in the world right now. I get to go and watch their show and hang out! I’m having a blast!

Watch the Darius Rucker 'I Got Nothin'' Video