When he takes the stage to perform, Chase Rice pulls no punches. “You’re gonna be mine and I’m gonna be yours for an hour and a half. We’re gonna be in each other’s face. If you don’t like that, walk out the door.” It’s his M.O: take it or leave it. Yes, the budding country star means business when he performs. And the crowds that dutifully yell every damn word back his way? They don’t seem to mind one bit. “I’m looking for people who are looking to have the best night of their entire life,” Rice says of his raucous, get-down-or-get-out live ragers. “If you aren’t here to party, I’m gonna make you party!”
Truthful, unfiltered, unafraid to take every risk he encounters, Chase Rice is that rare artist who means what he says and backs it up with equal measure. “I’m going to speak the truth any way I can,” says the singer-songwriter, who, without a song on mainstream radio, saw last fall’s Ready Set Roll EP top the iTunes Country charts and when its titular single hit the radio waves, he watched it climb up the Billboard charts and hit Gold before it even entered the Top 20. Don’t tell this man it’s good enough, however. “Whatever it is. I’ve always been of the mindset of ‘Let’s move on to the next one,’” says the 27-year-old, hell-bent and firm in his resolve. “I’ve always been the guy to say ‘I promise you that’s not going to be my biggest accomplishment in music.’”
As if on cue, Rice, who co-wrote the Hot 100-busting Florida Georgia Line single “Cruise,” is rearing back for more with his new full-length, major-label LP Ignite The Night. It’s a genre-busting bruiser of an album that tackles tube tops and tears in equal measure, out via Columbia Nashville and his own Dack Janiel’s label. Rice laughs. “I wanted to push this album to a whole other level,” he says, and with wickedly racy songs like “Ride” buttressed up against sentimental, reflective charmers like “Carolina Can,” Rice is backing up his claim.
It’s a sonic free-for-all, Ignite The Night: see the electronic-drenched “Ready Set Roll;” or the big-buck arena-rock bombast “50 Shades of Crazy;” even the swampy-blues- meets-hip-hop banger “Do It Like This.”
“The sales and crowd singing back to me show that I am doing something right,” Rice offers. “And I can just keep giving the cold-shoulder to popular opinion.”
“Honestly, from day one I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me this wasn’t gonna work,” Rice says continuing, recounting several years spent pounding the pavement, slowly elevating his shows from small-club gigs on the back of his 2012 album, Dirt Road Communion, to opening slots on an arena tour with Dierks Bentley. “I don’t care if people call me ‘bro-country’ or they call me hip-hop or rock. All I care about is if I walk onstage and people are screaming every word back to me.”
Along the way, as he says, Rice transformed himself from “underground” to “that star, or whatever you want to call it.” Clearly, fame, and all its superfluous trappings, as far as Rice is concerned, means little to him. It’s all about hitting the stage, delivering the goods and heading on his way. “I’ll never consider myself famous, but that’s what people are saying, so whatever,” he says, chuckling. “We’ve gone from that underground artist to ‘Oh, that’s Chase Rice, that guy who’s on the radio.’ And once you get on the radio you better hold on tight!”
Rice’s live show is an adrenaline shot of energy, conservative standards be damned. He takes cues, in this regard, from his idols like Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney and, before them, the Highway Outlaws: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
“They didn’t call themselves that,” he says of the Outlaws. “They were that because they basically gave the finger to everyone telling them how to do it. Garth, the same thing: he wanted his live show to be like Kiss.”
Quite simply, don’t expect this Florida-born, North Carolina-raised, football-playing, music-loving firestarter to go all Hollywood “I’m going to try to cling as tight as I can to the other side of it – the non-fame, the underground,” he explains. “Because as soon as you start thinking of yourself as famous or a big deal, there’s probably a mountain you’re about to fall down real quick. No matter how big fame gets, I’ve got friends to kick my ass if I start getting out of line.”
Rice, who following a football scholarship at University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, and a stint working on a NASCAR pit crew, decamped to Nashville and began writing with the members of Florida Georgia Line, always had a knack when growing up for recognizing what makes a quality song. But it was journaling in high school, a practice he’s maintained even as his touring life got crazy and hectic, that helped him evolve into an artist with whom Nashville’s most elite song crafters are eager to break bread. “I’ve got literally eight stacks of my life in these books,” he says of his ever-mounting journals. “And it’s just my life. I’ve tried to do it every day. That started the process of my mind working. It’s allowed me to let my mind go. I can let the good out, let the bad out, write it down.”
The success of “Cruise” didn’t hurt his reputation as a stellar songwriter. And while he’s quick to acknowledge an immense pride for being a part of the hit single – “Hell yeah, I’m pumped about ‘Cruise!’ It’s one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me” – with Ignite The Night in his back pocket, Rice is confident we haven’t seen anything yet. “I’ve always been of the mindset – it’s from football – if you win a game against Miami, you’ve got to go play Virginia Tech next week. Let’s write something better. Let’s write something more meaningful.”
And so Rice continues to hit the studio, take the stage each night, view each day as an opportunity to make his mark. “I’m happy with how it’s going,” he says modestly of a career about to blow. “I’m very happy with doing my club shows right now. I mean, George Strait didn’t get to number one in a year.”
“Head down, eyes up,” says Rice of what lies ahead. “Keep on going.”