Lee Brice loves hearing stories about how his music has affected his fans -- although sometimes, those stories can tug on his emotions a bit too hard.
"With 'I Drive Your Truck,' there's story after story after story," Brice tells Billboard of his Billboard Country Airplay No. 1 hit. "It started to make it harder to sing that song because I would start thinking about these people. I met this girl a couple of months ago. She was 12 or 13, and she was terminal. She's probably not with us now. For some reason, it hit me so hard. I guess having kids, if you actually put yourself in her position or her parents' position, it makes me think every time I sing the song -- like at the ACM's, I thought of her and I could barely keep it together. I didn't write the song, but it changed and impacted other people's lives. That's a powerful thing. I was fortunate to be a part of that one."
Brice will release I Don't Dance, his third Curb album, on Sept. 9, and he knows that a lot of people have their eyes on how his new music performs. But Brice tells Billboard he doesn't mind the pressure. After all, he rose to the occasion with his last disc, Hard 2 Love.
"We didn't have any number ones off Love Like Crazy [his 2010 debut], so to have three and another top five, that's a lot to live up to. I knew I had grown in every way -- as an artist, a writer, a producer, and as a man. So I felt as long as I took my time and put all those things I had learned into what I was doing, that it would stand up -- and the album would be better than Hard 2 Love. I guess for that, we'll have to have three or four number ones -- but we'll see about that," he says confidently.
Brice releases his new disc with a hot hand. The lead single and title track has already topped the Billboard Country Airplay Chart. Brice feels he's been able to build on his success by staying consistent.
"That's a product of sticking with it. Hopefully you're making records better and learning what hit songs are all about. Being able to do that on purpose -- if you think it's a hit song, let's record it like one and make it one. It's nice to have a song go up the charts at a decent pace so we can plan things, because we have an idea of when a song might peak. It's worked out like that so far."
One track that Brice is particularly glad he had time to work on is the Bob Seger-ish "Drinking Class," which is more of a tribute to the working man than the party-song title might lead you to suspect. "We had a bunch of production going on that wasn't right. It was too new and hip, and had too much electronic stuff going on.
"It hit me one day that the song isn't about drinking, but it's about working class folks. Working class, to me, seems like it needs to be organic -- hands clapping, boots stomping, and it needs to sound like people humming along or whistling while they're working. And, literally, a sledge hammer hitting a railroad tie. So that's what we did. We went back in and took all that stuff out, and created those organic sounds to make it feel like the steel mills or the shipyards. When we got done, we felt we had gotten it right."
With a mixture of romantic songs like "Panama City," party anthems like "Girls In Bikinis," and the heartfelt title cut, many in the industry feel that Brice has recorded the album of his career. "I kept going and going until I could be pleased with it. I could have kept trying to make it better because I was learning as I was going. There had to come a point where I said, 'Okay, this is me and where I am at in my life. This is what I can do, and I'm proud of it. I was me -- some things are a little left of center, but that's where my heart was going."