Just over a decade ago, Chase Rice’s music career exploded as a co-writer on Florida Georgia Line’s 2012 breakthrough juggernaut “Cruise.” From there, propelled by the surge of the bro -country era he helped ignite, he notched several hits as a recording artist, including 2013’s “Ready Set Roll” and 2018’s “Eyes On You.” But, as grateful as he was, the path he was on wasn’t fulfilling.
“It was easy,” Rice recalls of those early years to Billboard, during a visit to his home south of Nashville. “But with that success, it also makes you want to continue with that sound, like, ‘Oh, I guess this is what I do.’ Looking back on it, I can’t have regrets — because it’s ‘Cruise’ and “Ready, Set, Roll,’ the Ignite the Night album went platinum, all the way up to ‘Eyes on You.’ I had a blast making that music. But deep down, I knew there was something more I was missing.”
The hit songs, which also included his chart-topping 2020 FGL collaboration “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen,” and non-stop touring came to an abrupt halt in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, Rice found himself in isolation — away from the crowds and the frenetic pace of touring, and alone with his thoughts, hopes and fears. For nine months, Rice didn’t pick up a guitar.
Then, in December 2020, he sat down at his kitchen table with paper, a pen and a guitar, the songs began pouring out — starting with “If I Was Rock & Roll,” the first song he wrote for his new album, I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go to Hell, out today (Feb. 10) via Broken Bow Records.
“I’m not chasing anything anymore,” Rice tells Billboard, while seated at that same kitchen table on a cloudy day in February, wearing a black shirt with “Nashville” spelled backward and his requisite ball cap.
Rice had a hand in writing every song on the album, but it was a trio of solo writes, starting with “If I Was Rock & Roll,” followed by “Life Part of Livin’,” that set the pace. The exercise in penning those two tracks — as well as a friend’s sobering story — opened the gateway for one of the album’s most striking moments, “Bench Seat.”
Rice wrote the song in January 2021, not long after a close friend confided in Rice that he’d nearly taken his own life.
“He told me that he almost shot himself with a .45 — but at that moment, his dog Butters came up to him and kinda looked at him funny and put his head on his lap, and that stopped him,” Rice says. A few days later, alone, Rice wrestled with the creative urge the moment inspired.
“He’s doing okay now,” Rice assures. “But I remember picking up my guitar, setting it down and just walking out of the room, like ‘F–k no. I’m not doing this today,’ But I had to. I couldn’t ignore it. I just started writing and it took me probably six hours or so. It was not an easy write.”
“Bench Seat” is subversive; the song’s lyrics come with a twist ending, as listeners realize the song is written from the dog’s perspective: “I always knew this day would come, Just thought I’d be the first called home/ Your little boy and her, don’t worry ‘bout them/ I’ve got ‘em … see ya soon my friend.”
The video for “Bench Seat” is equally commanding, with Rice portraying a struggling addict who gets a dog as a companion as he tries to put his life back together. Rice’s own dog, Jack, appears in the clip. Rice’s character goes to rehab, where he meets a love interest. With her help, and the aid of his dog, he slowly regains some semblance of happiness — but, as with the song, the video comes to a heart-wrenching conclusion, as Rice’s character dies of an overdose.
“We thought, ‘Well, if we are gonna rip viewers’ hearts out, let’s do it.’ It’s relevant and it happens all the time. It just felt more real for me to go there,” Rice says.
Even as he shared his new music with his management team at Why & How, Rice was uncertain if he should proceed. “At first, I thought, ‘Damn, I’m about to make a record that’s about to ruin my career.’ Because people think one thing about you, and they are going to hear this and think you are a liar,” he says.
Instead, this album is Rice moving into the natural next phase for him, as he jettisons the last visages of the bro-country era. The music is still propulsive with arena-ready moments, but is laced with deeper, more introspective themes.
For the new album, Rice teamed with Boy Named Banjo producer Oscar Charles. Together, they converted Rice’s living room into a makeshift recording studio and drilled deep into Rice’s range of influences. The resulting 13-track album ranges from the swampy grit of his current radio single, “Way Down Yonder” — Rice recalls trying out different pairs of boots to perfect the stomp clap in the song’s bridge — to the intense “I Walk Alone,” and the saloon country of the tongue-in-cheek “I Hate Cowboys.”
“Jake Owen played ‘Cowboys’ for me during a trip to Cabo. He was like, ‘I don’t think I’m cutting it. Dierks [Bentley] already cut it, but he’s not doing it.’ So I hit up [one of the song’s writers] HARDY and said, ‘There’s changes we want to make to this. I think there’s an outro thing that would be sick on this. Are you OK with it?’ He loved it, so we recorded it. And I trusted Oscar a lot because of the Circles EP, because I loved that album.”
Even Rice’s featured collaborators are far from the pop-country bonafides one might expect. Boy Named Banjo appears on “Goodnight Nancy,” while the Read Southall Band lends their rural rock stylings on “Oklahoma.”
“People have heard this and say, ‘Oh, this is so different for you’ — which is my fault. I’m showing sides of me that I knew were there the whole time,” Rice says. “Even when I wrote these first three songs, my first thoughts were ‘Oh, that would be cool for down the road, or for someone else to record’ — until I kept writing more. I think this is way bigger for my career than anything I’ve ever realized.”
While crafting the album, Rice was bettering himself emotionally and personally, working to win his own battle against the bottle.
“When you wake up sober every day, it forces you to face whatever’s going on in your life,” he says. “A Navy buddy told me one time, ‘Dude, you can hold it inside your whole life, and at some point, it’s gonna catch up with you.’ Some stuff leads to depression to addiction. But at least I’m in the battle now.”
He describes trying rehab and therapy, and undergoing the popular 75 Hard program last year (“75 days of no drinking, you have to read 10 pages of a book per day, two workouts, all this stuff,” Rice says). What has helped him the most is accountability.
“I’m trying to not drink during the week anymore. I don’t want to be the guy that never drinks, right? I want to go have some drinks with my buddies. I want to find balance. It helps having people around you that can be like, ‘Chill out’ or whatever,” he says. “At some point, you just gotta hold yourself accountable. I got good people around me that I text every day.”
The physical version of the album closes with a “hidden track,” the intensely personal “For a Day,” a tribute to his father, Daniel Rice, who died from a heart attack when the singer-songwriter was just 22. Rice recalls recording the song at the very end of the album-making process, at 11 at night, when they had already torn down most of the recording gear.
“The drums were gone, there were still panels and cables everywhere,” Rice says. “I did three takes, and I was bawling at the end of that. I think they cut most of that out, but that was the final song.”
The album cover for I Hate Cowboys and All Dogs Go To Hell is also a tribute to his dad, featuring a photo of his father, taken at Jackson Hole in December 1987.
“I love that his picture is everywhere—he’s on Jimmy Kimmel, he’s in Times Square,” Rice says with a bittersweet grin. “There are a lot of topics on this album, but there was some healing going on. In ‘Life Part of Living,’ I sing, ‘Losing dad can make it pretty tough,’ so it’s just stuff that I could finally sing about. I wasn’t ready to face it, to sing about it, back then. I am now.”
“For a Day” is perhaps Rice’s most vulnerable recording to date, and he’s performed it live only once, at the Grand Ole Opry. But he feels his open-hearted approach to his new music is already paying off.
“I think people are gravitating toward the music because they believe me now,” he says. “Before, they were like, ‘That’s the guy that sings “Eyes on You.”’ But I’d rather have 2,000 people show up that are all about this music, than 15,000 people show up that are like, ‘Eh, whatever.’ The passion is back, which is awesome. And most of all, I think my dad would be proud of this music.”