Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down tours and forced music artists off the road–but it did more than just sideline concert plans. For artists across the musical spectrum, the pandemic also shattered their best-laid plans for album releases and promotions–television and radio station promotional appearances went from in-person to being done via Zoom–if at all. And numerous album releases were delayed.
Even before the pandemic shutdowns began, Chase Rice and his team had planned to give music fans an abundance of music in 2020–just in smaller batches. The series started with the surprise drop of the seven-track Part I EP in January 2020, followed by Part II in mid-2020. The three-part series culminates with full-fledged project The Album, which released May 28, 2021.
The series’ conclusion wraps the 11 songs found on those EPs and adds four new songs, spearheaded by his Top 20 (and climbing) hit “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.,” which features Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard on vocals.
This hit is a reunion for Rice and FGL’s Hubbard and Kelley, as Rice was a co-writer on the duo’s breakthrough smash “Cruise,” which became a country radio mainstay in 2012 and was eventually certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America. Rice and Kelley were also childhood friends when they grew up together in Florida.
The fully-realized The Album project marks the followup to his 2017 album Lambs & Lions, which earned Rice his first-ever chart-topper as an artist with “Eyes on You.” More importantly, the album represents Rice’s continued focus on writing songs that reveal his own artistic journey, rather than simply chasing chart hits.
The Album sets newer songs (such as “Bedroom”) that were penned during quarantine alongside older tracks, such as “If I Didn’t Have You,” which was penned around 2017. During quarantine, Rice had time to focus on his life away from touring, giving many songs on the album a sense of easy simplicity and unvarnished focus on lyrics and vibe.
“It’s all these songs that didn’t have a place and finally came together,” Rice tells CMT.
Rice shared with CMT how the pandemic impacted his songwriting and says fans can expect more new music soon.
CMT: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted how this album came together?
Rice: It got messed up just like a lot of people’s anything, lives, it got messed up last year. So it’s really cool to see “The Nights” finally make it on a record. I always planned on having “The Nights” be on the final part, no matter what it was and so I was excited about that. “If I Didn’t Have You,” I was like, “Man, this song is old, I wrote it like three years ago, but I’ve always wanted to put on a project.” So it was like these songs that didn’t have a place finally had a place.
Part three was the hardest thing I’ve done because I had to step away. I needed my sanity so I stepped away and let the producer, Zach Kale, finish the project, which is not the way I did it on part one and two. I got into a completely different mindset because I was off all year last year and I was like, “Man, these songs are perfect.” We finalized it while I’m also writing my next record, which is going to be a full album either later this year, or early next year.
What can you tell me about the next project?
I’ve written three tracks on the record by myself. Who knows how many more I will, but I’m in the middle of recording that one right now. Once I dive into this next record, which I haven’t even fully dove into because obviously we’re focused on part three right now, but it’s going to be something pretty special.
What life lessons or hobbies have you picked up over the past year that you think you’ll carry forward?
In my mind, I was like, “If they’re going to make us take a year off, then I’m going to take advantage of it.” Because in the beginning I was pissed. Then a month or so goes by and I have a group of friends that continues to hang out at my farm, that I can play these songs for sitting around fires, sitting around my bar and going to their places, hanging out with their families, their kids. I got to live life for the first time in eight years and while doing that, I finished the album and the coolest part for me is the next record that’s coming because of the time off. Man, these songs that I’m looking at, it’s going to be insane.
For many artists, one positive thing that has come from the pandemic has been time to focus on writing.
I’m never going to do it again where I tour, tour, tour while I’m trying to write for a project. I’m going to always, now from here on out, take time off to write a record because that’s what I’m finding with this next album that I’m putting together is the songs are just a whole other level because they’re not trying to be something, they just are.
You have a Top 20–and climbing–hit right now with Florida Georgia Line on “Drinking Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” It’s the first big thing you have done with them since “Cruise” a decade ago.
It really is. Ten years later, which is nuts. I wrote this new song with Corey Crowder, Hunter Phelps and Cale Dodds. I posted it on Instagram and [FGL member] Brian [Kelley] responded right away. He said, “Man. Hit, hit, hit.” Something like that. He was excited, you could tell. Corey is a producer for them, so what I didn’t realize the whole time it was happening was, they kept hearing it and they kept being more intrigued by it so Brian originally hit me up for all of us to produce it together.
And then that slowly turned into us being in the studio together and just seeing each other and finally hanging out again for the first time in 10 years. Brian texted me, he was like, “Hey man, what if we just did this CR-FGL collab? Let’s go.” As soon as he said that I was on it. I said, “All right, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right and make sure that it’s perfect.”
You, Hunter, Corey and Cale wrote the track pretty quickly while on a tour stop in Kansas. What do you recall about that writing session?
Corey kept saying it needs to be a front porch song. We kept trying to make it about a girl. A lot of times you try to write a song, but it’s got to come to you and that happened that day. I looked at my notes and I saw “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” And I was like, “All right, if this ain’t a front porch song, I’m leaving the bus and we ain’t writing today.” We wrote it in like an hour.
You also include “American Nights,” which is a cover of a song from The Night Game.
That started to come together after the number one party for “Eyes on You.” I was in South Florida for a celebration and my manager plays me “American Nights.” He also works with Martin Johnson [of The Night Game], and I was like, “Dude, what if I covered this song. It sounds cool.” Martin thought it was a cool idea and he stayed on me about it. He would be like, “I have a track for it,” then he’d send me the track and say “Is this a good key for your voice?” And we pieced it together like that and recorded it. I just thought it was a great show opener and a great album opener.
Have you been a fan of writing songs on Zoom?
I wrote “Bedroom” on Zoom and probably only two other songs that didn’t make the record. “Bedroom” was my first Zoom write ever. I told everybody else after those few writes, “Nope, I’m done.” For me, that’s not how songs need to be created. It hinders communication, it hinders being able to look people in the eye, it hinders a vibe in a room
You are doing some of your own headlining shows this year and then in 2022, you will open for Kane Brown’s NBA Arena Blessed & Free Tour. What are some of your road essentials?
The biggest thing is that I need my time with my journal, with my Bible, with myself. With my thoughts. I have to do that every day. Just having a bit of time to myself so I can get my day started and make sure that when I do see people that I can give them the time that they need, the time that they deserve and the best version of me.