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Chase Rice's sixth studio album "I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell" arrived on Feb. 10. To best summarize his position regarding a current self-assessment of his career and life, he offered the following sentence via a recent Instagram post: "[I've] been chasin' whatever bulls**t thing I thought I was supposed to be doing at the time."
Deciding to alter that mindset has birthed his most cohesive project to date.
Two years into achieving stardom in a "ten-year town," Rice attained the superstardom that makes most creatives quit pursuing success for the rest of their lives.
The success of "Cruise" -- the 2012-released Florida Georgia Line anthem he co-wrote with Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard (the tandem who comprised Florida Georgia Line), plus producer Joey Moi and Jesse Rice -- included achieving the unparalleled standard of eventually becoming a chart-topping 14-time platinum seller and the best-selling song by a country duo in digital history.
As a performer living in the wake of that stardom, Rice approached his sixth album in 2021 at a career and life crossroads.
He was 35 years old, a high school and college football star, a finalist on the television program "Survivor," plus achieved No. 1 albums and radio singles as both a singer and songwriter. Also, he'd had unprecedented success within 18 months of arriving in Music City which allowed him to hit what he describes as a "false ceiling" insofar as his career potential.
For the past decade, Rice has been searching for how to expand past the very small space he's seemingly allowed himself to have as a creator by essentially starting from a pinnacle instead of building to one.
Add into Rice's self-doubt that his father, Daniel, died suddenly in 2008 of a heart attack -- moreover, add into the mix the idea that he believes his father may have found his success premature -- and an artist creatively crippled by disapproving of his own self-worth appears.
Upon realizing that his son was set on the path of pursuing music as an interest, Rice's father, Daniel, noticed that he was singing songs that he probably wasn't entirely wanting to sing in keys that were not ideal for his voice.
When Rice reached Nashville in 2010, he discovered something about the songs he needed to sing and the voice in which he needed to sing them. However, once he found almost instantaneous fame -- he also lost both of those motivations. Losing motivations related to his father, while also not having fully grieved has haunted Rice's daily life and work for the entire run of his mainstream country music career.
To wit, the cover art of "I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell" is a photograph of his father.
"I've had a blast living life at the highest highs imaginable. However, the lows attached to those highs -- they drop you pretty low," says Rice about the past 20 years of his life.
The escapism of drinking, drugs and party life that mainstream country music industry success offers removed him from self-awareness for many years. However, upon COVID-19's March 2020 onset, he bunkered down at his farm's dining room table and began realizing how false the reality that success offers is when lacking the bolstering context of a vibrant artistic career and frequent live touring.
The new album finds Rice aggressively pursuing writing in a "zone" that his father would approve -- "the right key, the right songs ("not a straight up party, but deeper issues that reflect what I genuinely care about") at the right time."
Alongside this moment of uncharacteristic artistic freedom, his everyday life also yielded gravitas, causing creative fodder.
Moments like these led to "Bench Seat." The touching country ballad could be, by the end of 2023, one of the surprise candidates for Song of the Year.
The story that inspired the song highlights why he initially shied from writing it.
Rice notes that he is fond of opening his farm's mansion to friends who need a place to crash. In this case, it was a friend whose mental health struggles had him contemplating ending his life in January 2021 -- but his friend was stopped when his dog, Butters, came and laid his head on his lap. Fast forward a few days later. While the singer-songwriter had a fire going on his back patio, his friend made a suggestion.
"He gave me the most cliche idea in country music -- to write a song about the bond between a man and his dog."
"We had joked that the song wouldn't be so much of a cliche if it came from the dog's perspective," Rice says.
The vision of writing a track from a third-person, canine point of view evolved into an eight-hour, solo writing session that was more of a moment of therapeutic healing than anything else.
As a singer-songwriter relating to having plateaued and exhausted himself while attempting to crash through a glass ceiling both he and the industry had imposed on his career, he's clearly blasted through that impediment.
For "I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell," his work alongside other top-tier songwriters like HARDY ("I Hate Cowboys"), John Byron (four credited co-writes on the album), his frequent collaborator Kelley ("Key West and Colorado") and Hunter Phelps (three credits). Songs like the album's fun-loving but thoughtful "All Dogs Go To Hell" (which includes the lyric "Everyone knows the devil went down to Florida") feel different than his previous hits like 2013's "Ready Set Roll" or "Eyes on You" (2018) or 2020 Florida Georgia Line collaboration "Drinkin' Beer. Talkin' God. Amen."
"I'm past the place where I feel like I'm the writer in the room that's holding the room back from creating hit songs," offers Rice in yet another moment of frank candor regarding how existentially present he now feels in his own writing process.
His ability to have his career aspirations and mental health in order allows him to craft songs from a place more authentically attuned to his personal motivations.
"They're great and now I'm great, too," he offers.
"I know what I will -- and what I will not -- be willing to perform now. It's just me, my acoustic guitar and feeling free enough to trust what I think is quality work."
In full, Rice feels refreshed, renewed and focused on becoming the arena-headlining country music artist that he arrived in Nashville aiming to become 13 years ago.
"I'm grinding out the best work I've ever created. This album represents me finally [harnessing] the best of my ability in hopes of achieving a whole other level of success. I know who I am as an artist and person now.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Chase Rice on how chasing self-respect developed his latest, best album yet