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Saying no to bro: Country artist spreads wings past stereotype

‘Bro-country’ persona taking back seat for Rice


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published September 19, 2019

Heads Up! This article is 3 years old.

Country music artist Chase Rice had huge hits in 2014 and 2015 with “Ready Set Roll” and “Gonna Wanna Tonight.”

When he had another hit earlier this year with “Eyes on You,” he talked to interviewers about a career slump that apparently happened sometime between 2015 and 2019.

The country music business sure moves fast these days. Country music careers can fly, crash, and take flight again in the span of a few years.

Go beyond bro

“I think that’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Rice told The (Nashville) Tennessean about this slump. “That’s what I want people to know. Throughout all of that, now I’m like, ‘Cool. It’s not my life anymore. It’s my job.’”

Presumably, what he is referring to there is not taking things so personally and getting down to business. He didn’t elaborate.

Rice, who performs Sept. 26 at The Clyde Theatre, used to be one of the more successful practitioners of a pop-country hybrid, sometimes derisively referred to as bro-country.

One thing most bro-country hits have in common is that they sound a lot like other bro-country hits.

Rice’s “Ready Set Roll” was part of an infamous mashup wherein an engineer named Sit Mashalot combined six then-current country hits to demonstrate that they were essentially the same song.

Many bro-country hits certainly seem as if they were written by template, with their ubiquitous references to pickup trucks, dirt roads, summer nights, partying, getting drunk, and women who seem to exist for the sole purpose of looking cute while perched on passenger seats.

When listeners and pundits began to grow tired of the formulaic and lazily sexist nature of this subgenre, bro-country stars were forced to start distancing themselves from it.

Rice has reached the point where he is willing to cast a critical eye on his biggest-selling album to date, the bro-country-laden Ignite the Night.

“There will always be people saying, ‘You’re not country, you’re ruining country.’ And there were songs [on Ignite the Night] where I’m like, ‘You’re kind of right,’” he told Rolling Stone. “I’m very proud of it, but I didn’t have a clue what I was doing on that record. I was just throwing a bunch of stuff on a wall and seeing what stuck. There is some stuff on there that is the same old (expletive) and I’m tired of that. They’re finally going to see the me I want them to see.”

Telling a story

Rice said he split with Columbia Nashville when he figured out that executives at the label didn’t know what to do with him and didn’t particularly care.

“When you don’t have that passion (and support), it’s like a cancer and you need to get rid of it,” Rice told the Frederick News-Post.

Rice subsequently signed with Broken Bow Records and released his fourth album, Lambs and Lions, in 2017.

“This is an album that stands for what I stand for,” Rice said. “I don’t think of myself as a country artist specifically — I’m here to be an artist, period. I’m very proud of the country genre, and I think we have some big country radio songs on there, but outside of that, there’s a story I wanted to tell, regardless of genre. I had to completely put out of my mind what anyone else would think.

“I don’t want to make the same song over and over again,” Rice told the Cedar Rapids Gazette. “What’s the point? With Lambs & Lions, I think each song stands on its own. I never wanted to be one of those guys who makes a single and follows with songs that sound exactly like it. I’m not about making a hit. It’s all about the music.”

moving beyond the cliches

Rice said he can’t predict the future, but he can predict what he won’t be writing songs about.

“Which is a girl in a truck with the tailgate down, perfect night with the stars looking up,” Rice told CBS News. “I decided I wanted to step away from that for a little bit. I wanna, I wanna sing about lions. That’s not country. That’s not rock. I don’t even know what it is.”

Rice plans to live by a mantra, “Head Up, Eyes Down.”

“I put blinders on,” he told What’s Nxt Magazine. “I don’t care how good (critics) say I am. I don’t care how bad (critics) say I am. I’m writing the best songs I can possibly write. Whether (critics) like them or not does not at all determine my success. Whether my fans like them or not determines my success. And whether I like them or not determines my success. And that’s kind of what that ‘Head Down Eyes Up’ mentality is: ‘I’m gonna focus on steps in front of me to make sure that I do the best that I can in life.’”

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