The country music hit-maker explores his fun and serious sides on his album, I Don’t Dance.
South Carolina native Lee Brice climbed slowly and steadily to country music stardom. His first taste of the limelight came after a few years on the Nashville scene, when he scored a hit with the 2009 single “Love Like Crazy.” Its lyrics celebrate a 58-year relationship maintained against the odds thanks to truth-telling and a whole lot of I-love-yous. When the song blew up, Brice was only starting to raise his own family, but his earnest, lived-in vocals suggested wisdom beyond his experience.
Now 35, Brice has certainly grown more accustomed to chart success. His 2012 album, Hard 2 Love, produced three hit singles, including the brilliantly simple love letter “A Woman Like You” and the award-winning tear-jerker “I Drive Your Truck.”
The singer has also found good fortune at home: He’s now raising two young sons with his wife, Sara, whom he married in 2013. When we called Brice to talk about his recently released third album, I Don’t Dance, he was driving around Nashville in his truck, preparing to deliver his 5-year-old son, Takoda, to karate class.
Cowboys & Indians: So, your son is doing karate. What were you into growing up?
Lee Brice: Well, mostly just hunting and fishing, football and other sports, and then church and music. That was it; that’s about all I did. Music for me was recording with a little karaoke machine, a keyboard and guitars, and a microphone when I was 11.
C&I: Ah, those old karaoke machines with two tape decks ... .
Brice: Yeah, you go back and forth and the recordings get more and more hissy the more tracks you put on there. But then I figured out this little Casio keyboard could record. So, man, it’s like I’ve been doing this my whole life. And finally, on this new record, I got to do it for real.
C&I: Is it true you were given a bit more freedom to produce the album however you wanted this time around?
Brice: When Hard 2 Love turned out to be successful, the label was like, “Just go do whatever it is you do.” Of course, I didn’t go spend a bunch of money. I did most of it in the home studios because that’s where I had fun. I get to spend more time just messing around, playing my own instruments. I wanted to play guitar solos, man. That’s the dream.
C&I: How did the wedding-ready title track, “I Don’t Dance,” come about?
Brice: When I wrote the song, it was like, OK, this is a new twist. I just felt it was the basis of who I was as a person and, musically, how far I was wanting to go. And then when I got the track done, it was literally just a work tape. I just put some drums around it, is all I did. Turns out that’s the version that made the record. It gave it a broken-down, acoustic, spacious sound that I wanted.
C&I: You follow up the title track with a carefree party jam called “No Better Than This.” Did you intend for the album to be a musical roller coaster ride?
Brice: It’s just like how I approach a live show. As the show is going along, you don’t want to put ballads back to back to back, and you don’t want to put all the up-tempos together, slamming people in the face the whole time. There’s got to be dynamics. I want it to never get boring. And a roller coaster ride doesn’t just go up and then come back down. It does all kinds of twists and turns.
C&I: There are other songs that speak to your upbringing, like the biographical “My Carolina” and the working man’s anthem “Drinking Class.”
Brice: A lot of this stuff is so personal. “My Carolina” is obviously the closest thing to me as far as who I am: to where I’m from, the things I was raised on, the things I still miss. That’s what that song is about. And musically, it’s that Southern rock that I grew up on, like [The] Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Some of the lyrics are so literal that they’re almost weird to sing, you know — boiled peanuts, shrimp and grits. But I don’t care about it being commercial; I don’t care about any of that. I just want to tell the truth. And that stuff is part of me and South Carolina: rabbit hunting, duck hunting, deer hunting, dog driving, all of that.
C&I: Did any of the new songs challenge you in an unexpected way?
Brice: I went as far as I wanted to go on “Always the Only One.” It’s just a straight-up letter to my wife. Musically I said, “I’m just going to do whatever I’m hearing in my head.” And so [the hard-driving rock style is] a little crazy, but I love it. I wanted to be able to look back on the record forever and be proud that I did it, you know, whether it’s me playing guitars or me doing some sounds that were weird.
C&I: When you’re at home in Nashville and not out on the road, what do you like to do with your time?
Brice: Well, lately the touring never ends. If I am home, I’m with my family in Nashville. There are parts of town that are just unbelievable. Like the Buffalo River and Duck River, where you’ll float for two days and just let it all go. Nashville is cool because you can be right outside of Tootsie’s [Orchid Lounge] and, in 10 minutes, you can be on a river somewhere camping or deer hunting or turkey hunting.
I live in an area right beside one of the best golf courses in Tennessee, The Governors Club, and I get to go play some, so that’s what I’m trying to teach my boy.
But I still love to go down to the quintessential Nashville bars, Tootsie’s and Legends [Corner] and The Stage [on Broadway]. When I first came to Nashville, that’s what I did; that’s what you were supposed to do. I still love to go there. I’ll take Sara on dates. The best players in the world are all just sitting there right in front of you, and you can watch all of them in one afternoon or evening.
C&I: You probably put in your time playing for those bar crowds, right?
Brice: I did it, man. A hundred dollars to play for eight hours by myself with a guitar at a Mexican restaurant. Play for hours, pack it all up, drive home, write a song the next morning, leave your songwriting appointment, and go straight back to the restaurant and do it all again.
For upcoming tour dates, visit www.leebrice.com.
From the December 2014 issue.