Lee Brice is about to release his latest album, Hey World. In this interview, he talks about his long road in country music, and why he has more momentum than ever leading into the new album. The album is due out November 20.
You’ve been doing this for more than a decade and “One Of Them Girls” is your fastest charting single ever.
It’s my fastest charting single, and probably the biggest: it was at number one for three weeks. It’s kind of funny because right before that, we had our other biggest single, “Rumor.” We’ve been on a steady, hard climb. But we had “Rumor,” and then the Carly Pearce duet [“I Hope You’re Happy Now”]. You know, timing really does have a lot to do with a lot of stuff. I’ve been doing this for.. I’m going on twenty years. I guess there comes a time where timing — maybe — lines up for you.
I’ve interviewed a lot of artists, in a lot of genres, who go from putting out their first album to becoming a superstar really quickly. They went from worrying about how to pay their rent to buying their first mansion in a relatively short time. You’ve had time to adjust.
I have. Would I have liked my first single to blow up? Luke Bryan and I put out our first singles at the same time [Brice’s “She Ain’t Right” and Bryan’s “All My Friends Say” both came out in 2007]. They both were climbing the charts at the same rate. And I think he put his out a week before me and he was like twenty six. And I was like twenty seven. And then, this big group of big superstars put out songs and they all debuted at, like, 20. And so it knocked me down like, eight spots on the chart, which basically knocks you off the charts, which basically killed that first single, whereas it missed Luke by one. And he had a top five single on his first single, which makes a difference in the beginning of a career.
And Luke did really well; we’re buds, he lives a mile down the road from me. He’s a mile from me right now. But me, I’ve walked a little harder line. But Luke was equipped with the kind of personality and humbleness to be like, “I’m just glad to be doing this. No matter how big I get, I’m still gonna be the same dude.”
Let’s talk about “Hey World.” I imagine when a country singer wants to collaborate with a R&B guy, the record label asks, “Who’s the most famous guy we can get?” But on “Hey World,” you got Blessing Offor. That guy is really talented, but it’s not like he’s a huge star. When I heard the song and saw the video, I said, “He really wanted that guy. It wasn’t like he was doing this for marketing. Lee really wanted that guy on his song.”
I just wanted another voice, someone from another walk of life, on the song. And I just randomly heard him sing; my manager was meeting with his manager, for some other stuff. And he said, “Hey, listen to this guy that I heard today.” He just played me a verse of one of his songs. I said, “Well, that’s what I want on this song. I don’t care who he is.” I had no idea that he had been on The Voice. I just asked, “Can I call him right now?”
Hopefully some award show will put you guys on TV together, playing two pianos facing each other and playing that song.
That was part of the idea. How cool would it be to be able to do this together in real life? And when I met him, it was like he was a kindred spirit, like I’d known him my whole life. And honestly, I want to do a lot more work with him, even if it’s writing and producing and different stuff, because, like I said, we really hit it off, like the very first second we met.
Let’s talk about “Memory I Don’t Mess With.” I’m from New Jersey, so I love the line where you sing, “Moonlight on the back seat/A breeze through the wires/Springsteen on the speakers/Girl, I’m on fire.” I know you co-wrote that with Brian Davis and Billy Montana. Who wrote that line?
That line was probably Billy; he’s so into Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty. We all love that realm. Brian and I had written the chorus, it had been finished for about a year. We hadn’t finished the verses. We love Billy, he’s one our best friends in the world, I wouldn’t want to be in a room with anybody else writing a song. He can be poetic but also walk the line and write something that can be digested quickly and be a single.
When we were writing it, me and Brian were leaving a session and he said, “I’ve got this one line: [sings] ‘It’s a memory I don’t mess with.'” I said, “Whoa! Stop!” We did the chorus immediately. I lived with that chorus for a year, I could not get it out of my head. I just knew it was going to be a smash. So, I was just patient, I said, “Let’s just chill, I know I’m going to cut this record, and I’ll be thinking about it until then.”
The song is kind of a true story of me; I had my first love. That was something that will always be there. It wasn’t “the one,” but it was “the one” back then. And I think that that’s kind of the golden factor that everybody can kind of relate to. Everybody’s got that little thing, whether they’re going through it now or maybe they’re 40 and they’re looking back on it, and they’re thinking, “Yeah, I know what he’s talking about.” Everyone is going to have that relationship, or is having it now, or had it already.
Did you feel that “I Hope You’re Happy Now” with Carly Pearce expose you to more of her fans?
100 percent. In a lot of people’s eyes, that was something brand new for me, they’d never heard me do a duet like that. It brought in a whole other bunch of folks.
How was it introduced to you? Luke Combs co-wrote it and was supposed to sing on it, but you did it instead.
I just thought, “Why isn’t Luke singing it?” Carly said, “Well, this is my story and Luke helped me write it. The whole time I was writing it, I heard your voice.” I told her that was such a compliment and such an honor. I just feel like I was a pretty fortunate bystander who got to be a part of a huge song. I think that song would have been huge no matter what, it could have been Dan + Shay or Luke Combs or whoever. But it would have to be someone who could get up there and sing pretty good, because it was not easy.
You came up in Nashville as a writer. Do you think that it’s easier or harder to write with you because of your experience?
Well, I think it probably is easier. Back then, I was just exercising those muscles, getting myself ready for a career as an artist and writing my own songs. I was writing a bunch of songs to put on my records; that was really what I was doing. But I just happened to get a few cuts on the way to my first break. And so I think exercising those muscles, taught me so much. I was writing three times a day. I started at nine, I’d break at one, then I’d write from two to six. And then I’d go right from nine to two.
When you do that, you learn a lot. And I was writing with experienced writers and I learned a lot. I kept my mouth shut, but I listened and I edited and I brought in my melodies and I would just do what I could do, the best I could do. They were nurturing and I just soaked in as much as I could.
When you were a writer for other people, did you have to say at some point, “I’m not giving my best songs to other people, or my artist career will never happen?”
Kind of. I mean, I was eating Ramen noodles and, you know, Garth [Brooks] calls, and you say, “OK, I have a song.” But when I got on the road and I wasn’t writing 200 songs a year anymore. I might write 30 or 40 songs a year and those 30 or 40 or more quality over quantity.
Now those muscles are sharpened up. I look at my albums and say, “Well, where’s the hole at in the record? What kind of song do I not have?” And then I specifically write towards that.
There are a lot of songs that I’ll do now that this record’s turned him. I’m actually just did a demo session the other day of all these songs that could have easily been on this record. But for whatever reason, they just weren’t right quite for this one. So we’ll go pitch stuff and see what happens.
So you might end up with cuts on two or three other people’s records in 2021?
Yeah, that’s the plan.
Do you have a favorite song that you wrote for someone else’s record?
The first couple were special to me, and other than those, “Seven Days,” that Kenny Chesney recorded and a song called “Still,” that Tim McGraw recorded. Those are two of my favorite songs, I love those songs.
You could still record and release your own versions of songs you wrote for other people though.
Yeah, and I did, I have a version of “More Than a Memory” [which Garth Brooks recorded]. I could go back and record more of those songs and I’ve thought about it and I probably will at some point. Those songs, to me, have a lot of life. I never give up on my babies!