Lee Brice talks tours, inspiration and "I Don't Dance"
A sure sign of success: you've been tagged with a sassy characterization by a renowned publication.
Which brings us to Lee Brice. In 2013, The New York Times called the country singer-songwriter "a sensitive macho man." When asked about that now, he laughs.
He recalls that, when he first saw the description, "I was, like, well, that's pretty true. I was always the sensitive one growing up. Honestly, those songs were the songs I loved - the ballads and that stuff, that's what I loved. I don't know why. Also, I'm a man's guy, and I played football in college (at Clemson)."
The rugged Brice has, in fact, enjoyed some of his biggest chart successes with emotional ballads. He wrote the gorgeous "I Don't Dance" for his bride for their wedding reception ("I don't dance, But here I am/Spinning you around and around in circles/It ain't my style, but I don't care/I'd do anything with you anywhere"). And he recorded the heart-wrenching "I Drive Your Truck" about a guy who, mourning a brother who was in the military, feels close to his late sibling by driving his truck.
With deeply felt songs like those two, Brice naturally hears personal stories from fans about their own lives and experiences.
"It happens all the time. With 'I Drive Your Truck,' especially, I hear so many different stories - not only military stories and people losing people and people coming back, but also just folks talking about their best friend or their granddaddy or brother," he says. "I just file them away, man, because I tell you what: it keeps you appreciative of this life and all the help that we have."
As for "I Don't Dance," which has gone platinum since being released a year ago, he says, "It was kind of the perfect song in the moment, and it just came out natural and easy."
His now-wife, of course, loved it. He must have gotten a lot of brownie points for writing that, right? He laughs and says yes but "it only lasts for so long."
Brice spoke by phone earlier this week, in advance of his coming to Foxwoods' Grand Theater on Friday on a co-headlining tour with Chris Young.
"Chris and I have been buddies forever, and we've been on tours together before. All of our guys know each other, and everybody gets along. It's a real family atmosphere," Brice says.
They'll change up who plays first and second each night, and, yes, they might do a song or two together.
Expect Brice's past hits - no doubt including such romps as "Parking Lot Party" - and a selection of tunes from his current "I Don't Dance" album. He found inspiration for that CD in a place where country fans might not expect: Bruno Mars' "Unorthodox Jukebox."
"The thing about that record that kind of pointed me in the direction was I just loved hearing all the classic sounds that you knew he grew up hearing - very classic, vintage sounds but with obviously a very hip and a very new approach to music and his own thing," he says. "I love the mixing of those worlds. I just really wanted to try to be true to what I was raised hearing - those vintage, cool sounds - and then also the modern stuff ..."
Not only did he experiment in that way, but he also tried some different things in the studio.
"We did stuff all by ourselves in the studio, overdubbing just sounds and fun things," he says. "We did some stuff (with) computers and then we did some stuff that was completely live in the studio as it's going down and didn't even mix it."
On the song "Girls in Bikinis," Brice played pretty much all the instruments. That wasn't too far from what, Brice says, he's been doing since he was 10 years old, back when the South Carolina native started writing songs. (He recalls early attempts at songwriting: one about his kindergarten girlfriend and another about his father's hunting dog.)
As a kid, he was working on a small keyboard where he could record separate little tracks. So getting the chance to play all the parts on a song now was appealing.
"That's the stuff I always grew up wanting to do. That was me on this record, having fun, and doing the things I've always wanted to do," he says.
While his success as a songwriter popped - he had a huge hit when, in 2007, Garth Brooks recorded "More Than A Memory," which Brice co-wrote - it took Brice a little longer to become a solo star.
He acknowledges that there were frustrating times, but he believed there wasn't another choice for him: this was what he was going to do.
"I just felt like if I kept working hard at something and doing the right things, eventually you can have a career, whatever that career may be," he says. "I've been fortunate along the way, but we have definitely worked hard and put in time on the road."
And it's paying off. Audiences are happily enthusiastic - knowing his songs, singing along.
"That's really why we all did this," Brice says. "To have that now is very, very special. We don't take it lightly at all."
Chris Young and Lee Brice, 8 p.m. Friday, Foxwoods' Grand Theater; Brothers Osbourne open; $45, $55; 1-800-200-2882.
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