Photo courtesy of Travis Rice and Brickshore Media
“Cheerfulness is the off-shoot of goodness.” CHRISTIAN NESTELL BOVEE
I first met Travis Rice two years ago at Country Radio Seminar (CRS) 2018 in Nashville. I can honestly say there was not one thing to dislike about him. He was friendly, he readily answered every question we asked him and he was just your all-around easy going kind of guy. I had the opportunity to chat with him again at CRS 2019, and I’ve bumped into him around town. He’s always the same, whether it’s a professional meeting or I just happen upon him somewhere. He puts on absolutely no act for anyone. What you see is what you get, that is, until he gets on stage to sing. Everything changes at that point. It isn’t an act though, it’s just Travis. On fire.
Video courtesy of Patti McClintic, Think Country and YouTube
I learned that this year during CMA Fest. One rainy (more like a mini-monsoon) afternoon, I ducked into the Hotel Cambria’s True Music Room where Travis Rice was playing a gig, and finally, I got to hear him play. Without going into a full-out review, since this is an interview, but let me tell you, I was all but spellbound. I had no idea how extraordinary his voice was. I’d heard his music, but once I actually heard it live, I just sat there with my jaw hanging open. He was unbelievable. I had to quickly do a Google search and make sure I had my facts straight. I was pretty sure he wasn’t a signed artist, and no, he still wasn’t, but how that was even possible I had no idea.
Without question, to me, this guy has the single best male country music voice in Nashville right now. There I said it. The very best one. Given the right songs, which I’ll get into in a minute, he also has the entire package. He has the looks, he isn’t a trainwreck of a PR nightmare, he has zero baggage to worry about. For the love of all that’s needed in country music, someone should be signing this artist! I stopped to chat with him for a minute after his set and told him and his publicist that we really needed to do a more in-depth interview before someone sees the light and actually does sign him. After that, I’ll probably never see him again, not without taking a number and waiting in a long line. Thankfully, he was gracious enough to meet me in Hendersonville in between me babysitting my granddaughters and picking up Annette from the airport later in the afternoon. That’s an accommodating artist and something I appreciated greatly during an extremely busy week.
Travis Rice was born and raised in Crossville, Tennessee, just about two hours east of Nashville. Being the youngest of three boys, Rice said the brothers became best friends growing up, mainly because where they lived was so rural, they really only had each other to hang out with. They grew up on a few acres and their father was self-employed in the dirt/construction industry, so after school they would help him work. There were horses and cattle and lots of fishing. In general, there was a lot of “redneckery” going on (Rice’s word, not mine, although I did enjoy it).
Image courtesy of TownMapsUSA.com
The country life suited Rice just fine, in fact, as we talked, he said he had just returned from a place in Kentucky “even more rural than Crossville”, where his family had a farm. There was no phone service up there so everyone just went off the grid and did “a lot of front porch sittin’ and bounced around from house to house eatin’ a lot of meals.” I asked if it was what some of us would consider sort of stereotypical southern living, and he agreed it was, telling me how things went. “It was stereotypical. We got in hay. It all ended with a thunderstorm, sittin’ on the porch. It was ‘storybookish’. It was ‘the brochure’.” How much more country can you get than that? The smile never left his face either. He may live in Nashville now, but this is a country guy at heart.
As a teenager in Crossville, not much changed except the size of the toys. The Tonka toy tractors were big enough to sit in and operate. Once the boys had their drivers’ licenses, they would tool around the farm in an old 1947 Willys Jeep “raisin’ Cain”, and there were miniature mules that were cute, but they were high-spirited.
It was during this time that music started entering the picture. It didn’t play much of a part before that because there wasn’t even a working truck radio before Rice was about 12-years old. It was a CD player that his Mom acquired a bit later that lit the flame of interest. At first, it was bands like AC/DC, KISS, Hootie & The Blowfish and the Spice Girls that caught Rice’s attention, with Randy Travis’s “Diggin’ Up Bones” being the first country song to lead him in that direction.
Video courtesy of When the Cowboy Sings and YouTube
Mom enrolled in a record club where you paid a buck and got to pick ten CDs to start off. She let each son choose three. Rice picked Garth Brooks, Tracy Byrd and Kenny Chesney as his very first three albums, but it was eventually Brooks that sent him over the edge and made him want to try his hand at playing an instrument. It wasn’t a guitar, however.
Built from paint cans, five-gallon buckets and hubcaps, Rice created his own homemade drum set. “It was not good, but it entertained me. So, when it came time to buy an instrument, Mom very strongly suggested something other than drums. She pushed me toward the guitar and took me to Sam Goodie back in the day and I ended up with an electric. I locked myself in my room and played because I was too shy to play in front of anybody. I wanted to be a rocker. I was a big AC/DC fan. Angus Young was my hero. When I finally got an acoustic guitar, it was a lot more natural. That got me out of my shell.”
Photo courtesy of Music Feeds
We then talked about his first show. It was at Roane State College in East Tennessee. “I was very nervous coming out, but once I cleared the curtain and I hit the first note, it felt like home. I went from ‘scared nervous’ to ‘excited nervous’ and it’s been that way ever since. It was like a drug. I was hooked.”
Rice may have had an incentive to get him out on that stage that day though. His friend was diagnosed with brain cancer and another friend was putting on a benefit at the school to offset his medical expenses. Rice’s performance was part of the entertainment at that benefit. He admits it was definitely a way of pushing him over that ledge of anxiety. He wanted to help his friend and if singing in front of people was what he could do, then he was going to do it.
That performance also resulted in him asking to be in a band as well. The band needed a bass player, the only problem was, Rice had no idea how to play bass. They didn’t see any issue with that, they said they’d teach him. In the end, all he really had to worry about was jumping around on stage and taking his shirt off at the right moment. He was the eye-candy of the band. It seemed to have worked out well for all involved, especially the college girls that came out to their shows.
Following his stint at Roane, Rice moved to Murfreesboro to attend Middle Tennessee State University. His goal was to be closer to Nashville to see if he liked it and if a music career was really the direction he wanted to go with his life. As it turned out, he said he hardly ever left Murfreesboro at all. The music scene was pretty good there. There were a lot of studio players and songwriters in the area and he kept himself busy practicing his craft and writing songs. After graduation, he couldn’t wait to move back to his little town of Crossville, only to find himself turning right back around and coming back to Nashville shortly after that. He stayed with a friend for a while and eventually bought his own house about a year and a half ago.
I asked what his thoughts were on that. Living only two hours away, the commute isn’t all that terrible, yet it can still seem like a world away when you aren’t right in the thick of things all the time. Does Rice see the benefit of being a Nashville resident full-time and does he recommend it to other artists?
“Yes, and it’s a common consensus that this is where it’s at. It drives you to be so much better. You have to level up just to be a part of it. Not to mention, just being in the mix, you become a part of the town. You kind of have to get swallowed up in it if you really want to get the most out of it. I was so set against it because I was a country boy and I thought I could do it without moving here, but I think for anyone who is really serious about it, you have to live here, or at least spend a lot of time here. I just got tired of the hotel life. You have to be here more than you’re not here. Life’s about choices. I’ve definitely become more involved with the town and made the right choice.”
“Turn Me On” is Rice’s latest single and it’s doing quite well on the digital platforms. Co-written with Ashe Underwood, it allowed Rice to spread his wings and take a risk he says he was a little nervous about. “Anytime you release new music you worry if people are going to like it, but when you bring in a new writer, you worry if fans are going to think it sounds too different, especially when you’ve been doing pretty good so far.
Video courtesy of Travis Rice and YouTube
You worry if someone else’s footprint on the song is going to change your sound too much. I mean, I trusted Ashe. He’s a great guy with a great resume and I totally trusted his abilities, but he quickly put my nerves to rest. He came in with the idea for the song and the first verse already written. He was great to work with. He’s so nutty and funny and outgoing. He came to the studio and gave me his opinion on things. He’s so much more experienced. It was a collaboration the whole way through.”
“Turn Me On” was recorded at Digital Image Studio, which I have been to myself, and while it may be a very unassuming building, magic certainly happens within its walls. Just to drop one recent song they’re pretty proud of over there, that’s where Luke Combs’s “Hurricane” was recorded. Rice had a lot of nice things to say about Engineer Kenny, Producer Jeff and all of the amazing session players over at Digital Image.
With a title like “Turn Me On”, one might wonder if the song is about someone in particular. It isn’t. Says Rice, “If I wasn’t hesitant, this is what I wish I could say. If I had the gumption and not waste any time, I might say something like that, but I’ve never been that guy.” “You’re not a lounge lizard?” Throwing his head back a bit with a real laugh, he looked me right in the eye and said, “Nope. I’m not a lounge lizard.”
Photo courtesy of Travis Rice and Brickshore Media
So, I came out with it. I asked him if he’s single. “I am single”. he said with a smile. I pressed a little further. “Will travel for love?” He confessed, “I’m kind of a sucker for long-distance relationships.” There you have it single ladies. I did the work for you, but there’s a catch. I promised him I don’t allow stalkers and I screen ‘em. Don’t come around asking unless you’re practically perfect. Actually, do that one better. Go buy a ticket to his show and go meet him yourself, but first, go grab up all his music right after you read this. Learn all the lyrics so you can sing along at the shows and buy all his merch so you stand out in the crowd.
While we’re talking about shows, Rice will be heading to places like Ohio and Florida soon. He’s looking forward to Ohio as he said it’s one of his favorite places to play. The people there are always so hospitable and enthusiastic. “I’ve been as far up as Lake Erie and the hospitality there was unbelievable.” He’ll be going to Tampa, which will be new for him this year, so if you’re in that area, make sure to check his schedule.
What’s next on Travis Rice’s plate? Creating. Getting down to some serious writing and then back to the studio. Asked if he has anyone he’d enjoy taking a chance at writing with, he couldn’t answer fast enough when he said “Lee Thomas Miller”. He said he would love to write with him because he’s amazing, but also because he would love some help with the comedic side of songwriting, something Miller excels at. His list also included industry giants Wendell Mobley and Ashley Gorley as well as another go round with Ashe Underwood.
Video courtesy of Brothers Osborne Updates and YouTube (Lee Thomas Mobley and Wendell Mobley)
He also said he’d like to write with artist Travis Denning. “I’ve heard some of his unpublished catalog and it’s really, really good. I haven’t met him, but I’d like to. I don’t know if we’d have a good write or not, but I’d definitely like to try.”
One thing I can say is, if you go see Rice when he’s on tour, you won’t have a problem meeting him yourself. He calls himself highly approachable. In fact, he calls meet and greets after shows his favorite part. “The reason I stay in the business”. He enjoys hearing stories from fans, taking photos and signing autographs. It’s what keeps him going. You may have noticed at the very beginning of this interview, I have a quote. Go back and read it again. It’s there for a reason. There are a lot of personality types in this business. Travis Rice exudes cheerfulness, but it may have taken a major tragedy to truly bring that to light, at least as far as being cheerful with the masses.
Once the housekeeping matters were over, I was able to jump into a few extra questions that didn’t necessarily pertain to music. The first one I asked was what adult (non-relative), in hindsight, influenced who he is as an adult himself today. He told me a story of his oldest brother’s friend, Jake. Jake was 26-years old when Rice was 21. Rice’s brother had just gotten married and had a baby and Jake “needed a new wingman”, and Rice was the man for the job. Sadly, it was shortly after that changing of the guard that Jake was killed in a truck wreck at age 26.
Rice described himself at that time as a “worrier and a pessimist”, and someone who just needed some sense of direction. Jake, on the other hand, was “a free spirit who loved everyone and didn’t care if he got any of it back. He was going to love you whether you liked it or not. He traveled and he didn’t hesitate, like everybody wants to.”
Jake’s sudden death, as tragic as it was, caused something important to happen to Travis Rice. “They say everything happens for a reason, or God has a plan. For the first time, I remember seeing that unfold in front of me. It completely changed the way I looked at things and life. I’ve never been happier since that event. It was a reality check, a turning point. As sad as it was seeing his Mom and Dad and all his friends, over 1,200 people showed up at his funeral, the amount of lives he touched in 26 years, all of that, I became way happier. I realized I had to let go of things I couldn’t control and I started doing things that I really wanted to.” I told him I hoped Jake could hear what we were talking about and he said he was sure he could.
Obviously music is something that Rice really wants to do, and he loves being on the road and meeting fans. He especially likes to hit new cities to meet new fans. We played a new game where I asked Siri to give me some random cities that maybe Rice should consider adding to his future tour schedules. I thought this idea might be a complete bust, but it actually was kind of fun. We did it for cities in the United States and the UK. I took the first four cities in the US and the UK.
Here’s where Siri thinks Travis Rice needs to go next. In the United States, according to Siri, Rice should be doing shows in Montgomery, Alabama, Buffalo, New York, Atlanta, Georgia and Stockton, California. In the UK, he should play Reading, Wells, Salford and Salisbury, all in England. If you want to see Travis Rice play, and you’re near any of those random places, start yelling loud and proud to the local country music promoters in your area. I’m sure he’d love to come out and meet you.
We did a few quick Best/Worst questions before rounding out the interview as well. According to Travis Rice:
Best place to hear live music in Nashville? “The Ryman.”
Best place to eat late? “Used to be Paradise Park, but now Hermitage Cafe.”
Best place to eat early? “Hermitage Cafe too.”
Worst place to get stuck in Nashville traffic? “The 440.”
Best place to people watch in Nashville? “Broadway. You get a little bit of everything there.”
Then I asked if there was any Nashville person he wanted to send a shout out to? “Justin Bennett.” I needed clarification. Was that an artist I hadn’t heard of? “Justin Bennett is a random guy I met who is up for anything, anytime, anywhere. He’s the ‘Let’s do shots!’ guy. In fact, most things start off with that statement, and most things end up with me having a headache if they involve Justin Bennett.”
Photo courtesy of Justin Bennett Facebook
Rice said he met him in a bar, over shots (go figure) and they became fast friends. Bennett is the guy that you call if you have an extra ticket to a show and nobody else can take it. Bennett is the guy that will go to that new movie when nobody else wants to. Bennett is the guy that will go do shots when you just need to cut loose (go figure). Justin Bennett sounds like a guy I need on speed dial! I don’t know how many show tickets I’ve let go to waste because someone stiffed out at the last minute and not one single soul wanted to take it. We all need a Justin Bennett in our world. Travis Rice happens to have found the most perfect specimen of one. So, to you, Justin Bennett, I am raising up a shot. Cheers!
Lastly, when Travis Rice “Thinks Country”, what does he think? “Home”. Drive through Crossville sometime. I think you’ll see that one word is all he needed.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country
Travis Rice can be found: