Chase Rice's brand-new I Hate Cowboys and All Dogs Go To Hell is the best country album of the year, and it's only February. The project is a remarkable evolution for Rice, one that really stems from the singer-songwriter deciding, "I'm not faking s— anymore." All it takes is one listen-through of I Hate Cowboys and All Dogs Go To Hell to hear that Rice has traded in pop country for classic Country & Western with a dash of outlaw rock and bluegrass.
Thematically and personally, the album marks the beginning of a new era for the singer-songwriter, one in which he is much more unapologetically himself. "I'm really, really good about just being real and honest," Rice told PopCulture.com exclusively via Zoom from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. "Especially lately," he continued. "I don't know if I always have been, but especially when I know I'm being myself, I'm like, 'All right, f— this is easy to talk about.' It's easy to be real and not say, 'Hey, this is going to be different.' And then all of a sudden, 'Ready Set Roll' 2.0s on it and you're like, 'That ain't different.' But this one was obvious that it was different too because I had a different team that I worked with, with Oscar Charles, and Jordan and different writers even. And it was a whole different process of making this record. So I knew I was being genuine when I said, 'Hey, this is different.'"
It would be disrespectful to say that modern mainstream country artists showcase little growth from album to album. However, it wouldn't necessarily be inaccurate. The common trend is to find a structure that works and ride it until the wheels fall off. Hey, if it's not broke don't fix it. Right? Well, with I Hate Cowboys and All Dogs Go To Hell, Rice and his team, somehow, simultaneously broke it AND fixed it — both on purpose — and in the process, they crafted a country album with sincerity and authenticity that many other mainstream artists from the industry simply... aren't.
"This is just, it's so different than I think, what anybody's putting out," Rice acknowledged. "I mean, you got guys like Zach Bryan, who is as raw as they come, but he's awesome. You got Morgan [Wallen]. Who's a little more polished, but he's the f—ing top of the game right now. He's so f—ing good at what he does. And then you got me who, I think it's going to shock a lot of people." In an incredibly impressive moment of self-reflection, he then added, "Which is frustrating for me because I know what I could have been doing this whole time. I didn't do it, to be honest, but I knew me and I knew who I was deep down and what I wanted to do. I just didn't have a clue how to do it."
However, Rice came to realize that he was just missing two very positive creative influences: Oscar Charles and Jay Joyce. "Jay was a big influence on this record," he said, "by telling me, 'Hey man, just do everything on an acoustic guitar and send that to me.' So I wrote all these songs on a guitar. When the process is that much different, then the product usually should be. And then sent all these songs to Oscar."
He continued, "Once we decided we're actually going to go with Oscar on this record, Jay and I talked and he just wasn't all in, which is cool. We had an awesome conversation about it. And that led to this new guy on the block, Oscar Charles, sitting in my kitchen asking me where I wanted to do it. And all I said was, 'Man, I just don't want to do it at the same old studio in Nashville. Let's find a different studio somewhere else or a house somewhere.' And he spun around in his stool, looked up in my living room. He is like, 'What's wrong with this?'"
One of the songs that emerged from Rice's new unfiltered direction is "All Dogs go to Hell," which is also part of the album's title. "I woke up with the title of my head or that sentence, 'All Dogs Go to Hell.' I woke up with that in my head, it was morning," Rice recalled. "And I was like, 'What the f— does that mean? You can't say that.' I'm not sure if I had Jack at that point yet, but I knew I was getting my dog."
Before his lovable pup Jack came into his life, Rice confessed, "I wasn't a dog guy, to be honest. I'd been around them, but I didn't want the hair on me. And now I'm like, 'F—, come here buddy. Give me a hug.' But obviously, even if you're not a dog guy, I didn't think they went to hell. I just got the idea in my head."
"I took it to John Byron," Rice continued, "and I was like, 'Hey man, I woke up with this in my head this morning. It sounds f—ing nuts, but let's hear me out. All dogs go to hell.' And he just bumped out laughing, 'What the hell you want that to be? 'Everybody knows devil went down to Florida.' And he just said that. And I was like, 'That's the first line. Hell yeah.'"
Reflecting more on how the song came together, Rice said, "I just hit on so many different things on this record. Even the small things in there, like Cash and Straight, that's one of my favorite lines in the whole record. Talk about tractors, John Deeres are blue. There's this country s— in here... I thought I was the most romantic guy in the world and I'm singing to all these chicks all the time. I'm like, 'Dude, you don't even have a girlfriend. Shut the f— up.'"
"So I guess, more comfortable with myself," Rice admitted. "And then we wrote that one and I kept telling, like, 'Boots ain't made for cowboys.' And cowboys and dogs are the biggest theme on this whole record. So my dad was a cowboy and I got away from that... it takes you a long time to deal with trauma. And losing my dad at 22, the way I dealt with that was I moved to Nashville, started writing songs. I got, the era that I moved here. We started f—ing the bro-country thing with Cruise. And so I was like, I not only had no clue what I wanted to do, I had no clue what I didn't want to do."
"So I'm like, "All right, cool, I'll just do that,'" Rice said of his outlook in the early days of his music career. "And then it took me a while to figure out, 'Okay, well I definitely don't want to do that when I put this record together.' 'All Dogs Go To Hell' would be one that's like, 'All right, how do we blow the chorus up? Make it huge,' all this. And then Oscar Charles enters this scenario and it's like, 'Nah, we don't need to. Let the song speak for itself.'"
Offering some deeper insight into the overall creative process, Rice shared, "We recorded 'Key West & Colorado' first, with a click and the course exploded. And we thought we were done with it. We were like, 'Okay, that's cool.' Then we did, 'All Dogs Go to Hell' second, on the first day, no click, and the chorus didn't explode. And we were like, 'Whoa, this is sick. Something just happened.' And so that was the first situation — there was six of them that kept happening — where it was like, 'That sounds cool, but why don't we strip it back down on acoustic and build it off of that.'"
"We got to start basic and build on from there," he continued, then confessing, "And that's how this record accidentally happened. We figured it out along the way and realize we got to stop trying to blow these songs up so much. And when I said, 'blow them up, just make them sound big.' It doesn't need to sound big. Let's not make it sound big."
Sitting just past the halfway point of I Hate Cowboys and All Dogs Go To Hell is "Oklahoma," a somber, haunting southern rock track that features Read Southall Band and builds over its nearly eight-minute runtime. "Oklahoma" is a true standout, which is clear Rice knew would be the case. "When you get to 'Oklahoma,' it's like the record takes a shift into something else," he told us. "
"I don't know, that was just me listening to the album a ton. Oscar too," he continued. "And like, 'Hey man, what would you think about if we changed this to here?' It was just how I kept wanting to hear them. And it's weird, once you get to 'Oklahoma,' it's like it's a different album. Which makes sense though. I mean, it's two different names on the title. I mean, why not give it a shift?"
Rice also revealed that he has received a lot of positive feedback on the track. "'Oklahoma' is a lot of people's favorite song on the entire album, which is gnarly to hear," he said. "But that was a mistake waiting to happen, where Craig at the end was like, 'Man, this is a fun...' Craig's a bass player. He said, 'This is a really fun song to play. When we get to the end of it. I'm going to do a fake ending, let's do a false ending, but I'm going to keep playing through. And then everybody join back in and we'll jam for about a minute and a half and you can fade it whenever you want. It'd be a really cool fade song.'"
The simple idea led to one of the absolute best songs in Rice's entire musical repertoire. "We played for four and a half extra minutes and fell in love with it. I mean, we're in there, it was a night session, we're feeling buzzed up and we just kept playing. And I mean, I'm even in the mic, slow it way down. This is so... They slowed down the groove and they sped it back up. And artistically, it's the coolest song on the album, for sure."
Further down the tracklist, we come to "If I Were Rock & Roll," which is lyrically a bit of a spiritual sister to "All Dogs Go To Hell," and features a chorus where Rice sings "If I were rock and roll, I'd be a middle finger in your face." The line immediately brings to mind the iconic photo of Johnny Cash flipping off a camera, which Rice says was fully intentional. "That was Cash all the way," he said. "I mean, and it was just interesting because he was a country artist... a lot of his stuff was gospel. But yeah, I mean he turned into that guy and I don't know if he'd be the most proud of that picture, but... he's just, that's exactly what had in mind."
"That was the first song that started this album," Rice then shared. "I wrote it by myself on the couch in there. Two weeks later I wrote a song called 'Life Part Of Livin'' and then two, and then one week after that I was sitting right where I'm sitting right now and the guitar was right there. And that's when I wrote 'Bench Seat.' And I stood up when I had the thought, 'Oh God, I'm going to write 'Bench Seat' today.' Because I just had a conversation about it with my buddy who almost shot himself, got his life together."
Easily of the most emotional songs Rice has ever penned, "Bench Seat" is a love letter to his own pup, Jack, as well as that of his friend whose life was saved from suicide because of a loving dog. "I stood up and walked in the other room one night. I figured out how to write the song because I was like, 'Nope, I'm not doing this s— today. I don't want to even...' Sat back down and... 'Son of a b—. I've got to do this.'"
"But yeah, those are the three songs that really started this album," he added. "And they started with, which, like I said, I'm singing all these girls about sweet s— and I'm not a sweet guy. I'm not romantic. I don't know why I thought it was what I needed to do to get popular. I have no idea. And so then 'Rock & Roll' was the start of that, where I was like, man, 'Let's think about s— that's football, Johnny Cash, hunting, that's my life.' So it was finally like, this is who I am.
Near the end of I Hate Cowboys and All Dogs Go To Hell, one of the last songs on the album, is "Goodnight Nancy," a folky jam track that sounds like it could have been written by Levon Helm decades ago, but was actually written near the Flori-bama shore with Boy Named Banjo, who are also featured on the track. "I was writing with Oscar Charles and the Boy Named Banjo guys in Flora-Bama. We wrote three songs that week. The first one was 'Walk That Easy,' second one was 'Oklahoma,' and third one was 'Goodnight Nancy.' That was a productive writing trip." Interestingly, Rice revealed that prior to this particular writing trip, he "thought the record was done" and ready to go. "I was like, 'Yeah, I'll go write. See if we get one.' We got three."
Detailing the story behind the song's title, Rice explained, "Oscar kept saying, 'Man, I got a... Goodnight Nancy.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He's like, 'Well, kind of that girl, that lady [or] woman that's at the bar, she either works there or she's just always there. You know the one I'm talking about?" I'm like, 'Yeah, I see what you're saying.' So that night we ended up writing that song."
"We went to the Flora-Bama down 20 minutes from where we were writing," he continued. "Like, let's just go to the Flori-Bama. We got to get inspired for this one. So we went to the Flori-Bama, met this band, the Perdido brothers that were playing that night. We're sitting there slugging drinks, while we're watching this band at the Flori-Bama. Looking at the dollar bills on the wall, looking at the history of that place. Went home, wrote that song."
"We wrote it from the perspective of us at the bar," Rice shared, "where we're looking at the bartender, like, I don't know if she's a bartender or not. She's just always there. But that woman that's always there, let's paint that picture. And the lady's name is Nancy. And I don't know, I'm with you on that one. It's got a classic feel, a little walk down. It's almost got a little bit of weight to it. It's just, as soon as we wrote it, it felt like something we were just like, 'Damn, yes. It feels like it's the '70s.' The way we were strumming and then we get the Boy Named Banjo guys in here and we're doing the 'na-nas' and it's just fun. And that song builds, it's nuts, man."
Finally, we asked Rice about recording "For a Day," a song he wrote for his late father, Daniel Rice. The song is not part of the debut version of I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell is written from the perspective of Rice speaking to his father and sharing all the things he'd like to do if they could have just one more day together. While the song — which he debuted in October 2022 — is deeply emotional, Rice says it was a "celebration song" for after they'd finished recording the album.
"We were done. We had to break down that night, the studio in the house, and we were talking cables everywhere," he recalled. "It wasn't organized. It was a s— show. We knew we did it. We knew we tracked it right. We had a lot of work ahead of us to mix, but we broke down a lot. The drones weren't really there anymore, but I put a fire in the fire pit. It was probably 11 o'clock at night. Oscar was like, 'All right, after we do the song, we're going to go do a perimeter check to make sure the bison are still there,' because there was a storm... 'And then we're drinking beer all night. We've got to celebrate this album, but we got one more thing to do first.'"
"So we set up one mic in the living room with the fire going," Rice continued. "I sat back and I started playing it, singing a little bit. I said, 'How's it sound?' He said, "'t sounds f—ing awesome. Start singing.' It was just one take thing [but] we did three takes. I kept going. I got the idea. I was like, 'Dude, I should do a version for Addy, my niece, Danny, my nephew, and Walker, my other nephew. I'm going to do three of these and that's all we got. That's what I got in me. I don't want to do this more than that.'"
Rice also made each take unique to his niece and nephews, telling us, " I said their names every take, I started losing it a little bit, but then when I done with the one with Walker, I started bawling and just because that's a tough thing to think about. Like, 'Damn, you never even got to meet him.' So they just let, it kept playing. I think they faded that out. You might be able to hear it a little bit in the end."
"It was just an emotional thing," he continued, "not just about my dad, not just singing about my niece and nephews, but the 10 years of finally realizing I'm not faking s— anymore. I'm finally being me. The two weeks that we've recorded the album, we knew we did it. We knew we did it right. And just a moment of like, oh, this just took everything out of me. But we did it. We're done."
Rice's father has another special memorial on the album, as the cover is an old photo of the mustachioed southern gentleman holding a pair of Coors Banquet beers while sporting a killer retro vest and classic cowboy hat. "He would be proud of this album, which is why it's the perfect time to use it," Rice said of using the image for his I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell album cover. "I don't know what he would've thought of any of the music I've put out before. I think he would know that I was lost, but I think he'd understand because he wasn't there anymore. So I think he'd finally listen to this and be like, 'That's my son again.'"
He also clarified that he did get permission from his family to use the photo before taking it to his record label. "I said, 'Is it okay if I do this? Because I think it's going to be pretty big.' And then everybody was all for it. Then I sent a text from Jimmy Kimmel, holding it for my mom. She's like, "Oh my gosh Jimmy Kimmel's holding Dad!" Rice added, "It's going to be everywhere. And I think he'd be proud of this one. So I'm okay with it. As long as the music matches who his son is and who he represented, then I'm cool with it. And I think it finally does now."
Rice's growth as an artist over the past few years is admirable not just because it's uncommon for someone of his stature, but also because it's incredibly inspiring. "I just want people to know, if you didn't like me before, give this a chance because I don't necessarily blame you,' he said with refreshing candidness. "I'm not sure I even liked me before. Give it... It's not going to be like you're hearing right now. It's my own thing and I'm proud of it."
"I've interviewed with a lot of people a lot," he continued, "but it feels like I'm talking to them and they're just like, 'Okay, we got to interview this guy again.' Now it's like, s—, people are talking to me differently. And it's a respect thing, but like I just said, I don't blame anybody. It's like, I didn't even love me before. If you don't love this, that's okay. Then you just don't like me. That's cool."
I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell is out now on most streaming services, as well as available for purchase from Rice's website by clicking here.0comments