Chase Rice, Seth Ennis, Delta Smoke
Thursday, May 12, with doors at 6 p.m.
Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St.,
Tickets: $30 advance/$35 day of show/$100 riser area; available at Soul Kitchen, its website, Mellow Mushroom (both locations) or by calling 1-886-468-7630

The New Male Vocalist category of the 2016 Academy of Country Music Awards included the brightest up-and-coming stars in country music, with Chase Rice ranked alongside fellow nominees Chris Stapleton, Chris Janson, Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldredge. This was a long way from Rice’s musical beginnings at the University of North Carolina, his alma mater. Other stops on his life journey have included everything from NASCAR to the CBS hit reality show, “Survivor: Nicaragua.”

Rice is currently planning his much-anticipated musical release, which he will preview in his Azalea City performance May 12. Rice took a break from farming to discuss his ever-growing popularity as well as his upcoming recording.

Stephen Centanni: You’ve done everything from working on a NASCAR pit crew to appearing on a reality TV show. How did you finally arrive at your songwriting career?

Chase Rice: I actually started doing that in college. I just picked up the guitar. One of my roommates at the University of North Carolina had a guitar. So, I picked that up. Basically he would play it and I would sing. He would joke around and say, “You should be a country music singer.” I’d be like, “Yeah, alright, let me do that real quick.” It was just a joke. Honestly, I learned how to play guitar out of boredom.

(Photo | Chase Rice’s music career started when he picked up a guitar as a student at the University of North Carolina. Years later, he played to a packed house at the university’s stadium.

(Photo | Chase Rice’s music career started when he picked up a guitar as a student at the University of North Carolina. Years later, he played to a packed house at the university’s stadium.

When I got hurt playing football, I moved to Charlotte and started working in NASCAR. The whole time, I was writing songs and going to Nashville every now and then to hang with Brian Kelley from Florida Georgia Line. I’ve been buddies with him since I was a little kid. There wasn’t a Florida Georgia Line at the time.

Me and Brian were just hanging out and writing songs. You just keep doing that, and after so long you write songs that are good enough, and look up and you’re opening for Kenny Chesney. My own headlining shows are almost more exciting than those shows, especially for us. We’ve had our career headlining in these small clubs and bars across the country. Finally, you can look up and say, “Yeah! We’ve had some success at this thing.”

Centanni: You’re a UNC alumni and huge Tar Heels fan. CMT recently broadcast your homecoming performance on the UNC campus. What was it like going back to the place where it all started and perform?

Rice: Yeah, that was special. It was right in the middle of campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I was right across the street from the stadium where I played five years of football. There were a couple of moments where I threw the mic out to the crowd, and I looked up and saw the big interlocking N.C. right there.

It was a special moment to go back to the same town where people were laughing at me and saying that it wouldn’t work. Then, there were all my friends that wouldn’t laugh at me and thought it was fun when I was learning how to play guitar. We would sit around and play cover songs and do the college thing at their house. We’d pull the guitar out, start playing and have fun with it. We’ve gone from that to packing out Carmichael Arena. It was pretty special.

Centanni: You were in the running for Best Male Vocalist at this year’s CMA Awards with several other young country songwriters. What did you think about being nominated for something like that?

Rice: It was great. The award is cool, but the company really was cooler. I came up with all those guys. I’m close to Thomas Rhett, and Chris Stapleton is great. Just to be up there with those guys and be in the running goes to show that the hard work we’ve done is working. We’ve only put out two singles in radio ever. We’re working on a third right now, and we’ve met with Sony to figure out what the next will be.

There’s a great group of young artists coming up. We’re just happy to be in that group. We’ve done it in an extremely different way. We’ve only had two radio hits, but we’ve had a longtime group of fans coming to see us in those clubs. It’s an honor to be acknowledged as one of the up-and-comers having an impact on country music.

Centanni: Tell me about the upcoming album. Do you have a title yet?

Rice: No, we don’t even have a title yet. We haven’t even picked the songs out yet. We’ve met with Sony, and now we’re figuring out which songs to put on it. We’ve got about 10 or 11 songs to choose from for the next singles. I got a wide variety of music that I grew up on. I grew up on Chris LeDoux and Garth Brooks, but I also grew up on Pearl Jam and Eminem. The music itself has a wide variety.

For me, every album tells a story. It’s all about figuring out what story I want to tell and try to put out the best 10 or 11 songs that I can. We’re in the process of that right now. The next single will be out in July or August, then we’ll move along to the album when that single is peaking. I’m excited to put out new music. We haven’t put out new music in over two years. It’s time.

Centanni: What’s the selection process like? How hard is it finding the bond between songs?

: First thing, I think about my live show, because that’s what built my career. I want to get out that energy and have songs that people can relate to that are real to me. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a serious song. If it’s a real drinking song or a fun song, then that’s real to me. If it’s real to me, then it’s real to other people too.

My live show has a lot of energy, so I want to put a lot of energy on the record. Every now and then, I also like to put in at least two, maybe three serious songs, because deep down I got some stuff going on in me that I need to get out. We all do. Songwriting is how I get that all out. The serious stuff sneaks into my records. That’s also the stuff that rounds out an album.