Shortly after releasing “Boy,” the lead single off his self-titled fourth studio album, the 38-year-old country singer welcomed his third child with wife Sarah, a daughter named Trulee Nanette. Though he didn’t write the hit, Brice recorded it in tribute to his two sons, 9-year-old Takota and 3-year-old Ryker.
Now, ET has the exclusive premiere of “The Best Part of Me,” the last track off his record, which drops Nov. 3. The best part? It's all Trulee's. “My little girl had to have a song of her very own,” Brice tells ET. “This is it, and it’s very special to me.”
Earlier this month, ET chatted with Brice on his tour bus, just ahead of the Los Angeles stop of his current cross-country tour, and he beamed with pride when his kids’ names came up.
“She's like a little angel right now,” he said of his baby girl, who’s now five months old. “All she does is smile and eat and go back to sleep and poop and smile and eat. She's starting to get a little personality and trying to talk to you. You can tell she's trying to sweeten you up.”
The South Carolina native says he loves finally having a daughter in his brood, and his two boys have quickly taken to their little sister.
“Ryker is like a bull. He’s the monster all over the house, tearing stuff up, but when he gets around her, he changes into a little bit more of a sensitive person,” Brice says. “He growls at her! He'll get up in her little face and be like ‘Grrr!’ And now she's starting to try to growl back. Of course, they'll be doing real growling at some point, because he'll be a senior in high school when she's a freshman. He’s gonna be the stud linebacker. Ain't nobody's gonna mess with her, I can promise you!”
The boys have taken after their dad in more ways than just being fiercely protective over Trulee. Brice is a former football player, having earned a scholarship to play at Clemson University. To this day, he’s got so much Tiger pride, his tour bus is even outfitted in orange and black -- plus he recorded a fight song for his alma mater. Though neither Brice nor his wife are going to push the kids into music or sports, the boys are already showing athleticism. The singer-songwriter muses that his youngest will be a linebacker just like he was, since Ryker already tries to take down his big brother, and notes that Takota is more like himself, “sensitive, but very physical.”
“Music is a part of my soul, and there's no way I could've gotten away from it if I even wanted to, which I never did,” Brice says. “Both boys love to sing. They sing all the time. Takota picks up drumsticks and just plays the drums. He plays piano. He’s got a natural thing. Whether they really end up loving it and wanting to do it, I don't know. I want to steer them to what they want to do."
"I can tell you this more than anything: if I would choose something to steer them to, it would probably be sports, because I know how much it teaches you about life and about persevering," he adds. "When you’re tired and you don’t think you can take another step, you just find a way to do it. You dig deep and you don't give up and you never quit on a season. You have to listen to authority whether you like it or not.”
Football definitely helped instill plenty of discipline in the father of three. He painstakingly wove together his new album, which he also co-produced, for two years. One of his other singles, “Rumors,” not only highlights this dedication and craftsmanship, but also how much Brice has grown as a musician and songwriter since his debut seven years ago.
“I worked really hard at not taking the easy way out and using tricks to make the music sound better. I didn't want four guitar parts playing different things just to make a wall of sound,” he explains. “It can seem intricate because there are only a few things going on, but they're the right things. That's how some of the best records were made that I heard growing up.”
”I didn't want this record to wear you out,” he continues. “I wanted you to want to listen to it again after you got through with it and want a little more. We dug really deep so that when we did get the right part, we wanted that right part to be heard. I wanted you to have to listen to it deeper to hear it, and if you didn't hear it, you felt it.”
There’s a very clear line of storytelling on this soulful new album as well, starting with the very first song. “What Keeps You Up at Night" is one of the most meaningful to the singer, though he also notes that “everything on the record is extremely special to me, and all for different reasons.”
The album, Brice says excitedly, was inspired after a day in church when his preacher announced that he was going to have a release party for his new book, What Keeps You Up at Night. “That [title] just struck a chord with my heart and my brain,” he admits.
Though normally Brice writes on the road in order to spend the majority of time at home in Nashville with his family -- his tour bus is even outfitted with an entire studio’s worth of equipment -- he spent an emotional day co-writing with Jessi Alexander, who penned one of his biggest hits, “I Drive Your Truck,” and singer-songwriter-producer Ross Copperman, whom Brice calls a “musical genius.”
“When I pulled up at the co-write, I had this feeling about what was about to happen. I just broke down and started sobbing and could not get out of my truck. I had to sit there for a few minutes and take it in,” he reminisces. “I finally got it together, and I walked up to the room, and Ross had this simple thing going, just like I told him, and Jessi was there and excited, and I pulled out a guitar and we just dove in. As it was being written and when it got done, I realized, this is the foundation of this whole record... This is where my heart is. Doubts and fears and all the stuff that comes along with becoming a man and having kids and being a husband and providing and still doing what you love -- just all of it. It was a special day and a special song.”
Fatherhood and family are influencing Brice’s songwriting, and life in general, more than ever. Not only are all of his children represented on the album, the very end of “What Keeps You Up at Night” features an a cappella, gospel-influenced refrain from himself, his parents, Kenneth and Carleen, and his younger brother, Lewis. “That's just my family, us four in the studio, to kind of pull that together to give you that start of an album -- for people who actually listen to albums!” he explains.
“My daddy took us fishing all the time in a tiny little boat he could barely afford. Then, of course, as soon as Lewis and I were out of the house, he went and got himself a nice bass boat. Now he fishes tournaments, and I haven't been one time with him in a tournament!” he muses of a specific line in the opener, “Sometimes I wonder / is this the last summer / I go fishing with my daddy.”
"I keep thinking about that. I keep thinking about his age, and I keep thinking about the stresses on him now and how quickly I can see him getting older," Brice admits. "All of that is so true to me right now, and that's a song I just want to scream to the world. It's not a preachy song, it's more of an internal question song.”
His parents additionally helped influence the lyrics of “Songs in the Kitchen” and “American Nights.”
“I'm at the age where I'm thinking about my daddy and my mama more and more, our days that we have, and my kids growing up so fast. It’s hard,” he says. “That's just who I am now. And the truth is, this road isn't as important to me as it used to be. I love music just as much and I love my fans just as much and I appreciate them, but I have to at some point make a decision: am I going to see my family at all or am I going to be on the road all the time? I’m trying to find a balance.”
On top of that, many of Brice's songs were influenced by his aunt, Henrietta, and his little brother, who is currently his tour opener.
“I'm in a very rootsy mode. I’ve always been that way,” he admits. “I’ve always felt pressure, not even necessarily from anybody in particular, but kind of by what I saw and felt, a pressure to conform to what was already out there. If you didn't do it and if it didn't sound like that, it's not gonna get played, and if it doesn't get played, then you're not going to be successful, especially when you're first coming out. So there's a big choice to make and a fine line to walk, and I've always tried to walk the fine line of making sure I had great songs. I decided I wanted this record to be raw.”
That means writing and recording as much as he can on the road and allowing his kids’ school schedule to dictate his own. “When they have fall break, Christmas break, you can bet I'll be blocked. I won't be doing anything. We plan our times around that,” he explains.
He’s also done a lot of math, figuring how much time he saw his working father as a kid and appreciating their Saturdays hunting and Sundays at church. “I’m home a lot of Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays. If I get those three days and I truly spend those hours with them, I'm actually getting as much quality time as my daddy got with me, if not more,” he calculates. “It’s different. At least I got to see daddy every day, but the truth is, I'm really working on that quality time, and that's how I keep it balanced.”
If it sounds like Brice is crazy busy, he is, yet he still found time to help co-produce his brother’s country album. Nepotism, however, isn't a part of the Brice family motto.
“He came to town on his own. I didn't get him an apartment. I didn't do anything for him. I told him, ‘Go find the people, like I did, that are on your level, and y'all grow together. You work hard, you write, you grow together.’ And that's what he did,” Brice recalls. “Then he started turning in songs and killing it. I was like, ‘Man, you've done it. You've been working hard, you've been writing the crap out of songs. Now, let's go make some music.’”
“I wanted him to one day say he did it on his own. It wasn't because his big brother helped get him the opportunity,” he continues, noting that Lewis talked to managers and found fellow songwriters on his own. “I would give him the world if I could. But that wouldn't be fulfilling for him. Now, he can call it his own, and I think he's proud of that, too. And he's badass. I wish I still had that much energy on stage!”
We screamed along at his L.A. concert so, trust us, he still does. He has that stamina off-stage as well, because it’s no small feat to pour your heart and soul into a 15-song album.
“I put in two years of my life to make the most honest record I’ve ever made -- not just honest like lyrically and story-wise, but honest music-wise,” he says. “There are better guitar players in the world, a whole lot better, but I wanted to play the guitar, because that’s a part of who I am. I wanted the guys in my band to play instruments. I wanted it to be real. You’re getting the real me with this record. I’m excited to hear what [fans] think about hearing a real record and not a record that’s just been pieced together with computers.”
The singer-songwriter’s fourth album, Lee Brice,drops Nov. 3.