Ten years ago, Chase Rice and Florida Georgia Line came together to write one of country music's biggest hits: "Cruise." Ultimately, it was the song that put Florida Georgia Line on the map and sent Rice down a path of songwriting and defining himself as a solo country artist.
"'Cruise' kind of split us up as far as friendship and working together goes," Rice, 35, exclusively tells PEOPLE of his long-standing relationship with the country music duo. "Not in a bad way, but it was just a natural split. They skyrocketed really fast and I was just stuck right where I was at thinking, 'Well, what the hell do I do?' But it was honestly the best thing for me because it really allowed me to figure out what I wanted to say and who I wanted to be as an artist."
But before Rice, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley ever penned the lyrics, "Baby you a song, you make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise," the three were close friends. Rice grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he and Kelley played Little League baseball and soccer together.
However, when he was 11, Rice moved to North Carolina, and even though their families remained close, he and Kelley lost touch. It wasn't until they were both in college (Rice at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Kelley at Belmont University) that they reunited during a family trip to the mountains.
"Brian brought his guitar and at the time I didn't even know how to play, but we were sitting in the living room just playing songs back and forth," the "Eyes on You" singer says. "The best part about that trip was really just that we got closer."
After college, Rice went on to work as a NASCAR pit crew member in Charlotte, and Kelley stayed in Nashville to pursue his music career. However, after Rice got suspended from the sport for fighting, he went to visit Kelley and Hubbard, looking to press reset on his life.
"I fell in love with Nashville, and the next time I went back to visit them they actually had an open room in their house," Rice says. "We were all just sitting around about the possibility of me moving to Nashville and then I just did it. I moved in with [Kelley and Hubbard] and we started writing songs together."
Now, after a decade, the three are teaming up again on a new song, "Drinkin' Beer. Talkin' God. Amen."
"We have a theme of coming together, doing something great and then going about our business," Rice says. "Then we come back together and do it all over again. We've had a really crazy story of doing music together. So when [Kelley] texted me and suggested we make this a reunion I was like, 'Hell yeah. It's long overdue.'"
The song is a laid-back track that tells the story of sitting around the campfire with friends and sharing drinks and laughs but also having deep conversations about religion and God.
"Killing time living life with some down-home friends, when the world's gone crazy man it all makes sense, sittin' here, drinkin' beer, talkin’ God, amen," Rice sings in the song's chorus.
Rice says he wrote the song with Florida Georgia Line's producer, Corey Crowder, last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted lives all across the world.
"It foreshadowed what we were going to be doing all year, and it's honestly pretty spot on for the way this year has gone," Rice says. "I've had a lot of friendships grow and a lot of that has happened for me around the fire on my farm or at a friend's place. Of course, it has always involved me drinking beer. I've drank a lot of beer this year and I've had a lot of long, good talks with friends, so 2020 ain't all bad."
For Rice, 2020 has been a year full of lessons. In June, the "Carolina Can" singer received criticism for hosting an in-person concert in Tennessee amid the pandemic, where videos appeared to show fans not observing social distancing guidelines and not wearing masks.
Following the backlash, the "Lonely If You Are" singer apologized for the concert in a video on Instagram. "My biggest thing is y'all. Y'all are why I get to write songs. Y'all are why I get to tour the country, why I get to do live shows and sing these songs to you guys and you guys sing them back. You guys are everything to me, so your safety is a huge, huge priority."
However, Rice is the first to admit that he's made "plenty" of mistakes in his life, and he uses his music as a way to make amends for them through his relationship with God, as referenced in "Drinkin' Beer. Talkin' God. Amen."
"I believe that Jesus was real and was the son of God, and the coolest part — what I love most about him — is that when he was a human down here on Earth, he hung out with the s—heads. He hung out with the worst of us," Rice says. "I feel like I am one of those guys he would have shook his head at but he would still be close with because he knows my heart and he knows that even when I am screwing up all the time, I'm really not trying to."
He continues: "I'm trying to have a relationship with God and with Jesus and that's why it seeps its way into my music so much. I feel like I'm making progress, and I say progress because I don't have an end goal for my life and how I want my relationship with people or God to be. I just try to enjoy life and take every day as it comes and make the best of it because all we are really given is whatever day we wake up with. But this year I've had a chance to have real eye-opening conversations with people who I never thought I would talk to. It's been a really reflective year for a lot of people and I think it's the perfect time to release this song."
Since June, Rice has been playing acoustic, drive-in concerts where fans listen from their truck beds and cars.
"It's not ideally what I want to do," Rice tells PEOPLE. "I don't want to be playing to windshields or truck beds. But people are ready for live music, even if it's not the way they used to listen to it. That's been proven because they have been coming out like crazy. You can't ask people to lock themselves in their houses. That's not going to happen anymore so I am going to get out and do live music and we are going to have fun with it."
So Rice will be playing a three-part concert series from his farm in Tennessee. The first night was an acoustic show, like the ones he had been playing for the last 5 months. The second was a broken-down band acoustic show, but Monday night's concert will be a full band show with 50-60 people in attendance in person. The concert will also be streamed online, and merch will be available for purchase. All proceeds from the concert will go to help his crew members and bandmates who have been affected by the pandemic.
This show will be the first time that Rice and Florida Georgia Line will perform "Drinkin' Beer. Talkin' God. Amen." live, and the song will be available for streaming following the show.
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