Chase Rice's unlikely road to country music stardom

Chase Rice

CBS News

Chase Rice is one of country music's most unlikely rising stars. He seems to have lived four lives before the age of 32, causing many friends to joke that maybe Forrest Gump is a real person. Rice found success by doing things his own way, resisting pressure from record labels and coming out with music that's entirely his own.

His new album "Lambs and Lions," released Friday, is his first in three years.

"It's the most true record I've ever written in my life. Everything I've ever done from the time I was a little kid, with sports and whatever it was, I just made it happen," Rice told CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.

Rice grew up performing, but in a family of athletes, football became his passion. He was a star linebacker at the University of North Carolina with his sights set on the NFL. But then in the first game of his junior year Rice suffered a gruesome ankle injury.

"Luckily that year I started picking up the guitar more," he said. "I was bored."

Less than a year later, a phone call from his mother brought news of another loss, this one far bigger than football.

Chase Rice CBS News

"The way she said my name I knew something was wrong. And then she said, 'Come home, dad died.' And I was just like 'Wait, what?'" Rice said. "He had a heart attack."

Daniel Rice was a dedicated father and constant coach. After his death, music became his son's outlet.

"Probably a month later, I wrote my first song. It was about my dad, kinda my way to get it out," Rice said.

But Rice had to find his way forward. When he failed to make the NFL after college an old coach hired him to work on a NASCAR pit crew and then a friend suggested he audition for a show he'd never even seen: "Survivor." 

Chase Rice on "Survivor" CBS

Rice came in second, winning $100,000, enough to move to Nashville where his childhood friend Brian Kelley had just formed a little band called Florida Georgia Line. The two started to write music.

"Together, we were doing some great stuff. And through that, 'Cruise' happened," Rice said. "We were writing a slow song. And all of a sudden, Brian starts humming."

That riff would go on to sell 10 million copies and become the most downloaded country song of all time.

Soon, Rice released his first solo album with two top ten hits. But still he was searching.

"It's not exactly what I knew I wanted to do. I just did it because I thought it'd sell tickets and I thought it'd be popular," he said.

As for where he is now, he knows what he doesn't want to sing about.

"Which is a girl in a truck with the tailgate down, perfect night with the stars looking up," Rice said. "I decided I wanted to step away from that for a little bit. I wanna, I wanna sing about lions. That's not country. That's not rock. I don't even know what it is." 

His new album is personal and wide-ranging, with energetic pump-up songs alongside an emotional tribute to his father, whose memory Rice keeps close. 

Chase Rice and his father. Chase Rice

"I used to think he was watching from the best seat in the house, now I'm starting to wonder like I feel like he's just actually right next to me," he said.

And Rice continues to live by a motto he came up with in college to help get through it all.

"I kept saying that to myself, 'Head down. Eyes up. Keep going.' That's what I've been doing." Rice said.

He said he's finally feeling like his father would be proud of him. 

"I didn't think – I didn't used to think that," he said. "It's like you're heading in the right direction. And I guess, in life, if you're doing that, just keep going that way. You'll be all right," he said.

Rice has also turned that motto into a growing clothing brand which he sports on stage almost every night. For Rice, the slogan is about staying focused – through the good times and the bad – on what really matters.