Chase Rice is opening up about his personal life — even the messy parts — with his new music.
“I’ve heard a lot of different things about myself,” Rice tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I’ve heard that I’m a jock, that I moved to Nashville after reality TV and tried to have a career, but the truth is, music means the world to me, and I think people will hear that on this album. These are the best group of songs I have ever put out.”
The partial album features romantic ballads like “Messy” and “Forever to Go,” which are two of Rice’s favorite songs on the record.
“‘Forever to Go'” tells such a great story. The melody is great and the message is awesome,” Rice says. “We were just kids, stealing a kiss and it feels like forever ago,” Rice sings in the song’s chorus. “But I love you more than yesterday / And we’ve still got forever to go.”
“That’s a love that everybody I think desires,” Rice he continues. “Then ‘Messy’ is kind of another part of that. It’s like, ‘Hey I get it. You’re messed up. I’m messed up. We’re all messed up. But I will love you through it.’ I think those two songs are really going to hit a lot of people.”
Rice didn’t have to go far to find the inspiration for his new project, though. The singer admits that every song on his record was written about his ex-girlfriend, a med school student whom he dated for a year and a half.
“All of the songs are about one girl,” Rice says. “I dated a girl for a year and a half and we broke up and I wrote songs about it. I’m not the first person to do that and I won’t be the last.”
Rice continues: “It’s tough s— to go through. It’s not fun, especially when you love somebody. But the coolest part about my job is that I get to tell my side of the story.”
His song “Everywhere,” a breakup bop, tells the story of his feelings perfectly following the end of their relationship. He sings: “How do I let you go when you’re in every single song, every single line, every single word, every single rhyme in the light girl you’re everywhere.”
“‘Everywhere’ kind of explains everything,” Rice says. “I took her to her first Red Sox game and then all of a sudden every Red Sox hat I see I’m like ‘God dang, I can’t get away from this girl. That happens to be the case with her and I think a lot of people go through that.”
Another song fans will recognize on The Album: Part I is Rice’s most recent single, “Lonely If You Are,” which he says is already “going crazy” when he plays it during live shows.
“To a t, that’s the kind of guy I am,” the former Nascar pit crew member says. “I’m not going to sit there and hang out with you and your girls all the time. I’m not going to sit there and ask what you’re doing or who you’re with. I don’t care. I’m not a jealous person. You do your thing and then when you’re done with it, hit me up and I’ll be there.”
For years, the former football player-turned Survivor competitor struggled to find his identity in the country music space, but he has always had an inclination to record songs inspired by events in his personal life. In 2012, Rice recorded “Jack Daniels & Jesus,” a song that expressed the pain he felt after losing his father, and in 2014, he released “Carolina Can,” an ode to North Carolina, the state where he grew up and played college football at UNC Chapel Hill.
But hits like “Ready Set Roll” and “Gonna Wanna Tonight” were the ones picked up by country radio, and set Rice on a path toward pop-leaning songs. His early album Ignite the Night had 19 songs on it, a number he says could have been cut nearly in half.
“I have had great success so far, and to be completely honest, I think I have done that with sometimes average songs,” Rice says. “When I think about Ignite the Night, I think, ‘Damn, that could really have just been 10 songs.’ There was some trash on there that I wish I never put out, but that’s okay. You live and you learn.”
Now, Rice says, he has finally released a series of songs that truly tell his story.
“Every song is 100% me,” he says. “I’ve only got one shot to tell this story of mine and I want that to be with great songs.”
He admits that two songs on his new record give “a tip of the hat” to the type of music he previously produced: “Best Night Ever” and “In the Car,” which are both songs about specific moments spent with a girl he loves.
“Both of those songs have a little bit of what I used to do on them, but that’s okay,” Rice says. “What I used to do is still who I am.”
For Rice, coming into his identity also means changing his persona on social media, skewing away from his traditional posts about “drinking and partying.”
“I am still enjoying that life,” he says. “I love partying, but I want it to be about my songs.”
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Before recording this album, the country star says he had a conversation with his agent that made him change his mindset.
“My agent has been with me since day one and she was like, ‘I’m going to be real with you: If I looked at your Instagram I wouldn’t even know you were a musician,” he says. “That was an eye-opening thing for me to hear because that is what I love to do most. For some reason, I always had this mindset that I should show my personal life there and not make it about music, but now I’m like, I have a million people who want to hear what I have to say and I am not telling them the story that I want them to hear.”
The Album: Part I release comes days before Rice is set to appear on ABC’s hit reality show, The Bachelor. During Monday night’s episode, Rice will make a guest appearance as one of the show’s performers. However, his appearance on the show seems to cause a bit of drama, as it was revealed in the episode’s preview that Rice used to date Victoria Fuller, the contestant who Peter Weber brings on the date to his show.
Following the show during their one-on-one date, Fuller reveals to Weber that “Chase and I dated.”
“Wait, what?” Weber says before she gets up, walks away and tearfully says, “I can’t do this.”
The episode comes months after Rice teased his Bachelor cameo, revealing to PEOPLE in November that he “was involved more than I wanted to be involved with.”
Speaking with PEOPLE on the red carpet at the CMA Awards in Nashville, the musician revealed that he said yes to performing a few songs on season 24 to “promote” his music. Rice then went on to not only tease his interaction with Fuller and Weber, but also revealed that the surprise album would be dropping near the airing of The Bachelor episode.
“I was involved, and I was involved more than I wanted to be involved with. That will be coming out I’m sure in January,” said Rice, “and I will be dropping some new music in January whatever day that airs.”
The Album: Part I is available for streaming now.