Chase Rice is a little older and a little wiser than he was when Taste of Country first wrote about him in December 2010, but he's no less passionate. "Ready Set Roll" introduced the former college football linebacker and sculpted NASCAR pit crew teammate in 2013, doubling down on the perception that he was an aggressive mass of testosterone and muscle.

Five years later, Rice is calling "Eyes on You" his most important song. If you're waiting for a lyric as provocative as "Get ya' little fine ass on the step / Shimmy up inside," you may want to pack a lunch. Honestly, Rice just released one of the year's most notable wedding songs — what the heck is happening?!

Don't assume he shifted because the culture shifted. Can he really say "little fine ass" in a #MeToo and #TimesUp shadow (don't worry, we asked)? Don't assume he's done with the party songs, either.

"We wrote one yesterday called 'Bad Girl,' he tells Taste of Country. "It would be a perfect show opener. I don’t know if it’ll ever see the light of day, but it's like, "You’re an angel in a devil’s world but tonight I need ya, bad girl."

Don't assume the same guy who writes that lyric isn't capable of showing genuine vulnerability. The truth is, Rice found fans with singles like "Ready Set Roll" but solidified a headliner-level fanbase with album cuts that explore loss, guilt, homesickness and heartache. Insert some quip about a book and its cover here if you'd like, or just let the man speak for himself.

"That’s passion. Even when it comes to sex, we’re not meant to just lay there, or you lay there it’s like — 'no!' I’m passionate about everything I do and that’s gonna be included in that."

Has your evolution happened organically?
For sure. It’s been more so just who I am as a person, a lot of stuff that I’ve faced. For me, God is very real and God has blessed me to be able to do this. So for me to not take advantage of that and write the best songs I can write ... not everything has to be a party. There’s a place and time for that, but I was just hammering it a little too much. Though I really wasn’t, because if you listen to that first record there’s still “Carolina Can” on there, “Jack Daniels and Jesus” on there. We’ve talked about that. But now it’s more fine-tuned. Every song I put out is going to have a thought behind it, because you only have one shot at this career, so I want to put out the best of my music that I can.

You’ve always been more eager to talk about those deeper songs. Did you feel any danger of getting branded as a certain kind of artist based on your singles, so you intentionally pivoted away from that kind of music?
[Pauses] I don’t think it was intentionally. I think it was more, ‘Hmm, I don’t like where I am here in life, let’s change it up.' I’m gonna do these things that I need to do for my personal life and the music has kind of gone along with that. I’ve taken care of my personal life much more than my career, and that’s what matters more to me than anything. My music is going to follow my personal life — that’s just where I am right now.

Has what you’re listening to also changed?
Oh yeah. I don’t really listen to country anymore because I don’t want to do what everybody else is doing right now. I’d rather be inspired by something outside of country and then I can take my version of that and turn it into, ‘Oh, this is probably something nobody has ever heard,' because it’s me mixed up with other things. That, to me, is how you innovate in our genre and how you innovate yourself as an artist.

Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Who do you listen to?
I really appreciate Ed Sheeran. I think he’s badass. James Taylor, I think he’s a badass. Taylor and (Eric) Clapton, they’re kind of in the same … the girl Halsey. I think Halsey is so badass. First and foremost, I just enjoy it because it’s not what I do. And I still enjoy some stuff. I love what Jake (Owen) is doing lately.

That new single he just released is a smash.
I hope so, for his sake. (Singing) Down, to the honky-tonk, I’m going down to the honky-tonk. And he’s a buddy so I’m happy for him. We’ve kind of been through the same thing, the downs and the ups and the, ‘Nope, we ain’t accepting that.’

As I was prepping this interview this morning I was watching a new music video from Ashley Monroe for a song called "Wild Love." The refrain is about meeting a stranger who will call her name and pull her hair — this really aggressive song. It’s interesting to listen to that in the context of thinking about you, because you had some of those same aggressive lyrics before, but I don’t know if you could get away with it now.
Yeah, if I can’t get away with it now they’re gonna have to deal with it because I’m still going to go there. It’s fun. Sometimes you just need that. You need that aggressive — and not, obviously, too far — why not? That’s passion. Even when it comes to sex, we’re not meant to just lay there, or you lay there it’s like — No! I’m passionate about everything I do and that’s gonna be included in that. It’s really cool to see women doing that. And a lot of people will take that in regards of certain different worlds and religions like, 'That’s not how it’s supposed to be.’ But why not? If it’s a marriage, go for it and get passionate. Pull some hair, let’s go.

People might want to put that in the context of the #MeToo conversation or —
To me, it’s consent. If you’re in love or whatever you’re in and you’re consenting to each other, let’s get passionate about it. Let’s not be boring. That’s not what my life is about.

Among the first-ever Taste of Country articles was a story on you performing a song during the Survivor finale in 2010. What would you tell 25-year-old Chase Rice?
I would say ‘Get your s--t together, your personal life.’ Because I hadn’t yet. I’d say take care of that. And then for what you do with music, ‘Do not do what people tell you to do. Do what you wanna do.’

Because once you have your s--t together and know who you are as a person, then you’re also following what you like to do and what you want to do, there can be no music put out there like what that person is doing. If I know who I am and I’m doing the music I want to do, then no one else in the world can touch that.

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