Lee Brice's 2017 self-titled fourth album was a reintroduction of sorts, one that found the country singer-songwriter tackling more mature themes. His follow-up, Hey World, is a 15-song collection that further shows the varying influences and inspirations that make Brice, now a decade into his professional recording career, tick. Songs like "Atta Boy" and "Country Knows" pay homage to the Southern culture of Brice's South Carolina roots, while "Sons and Daughters" and "Lies" look outward, considering the lived experiences of people whose upbringings look different than Brice's own. The album is anchored by hit singles "One of Them Girls" and "I Hope You're Happy Now" featuring Carly Pearce, both of which hit No. 1 on country radio. Below, Brice offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how Hey World came to be.
"This song needs to start the record because it's got the groove. It's got the fun, but it's also got some serious songwriting in it. It's got some freshness in it. It kind of gave a little bit of pieces that are all over the record, because, you know, the record's pretty diverse as the sound goes."
One of Them Girls
"It's a bunch of guys writing a song about how a girl thinks and feels, so we think we know that, but we really don't. I always have to go and check that out with a female that I trust. [My wife] Sara is very honest, and too honest sometimes, and can shut me down after I've been writing a song all day. But with 'One of Them Girls,' she said, 'No, absolutely.' She's like, 'Either I am one of them girls or I want to be one of them girls.' That's all I needed."
"I was kind of channeling 'Paper Planes' by M.I.A. a little bit for those verses, but then going into that epic chorus. Personally, I'm looking for stuff and always writing stuff that's going to be fun at the live show, because if you're at a live show and you're going to play for 90 minutes or two hours or whatever, you can only play so many Lee Brice quintessential midtempo sappy ballads, or whatever. You've got to have some fun."
Memory I Don't Mess With
"That's me going back in my mind just like anybody else can go back in their mind to that somebody or something that was special at one time, and you've moved on from. But still, it'll always have a place in your life and your history and your heart. I love having personal songs out there, and then I especially love it when those songs get to be really heard, like a single, so raw."
Save the Roses
"Robbie, my oldest cousin, he was 52. Just a year and a half ago, he passed away. I took a bus straight down there and had just enough time to get down there for the funeral and see everybody and then get right back on the bus and get back to a show on time. But while I was there at the funeral, I was looking around at all my other cousins. We're all big old hefty boys from South Carolina, and we've got our suits on and all sweating and choked up. We've got our necks all tied up tight. Then there's Robbie, and he's in his casket, and he's got his hunting hat on, and his camouflage shirt. He's got his jeans and his work books on. My family's pretty poor back home, we don't really have much, and I looked around at all those flowers, and I thought, 'That's a lot of money.' Robbie would be like, 'Man, save the roses. Use that money to go do something else with it.'"
Good Ol' Boys
"People view 'Good Ol' Boys' as—and it is—a fun song, but there's so much depth to it, in my mind. That title hit me. Then I also remembered Waylon had 'Good Ol' Boys,' and I was like, 'That's not what I'm really thinking.' I was thinking more like Don Williams' 'Good Ole Boys Like Me.' There was a lot of stuff in that song that had so much to say. There was just so, so much that was so true and not just some kind of party song. It is, to this day."
Don't Need No Reason
"I woke up one morning thinking, 'I want to write something really special and post it today about Sara, just for no reason. I was laying in bed. I can't say that it's some special occasion, birthday or whatever. I was like, 'I could just start it like that: I know it's not your birthday and I know it's not this or that.' As I got to writing that down on Instagram, I thought to myself, 'Wait a minute. This is a smash.'"
Do Not Disturb
"That's just a really big piece of some of the music that's not necessarily straight in the country genre that I love, and also influenced me and still does to this day. It's that John Mayer influence, that Jason Mraz, that kind of era of stuff. It's kind of hard sometimes to write a sexy song. It's like, thinking about even just having sexy time with your freaking wife whenever you've got three kids with you all day long, every day, all the way up until it's 10:00, 10:30 at night and you're trying to get them to bed."
"I thought to myself, I could cut this song in a way that could lend itself to country radio or to country fans in general. If I could pull it off, do some acoustics and make it feel organic, it could be really cool. I could go do all these vocal parts, these low bass, high tenor, crazy octave stuff. I grew up doing that my whole life, so it sounded fun to me to try. I tried it, and it worked, and it came out like a smash."
Sons and Daughters
"This song started with the second verse, because I went through stuff in middle school, and my son is now in middle school. Kids can be mean, but back then, if you were going to be mean to somebody or try to bully somebody, you had to do it to their face. Now, all these millions of kids who don't even know you, or even if they do know you, they can just type what they want to type behind their little phone and be safe and hurt people and do whatever they want. We talked about people who get stereotyped and how it's just not fair. It's not fair to be stereotyped for anybody. Everybody has a soul and everybody is who they are."
"It just took me immediately to the roots of who I am—the roots of not just country music, but being out in the country where I grew up and the silence of that and the things you learn in the quiet. There's something about country music that just has this extra level of connection. That song just did it all for me. I'd love to write every song on my record, but when I hear songs like that, I can't ignore them."
"[Songwriters] Tom Douglas and Scooter Carusoe are just masters at saying things that just stop you in your tracks and make you listen. The second verse, the girl feels like she's not good enough and she's not the right size—I just feel like this world we're living in does just feed you so many lies. It really does tear some people down and make them feel insecure when they shouldn't be. Then the redemption factor at the end. I just obviously couldn't run away from that song."
"I just wanted to be honest and write some really country, really rocking stuff. 'More Beer' was one, and 'If You' is just another one that's like, here I am. If you don't like this, then you can go do your thing and I'll do my thing, and we'll be cool. I'll be over here drinking my beer with my friends, and you can go over there and drink your wine with your friends. It's fine. It's all good."
I Hope You're Happy Now
"I got a call from my manager and they said, 'Hey, would you ever consider doing a duet with Carly Pearce?' I said, 'Yes, I love her.' I think she's cool and talented. I've seen her at writers' rounds, where you can't hide anything. It's you and your guitar. They sent the song over, and I immediately fell in love with the song because it made me think of true, classic '90s, whatever, '80s duets. So they sent me a track, and I did a vocal on my bus, and I sent it back to them, and that's what you hear on the radio."
"I had written 'Hey World' with Dallas [Davidson] and Adam [Wood] on our first Zoom whenever the quarantine first started. It came from a really honest story that morning from Dallas and his son. The TV was scaring his son. He's like, 'Wow, that's just hitting me different.' As we got done with the record and I put a version of it out, I had always thought it would be cool to have a collaboration on it. I was picturing somebody from a whole different background, a whole different thing, and singing the same song and feeling the same way, being in the same spot. My manager played me a quick version of something of Blessing Offor's. I didn't know Blessing from anybody. I said, 'I don't care who that guy is. I want him to sing with me on "Hey World."'"