Interview: Lee Brice on Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks, and Bruno Mars

Lee Brice first came to prominence as writer of such country hits as Tim McGraw”s “Still,”  “Crazy Girl” for Eli Young Band, and Garth Brooks” “More Than a Memory,” the first song to debut at No. 1 on Billboard”s Hot Country Songs chart, so it may have seemed a bit strange to see him up on stage at the Academy of Country Music Awards two weeks ago as his massive hit, “I Drive Your Truck” -a tune he didn't write- snagged song of the year honors.  But give him credit for knowing a hit when he hears it. From the first listen, he related to the story of honoring and re-connecting with a lost loved one (in this case a fallen soldier).

Even now, as Brice told us, the poignant song still touches him.  He also spoke about “I Don”t Dance,” the first single from his forthcoming third album (release date still to come) that is soaring up the charts and impacting as the wedding song of the year, and his thoughts on his tour mate Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks, and Bruno Mars. He performs “I Drive Your Truck” on “ACM's All-Star Salute to the Troops,” which airs May 20 on CBS.

Seven things you need to know about Lee Brice:

Brice still finds new meaning in “I Drive Your Truck,” 18 months after it first came out: “When I first heard it, I thought about my grand dad. I wasn”t thinking about him in the military sense, even though he was a paratrooper. I just thought about him on his dairy farm and him teaching me to drive a truck and I missed him. Then I started meeting people and hearing different kinds of stories relate[d] to this theme of reconnecting. That impacts you, naturally. I kind of thought, ‘OK, I”ve heard all the stories and angles,” then recently, I met this [13-year old] girl and, unless a miracle comes along, she”s going to be gone [from terminal cancer]. I just had a little boy four months ago and I”ve got another little boy and the two things just registered and she just loved that song and so now I just think about her. Instead of just the appreciation for this song that reconnected everybody, now it gives me this crazy every day appreciation for health and happiness, so it literally taught me something else even in the last couple of weeks.”

Luke Bryan is really good to his opening acts: “He”s so selfless. Most of the time, there”s a piece of that stage, some lights or some screens, that are off limits except for the headliner. When he asked me to come out, he said, ‘Just so you know, Lee, this is our tour…I want the show to be as good as it can be no matter what. Therefore, whatever”s out there, you use it” I think, ‘OK, but by the time I talk to his production manager, things are going to be off limits,” and that”s not true. He made it very clear to everybody, down to Cole [Swindell], the opening act. It makes perfect sense: it”s all about the fans. I”m glad it”s something I saw that you can do and it”s way better. That”s something I”ll definitely do if and when I get to that point.”

New single, “I Don”t Dance,” is his most personal song ever: “It”s about me and the guy that I have been and the one I”ve become. Men grow up… to a point, let”s not get crazy (laughs). That song is a personal song about me and it”s a song to my wife, which is what I wanted for our first dance.”

Inspiration for songs is everywhere: “There”s a song on the new record people have called ‘The Airport Song.” I”d been out on airplanes on a radio tour, out late with radio, up at 4 a.m. going to the airport, miserable, and I”m going through the security line and I hear this lady right in front of me. She”s on the phone and she was just completely devastated about something.Then I overheard her saying ‘I”m at the airport.” She  was going to pick up her son, who was in college and had jumped off a building the night before. I wasn”t trying to stalk her, but I just wanted to go up to her and say, ‘Can I do anything?” I felt this deep thing. She was on the phone and I couldn”t interrupt her, so the song came from, if I did go over and interrupt her and ask her if I could do anything, what would she say?”

Nice Guys can finish first: “There”s another new song called ‘Good Man.” It”s kind of my thing. I was always a good guy, romantic, in high school and I”d like these girls and I could tell they liked me back, but they were like, ‘Well, someday you”ll be the kind of guy I want to hang out with,” after they”ve hung out with the bad boys. They came back around after college and I was like, ‘Sorry, this train”s done move on.” But it was true, so I”m just trying to be like “Hooray for the good guys out there.” Make it cool to be a good guy (laughs)”

Uh, yeah, he”d still let Garth Brooks have one of his songs even though he”s a recording artist himself: “There are certain songs that I”m not giving away, if someone, especially Garth, I mean, sure!… I”m still pitching; I”m a writer at heart. Sometimes I write songs that I feel like are great, and a hit, but they”re not necessarily for me, so I”m starting to do some producing for my brother and some different people”

Bruno Mars is the man: “I cannot dance like him. I think I can sometimes If I”ve had enough. I loved his record. We were in Salt Lake City and he happened to be playing the arena. We were playing the amphitheater with Brad Paisley. I took off and went to see the Bruno show right after [my] set and it just killed me. One of the things I loved about it was it wasn”t a lot of fire and lights and crap, it”s just a nice tight set of lights and a band that is killing it and a man who is singing his soul out. It was about him, the singer, the writer, and the player, and producer;  that”s what I”m shooting for.”