Chase Rice says the pandemic crisis has presented just the right moment to debut "Belong," his song of hope and affirmation

By Nancy Kruh
May 14, 2020 11:00 AM
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Chase Rice has built his platinum-selling career on steamy, Jack Daniel's-fueled hits, and that music, he says, is "100 percent of who I am." But Rice still has another, deeper side, and he's revealing it now to fans in his brand-new single, "Belong," debuting exclusively on PEOPLE in its music video.

Rice, along with Chris DeStefano and Jon Nite, co-wrote the song almost two years ago, inspired by Rice's frustrations over national divisions. Since then, says the 34-year-old artist, he'd been waiting for the right moment to release his message of hope and affirmation. He believes he's found it now in this time of global struggle with COVID-19, and he's made the song a last-minute addition to his ongoing project, The Album Part II, which debuts Friday.

Rice's The Album Part II contains four tracks, including "Belong."
Jason Myers

Rice explains his original motivation to write "Belong": "There's a lot of focus on what divides us, and there's not a lot of focus on where people can actually meet in the middle. It's like, let's just come together and be who we're made to be, which is just people."

But in recent weeks, Rice has watched as shelter-at-home orders around the world have brought heightened relevance to the song's refrain: "We're right where we belong."

"I guess World War II would be the last time where every single human being on the planet is like, what is going on?" Rice says. "At the end of the day, we're all in this thing together. Don't look for brighter days. Right now is all we've got, and we're right where we belong."

The message packs even more punch in the music video. Fans answered Rice's invitation on social media in early April to submit short videos of "how y'all are spending your down time," and the results are both joyful and poignant: volunteers sewing face masks, quarantine-mates clinking glasses, nurses TikTok dancing, a little girl getting a piggyback ride, a pooch getting a smooch, and one tearful marriage proposal.

For his contribution, Rice put his phone on a tripod to video himself singing in his at-home bar. He's wearing what he says has "basically been my uniform" since the quarantine began: a hoodie, sweatpants and bedroom slippers. "I wanted it to be real," he says.

That's how Rice has been keeping it ever since he was sidelined by the pandemic. For the past two months, he's been sheltering at his 150-acre farm south of Nashville, finding his own positives amid the crisis.

Echoing his song, Rice says, "it's where I belong" — a statement, he adds, that he probably wouldn't have made before the quarantine. Though he's owned the property for seven years, "I've never been able to enjoy this place," he explains. "Usually, during the entire year, I'm literally here two days a week, maybe three. I've never felt like this place was home until now."

Rice describes how he's been spending his time, starting with a daily devotional, Bible study and journaling, self-care habits that evolved out of a mental-health crisis that occurred five years ago.  "I was doing really well, starting my career — and I was miserable," he reveals. "I didn't enjoy life. I didn't enjoy family. I wasn't letting people in, and I was just so depressed."

Therapy, he says, provided the key to understanding that he hadn't fully dealt with the loss of his father, who died unexpectedly from a heart attack when the singer was still in college. "I didn't realize," Rice says, "how much that messed me up."

Now he's grateful for his years of self-examination and growth, especially since being in quarantine. "If I'd never dealt with it, me waking up with nothing to do right now would be a disaster," he says. His morning routine, he says, "allows me to start my day with a purpose. It allows me to have my time with God and get my mind right for the day."

Rice says he's filling his time working on music, fishing on his pond, lounging by the fire pit on his patio and hanging with friends — his "quarantine crew" — in his party barn. "Now I have some serious memories," he says.

The friendship circle is a new and welcome addition, Rice adds. "I've got a lot of people that I love and that love me, but I didn't have that many people in Nashville because I travel so much," he explains. But a group of about 15 people — mostly acquaintances and most from outside the music business — came together for a game of roller hockey right before the shutdown, and they've since committed themselves to confining their social interactions to one another.

Chase Rice
Cody Cannon

"Once we get back rolling," Rice says, looking ahead to returning to the touring, "it's not like I'm just going to put that in the rearview. I'll have those relationships moving forward and once a week go to a buddy's house and have dinner and just sit there and not talk music — just be a regular person."

At the moment, Rice is anticipating he'll be back on the road in some form or fashion in July. He currently is scheduled to perform dates as a headliner, as well as support on the Rascal Flatts tour.

"We're trying to plan something where we can travel to the states that are open, the counties that are legal to play, and go to play to as many people as we can in a healthy way," he says.  "It'll be different shows than we were planning on doing, but I think that'll make it even cooler and more unique."

By then Rice says he'll definitely be in "ready set roll" mode.

"Hey, I'm grateful to be home," he says. "I'm still enjoying the time off, but yeah, there's days where I'm like, oh, God, get me off this place. I'm ready to go!"