Chris Carmack opens up to PEOPLE about discovering country music

Credit: Sara Kauss/Getty

Chris Carmack was once best known for his jock character’s line, “Welcome to The O.C., bitch!” Nowadays, he’s more synonymous with Nashville than Newport, and he’s taking that country vibe off-screen.

The Nashville actor’s role on the show has had some influence on his real life. But even though Carmack recently released his EP Pieces of You, but country music wasn’t always on his radar.

“I’ve always wanted to sing and play. My first love was jazz,” Carmack, 35, tells PEOPLE. “I played jazz sax and then I started playing blues guitar, and from there branched out into some other genres.”

“Country is one of the more recent explorations I’ve had, but I’ve been living in Music City now for three and a half years and I got a pretty good education,” he adds.

The EP includes five songs written by Carmack, but the track “Being Alone” holds a special place in his heart.

“I think it’s the most personal and the most intimate,” he says. “Whenever I sing that song, I really go back to my days in my mid-20s in Los Angeles when I was trying to figure out who I am amongst a world of people who are more than happy to tell me who I am. I was very lost while I was writing it and now when I sing that song, it’s almost more of a celebration of being able to find myself. It was once a sadder song for me to sing.”

Nashville, which was picked up by CMT after their abrupt cancellation from ABC in May, is clearly more than just another acting gig or way to segue into music for Carmack.

“This job is far and away the most special job that I’ve had in my career,” he says. “I’ve made very close friends, we’ve had incredible adventures and journeys and we’ve gone on tours across the United States with the music.”

In addition to making some great pals, Carmack also met his fiancée, Erin Slaver, by way of the show.

Slaver was playing violin in a band with Sam Palladio, who plays Gunnar on Nashville, and also appeared on the show as one of Juliette Barnes’ (Hayden Panettiere) backup singers. During a night out, Carmack was impressed by her performance and they became friends. A year later, they started dating.

Carmack even incorporated music into his proposal.

“I proposed on a rooftop at a hotel in New York,” he recalls. “I hired a little gypsy jazz quartet to play some of our favorite songs.”

Carmack says Slaver was completely surprised when he popped the question. Luckily, the actor ensured his wife to-be was camera-ready for the big moment.

“I even fooled her into dressing up so we could take nice pictures,” he says.

Piece of You is available now on iTunes.