Growing up in the suburbs of Sacramento, California, Tyler Rich knew from a young age he wanted to be a country singer. As a kid, he fell in love with the movie Pure Country and began listening to George Strait and Garth Brooks with his uncle. “I always wanted to emulate my uncle,” Rich tells PEOPLE. “So I picked up a guitar and learned all the songs he was playing — all of which were country songs.”
Now, Rich’s debut single “The Difference” has hit the No. 1 spot on SiriusXM’s The Highway, and he’s scheduled to open for Brett Young on tour this fall. The rising country star just released his self-titled EP, and makes his Grand Ole Opry debut in Nashville, Tennessee on Sept. 25. Here are five things to know about the country singer.
1. He studied economics in college
Although Rich was touring with bands through his 20s, he was also taking online classes at community colleges in the area, pursuing an associate’s degree in business administration. But when his band broke up and he decided to go back to school, Rich realized he had more than enough credits to pursue an economics degree. “I kinda just fell into it, but economics was actually my necessary swerve away from creativity,” he tells PEOPLE.
Upon graduation, Rich promised himself he’d try his hand at music one last time before falling into the “regular job lifestyle,” so he moved to Nashville, and the rest is history.
2. He’s a Harry Potter nerd
Rich is the first to admit he’s obsessed with Harry Potter, especially when he visits The Wizarding World at Universal Orlando. “The overwhelming sense of excitement I get when I drink a butterbeer or walk into the wand store and feel like magic is real for a second —that’s when I realize I am the biggest dork in the world,” he jokes.
If he had the opportunity to play Quidditch in real life, Rich says he’d be a seeker because even though all of the pressure is on you, everybody isn’t watching you at all times. “You can kind of just fly around, do your own thing, play the game, fight with a couple people, and if you catch it, then it’s just a huge deal, right?” he says.
As for what house he’d be sorted into? Definitely a Slytherin. “I read this quote that was like, Slytherins basically do whatever needs to be done to achieve the goals they desire,” Rich says. “I just related to that. Plus it seems a little evil — a little dark. I’m not going to be like Draco Malfoy … but I’m definitely in the house.”
3. He once stole a dog
Rich and his fiancée, Entourage actress Sabina Gadecki, are both very invested in animal rescue organizations. The pair often dedicate their time and money to saving animals from Asian meat trading and helping those who have been mistreated, but Rich has a more personal story for how he rescued his own dog, Abby — and there were no adoption centers involved. Rich says a woman reached out to a coworker of his when he was 19, asking if anyone wanted a husky that was being abused after she had been left in a hole by her owner.
Abby was a champion line purebred, and the wife left all of the paperwork and her leash sitting out by the hole the night Rich planned to come by. “I went out at midnight one night and stole this dog,” Rich says. “I grabbed the paperwork, grabbed the leash, got down in the hole and leashed her up and took her home. Now I’ve had her for 13 years.”
4. He was a faithful Red Robin employee all through his 20s
Right after graduating from high school, Rich started working at Red Robin. He began as a busboy and quickly moved up the ranks from serving to training to bartending to assistant managing, and eventually became a corporate trainer. Because Red Robin was always a make-it-work job for him while he was pursuing his music career, he was always grateful with how flexible they were with his touring schedule.
“I had just been with the company for so long, and they loved me chasing my music — my dream — and they would always let me go on the road for a couple of months, travel around, and when I’d come back my job would always be there, my shifts would always be there,” Rich tells PEOPLE. “They always supported it.”
Once, he was invited to play a Christmas party show for some of the corporate executives of the restaurant chain, and when they learned the band was planning on driving a raggedy tour van through the Midwest in the winter, the executives hooked them up with “the most expensive all-terrain, all-weather tires you could get for a van and our trailer,” Rich says. “They gave us unlimited gift cards for when we were on the road so we could always eat for free at any Red Robin. They would just reload automatically every morning.”
“That was the dream job for a musician,” he recalls.
5. He has 14 tattoos
A three-quarter sleeve on his left arm is one of Rich’s defining characteristics, and consists of eight pieces of body art. His other ink includes his forearm, right bicep, inside of his lip, across his shoulder blades, across his chest and then around his chest. His two favorite tattoos are his mom’s name written across his shoulder (“I love that one,” he says.) and his newest one of his dog Abby.
“I am always thinking of my next idea,” Rich says. “I want it to have to do with something along the lines of where I grew up, I think…I don’t know, but it’s going to be good. I feel like something’s coming.”
Tyler Rich’s self-titled EP is available now.