As Memorial Day approaches, thoughts turn to honoring those who have lost their lives as members of the United States' Armed Forces. For Lee Brice, the holiday also means reflecting on the many members of his own family who have served, and doing work to honor their memories and the efforts of all of our nation's service people.
"I've always had a connection, just for the fact that some of the biggest parts of my life were my granddaddies and uncles and cousins that were in the military," Brice tells Rolling Stone Country. "So I’ve been a part of that and heard stories and learned so much in life because of that. Any time I got a chance over the years to be a part of anything benefitting the Armed Forces, I wanted to do it and I wanted to be a part of it."
His latest way of giving back comes via a partnership with Budweiser and Folds of Honor, the latter a non-profit that offers educational scholarships to close relatives of members of the military who were killed or injured during combat. Brice, alongside A Thousand Horses, will headline Budweiser's Salute to Service concert in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 29th as part of the American beer's mission to raise $1 million for the organization.
"I love what Folds does, and their drive, and their passion for what they do, so I’ve drawn really close to Folds of Honor," Brice explains. "One of the reasons I became so tight was because I met a lady named Ginger [Gilbert]. She's actually one of the spokespeople for Folds of Honor because she was one of the first recipients."
Gilbert's husband Troy was killed in action. Before deploying overseas, he tried to ease his family's financial burden by unloading one of his favorite possessions.
"He said, 'Hey, we have two cars. Sell the truck and we'll get another when I get back,'" Brice says. "When I was talking to her for the very first time she told me that story and how she wished she could get that truck back. She said, 'That’s why your song 'I Drive Your Truck' really resonates.' And that just really put me on the floor. I thought, 'We gotta find that truck.'"
Miraculously, Brice and Gilbert did find the truck, and one of her five children drives it today. Brice has remained in contact with the family ever since, and is happy to have the opportunity to raise funds for an organization that has done so much for so many.
"The cherry on top of the cake [is] I'm from the area," he says. "I’m from Sumter, South Carolina, right down the road, so I almost feel like a hometown boy getting to go back home and play something so important. The whole partnership between Budweiser and Folds and myself, it’s brought us together a few times and this is one of them."
Brice has been pretty busy lately, releasing a brand new single, "Boy," announcing a forthcoming self-titled album, and sharing that he and his wife Sara are expecting a new baby girl in the coming weeks. Already a father of two sons, Brice felt especially drawn to the heartfelt message of "Boy," which was penned by Nicolle Galyon and Jon Nite.
"I knew this song was going to resonate," he says. "I had a feeling the first time I heard it. It kills me – every night I sing it about my boys. I think about their health and I think about their futures and I think about my dad and what he must have thought and must have felt growing up, things I didn’t realize then but realize now. All of that stuff piles up into one big emotion when you hear that song."
The impending birth of his daughter also inspired Brice to record the song. "I figured that was one of the reasons I needed to go ahead and put this song out now, before the little girl got jealous," he laughs.
Lee Brice, due November 3rd, will be the singer-songwriter's fourth album, following 2014's I Don't Dance. After exploring new textures on that last album, Brice says this LP is an homage to his roots, featuring stripped-down production and "no tricks or computers." It's also his first release since undergoing vocal surgery in October 2016, a move that had Brice examining his vocal ability in a way he never had before.
"I’d been really struggling with an injured voice. In that struggle it made me reach hard for notes and reach hard for singing on these songs, so it kind of turned into these soulful, bluesy, Southern-rock type songs," he says of the new album. "It has all the things I grew up listening to and loving in it. Some people might hear it and say, 'Man, this is a step back from his more produced stuff in the past,' but I’m more proud of it because it’s me singing and my players playing guitar. It’s just a raw record – me and my heart."