Rodney Rice crossed into his native West Virginia on Sunday afternoon. The Littleton-based singer-songwriter had just departed from Nashville, where he’d spent four days in a recording studio, his first proper visit to the country-music mecca. He was on his way to visit family and weld a kayak rack onto his vehicle.
It’s a weird time to be traveling, but he’s been hunkered down for months and had new songs to record. Although the year's been rough, it hasn't kept him from being productive.
“I’m keeping my distance and wearing the mask and carrying the hand sanitizer,” Rice says. “Everyone in the studio was real good about that, too. We were all masked up and everything. I’m just trying to make my way across the country as safe as I can.”
Rice is excited that his second album, SAME SHIrT, DIFFERENT DAY, which premieres on streaming platforms on October 23, is starting to get some attention. It's listed as “Bubblin’ Up” on the Americana Music Association’s album chart. The album offers twelve tracks of dirty, twangy, country-soaked rock and a long list of guest musicians. Tracks take shots at the current presidential administration and the drag of working a corporate job.
It’s a followup to Rice’s 2014 debut, Empty Pockets and a Troubled Mind, and he felt more comfortable in the studio this time around. He also wrote the songs more quickly, inspired in part by the state of the world.
“I like the second one more,” Rice says, adding that he likes both records. “I think the songs are more recent and relevant. The first one had some of the first songs I had ever written, kind of through high school up through when I recorded it. It covered a much longer time span."
The opening track on SAME SHIrT, DIFFERENT DAY, “Ain’t Got a Dollar,” addresses Trump's presidency and the idea that politics is a money game. Rice says many of the people in politics have so much money that they don’t understand how regular folks are getting by. For the record, he’s also embarrassed that the United States has a reality-TV star as commander-in-chief.
“There are some military references there,” he says. “I wasn’t in the military, but I had some family and friends who served, and just seeing their service and then how things are back home — it seems like it’s always the same kind of story, who goes and fights and who doesn’t.”
Rice is well suited to play Americana and country. He grew up in West Virginia in a city, but the state is a largely rural place where the sun goes down early in the “hollers.”
“Appalachia is spread pretty wide,” he says. “I think they have similar aspects of day-to-day life — whether it’s between West Virginia or parts of Tennessee or Kentucky — this rural, working-class folk. It’s a good experience to have, especially if you get out and experience some other things.”
Rice left West Virginia but returned to go to school at the University of West Virginia. He earned a degree in geology and worked in the oil industry for many years. Currently, he's focusing on his music full-time.
His former career took him to the oil rigs of Texas. He’s an educated man and got along fine in the office — “Middle Managed Blues” is based on a performance review at a corporate office job — but his rural-tinged upbringing helped him get along with the roughnecks on the oil rigs, and the experience inspired much of his music.
“I met some really good people that I had a lot in common with,” he says. “It takes all types of folks to make the world go ’round. It’s a different environment out there, for sure. There’s a big difference between working on a rig and working in an office somewhere.”
Rice moved to Colorado after meeting a woman from Boulder, but while in Texas, he took in a lot of music, mostly because there wasn’t much else to do in oil country. Rice recalls seeing outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver on numerous occasions. That was cool, because Shaver, who famously shot a man outside a bar near Lorena, Texas in 2007, was a big part of Rice's musical education.
“I remember listening to him as a kid,” he says. “It seemed like every couple months I could see him in some honky-tonk bar somewhere. It would be twenty bucks to get in, and it would just be a great show, and he’d have a bunch of great musicians opening for him.”
Music came early to Rice, and he recalls raiding his older sister’s music collection and listening to tapes and CDs of Uncle Tupelo, Waylon Jennings and Shaver. John Prine made an instant impression, and his sister took him to see the legend at the local performing arts center when he was ten.
“We had seats in the very last row of the concert hall,” he recalls. “It worked out good, because we could stand up on the seats and not bother anyone. I just remember standing up in the chair the whole time. It was just so cool to see him and the band. He definitely had a big impact on me musically, as he was to so many musicians and songwriters.”
SAME SHIrT, DIFFERENT DAY premieres on October 23. To find out how to get the album, go to the Rodney Rice website.