Lee Brice always wanted to perform, not just write songs

CMA new artist nominee coming to Kuss

Lee Brice is no stranger to the stage, but the recent nominee for the Country Music Association’s new artist of the year award is often perceived as a songwriter-turned-performer. It’s understandable considering he was first known in Nashville for writing hits for artists such as Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw and Jason Aldean, but it’s an image the South Carolina native dislikes.

“Truthfully, I was writing songs when I was 10 so I’d have songs to sing,” said Brice, who performs at Kuss Auditorium in Springfield on Thursday. “When I came to Nashville I was planning on being an artist, but I happened to have a little success as a writer first. It’s nice now to finally have stuff going on as an artist finally. It’s been really cool.”

Of course, Brice’s resume went from weeknight residencies, weekend gigs and short tours to doing 200-plus dates a year on the road. That’s been his pace since 2007, when his first solo single was released.

“It was a big transition getting out on the road and just being gone, ya know, just out of nowhere,” Brice said. “Building a fan base with or without radio success is important. Just getting out and playing shows no matter what happens. It’s like you’re building a foundation nobody can take from you no matter what happens.”

The plan worked. “Love Like Crazy,” the title track of Brice’s debut album, was Billboard’s No. 1 song of the year in 2010, and his stock continues to rise.

“I’m really glad I went about it the way I did, and we’re going to continue to do that and keep playing shows,” he said. “It makes you a better artist, a better singer and a better writer. You learn a whole lot of stuff.”

That on-the-job experience provided an increased confidence that’s palpable on Brice’s sophomore album, “Hard To Love” (Curb Records), which was released in May.

“The last album was five years in the making,” he said. “It’s hard to put an album together that paints a picture of who you are at that time in your life. You change as a person. You grow as a musician. This album was so cool because I was able to go in and record songs that meant something to me and described my life right now.

“I was a lot more confident and really excited about making this record,” Brice said. “I think it turned out good. I’m really excited about it.”

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