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As a songwriter and performer, Hunt the rice has three No. 1 songs to his name, but the “best song” he’s ever written will be released early next year.
“Bench Seat,” which is about Rice’s college friend and his dog, is also the heaviest, most moving song he’s ever written.
“My best friend in college almost shot himself in the head,” Rice, 37, exclusively told PEOPLE while attending the iHeartRadio Music Festival on Saturday. “His dog ended up saving his life. He had the gun to his head and he looked at the dog. The dog nodded and looked at him like, ‘What are you doing?’ “
The friend – who threw the gun away and finally got help, and is now fine – prompted Rice to write “Bench Seat” just three days after confiding in the country musician.
“I cried a lot over that one. I remember starting to write it and just getting up and walking out of the room,” Rice recalled. “I knew I wanted to write it, but I didn’t think it would go so fast.”
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According to Rice, the unnamed friend heard the song, which is slated for release in January or February.
“He cried when he heard it, and it’s the best song I’ve ever done,” Rice said. “I cried a lot that day.”
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And while Rice gets emotional about “Bench Seat,” he’s giddy about his upcoming album, which he calls “incredibly good.”
“This next album is above and beyond anything I’ve ever done,” he said. “I know people say that all the time, but this one is legit. Like, I listen to it while driving down the road because I want to hear those songs.”
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Rice largely avoided his new material during his performance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good time.
“I was throwing beers and didn’t hit anyone in the face,” he shared with a laugh. “April Lavigne played earlier. I never thought I would do a show with Avril Lavigne.”