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In just ten years, Rascal Flatts has become one of the most honored acts in country music history, reaching heights and achieving milestones reserved for the genre’s elite. They have set more venue attendance records than any country act en route to ticket sales of six million and counting. They have sold 20 million albums and earned 11 #1 singles. All six of their albums are platinum or multi-platinum and every one is among Billboard’s Top 100 Albums of the Decade. They have won more than three dozen awards from the ACM, CMA, AMA and People’s Choice, among others, and they have received that ultimate honor for those who have impacted the culture–a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“We have had an unreal ten years,” says lead singer Gary Levox with an appreciative smile. “We’ve done things we couldn’t have been able to dream.”
Behind those statistics is an accomplishment more basic than numbers, more important than any trophy–for the past decade, the music of Rascal Flatts has been the soundtrack to countless lives. Songs like “These Days,” “Mayberry,” “What Hurts The Most,” “My Wish,” “Stand,” “Here,” “Here Comes Goodbye” and “Summer Nights” have soothed and uplifted, fired up, mellowed out and otherwise impacted millions.
“I’m humbled to think that the music we’ve been able to make has touched so many lives and moved so many people,” says bass player/harmony vocalist Jay Demarcus. “The stories are just incredible and I think I’m most grateful for that.”
“To this day,” adds guitarist/harmony vocalist Joe Don Rooney, “we receive letters and e-mails about how a song like ‘I’m Moving On’ has impacted someone’s life in some way or how ‘Bless The Broken Road’ was played at their wedding or how ‘Stand’ gave them the courage to stand up and fight the cancer out of their body and mind! That’s powerful stuff, and that’s the reason we’re in the business, without question.”
Their place in country music history may be assured, but Gary, Jay and Joe Don retain a newcomer’s passion about capturing magic with each new project. Now, with the release of their latest, Nothing LIke This, they have done it once again, taking their career and their legacy another long step forward.
“We’ve reached back a little to what brought us here while moving forward at the same time,” says Jay. “We concentrated more on our vocals and chemistry again and not so much on big production.”
The album is a microcosm of all the things the band does well–Jay calls it “Rascal Flatts in a nutshell”–which is to say it touches on many of the best aspects of 21st-century country music. It is first and foremost uplifting, with songs like “Why Wait” and “Play” kicking off the proceedings with the call to enjoy life no matter what our circumstances. It features both the throwback groove of “They Try” and the fresh sparkle of “All Night To Get There.” “Summer Young” is an uptempo celebration of the season of warmth and romance and “I Won’t Let Go” is “You’ve Got A Friend” for the new millennium, a song steeped in the strength of love and friendship in times of trouble. The title cut finds a way to bring freshness to the subject of love and sees Gary bringing a disarming desperation to his vocal.
“One of the more special songs on this album for me is ‘I Won’t Let Go,'” says Joe Don. “Being a parent now and listening to that song really hits home and truly hits me in the heart.”
Evident throughout is the group’s ability to recognize the best in Nashville songwriting. “It’s always been about the songs first,” says Jay, “and boy did we get our hands on some gems!!
“We think we’ve got a good balance,” says Joe Don, “between the really deep, sweet, meaningful ballads and the ‘right at ya’ uptempos that keep the party going.” “I think there’s something for everybody on this project,” adds Gary, “and it’s a full-length example of what makes us who we are.”
Guesting on the project is Natasha Beddingfield, who joins the trio on “Easy.” “We had a blast recording with Natasha,” says Gary. “I’ve always been addicted to great singers and she is certainly one of the best. It was an honor to sing with her.” Fans got their initial listen to the project with the debut single, the group’s first release on Big Machine Records, their new label home.
“‘Why Wait’ is one of the coolest tunes I’ve heard in a long while,” says Joe Don. “I’ll never forget sitting in that little studio in Santa Barbara and hearing it for the first time. Instantly we new it was a Rascal Flatts song and by the day’s end we had ourselves an extremely magical track going. I love it!”
The laid-back California outpost was chosen as a creative counterpoint to Music City. “We cut half the album in Nashville and half in Santa Barbara,” says Gary. “We just wanted to change it up some and enjoy the beautiful weather in California. It gave us a new spark for sure.”
“It as a nice departure from the norm for us,” adds Joe Don. “We recorded in a funky little studio with some amazing L.A. musicians and created some great magic together. I really think you can feel some of the energy on a lot of these tracks.”
“Overall,” says Jay, “this is an album about fun, growth and change. We have been at a very important crossroads this year with our ten-year mark, so I think we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could still grow and surprise ourselves and stretch.”
The fact that they were able to do so reflects the magic they have always found in their approach to music and the respect with which they view their mission and each other. Their sound took root in the late 1990s, when Jay and Joe Don were band mates working with Chely Wright and Jay and Gary were playing a separate gig in downtown Nashville. When their guitar player was unable to make it one night, Jay asked Joe Don to sit in.
“We knew right away we had something special,” says Jay, “even if we were the only ones who ever got to hear it!”
“I truly feel like every time the three of us lock into a chorus,” adds Gary, “God’s hand is in it. I feel blessed to share the stage with Jay and Joe Don and their crazy talent. They both inspire me.”
“Gary is one of the greatest and most unique singers of our time,” says Joe Don, returning the compliment. “I’ve always felt blessed that we have a lead singer who, like a quarterback, takes charge of the stage and leads us into victory night after night!” The three honed their sound with club work, cut some demos and by year’s end had been signed to Lyric Street Records, where they flourished and took off on that magical decade of hits and sold-out shows. Along the way, their “Bless The Broken Road” was Grammy nominated for Country Song of the Year and Vocal Performance, they became 2006’s top-selling physical and digital artist in all genres, scored four #1 country albums and three #1’s overall, and hit the Top 10 Billboard pop singles chart twice, among many other milestones.
“There’s never been a method to our madness,” says Joe Don. “We just cut the best songs we can, and through the years we get better at what we do.” When Lyric Street closed its doors, they chose Big Machine as their new label home. “We have found an amazing business partner with [label head] Scott Borchetta and the entire Big Machine family,” says Gary. “They get us and we get them on every level. It feels like the right place at the right time.”
Committed to giving back, they are known for their charitable work, which includes raising three million dollars for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.
“That,” says Jay, “is definitely the thing I’m most proud of.”
This year sees them back on the road with their “Nothing Like This Tour,” which Jay says, “is sort of a Rascal Flatts history lesson.”
“As a kid,” says Gary, “you stand in front of your mirror and only dream about being able to sell out arenas and stadiums. And to be able to play a place like Wrigley Field and sell it out, you can’t even dream that big. The feeling is awesome.”
“Without a doubt we’ve been blessed to have received our fair share of awards and recognitions in this business,” adds Joe Don. “But above all, getting to make music that matters, that affects people emotionally and spiritually, is the greatest thing we could ever accomplish.”
Never content to rest on their laurels, they are eagerly looking forward. “The goal,” adds Gary,” is to continue to make amazing music together for at least the next ten years, because we honestly feel like we’re just getting started.” “And as long as we stay true to the music and each other,” adds Jay, “everything else will fall into place.”