Rascal Flatts Reflects on 10 Epic Years

Posted by Webb on 08/25/2010

By Donna Hughes

© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

It’s the year 2000. “Gladiator” is named Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Gas costs around $1.60 a gallon. The Tennessee Titans make it to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the St. Louis Rams by seven points. “Hanging chad” enters the political vernacular. Entertainer of the Year is among the honors extended to the Dixie Chicks at the CMA Awards. And a new group named Rascal Flatts, composed of Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney, releases its debut single, “Prayin’ for Daylight,” written by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles.

Fast-forward a decade. The trio has sold more than 20 million albums, with the latest, Unstoppable, certified Platinum and all the rest achieving multi-Platinum status. They had one of the top-grossing tours over the past few years and hit the top of the charts 11 times. Their six consecutive Vocal Group of the Year triumphs at the CMA Awards tie the record set by The Statler Brothers, who won nine times overall in that category. They have played 400 dates as a headline act, more than 700 since 2000, with a ticket tally of nearly six million. These shows have included three consecutive sold-out performances at Madison Square Garden and the first and only concert by a Country artist to sell out Wrigley Field.

They are also marking their 10th anniversary in the business with numerous celebrations, which included honoring their loyal fans at CMA Music Festival by signing autographs and performing a short acoustic set in the Greased Lightning Fan Fair Hall. Their scorching Festival set at LP Field was a practice run for their “JC Penney Presents Rascal Flatts Nothing Like This Tour.” On this trek, the guys take their fans on a musical journey, spanning their 10 years of hits, from that first single to their most recent smash, “Unstoppable.”

They also entertained attendees at Country Radio Seminar in February by showing somewhat amusing older band photographs and performing some of their hits. That same month they paid tribute to Blair Daly, Marcus Hummon, Wendell Mobley, Jeffrey Steele, Neil Thrasher and the rest of the more than 75 songwriters who have contributed to the band’s six studio albums with a festive event at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

“That was a lot of fun,” recalled Rooney. “They’ve been such supporters of ours for the past 10 years. It all starts with a hit song, a great song, so we thought it would be cool to give back to them. It was a wonderful evening, and they all got up and sang their songs that they wrote for us. It was really cool to hear them do their versions of so many great songs.”

There is no sure-fire way to achieve success in the music business, much less sustain that achievement for a decade. But for Rascal Flatts, the formula truly does begin with the music. “We just really concentrated and focused so hard on picking and writing and cutting the greatest songs that we could cut,” said LeVox. “I think our personalities have helped, but it all comes down to the music that we’ve cut and the lives that we’ve touched that way. Being fans of music first, we always, from Day One, put on a live show that we would want to go see. I think all those kinds of things combined really helped get us where we are. But I would say our music has probably been the No. 1 factor.”

Many of the band’s peers agree, especially those who have known them the longest. “The Flatts came to our fan club party with an acoustic guitar and three great voices,” said Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn in a written statement, recalling their first meeting. “Joe Don, Gary and Jay are all blessed with the gift of talent God gave. They can write, play, sing and entertain millions with an ease that is unmatched. … But most importantly, they are great guys who we are proud to call friends.”

Rascal Flatts traveled with Brooks & Dunn on the duo’s “Neon Circus and Wild West Show” in 2003; they also opened shows for Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Jo Dee Messina before they began headlining their own tours. Part of their success over the years stems from watching and learning from those acts who took them on the road.

“We got to steal a lot of their ideas when it came time to headline,” said DeMarcus, with a laugh, as Rooney added, “That’s actually a true statement.”

“It really puts you in a place, in all due respect to all of those acts, because they were certainly instrumental to us,” DeMarcus continued. “But it puts us in a place to learn what to do and what not to do, and you can learn a little bit of both by being out there with big headlining tours like that. And we learned how we wanted to run our crew, how we wanted to treat our people. They were very good tours. They treated their people very well, and they treated us as an opening act very well.”
According to Trey Turner, who co-manages Rascal Flatts with Doug Nichols under the auspices of Turner & Nichols and Associates, there is plenty for upcoming artists to learn from the example of this group in terms of staying successful and relevant. “I think it’s all due to the act,” he suggested. “They have to stay hungry. They have to want to keep going, because you get into making the money that they make, it’s not about where they were 10 years ago. It’s about what the next 10 years is going to be. They have to want it, and they have to want to go do it, because this is a very tough business and it’s so easy to say, ‘I’m gonna stay at the house this year, or two years or three years.’

“The other thing that is so important for a group is the bond between the people,” Turner continued. “It’s so easy for a group to not make it, just personality-wise. It’s like a second marriage, and they have to really be committed to each other, so that’s a big factor in a group. The other factor is the music. It’s not about who wrote what or who publishes what. It really gets down to every album they cut. They look at the best song and the best song wins.”

Summing up, Turner said, “To me, when you’ve got those three things going together, it’s a magical combination because then you’re going to be successful and you can go compete. The business is too hard to put out one bad song after another. So if you’ve got them wanting to be together and wanting to be a group and wanting to cut hit songs, and you still have that hunger to go fight and do what you need to do and get up and do radio and videos and press, now you’re talking about the next 10 years. That’s what they’ve rededicated themselves to do.”

The immediate future for Rascal Flatts includes a new album, Nothing Like This, scheduled to release Nov. 16 on their new label, Big Machine Records. According to DeMarcus, it will complete the 10-year saga by harking back to aspects of the band’s earlier sound. “The first couple of records we did with Dann (Huff, producer), Me and My Gang and Still Feels Good, we went down a path to where we really captured the high energy of our shows — a lot of big arena-rock sound and big massive ballads. It was a bit of a departure for us from Feels Like Today and Melt, which tended to be more rootsy and a little more Country and focused on our vocals more than our big-band presentation.”

“I feel we’ve recaptured a little bit of what the old Flatts records were about, both with being a little more Country and a little more focused on the vocals and not so much on the bigness of things,” Rooney concurred. “We’ve gone back to a little bit more of the heart and soul of what the older Flatts (albums) were about. It feels like a new beginning, like we’re evolving a little bit and showing some growth once again.”

With their former label, Lyric Street Records, shuttered, the group expressed its enthusiasm over joining the Big Machine family at a special media event in a vast open suite overlooking Downtown Nashville from the 22nd floor of The Pinnacle at Symphony Place. Following opening remarks from Scott Borchetta, President/CEO, Big Machine Label Group, Rascal Flatts emerged from behind black curtains at the back of the room to field questions.

The mood was upbeat, as Borchetta and the trio briefly improvised some dance steps as speakers pumped out the album’s debut single, "Why Wait," written by Neil Thrasher, Tom Shapiro and Jimmy Yeary. But consistent with the spirit of their anniversary year, they were thoughtful too.
“We feel like we’re just getting started,” DeMarcus mused. “We keep celebrating 10 years but we feel like there’s so much left to do. Not very many people who get into this industry are able to look back and say they’ve been able to do it for 10 years. That’s what we’re really thankful and grateful for.”

LeVox echoed this point. “When our day is done and it’s time for us to go home and our time on Earth has passed, one thing that we’ll never have to do is to ask ‘what if?’ Never — because we did it.”

“We all feel the same way,” Rooney affirmed. “I’ve learned that you can take chances and make things happen with a leap of faith, as simple as that sounds. If you can dream it, it can be accomplished.”