Sunday, 10 February, 2008 12:50 PM
Breaking Expectations: The Triumph
of Rascal Flatts (CMA)
courtesy of Lyric Street Records
Street recording artist Rascal Flatts.
Deborah Evans Price
2008 CMA Close Up News Service
You've sold 15 million
albums, scored nine No. 1 singles and bested every other artist
across all genres of music to become the top selling act of 2006
of all genres. So what's next?
That question faced Lyric
Street Records sensation Rascal Flatts early last year as the trio
began planning its Platinum-selling album, Still Feels Good, which
was later released on Sept. 25, 2007. And the answer? "We just
wanted to go in with the same ammo we've always had and cut the
best music we could," said Jay DeMarcus.
Still, DeMarcus and his
fellow Rascals Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney weren't oblivious to
expectations. "The guys and I always try to find songs that
will keep appealing to the masses the way our music has been able
to so far," DeMarcus said. "We pick music that speaks
to us with a message that we want to say, but definitely fans and
radio are the two biggest aspects of our career, so we make music
Since their self-titled
debut in 2000, Rascal Flatts have rocked Country radio with "Bless
the Broken Road," "Fast Cars and Freedom," "Mayberry,"
"Me and My Gang," "My Wish," "These Days,"
"Prayin' for Daylight" and other hits. They've also topped
adult contemporary charts with Steve Robson and Jeffrey Steele's
"What Hurts the Most," which made them one of only three
Country acts to have a No. 1 song at both AC and Country radio in
the same week. Industry honors flowed their way as well, including
the CMA Horizon Award in 2002 and five consecutive selections as
CMA Vocal Group of the Year.
Still Feels Good posted
first week sales of 547,000 units, making it the week's top selling
album across all genres of music. Still Feels Good is the band's
third consecutive album to open at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200
chart and has since sold more than 1.6 million copies. Included
in its first week sales are more than 44,000 digital albums, making
it the biggest Country digital album debut in Nielsen SoundScan
This success, according to Dann Huff, who co-produced Still Feels
Good with the band, stems from "a combination of two things:
the sound of those three voices and their choice of songs. They
are absolutely dedicated to singing songs that make you want to
sing with them. They sing meaningful songs in an entertaining way."
DeMarcus and LeVox, second
cousins from Columbus, Ohio, laid the foundation for this phenomenon
when they both wound up in Chely Wright's band. They performed together
in Nashville's nightclub strip Printer's Alley, and when their regular
guitarist wasn't available one night, Rooney was called to sit in.
The chemistry proved magical, especially in the harmonies that have
become a signature of the Rascal Flatts sound.
"The reason this whole thing has worked is the combination
we have together, not only as business partners and members of a
band, but we're great friends," said Rooney. "It's almost
like we're brothers at this point. We have this tremendous connection
and love for each other and a desire to sing together. As long as
we stay true to that and roll with the flow, I think we'll be just
That connection allowed
the group to take some chances in recording Still Feels Good. As
LeVox explained, "We said, 'OK, in April, May and June, we're
taking off. We're going to sit in the studio and create this album.'
The four previous albums, we'd be on the road on the weekend and
we'd come back on Sunday. Then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we'd
be in the studio, trying to cut it. This time, we took more time.
We dedicated our lives to sitting down for three months and creating
Their only show during
that period was at LP Field for the 2007 CMA Music Festival. "We
let it all hang out," said LeVox. "We sang like it was
the last time we would ever sing again. We were so hungry for the
"CMA does an amazing job," Rooney added. "It's so
easy to get up there and do your show. I noticed, particularly this
year, the setup and teardown of each band or artist performing was
really, really quick. It gets better every year and the crowds are
getting bigger. It's almost like a big family reunion."
Speaking of family, the
guys are quick to call Huff one of their own. "Dann comes from
a band background with Whiteheart," said LeVox. "A lot
of times, producers have never been in bands. But Dann is one of
the finest musicians to have ever played a guitar in a band, so
he knows what he's looking for. What he wanted to do is take our
live show and capture it on CD."
"He's a consistent
friend and confidant," added DeMarcus. "He comes out on
the road for a weekend, just to see what we're doing in our live
shows. He is as passionate about this as we are. I live, eat and
breathe and am consumed by music, and to have someone making your
record with you that's totally in touch with those emotions and
gets your point of view, it's really refreshing. So, for us, Dann
is more than a producer. He doesn't just make music with us. He
is the fourth Flatt."
"I'm proud to be
called the fourth Flatt," Huff said, laughing. "But do
I really have the hair for it?"
In addition to co-producing
with Huff, the band members took a more active role by co-writing
five of the 13 songs for Still Feels Good one of which features
a guest appearance from actor and musician Jamie Foxx, a friend
of LeVox's for more than 13 years.
"We used to sit
around for hours at Jamie's house, singing and playing and having
a good time," LeVox said. "So when Jay and Joe and myself
wrote this song, we thought it would be great to have him on it.
I called him up just to say, 'Hey, man, you've got to hear this
song. I think you could really, really kill it.' He said, 'Tell
you what. I'll sing on your record if you guys will sing on mine.'
I said, 'Alright.' He asked what the name of the song was. I said,
'She Goes All the Way,' and he said, 'Man, I just want to meet that
Though Rascal Flatts
is their obvious priority, DeMarcus and Rooney are branching out
too. DeMarcus has produced cuts for Jo Dee Messina and James Otto,
and Rooney is spending time in the studio with Nashville-based singer
Brian Taylor and a rock band in Los Angeles called Stars Align.
"It's always fun
to do some other projects," Rooney noted. "I try to spend
time helping other people like I was helped seven or eight years
ago, when I got this Rascal Flatts deal.
"The awards are
wonderful and all the accolades," he continued. "But the
greatest thing is the way we are able to record songs that have
changed people's lives. They've really made an impact. [People tell
us about] putting down the bottle or not committing suicide, and
having joy and happiness in their lives that they didn't have before.
Those are the positives."
Such blessings aren't
taken for granted. "For so many years, I was that person sitting
on that lawn," LeVox said, referring to the most distant seats
for audiences at outdoor concerts. "It was just a dream to
be on the other side one day. So I decided to play every show like
it's the last one I'll ever play. Every night before we go out there,
I say a prayer, just thanking God for giving us the opportunity
to stand on another stage and showcase the talent he's given all
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courtesy of Lyric Street Records
Flatts "Still Feel Good"
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