By any measure, Rascal Flatts has entered elite territory. Five years into a career marked by superlatives, they have become country music's premiere young headliners. Hits like These Days, I'm Movin' On, I Melt,Mayberry and Bless The Broken Road have taken them repeatedly to the top of the charts. They have sold six-million records. They have pulled in a host of awards and accolades, and are the reigning 2003 & 2004 CMA & 2005, 2004 & 2003 ACM Vocal Group of the Year as well as the 2004 CMT and ASCAP Vocal Group of the Year. They have played for the President and First Lady, become national spokesmen for the American Red Cross, and hosted a farewell tribute to the legendary group Alabama, to whom they continue to draw comparisons, and have headlined 3 sell-out tours (2003 CMT Most Wanted Live Tour; 2003-04 I Melt Tour; 2004-05’s Here’s To You Tour, which has currently played for 250,000 fans).
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It is sometimes difficult to remember that they have accomplished all this with just three album's worth of material. Now they are poised to take their extraordinary careers to yet another level.
Feels Like Today debuted as a career first for the band- #1 on both the Pop and Country albums charts with sales of 200,946 and has gone on to sell over one and a half million copies. It has gone on to sell 2 million copies
Feels Like Today finds Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney taking their trademark vocals and soaring harmonies into new territory, with songs that reflect a maturity in both style and outlook befitting the five years of life-changing success they've put behind them.
"Nashville's songwriters are the best in the world," says Jay, "and they've stepped up to the plate with some unbelievable material for us. We've taken advantage of that this time around, and I think people will be surprised at the way we've stretched. We're older now, singing about some different things and tackling some heavier subject matter."
As a collection, Feels Like Today explores love and loss, nostalgia and regret, fulfilled promise and lost chances. The title track and first single deals with the moments that turn into life's breakthroughs. "We've been living with that song (Feels Like Today) for over two years," says Joe Don. "It's got a different feel and a different message, a way of presenting today as the day to get over that struggle in your life. It's a positive spiritual song, and being passionate about music and spirituality, we always tend to gravitate toward songs like that. It's one of those that hit us right between the eyes."
The theme helped spur the group into some of its best studio work yet. "As soon as Gary put his vocal on it," adds Joe Don, “it just soared." The trio co-produced the project with Mark Bright and Marty Williams, with whom they've worked on all three albums.
"We figured there was no need to fix something that wasn't broken," laughs Jay. The trio again took hands-on roles in adding instrumental as well as vocal tracks, and all five pushed each other throughout the recording process.
It's a work ethic that has infused every aspect of Rascal Flatts' career and has paid off in every direction. On the road, relentless touring has made them among the genre's best showmen, and has given them the enviable position of now headlining their own tours- like current “Here’s To You Tour” which is named after a song off Feels Like Today, an ode to their fans.
Collectively the guys wrote four songs for the album. “Bless The Broken Road is a Marcus Hummon song we heard a couple of years ago. It's probably our favorite ballad on the record. Not just a song, we call it a (master) piece,” says Gary and it has held the #1 position on the country charts for 6 weeks, a career best for the band. “Then I Did is another great Jeffrey Steele tune. He is such an amazing writer. We thought it sounded like a “These Days Part 2. We were pleasantly surprised how great the track turned out,” says Jay. “Fast Cars is a cool way to tell your woman that she still looks as good as she did when you first met and she doesn’t need make up,” says Gary. “She is still as beautiful and you love her as much as you did the first day.”
Joe Don wrote a tune about his home state titled Oklahoma-Texas Line. He tells, “the three of us started this song after a show one night on the road. We started with a melody that we thought was hooky. We are all big fans of the Tasty Freeze’s across the world…and falling in love.”
Changes with the group since its inception have been personal as well as professional. Jay has gotten married, Gary has had his second child, and Joe Don has moved into his new Nashville-area home and has a steady girl. The three carved out a little time at home during the brief break they took to record Feels Like Today, but since then, they have gone straight back to the road reality that has been their admittedly welcome lot in life for half a decade.
"We originally vowed never to be gone longer than 14 days," says Gary, "and I think we've got it down to 12 now, even on some of the West Coast runs. It's something our families all know how to deal with, and it's at the core of what we do."
It's something they have done extraordinarily well since joining forces years after their boyhood dreams of musical success first began taking shape.
For Gary and Jay, it began in Columbus, Ohio, where the second cousins learned to love music during frequent family jam sessions. Jay took his voice and instrumental skills (he plays guitar, bass, keyboards, mandolin, and others) to Nashville in 1992, earning his first record deal as part of a Christian group called East to West. In 1997, he finally convinced a reluctant Gary to leave behind his job with the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and follow his musical dreams as well.
"We started writing together," says Jay. "We caught up on lost time and sang every chance we got. We just hit it hard. We’d stay up endless nights writing music and playing together."
Jay met Joe Don when both landed jobs in Chely Wright’s band. Joe Don had grown up in tiny Picher, Oklahoma, gleaning influences from his brothers and sisters, whose tastes ran the gamut of musical styles. As he and Jay worked in Wright’s band, Jay and Gary were working in a Printer’s Alley club with a part-time guitarist. When he couldn’t make it one night, Jay invited Joe Don to sit in. A few bars into the first song they sang, they knew they had something special. They recorded some demos, which caught the favorable attention of Lyric Street Senior VP of A&R Doug Howard.
With their first album out, they hit the road hard, gaining thousands of new fans and opening for the likes of Alan Jackson, Jo Dee Messina, and Toby Keith. Their star rose dramatically from the outset and reached dizzying heights with the release of I’m Movin’ On, a phenomenon that still leaves band members shaking their heads.
“I'm Movin’ On became bigger than us," says Jay. "It’s one of those songs with such a powerful message it can move anybody in any phase of life. If you’re 12 and lose a parent, 35 and going through a divorce, or 70 and losing somebody to cancer, you’ve got to face moving on. It’s a universal song that really did more than we expected. It’s turned our lives upside-down. We’re still catching up to it."
The milestones kept coming. They played the Grand Ole Opry, appeared on the soundtrack of We Were Soldiers, and recorded Walk The Llama Llama, a song penned by Sting for The Emperor's New Groove soundtrack. Along the way, they were the subjects of two one-hour live television concerts and were voted the ACM’s 2001 New Vocal Group of the Year.
The hit songs and relentless work ethic drove them inexorably toward platinum status and a host of awards and milestones. Their debut CD was one of only three million-selling debuts in half a decade, and it spawned four top-ten singles. They toured with Brooks & Dunn, headlined their own tours: CMT “Most Wanted Live Tour,” 2003 “I Melt” and 2004 & 2005’s Here’s To You Tour.” They received the 2002 CMA Horizon Award, the ACM's Song of the Year award for I'm Movin' On, and the CMT Flameworthy Favorite Group or Duo Award for the These Days video.
Through it all, they have seen a great deal change in Nashville, often for the better. "Some of the people we used to bring on stage during our early club gigs, like Billy Currington, are out there getting hits of their own now, and it's great to see," says Gary. They remain delighted for their friends, and amazed and grateful at their own continuing success, which they see as a prod to further excellence.
“I try to remember that it can be gone in the blink of an eye, and we never want to become complacent," says Jay. "We keep pushing each other to get better than we were the day before." The result has been a relentless drive for self-improvement applied to the best songs they can find. "Each of the songs on this album, like each of the singles we've released, has got a different thumbprint," says Joe Don. "They've each been a little different from the next one. It's been a great rule to live by, and I think it's why we're still here."
The task at hand, adds Gary, is its own reward. "We're going to continue to try to cut songs that move people. We're having the time of our lives and that's what will enable us to keep the ball rolling."
The year 2005 will find the band continuously touring, taking a mid-Spring break to begin recording a new project.
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