Rascal Flatts Soak Up Success

Next time you’re stuck on a ridiculously long flight layover, think of Rascal Flatts . The harmonious trio spent 19 hours at the Nashville International Airport filming their latest music video, “These Days.”

“As soon as the sun was starting to go down, Gary and the girl shot the dancing scene, the reminiscing scene, and that was in the rain,” Joe Don Rooney says. “From then, when the sun went down, until 2 a.m., we stayed in the same wet clothes.”

So wet, in fact, that after five hours beneath a rain machine, the dye in Jay DeMarcus’ shirt stained his skin black for four days. And the pigment in Rooney’s soaked boots — which he was wearing on the day of the interview — seeped through his socks and turned his feet brown.

“These Days” sits at No. 6 on the Top Twenty Countdown, and the trio will perform on CMT Most Wanted Live on Wednesday (Oct. 30). It’s the first single from the band’s second album, Melt, which arrives in stores Tuesday (Oct. 29).

As lead singer Gary LeVox chats up a long-lost love in the video, Rooney and DeMarcus spend most of the indoor scenes on an airport bench looking aggravated. When complimented on their acting abilities, they both take good-natured digs at LeVox.

“That was the only shot we had,” DeMarcus says. “As you know, Gary is the star of that video. It was great for Joe Don and me to be extras in our own video.”

“I didn’t even know we were going to be there for it,” Rooney adds. “They called us that morning and asked us for 10 minutes out of our day, and we said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’”

LeVox just shrugs and jokes, “I’m going to Diamond Rio. I quit.”

It’s almost like a comedy routine interviewing Rascal Flatts, with LeVox playing the straight man against Rooney and, especially, DeMarcus. However, when the band first appeared on the charts in 2000, they found themselves as the butt of several jokes in Nashville. At the time, boy bands dominated the pop charts, which made it easy for critics and naysayers to dismiss the trio as a country cash-in. Comparing the band to their labelmates on Lyric Street Records, some detractors also referred to the band as “HeDAISY.”

“We fought the stereotypical boy band issue,” LeVox says, “which got old really, really quick. [It would be different] if all three of us just stood up there and sang, without playing an instrument. Come and check out a live show and see Jay playing the bass and Joe Don playing the guitar. Not average bass and guitar players — incredible, talented, gifted entertainers.”

“I guess somewhere along the line, when we first came out, somebody thought it was a crime to be young and not wear a cowboy hat and sing country music,” says DeMarcus. “It was really frustrating to fight that stigma, but I think we’re pulling out of it. You know, I’m pushing 50 now and Gary’s 47.”

He’s kidding, of course. DeMarcus is 31 and LeVox is 32. They’re second cousins from Columbus, Ohio. Rooney, an Oklahoma native, is 27. He met DeMarcus when they both worked in Chely Wright’s touring band. One night, Rooney sat in at one of DeMarcus and LeVox’s own gigs in a downtown Nashville bar, and something clicked. Deciding to pursue their own record deal, they borrowed their unusual name from a friend’s long-defunct band and charted their first hit in early 2000 with “Praying for Daylight.”

Impressed with their distinct sound, Jo Dee Messina hired them to open her Burn tour, as two more of their songs cracked the Top 10, “This Everyday Love” and “While You Loved Me.” Rascal Flatts was certified gold, for shipment of 500,000 copies.

Tucked away at the end of that debut album, the ballad “I’m Movin’ On” brought a feeling of strength and resiliency to more than one country listener. As the late-blooming song rose into the Top 5, the album sold half-million additional copies to gain platinum certification — and the industry credibility they sought. In fact, the Country Music Association nominated them for two awards this year. Last year, they didn’t get any nods.

The new album, Melt, covers many of the same bases as Rascal Flatts — from powerfully sung love songs to pop-flavored, feel-good numbers. Once again, a country ballad closes the album, although the person who moves on in “My Worst Fear” leaves for an entirely different reason.

DeMarcus says, “We were raised on songs like that. And messages like that. People forget that when they jump to conclusions and pass a judgment on us. We have very deep strong country musical roots, and we wanted to put something on there that spoke to that influence as well.”

“It’s just one of those things that moved us,” LeVox adds. “It was like listening to ‘I’m Movin’ On.’ The very first time we heard it, it was just like a no-brainer for us.”

With this new batch of songs, Rascal Flatts continues to tour with Toby Keith until April, with occasional stops on the CMT Most Wanted Live Tour with Brad Paisley. Of course, with incessant roadwork comes the travel demands of country stardom — such as late nights, early mornings, red-eye flights and not getting home to see your family enough.

“That’s all a part of what you sign up to do when you want to be an artist and be successful,” DeMarcus says. “But it means you have to take care of yourself. It means you have to pace yourself.”

Rooney adds, “We signed a record deal, and we all agreed this is what we want to do. We all dreamed of getting that opportunity for so long, since our childhood. We knew that it wasn’t going to come without a price to have any kind of success whatsoever. We completely worked our tails off and we will continue to do that, because you can’t keep a career going without more work.”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.