With their third album, Feels Like Today, arriving in stores Tuesday (Sept. 28), Rascal Flatts won’t be getting much rest this week. Following Wednesday’s (Sept. 29) performance on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America, the band will head to appearances in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., later that day before an eight-city promotional tour of radio stations.
Fortunately, Rascal Flatts visited CMT’s offices before their schedule became truly frantic. In this first of a two-part interview, Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney talk about the importance of their breakthrough single, “I’m Movin’ On,” and how the band’s success has grown during the past five years. Running Wednesday, the second part will center on the new music they recorded for Feels Like Today.
The conversation begins with talk of their Here’s to You tour, a series of shows kicking off Saturday (Oct. 2) in Annapolis, Md. The tour gets its name from one of the new songs, a thank you note to fans co-written by DeMarcus.
As a fan, what’s the most trouble you’ve ever gone through just to see a concert?
LeVox: We actually went to see George Jones and he didn’t show up — during that period. That was pretty crazy, trying to get out of there. I mean, they were throwing liquor bottles. It was in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t think Hank came out, either. Somebody else came out and we were like, “What the …?”
George and Hank were both on the same show?
LeVox: It might’ve been two different times, I’m not sure. But I do remember the George Jones concert. It was like Independence Day. It was terrible trying to get out of there. And we’re just young kids going to see a hero — and he didn’t show up. Man, it was life or death to try to get back to, you know, Grandma’s car.
Rooney: My sister and I used to drive all over the place to go see concerts when I was in junior high. We went to a rock concert one time and saw the group Poison. They were with Winger. Remember Winger? We drove to Tulsa, and it was pretty crazy. Same kind of thing. In the middle of the show, Kip Winger lost his voice. It was rough, anyway, when they started, but they had to cancel the second half of the show. Leaving there was pretty crazy.
DeMarcus: I’d have to say Billy Gilman. (laughs) Fighting that crowd to get out of there was just … you’ve never seen drug users and pimps like were at that show. I was scared for my life, to be quite honest with you.
Seriously, I was sitting here trying to imagine a bad thing that happened, and I don’t really have one. All my show experiences have been really good. The worst part is the traffic. That’s where I get the most frustrated because you end up missing the first three songs if you don’t start out early. And you don’t know what time to leave the house.
In your own touring, was there a specific point when you saw things changing in terms of your success and the reaction from the audience?
LeVox: I think after “I’m Movin’ On.”
DeMarcus: It was really like a time machine — just before “I’m Movin’ On,” compared to after “I’m Movin’ On.” It just took on a life of its own. That song really became bigger than us.
Rooney: It hit just before the Toby Keith tour at the end of 2001. So we started with Toby in February or March when the single was really big. We did 80 shows with him, so to get in front of a big audience like that every night really helped.
With “I’m Movin’ On,” did you first start feeling the surge from the audience — or did you first start seeing your album sales climb?
Rooney: I think we were just getting fuel from the success that was happening. We really understood why we’re doing what we’re doing. When people are singing your song and lighting lighters and crying, that’s a powerful feeling and that motivates you to want to do even better.
DeMarcus: And “I’m Movin’ On” sold a half a million records for us, so it took what was barely a gold record and just propelled it past platinum.
How much have the live shows affected what you do in the studio?
LeVox: I think, a lot. When we do these songs live, it really, really rocks.
Rooney: We do have an edge to our live shows that sometimes the album cuts don’t necessarily have. That’s just because the energy is so big at those arenas, and you can’t help but put an edge on it. And we’ve played a lot of shows live.
This is going to sound like a backhanded compliment, but the first time I saw the band perform live, I was not really prepared for the energy and level of musicianship.
DeMarcus: That’s something we’re very aware of, and we’re trying as we grow as artists to put more and more of that into what we do on our recorded material.
You’re probably aware that the time you released your first single, a lot of people were thinking of you as the male version of SHeDAISY.
Rooney: It was an easy assumption, too, being on the same label. They had just come out. When “Prayin’ for Daylight” hit, they already had a couple of singles out. They had a lot of success going on, too.
Did it create any extra pressure on you to have that stigma?
LeVox: Certainly, especially when people are saying you’re something that you’re not. I mean, we knew that was nothing about what we were trying to do. We’d been playing in clubs. … It was important for us to make sure people would come out to see a live show. If you came out to a live show and left thinking we were a male version of SHeDAISY, then we’re just not going to be able to change your mind. We’re the real deal.