Ten years have passed since Rascal Flatts‘ first gig, which happened completely by coincidence. Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney were touring as Chely Wright‘s sidemen at the time. However, DeMarcus and his cousin, Gary LeVox, were trying to get their own band off the ground. One night in Nashville, Rooney went to hear DeMarcus and LeVox play. When their guitarist didn’t show up, Rooney sat in — and essentially joined the band.
From those humble beginnings, Rascal Flatts emerged as one of the best-selling country bands in history and have just released Greatest Hits, Volume 1.
“It’s out of this universe,” Rooney said during a recent interview with CMT Insider host Katie Cook. “We’re very humbled by all of it and we’re very blown away. I mean, we’re just three regular dudes from the Midwest. We really got lucky. I think we cut some great songs along the way, and the fans have responded. So, hats off to the fans for this 10-year ride you guys have given us. It’s amazing.”
Katie Cook: Are you still learning things about each other musically?
LeVox: I think so, yeah. Creatively, we grow with every project, and as much as we work, I think that we definitely do.
DeMarcus: We do pretty much the same set list every night, and the show’s down to certain cues because we have video and all this production and lights and everything going on. But sometimes Joe Don will play something or Gary will sing something, and there are definitely moments that I stop and look over and go, “Where did that come from?” I think that there are moments that we surprise ourselves. It makes you even more proud of the people that you get to make music with every night.
It is a huge production when you’re the headliner. How do you make it bigger and better every year?
DeMarcus: It’s a challenge. It’s something that we don’t take lightly. It’s a challenge to try to top what you’ve done before and give the audience something they haven’t seen in previous tours. We’ve always prided ourselves on putting together a great live show. That’s something that means a lot to us because our bread and butter is the live tour. I think that we’ve all tried to put together a show that we want to see as fans. I think we always try to put ourselves in those shoes of the person in the very last row, in the very last seat, that’s coming to see the show maybe for the first time or the 10th time [and provide] something extra special to give them that they haven’t seen previously at a Flatts show.
What do you think is harder: Achieving fame or keeping it?
DeMarcus: Keeping it, for sure. I think once you achieve it, the hard part is just beginning. You’ve got to maintain. … We’re competing against ourselves on the radio now. We’ve had 24 singles out, and with each single, if it’s a hit, it’s like, “Gosh, the next one has to be a hit,” or they’re just going to play the last one that was a hit. You start to compete with yourself when your catalog gets bigger and bigger. … I mean, everybody wants the next “Bless the Broken Road,” but you don’t write those every day, so it’s difficult.
When you guys started as a band, you had fans instantly, but the critics took a little bit longer to totally hop on board. Was that hard in the beginning to win them over?
LeVox: I think so. I think the hardest part was not giving us credit for our musical integrity. The whole boy band stuff — they started calling us that because when we got our record deal, we were at the tail end of the ‘N Sync/Backstreet Boys stuff. … But we never danced onstage. We actually really played. We really sang.
Rooney: It was a serious wall we had to chisel away. We knew about it. I mean, it was obvious that it existed, but it was a good fight. It was good for us to get out there and really hone ourselves as musicians, too, and work a little harder to knock down that wall. It’s been fun. It really has.
DeMarcus: Some critics still don’t like us, and that’s OK. We make music for our fans, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.
Was there a definitive moment when you realized you reached superstar status?
DeMarcus: The Grand Ole Opry, for me, the first time we played it. I don’t even think we were on our third single by then. We just had a couple songs out and the record was selling OK, but when we stood on that little circle they had from the old Ryman Auditorium and we looked at each other and we’re all nervous and have those lumps in our throat, that was the time for me personally that I thought, “You know, we might be onto something here. This is kinda cool.”
Rooney: I remember playing you guys’ hometown in Columbus, Ohio. It’s been three or four years ago … the first real sell-out show we had. It was a soccer stadium. It was really, really cool. It was a pretty powerful moment. Your families were there, and I just remember that being really special, being able to pull that off.
What’s the most addictive thing about playing live?
Rooney: The energy. That’s the thing. The fans just fuel the show. If you play to a crowd that’s kind of light, your show’s not going to be as aggressive. I think every artist in the world has had shows like that before, but this year, it’s been amazing. The fans are just crazy — energy as soon as the first note is struck. It’s a high, and so we come off the stage and it’s like we’ve just played a football game or something. We’re wringing wet, usually, and it feels like you’re on cloud nine. It’s hard to go to sleep. It’s a weird balance because we’re out three or four shows a weekend and back home for two or three days. Our wives are like, “How come you can’t sleep?” It’s like, “Well, you know, it’s a little problem called ‘high energy.’” The fans are amazing. They truly are amazing, and they’re nonstop, and we love it.