If there is one thing that hasn’t changed about Rascal Flatts in their last 17 years as a band, it’s their ears for infectious country pop with rich musical arrangements and lyrics that cut deep.
That showed at Thursday’s (May 18) sunset celebration for their 10th album Back to Us.
With a breathtaking view of a glowing Nashville skyline as a backdrop, Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney took over the Westin Nashville’s L27 Rooftop for an intimate live performance of the title track, the current single “It’s Yours If You Want It,” the Chris Stapleton and Luke Laird co-written “Vandalized,” “I Know You Won’t” and “Life Is a Highway.”
Before “I Know You Won’t,” DeMarcus revealed how the 10-year-old Carrie Underwood song ended up on their album. Hit-makers Steve McEwan, Wendell Mobley and Neil Thrasher wrote the track, which originally appeared on 2007’s Carnival Ride. Mobley had offered to show LeVox a new demo, thinking it fit the band perfectly.
“Gary was somewhere with Wendell Mobley and Wendell was playing it on his acoustic,” DeMarcus recalled. “He said, ‘Man I got a new demo. I think you guys should cut this song.’ And I just love to hear Gary sing this. It’s an incredible song – an incredible lyric, great melody. I love it when Mr. LeVox gets ahold of a song like this.”
Rascal Flatts didn’t follow any rules going into making Back to Us. During our CMT.com interview, Rooney says the only things they required were “great songs and a lot of fun.”
“It’s really an open landscape with this project, and country music right now is so open,” he said. “It’s awesome how broad it is from Chris Stapleton’s style and sound — the rugged bluesy kind of country — to all the way to as pop as it gets. To have all that to work with, it just gave us some credence to just go there musically.”
When they went into the studio to record, they didn’t put any pressure on themselves to chase a particular trend in country music, leaving them free to revisit the spirit of their earlier releases.
“The title is fitting because we’re OK being who we are,” DeMarcus said. “But sometimes you get in this place as an artist where you feel like you need to reinvent yourself.
“I think putting the focus solely back on the three of us, our vocals and how unique our blend was when we first came out, I wanted to make sure it was a focal point and also go back to the kind of songs that moved us first. I think we really made a concerted effort to pick the kind of music that we were passionate about.”
While they each had a hand in co-writing four songs on Back to Us, recording material by the Music Row songwriting community also armed the band with some compelling storytelling about love, hope and heartache.
The band co-wrote the soaring Lauren Alaina collaboration “Are You Happy Now” with Sean McConnell. Dan + Shay co-wrote “Hopin’ You Were Lookin'” with Cary Barlowe and Jesse Frassure, while Shay Mooney and Benjy Davis co-wrote the uplifting “Love What You’ve Done With the Place.”
“I think that the writing in Nashville,” LeVox said, “every song was about cold beer, a tailgate, a cooler and it was almost like it was kind of a fad. That’s fun, and it worked. And I think it brought a lot of people into country music that might not have listened. But you get a lot of that stuff pitched to you, and you want to say something different. And I even found myself doing the same thing, writing in that way.
“But it’s nice to see writers writing stuff that truly is what put country music on the map and that are amazing real life stories being said in clever ways differently than they’ve been said before.”
Rascal Flatts will be part of an all-new CMT Hot 20 Countdown when Cody Alan hosts from backstage at the iHeart Country Music Festival on Saturday and Sunday (May 19-20) at 9 a.m. ET/PT. The episode will feature additional interviews with Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Kelsea Ballerini, Midland, Little Big Town, Brantley Gilbert and more.