Rascal Flatts' Feels Like Today sold more copies than any other country album in 2005, but the future is only getting brighter for band members Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney. Their new album, Me and My Gang, sold more than 250,000 copies in its first day of release alone -- and a staggering 721,747 copies during its first week in stores -- to debut at the top of the pop charts.
Rascal Flatts performed their latest No. 1 hit, "What Hurts the Most," during the 2006 CMT Music Awards. The same night, the trio picked up the group/duo of the year award for the video for "Skin (Sarabeth)."
CMT Insider recently caught up with the trio in Orlando, Fla., to talk about respect from the music industry, a big change in the studio process and the individual growth that led to Me and My Gang.
CMT: I heard that "Skin (Sarabeth)" was a song that you weren't even going to put out, but the fans basically dictated it, right?
Rooney: Yeah, I think so. It started getting played on radio a little bit and started taking on a life of its own. At that point, we all decided we needed to make a decision and say, "Hey, I think this is worthy enough to be a single. We definitely should try to get it out there and get it out in front of a lot of people." Sure enough, it just turned out to be huge. It was a big old hit. An amazing song.
How do you look at this whole business of recognition, for lack of a better word?
DeMarcus: It definitely has motivated us to keep working hard and to do what we do best. For us, it's fuel for the fire. We were a little disappointed at the CMAs when we weren't included in the entertainer of the year category, but it wasn't the kind of disappointment that made us bitter. It was the kind of disappointment that made us say, "OK, all right. We just have to work harder. We have to do more."
Do you take some of that lack of recognition personally?
DeMarcus: I don't think you can take any of it personally. I really don't. All you can do is turn it into something good. We'd being doing all of ourselves a disservice if we allowed it to affect us emotionally and if we walked around with our heads down and going, "Oh gosh, they don't like us," and blah blah blah blah. Our fans have spoken loud and clear, and that's what means the most to us. The fact that we did sell the most records last year of any [country] artist is a testament to how much our fans love us and how much they are willing to lay down their hard-earned money to buy our music. At the end of the day, awards or no awards, that is the most important thing to us -- that our fans continue to join us on this ride that we're on.
You were planning on an earlier release date for Me and My Gang, but fans keep buying the current album. That's a good problem to have, isn't it?
LeVox: It is. It's kind of strange how that happens, but we'll take it.
Rooney: It actually freed us up to cut a couple more songs to put on the record. We have 13 on the album this time. ... We had a lot more time to work on this project -- almost two years now of the making of Me and My Gang. There's a lot of passion, a lot of hard work. I definitely think, personally, it's some of our best stuff. It encompasses a little bit more of what Rascal Flatts has to offer as a whole. Jay and I tackled a lot of the guitar and bass all over this album, which in prior records, I wasn't able to get to do. With this project, I was definitely ready to go. Dann Huff ... renowned producer ... [is an] amazing guitar player. We got to work with him on this album. He produced it with us, and he brought a whole new element in -- the piece of the puzzle that was missing. He brought it in there and locked it in place, and it's definitely the best it could be at this point, by far.
I heard that Dann went out on the road with you guys. Do you think that was the key for the way the album sounds?
DeMarcus: I definitely felt that with him being out here, he got a full picture of what we were trying to do with our live show and how we were trying to connect with our audience. That enabled him to do some different things in the studio, to help us bridge the gap between what's on our records and what we're trying to do with our live situation, which is equally as important as having a great record.
Gary, I understand that because Dann had his own studio, you were able to sing when you felt like your voice was in shape, instead of being locked into an appointment. That has to be a great luxury.
LeVox: Yeah. Dann lives really close, too, so it was nice to go over there whenever, just to sit in there and create the song. I usually do my thing first, after the tracking session, and then Jay and Joe Don do all their stuff around me. It was cool to sit in there with Dann. And another thing, he was an artist first, not a producer, so you know he totally gets what we're doing. It was just total freedom and trying things without going, "OK, that's not it," or having somebody say, "Why don't you try this?" the whole time.
Everything that I did, whether it was good or bad -- most of it was bad, but he kept it anyway -- he would just piece it together. It didn't feel like you had to go back and re-sing a track six or seven times before you got one good pass on it. It was a different way to make a record for me.
What's your overriding thought about the new album?
DeMarcus: We're excited about the fact that we simply feel rejuvenated now on this record. We really feel like Dann coming to the party reinvigorated us to go into the studio and make new music. Hopefully, through the time that we've been on the road, we've matured a little bit. We've gotten to a place to where people will see the obvious growth on this record and see us come together more as a band and more as musicians and individuals. For me, I'm most excited for the fans to hear the difference between a band that's been on the road for six years and a band that was just on the road for a couple.
Another thing is the confidence. I think you guys have hit that groove, and I presume you guys feel that, too.
Rooney: Yeah. Dann was able to give us an extra boost of confidence, too. He was really just as elated to work with us as we were with him. I know he pushed me as a guitar player. He pushed me really hard to try to be the best that I could be, and I learned so much from him. That's something that I'm excited about is to hear people actually hear me play guitar. (laughs) My mom and dad are really happy about it, I know that. Again, it's just a part of Rascal Flatts that just hadn't really been getting to shine through as much. I think we all collectively would have liked to have had that in the past, but we're finally here. We're finally at a place where it's happening.
Terry Bumgarner is a producer for CMT Insider.