It’s been nearly two decades since Rascal Flatts first got together, and the group has been headlining arenas and amphitheaters for much of that time. But the heart of what Rascal Flatts has done so successfully – pick and interpret outside songs – hasn’t changed that much from the days when the trio of Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney were playing clubs in Nashville.
“What we used to do in the bars and the clubs is we would take all those cover tunes like ‘The Fireman’ by George Strait, Vince Gill’s ‘One More Last Chance,’ all that stuff, and we would take those songs and we would just make them our own and put our twists to them,” lead singer LeVox explained in a recent phone interview. “That’s kind of the same thing we do today.”
Not to dismiss the songwriting abilities of LeVox, DeMarcus and Rooney, who have had a few co-writing credits on each of the 10 Rascal Flatts studio albums, but the trio has made their hay by showing a keen sense of what to cover and reshape into their own harmony-laden image.
Since forming in 1999, the group has notched 25 hit singles, 14 of which have been No. 1 hits. And from the start, LeVox said, the three members of Rascal Flatts knew some of the best songwriters going worked in the country idiom and they shouldn’t limit their song options to only their original material.
So what’s been the secret to choosing the right songs to record? LeVox says instincts play a big role in recognizing songs that will work for Rascal Flatts and spotting ways they can put their own stamp on the tune.
“When you hear a demo pitched to you, with the three of us, we usually know (if it’s a keeper) immediately,” LeVox said. “We get that chill bump factor, and almost that feeling we had the first time we sang together on stage at that honky tonk in Nashville before we ever had a record deal.”
LeVox and his bandmates will put their song choosing and interpretive skills to perhaps their biggest test with their next album. Tentatively titled “Jukebox Heroes,” it will find Rascal Flatts interpreting songs from artists that have influenced the three band members (possibly including not only country icons like George Jones and Merle Haggard, but Kenny Loggins, Huey Lewis and the News and even Van Halen).
“We just want to pay homage to all the people that had such a musical influence on us and in our lives,” he said. “They were literally our jukebox heroes, our go-to’s growing up. It’s going to be fun to put our own spin on some of them.”
Fans probably won’t get much of a preview of “Jukebox Heroes” from Rascal Flatts on this summer’s tour. The group is essentially still touring to promote their 2017 album, “Back To Us.”
That release followed “Rewind,” on which Rascal Flatts sought to step outside their comfort zone. The album drew mixed reviews, as several songs that pushed the envelope (like “Payback,” which seemed like an attempt to fit with Florida Georgia Line with its amped up rock sound and hip-hop flavors, and “DJ Tonight,” a rocking pop tune that felt like it belonged on an album by Train) seemed to confuse fans.
Still the album gave the group a No. 1 Country Airplay chart single in “I Like The Sound Of That” and a top 5 single with the title song.
LeVox said having stretched stylistically on “Rewind,” he, DeMarcus and Rooney felt with “Back To Us,” they needed to shift back toward the styles and sounds that had worked for the group throughout its career.
“You always try to expand as an artist. Everyone’s trying to be more creative in a different way,” LeVox said. “But we just needed to get back to us. Our harmonies and our song quality and what we cut and record, what we believe in, we had to go back to our gut. So that’s what we did on the ‘Back To Us’ record.”
A song or two from “Back To Us,” (such as “Yours If You Want It,” which topped the “Billboard” magazine Country Airplay chart) figure to be included in a set that will be heavy on hit singles. LeVox said steps have been taken to cover as much ground as possible in the show and give fans the kind of show they want from Rascal Flatts.
“A lot of times it’s a blessing and a curse to have so many hits because you can’t get to all of them,” he said. “So certain parts of the show we’ve got a couple of different medleys on there that we do, that we can try to touch on some of those (hit) songs.”
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.