Just call them the little rascals. On second thought, don't. But if they're not quite kids again, there's no mistaking that superstar country trio Rascal Flatts are feeling a renewed vigor in this, their 10th anniversary year. They've moved over to a new record label (Big Machine, the home of Taylor Swift and Reba McEntire) and feel like they have a new attitude to go with it on Nothing Like This, their just-released seventh studio album.
The band came by Yahoo! Music's west coast studio to offer exclusive live performances of three brand new songs and a pair of popular oldies for Ram Country. After their set, the threesome also sat down to talk about what the last decade has brought about for them. Check out their video interview, here:
The first song they performed for the Yahoo! cameras was, inevitably, their current single, "Why Wait." In one sense, the song represents a slightly new wrinkle for Rascal Flatts, if the difference may be subtle to most listeners. "We've never cut a shuffle before," explained Jay DeMarcus.
What most fans have heard in "Why Wait," though, was something that reminded them of Rascal Flatts' earliest work. "That's been a really neat thing to hear," said DeMarcus. "Because we made a conscious effort this time to go back to some of the things that brought us to the party on the first few records. Early on, we had decided to concentrate solely on the song itself and the blend of our vocals. And then when Dann Huff came on board as our producer, it was his mission to take what we do love and capture that on a CD, because there was a disconnect there. What I think we've done with Nothing Like This is take the best of both worlds, from our first few records and also our last couple of records with Dann, trying to marry those two together. I think we've gone back a little bit to what our original blend was, concentrating on the strength of the song and not so much the big, bombastic production."
See if you hear a difference as the band offers this exclusive performance of the new single:
The biggest treat of Rascal Flatts' in-studio visit was surprise guest Orianthi, the Australian guitar hero known for appearing in Michael Jackson's This Is It movie and more recently for having some international hits of her own. In a performance of "Life is a Highway," Orianthi and Joe Don Rooney trade some shredder moves.
"You're an awesome player," Orianthi, a big fan of the group, told Rooney after their performance. "It was a lot of fun jamming and seeing you rip it up.""She sings great, too," said DeMarcus, "so Gary and I are going to be talking to her a little later on about possibly making a change here. She's so much better to look at than Joe Don is.""She charges a hell of a lot more than I do, too," responded Rooney."Well, she's a movie star now, too, so that adds a little bit to what we're trying to do," said DeMarcus, unbowed. "It's been nice having you in the band, Joe Don."
But moments later, the original Flatts lineup solidified again, as the trio regrouped without Orianthi to play another of the songs from the new album, "They Try." This one is in the great tradition of R&B/country hybrids. And it puts a lot of demands on Gary LeVox's voice—but he nailed it in this performance, even though he'd recently had to cancel some of the band's arena dates because of being under the weather."It's right there at that top point where you can't do falsetto," said LeVox, "and you've still got to go full voice and it's just peeking over the fence at falsetto." See how you think LeVox pulls it off as a Southern soul singer, here:
The last of the new songs the group premiered, "Play," is squarely in the Rascal Flatts tradition of inspirational songs that acknowledge some of life's hardships in the verses before going all celebratory in the chorus."Life's hard enough, with everything going on," said Rooney, "so this song describes what you've got to do sometimes—just put everything in park and take a little time and go play.""Play" is "definitely one of those tunes that's just a feel-good, up-tempo tune," added DeMarcus. "Which are hard to find! Believe it or not, it's so easy to find ballads, yet really well-written, up-tempo tunes that you can sink your teeth into and that don't feel trite or contrived in any way are really hard to come by. So when we found 'Play,' it was one of the first songs we put on hold for the record. It was a no-brainer. It's something everybody can sing along to, and I'm sure it's gonna be a great concert favorite, whether it's a single or not."
See whether you think "Play" should go into the singles rotation, here:
Finally, Rascal Flatts went back to their previous album, Unstoppable, for its title song."'Unstoppable' turned out to be amazing for us," said Rooney. "It was single no. 4 off the last album. It did a lot of things for us. It was the title of our tour...""It got Jay electrocuted on CSI," interrupted LeVox. "He wrote a shocker.""And actually the Olympics picked it up, which was pretty cool," added DeMarcus, joking, "And now they've made a movie based on it, with Denzel Washington, so there will be a lawsuit somewhere."
They took the title of "Unstoppable" to heart over the last 12 months. "There's been some trials to this year," allowed DeMarcus. "Our label, [the Disney-owned] Lyric Street, folded back in April, and so we didn't know what we were going to do. We were in the middle of recording Nothing Like This. We made a conscious decision to keep plowing through, and hope that during the year it'd find a home and we'd find a new label. Big Machine came to us not too many months after that, man, and the deal ended up being a very smooth transition. Lyric Street was amazing for 10 years, and we cant thank the Disney company enough for those 10 years—and also thank them for the transition that helped us slide over into Big Machine's lap. Because we did owe one more record to Disney, but we worked it out, and Big Machine is now the proud owner of Rascal Flatts."
They're not done celebrating their 10th anniversary in the business. "We may take it all the way into January," said DeMarcus. "2015," corrected LeVox.Seriously, they'd like to spend their 11th and 12th years working on correcting some misperceptions about Rascal Flatts."I think we have a lot of work left to do," said DeMarcus, "and that is a great reason why we're still energized and ready to try to make better music with each passing album. Because I feel like there's some people out there who still have some misconceptions about us. Even six months ago I read that somebody printed that we were put together by some radio executive. There are other things people believe about us that aren't true. We've been accused of not being country or not loving country music, and it's really frustrating to love this genre as much as we do and have enemies within it that don't like or don't get what we do. Love us or hate us, we wanted to try to do something different in country music, and at the end of the day, I'm proud that we have brought something different to the table. And I wish sometimes we didn't beat up on our own, because I think we do that sometimes as a genre."
Added LeVox, "It would be a miserable, miserable career to fake being something and having to go out and sell that every night. I mean, our gospel, bluegrass, and country roots are who we are as people. So call it what you want.""Yes, Gary wears sparkly shirts that are purple!" chimed in DeMarcus."So did Porter Wagoner," LeVox pointed out.
"Life is a Highway"
(Featured on the Rascal Flatts album Greatest Hits Vol. 1)
(Featured on the Rascal Flatts album Unstoppable)