Rascal Flatts members are, from left, Joe Don Rooney, Gary Levox and Jay DeMarcus.
By John Gerome
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE — The guys from Rascal Flatts are getting restless after a long day.
They slip on headphones to record yet another radio spot and bass player Jay DeMarcus has trouble hearing the cue.
"I can't hear anything. Hey, hey, hey," he repeats into the microphone, then breaking into song, ". . . Hey, Jude, I've seen you nude. Don't try to fake it, I've seen you naaakeeed."
The joke breaks up the monotony and, for the moment, the demands of being one of country's hottest acts.
County music's best-selling album last year didn't come from Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Toby Keith or Tim McGraw. It was Rascal Flatts' "Feels Like Today," yielding three No. 1 hits, including the Grammy-winning "Bless the Broken Road."
Their follow-up, "Me and My Gang," comes out Tuesday and should push them into country music's top tier.
"We're so confident of that that we have a billboard campaign with Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Keith Urban and Toby Keith and we just did a new version with Rascal Flatts," said Ken Boesen, program director at WPOC in Baltimore. "Three-story high Rascal Flatts' faces are going up all over Baltimore right now."
The first single, "What Hurts the Most," reached No. 1 in 11 weeks — the fastest-moving song of their career.
The group, which also includes singer Gary LeVox and guitarist Joe Don Rooney, kicked off a new tour in February.
"This is what we've strived to do over the last six years, become a headline act," said Rooney, 30. "Now we've arrived and it feels good."
That success has got to be extra sweet for Rascal Flatts. Early on they were derided as a manufactured, too-pop-for-country boy band — country's version of the Backstreet Boys.
While country purists may still scoff, the group has answered doubts about their talent. They've written some of their own songs (including the No. 1 "Fast Cars and Freedom"), played their own instruments, co-produced their new album and collected industry awards. DeMarcus recently produced and performed on the new album by pop/rock stalwarts Chicago.
They defend their sound, saying the core of what they do is still country music and their pop leanings help expand the genre.
"We've contributed a little to bringing people from the hip-hop world, the R&B world and the straight-up rock world into country music. It's win-win for everybody," LeVox said. "I think country music people are too hard on saying what's country and what's not country."
LeVox, 35, and DeMarcus, 34, are second cousins who grew up playing music together in Columbus, Ohio.
DeMarcus moved to Nashville in 1992 and earned his first record deal as part of a Christian group called East to West. He persuaded his cousin to quit his job with the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and join him in Nashville five years later.
The two linked up with Oklahoma native Rooney when their regular guitarist couldn't make a gig. Their 1999 debut on Disney's Lyric Street Records produced four top 10 hits, including the No. 1 "I'm Movin' On."
Their follow-up album "Melt" sold more than 2 million copies and "Feels Like Today" 4 million.
The new record continues the pop hooks and lush three-part harmonies.
Many of the tracks are ballads, but there's also the reggae-flavored "Yes I Do" and the roadhouse romp "Backwards." Rooney rocks out on the title track with the talk box guitar that Joe Walsh and Peter Frampton popularized in the 1970s.
The most poignant moment may be "Ellsworth," a ballad about a woman with Alzheimer's disease.
"Tomorrow she won't remember what she did today," LeVox sings over piano and steel guitar, but ask her about Ellsworth, Kan., 1948, and she can recall details about her husband-to-be.
The tight, soaring harmonies echo a tradition in country music that's rooted in duos like the Delmore Brothers, Louvin Brothers and Everly Brothers.
"When we first got together, we didn't talk about who was going to sing what," LeVox said. "We did 'Church on Cumberland Road' and it was undeniable when we hit that first chorus. We felt like we had to do it. We felt like it was ordained."
With the group's success, others may be feeling the same way.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Subscribe for only 33¢ a day!