One band. Ten albums. Sixteen Number One hits. Over 23 million records and 10 million tickets sold. With statistics like that, the numbers pile up so high it’s easy to get lost on top of the heap and forget why you wanted to be there in the first place. But not Rascal Flatts. Time and success have only put them closer to their core on Back to Us, their tenth LP that’s both a return to form and a proclamation of everything that this trio has come to represent over nearly two decades. And that’s expert musicianship, razorsharp vocals and songs that have shaped lives, loves and the genre of country music itself.
“We’ve gotten to do so much more than we ever dreamed of,” says Gary LeVox, who formed the best-selling vocal group of the past decade with Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney back in 1999. And it’s true: they’ve won over 40 awards, graced stages around the world and put time into charity organizations that have touched so many lives. But when it came to make their tenth album, they decided to focus on their roots, letting DeMarcus take the primary production reigns. The trio also hit the studio with their touring band for some of the tracks, a rarity in a town of session players, creating an authentic feel, anchored by Rooney’s world class guitar work, an unrivaled key that unlocks the trio’s signature sound. And not only did they pick the best songs and work with the best songwriters, they had a hand in writing many of the tracks themselves.
“Yours If You Want It,” the first single, is Rascal Flatts at their finest: an infectious, booming melody, LeVox’s vocals as pure and electric as ever and instrumentals from DeMarcus and Rooney that keep the song moving at the pace of a beating heart. Written by Andrew Dorff and Jonathan Singleton the track, which is racing up the charts at country radio, is about grabbing life by the collar and making the most of every moment: something made even more poignant when Dorff passed away last year. “There are certain songs we hear and we’re like, yup, let’s cut that tomorrow,” says DeMarcus. “It made it even more special to have Andrew’s blessing,” adds LeVox.
Rascal Flatts have always been meticulous when it comes to finding the best and the brightest in the Nashville community, always for the sake of the songs themselves. Back to Us is no exception. In addition to Dorff and Singleton, the album features contributions from Dan + Shay’s Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney (“Hopin’ You Were Lookin'” and “Love What You’re Done With the Place”), Chris Stapleton and Luke Laird (the syncopated, bluesy groove of “Vandalized”), busbee (the sensual “Hands Talk,” as both cowriter and producer) and Lauren Alaina, who added her powerhouse vocals to “Are You Happy Now.”
“If a song comes in, and it beats one we have written, we are the first to say, ‘let’s cut it,'” says DeMarcus. “We don’t really care what the critics have to say. When we make our music, we make music for the fans. And they can see and feel that.”
That approach is just one of the reasons the music of Rascal Flatts has become a part of the story – those nuptials, graduations, family road trips – of so many. Back to Us is loaded with those moments that will weave themselves forever into the fabric of the lives of their fans. “I Know You Won’t,” a gorgeous piano-based ballad whose intro conjures up John Lennon’s “Imagine,” is sure to become a timeless melody for anyone facing heartbreak – and a reminder of how LeVox’s voice is not only one of the best in the genre, but beyond. “Love What You’ve Done With the Place” could be a bride and groom’s first dance and “Dance,” the moment when they kick of the wedding shoes and get down. And the album’s gorgeous closing anthem, “Our Night To Shine,” with its spinetingling chorus, could be as poignant at a prom or on the ear buds of someone out for a run or a job interview, proving that Rascal Flatts have a way of transcending generations like few others.
Back To Us is the follow-up to Rewind, the band’s fourth album for Big Machine Records, which gave them their 15th and 16th No. 1 hits with the progressive title cut “Rewind” and the undeniably infectious “I Like The Sound Of That.” With tracks produced by both Jay DeMarcus and Howard Benson, they pushed their music to innovative places under the leadership of Big Machine Records President/CEO Scott Borchetta. It was Borchetta who, for Back To Us, urged the trio to come back around to the core that propelled them back at the very beginning. “He said, ‘I think the magic pill is the three of you guys,” says DeMarcus. “And he was right. We don’t have anything to prove anymore.” Adds LeVox, “The thing that brought us to the dance is our vocal blend.”
“It’s all positive energy,” says Rooney. “More than ever, we feel so alive. Taking some chances here and there and learning some lessons, and allowing ourselves to let go of the weaknesses and hone in on our strengths, including Gary’s vocals and our musicianship. Jay’s producing chops have gotten amazing. It makes us proud. We’ve been saying that it’s taken us seventeen years to make this album.”
Rascal Flatts is also proud of the charity work they have been able to engage in over the years, whether in supporting music education in public schools or raising almost $4 million for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt where the Rascal Flatts Pediatric Surgery Center was named in recognition of the trio’s long-standing involvement, which also includes an annual fundraising dinner. The trio’s most recent endeavor is working with the Make A Wish Foundation and NFL quarterback’s Tim Tebow Foundation’s “Night to Shine” experience, which hosts proms around the world for special needs students. It’s something they look forward to doing as they support Back to Us, and even put a memento on the record itself: that striking chorus on “Our Night to Shine” features participants from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.
Seventeen years from where they began, Back To Us is a sonically thrilling, heart-moving, genre-propelling proclamation that Rascal Flatts are here to stay. They may have mastered their art, but they’re still singing and playing with the same, immovable passion.
“This being our tenth album, it’s kind of mind blowing,” says DeMarcus. “Yet this one was probably more fun to make than our first.”