What’s in an album name? For Rascal Flatts’ ninth studio album, Changed, the title serves as a reminder of the transformation the trio has undergone since their musical debut in 2000.
“Everything in our life’s changed over the last 12 years,” Gary LeVox explains. “We go from Jay’s one-bedroom apartment, cutting demos and trying to get a record deal to selling 25 million albums.”
“We’ve grown up a lot,” Jay DeMarcus continues. “We were kind of young and a little naïve when we first started out in the business. You learn really quickly how not only to be an artist, but you also become all of a sudden the CEO and owners of a company that you have to make major decisions about that I don’t think we were fully prepared for in the beginning.”
After earning more than 40 awards during the past decade and being the most-played country group on radio in 2011, the trio’s enthusiasm is by no means waning.
“Our passion level for what we do and creating and making the music we make’s never been stronger,” LeVox says.
That passion is on display with Changed, released Tuesday (April 3). The album is an eclectic mix of rowdy, fast-talking tracks, including “Hot in Here” “She’s Leaving” and “Lovin’ Me,” along with deep, expressive ballads such as “Come Wake Me Up,” “Hurry Baby,” “Sunrise” and “A Little Home.”
The first single from the project, “Banjo,” is a free-spirited anthem about escaping city life and is already in the Top 10 on Billboard’s country songs chart.
The trio teamed up with longtime producer Dann Huff on the new album, but they also made the decision to produce some of the tracks on their own.
“It was kind of like starting over again,” DeMarcus says. “Not to diminish any of the work we’ve done with Dann Huff. We certainly love him, but it was fun to get in the room again with just the three of us and be able to do exactly what we wanted to do and fulfill our vision from step one to the final step.”
The band members are excited for fans to hear the end result.
“I can’t wait for people to hear it because I think you’ll hear a slight difference in the tracks that we produced versus the other ones,” DeMarcus says.
In support of their new album, the trio is giving fans a unique look into their lives and music. Rascal Flatts — Changed, a one-night event takes place Thursday (April 5) at movie theaters throughout the nation and features behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the band and live performances of new music and their biggest hits.
Joe Don Rooney describes the performances as “stripped down” and says, “It’s going to be such an interesting show, and we can’t wait to do it. It’ll be the first one of its kind for us.”
DeMarcus feels viewers will see a side of the band they didn’t previously know.
“We really tried to provide a lot of content in this documentary that shows different sides of Rascal Flatts and the three of us individually — not necessarily the band as a whole,” he notes. “And I think they’re going to learn some things they didn’t know about us before.”
LeVox continues, “We talk about coming from broken homes and everything from childhood to this album. We open up a lot of ourselves to let everybody in to our personal lives, which we haven’t done before.”
While their theater event includes the band’s first live performances of material from the new album, there will be no shortage of their biggest hits during their upcoming Changed tour.
“We’ll only do the songs that are singles as they become singles,” DeMarcus says. “It just gets increasingly hard year after year to work new material in because people expect to hear so much of their old favorites. As badly as we would want to put like six or eight new tunes in, it just wouldn’t be feasible.”
He says with a laugh, “There’s nothing worse than looking out and seeing some guy with his arms crossed while you’re singing your heart out on a new song, and he’s going, ’When are they going to do “Me and My Gang” ?'”
Rascal Flatts’ concerts have certainly evolved during the years and purposely so, but LeVox emphasizes, “We’ve always tried to put on a show that we’d want to go see.”
Rooney credits Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and Brooks & Dunn among the artists who “taught us that there’s more to live shows than just playing the music. There’s a lot more to it to make the experience really whole.”
In addition to the music, elements such as video content and lighting cues are now taken into consideration.
“I think we’ve gotten even more serious about the touring element as far as putting the production together and what kind of stage show we want,” Rooney says. “Before that, it was always more about, ’Let’s just go out there and play our music and rock, man.'”
“We spent our lives sitting out in the lawn seats in amphitheaters and doing all that, so we want everybody all the way to the back of the house to have a good show,” LeVox says. “We want everybody to leave there going, ’I cannot wait to come back.'”
Rascal Flatts’ Changed tour kicks off June 15 in Hartford, Conn., with opening acts Little Big Town, the Eli Young Band and Edens Edge.
'Changed,' the new single from Rascal Flatts, feels more personal than anything the trio has released up to this point in their decade-plus long career. The song, the title track from their 2012 album, was co-written by Gary LeVox, who talks about his relationship with God instead of just using his name conversationally as he's done in songs before.
Credit the group for taking a risk in offering country radio a single that could also be a hit on Christian radio. The first verse is the story of salvation: "I came up out of the water / Raise my hands up to the Father / Gave it all to him that day / Felt a new wind kiss my face," LeVox sings with a hard-to-define conviction not heard before from the vocalist.
Sonically, the soaring ballad has all of the hallmarks of a choice Rascal Flatts song. The harmonies are balanced in a way one would expect, and LeVox reaches a crescendo before Joe Don Rooney takes the story out with a guitar solo. The unique edge at the very beginning is enough to hold one's attention through the full story.
The chorus goes:
"I got off track, I made mistakes / Backslid my way into that place / Where souls get lost, lines get crossed / And the pain won’t go away / I hit my knees, now here I stand / There I was, now here I am / Here I am / Changed."
One begs to hear the story that inspired LeVox's spiritual revolution. Suddenly, a new mystery surrounds a group that fans thought they'd pretty much figured out three albums ago. It's doubtful that Rascal Flatts will suddenly become America's favorite country gospel trio, but 'Changed' is a good stepping stone toward sharpening their identity once again.
Listen to Rascal Flatts, 'Changed'