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With a new album, another hit and CMA nominations, the guys of Rascal Flatts are savoring 'These Days'

Story By David Scarlett • Photo by Chuck Jones • Illustration by Jim Johnston

When Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney agreed to help announce this year's CMA nominees, they had no idea they'd hear the name Rascal Flatts called out - twice. But the trio's first-time nominations for Horizon and Vocal Group awards are another sign of how far the guys have come in a very short time.

"You can't put it into words," declares Joe Don. "It's something every artist tries to achieve. Everybody works hard in this business. And we're fortunate enough to get nominated. We don't expect to win anything, but it absolutely is gratifying."

Since the release of their self-titled debut CD in June 2000, Rascal Flatts has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, including a Top 5 hit with their debut release, "Prayin' For Daylight," three more Top 10 singles and a platinum album. They're also part of Toby Keith's super-hot Unleashed tour and are watching "These Days," the first single from their just-released CD, Melt, climb into the Top 10.

And, while they're working harder than ever before, they're loving the ride they're on - especially touring with Toby. "We played in Michigan to about 18,000 people the night of the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks," recalls Jay. "When Toby sang 'The Angry American,' I was mesmerized with how the crowd reacted, after a year of grief and sorrow. It was just amazing to see how that song, and others like it - like the Alan Jackson song - helped heal and bring the nation closer together.

"And I understand exactly what Toby's saying. It does make me angry. When somebody comes and attacks you in your own backyard - you want to put a boot in their ass!"

While that September night ranks as a special moment for Jay, Gary notes the highlight of his summer. "Putting together my daughter's swing set!" he laughs about the project for 2-year-old Brittany. "I'll never do that again! But I finished that sucker! It was a chore and a half - and that swing set is my daughter's favorite thing in life. Of course, I do have two scars on my knuckles and it took me seven and a half hours!"

Joe Don and Jay don't have any similar scars to show for their summer efforts. But they, along with Gary, shivered for their art as they shot the video for "These Days."

"It started getting chilly after five hours in the 'rain,' " recalls Jay. "We shot at the Nashville Airport at a private strip. And we used a rain machine. I had this black silk shirt on and the dye ran all over my skin. I scrubbed for about four days to get that dye off!"

But Joe Don managed to "save" a soaked guitar.

"The company we have a guitar deal with was great to send us two used instruments to use in the video," recalls Joe Don. "They said, 'If you ruin 'em, that's OK. If they don't get ruined, keep 'em.' So our tech guys actually took a hair dryer and tried to dry out Jay's bass and my guitar. His didn't make it, mine did. So I've been using that guitar in the show on certain songs. It still plays like dynamite!"

With the success of "These Days," the guys appear to be beating the sophomore jinx that can occur with a second album. And the other tunes on Melt are strong enough to match the quality of their first album.

One song, "Mayberry," conjures up wonderful images. "That song moved us," declares Gary. "In this day and age with everything so fast paced, it would be nice to go back to a simpler time."

Gary softly sings a line from the song, "People pass by and you call 'em by their first name. In the town where I grew up, our gas station was our grocery store. So everybody waved at everybody on the road. You don't see that anymore. I miss that."

With Gary happily married and Joe Don very much involved with the lady in his life, another song, "Like I Am," co-written by Joe Don, has a special meaning.

"It's just natural to be a man and feel that, sometimes, you're just not worth a crap," explains Joe Don, whose relationship with Kassidy Osborn of SHeDAISY is still going strong. "And then a lady who loves you - and you know she loves you with all her heart - inspires the belief in you that 'I don't know what in the world it is that you see in me, but I'll strive to keep being that for you. Because you obviously see something.' It's like women have different eyes than men - thank God!"

Jay feels the same way about "Like I Am." And while he's keeping the name of his lady friend to himself, he's never been happier. "It's just great to find somebody where you understand what everybody has been telling you for so long," he confesses. "They said, 'There won't be any uncertainty. It'll just feel right, and everything will fall into place.' And that's exactly where I am.

"Thank God I finally know what people have been saying to me all along - especially my mama!"