Co-written by: Doug Giles & Miriam Nunzi (Suntimes)
Musical trio Rascal Flatts’ newest album has been called their “most intimate”, opening up about the bands’ personal issues and their Christian faith. Below, in a Chicago Sun-Times interview, lead guitarist Joe Don Rooney answers questions about the intersection of the bands’ faith and their music, possible public backlash and the biggest recent change in his life.
For the country trio Rascal Flatts, the past two years have been filled with seemingly endless changes, a metamorphosis of sorts for the Grammy- and CMA-winning trio of Joe Don Rooney, Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus. A new album, aptly titled “Changed,” finds them at their most introspective to date; a new label has given them a fresh start and new perspective on making music. And Rooney says their personal lives have never been more fulfilling and blessed (DeMarcus and his wife, Allison, just welcomed their second child on July 20).
Rooney talked to the Sun-Times recently about this new phase for Rascal Flatts.
Question: “Changed” seems to be the most intimate album that you guys have released to date.
Joe Don Rooney: We kinda joke that it’s taken us seven studio albums over 12 years to make this album. We used every experience we’ve had on the road, all the people we’ve met and worked with. We homed in our strengths in studio recording and we poured our souls into the songwriting. This album just found us in a place where it was just time to cut this album. Everything that Rascal Flatts is about is reflected on this album. Even if you’ve never heard of us, you’ll know exactly what we’re about after you listen to it.
Q. Sounds like this album was almost a catharsis for the three of you.
JDR: Our guard was down. I think spiritually and mentally and physically we were all just prepared for this project.
Q. Speaking of spiritually, you recently told a radio interviewer that you felt Christianity was under attack in this country. What prompted you to say that?
JDR: He asked us about our beliefs, and why we haven’t been more open about them. I think we have been very open if people read our liner notes. We always thank God and the Lord Savior Jesus Christ. We have professed our faith publicly a whole bunch. The reason I said what I did is that I feel like we’re losing the fabric of what made America America a little bit. It’s slipping through our hands a little when it comes to the Christianity on which our forefathers founded this country — putting God first. So Gary, Jay and I, we know who we are and what our faith means to us and our fans. A majority of them and our contemporaries in the business are Christians and we’re just not afraid to share that publicly anymore. I grew up saying prayer in school and the Pledge of Allegiance with the word God in it. … The way I was raised wasn’t staunchly religious but we went to church. It was nice to put your hand over your heart and pledge your belief in God and country.
Q. Do you fear some heavy negative backlash for stating your beliefs so frankly?
JDR: We’re not a band on a crusade. We’re Christian men with families and children and with deep faith in God and country. We really haven’t experienced negative backlash. There’s always gonna be a group that wonders why you profess your faith. But we have freedom of religion here and freedom to choose how you live your life.
Q. Tell me a little more about the album’s profound title track.
JDR: Well, as a band, we just went through a whole bunch of changes in the past two years. We were let go by our management company. Our record label closed and we were just lucky to get picked up by Big Machine or we were through. Seriously. This new label just believed in us right away.
Q. The song tells a powerful story about a man who goes through many changes to find his way back again. What’s the biggest change you’ve experienced since you started this journey of Rascal Flatts?
JDR: Becoming a father. My wife is an angel who has changed my life for the better and our two babies, Jagger, who’s 4, and our little girl Rocky is 22 months. That’s changed me in ways I never imagined, and all for the better.
Q. How surprised were you guys with the success of “Banjo” (also off this album)?
JDR: We really had concerns about that song. It’s such a unique piece of work. I don’t think there’s been a mainstream hit with a banjo solo in it. It’s a song about good times and leaving the struggle behind. [Laughs] And hopefully we wiped out all the bad backwoods connotations that people have about the banjo.