- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

COLUMBUS, Ohio — They call their music edgy, funky and fresh. "There's a twist to our music, and I think that at the time we came out that's what people wanted," says Gary LeVox, lead singer of the trio Rascal Flatts.
"We gave them something different; we gave them something new."
The group's rich harmonies — a Rascal Flatts' hallmark — are showcased in all its songs — catchy tunes that are heavy on country with influences of bluegrass, R&B;, gospel, jazz and pop.
The group's harmonic style was born in February 1999 at Nashville's Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar the first time Mr. LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney made music together.
Mr. LeVox, 31, and Mr. DeMarcus, 30, are second cousins from Ohio. They had been playing together for two years at the bar along the city's cramped, infamous Printers Alley. When their part-time guitarist bailed on a show, Mr. DeMarcus asked 25-year-old Mr. Rooney to fill in.
"The sound was incredible," recalls Mr. DeMarcus, who sings and plays bass and guitar. A slight drawl softens his words.
They spent the spring and summer of 1999 sharpening their style in clubs. Then country singer Mila Mason helped them land a record deal with Lyric Street Records. They finished 1999 in the recording studio.
Last year, they toured to promote their self-titled debut album. Their first two singles, "Prayin' for Daylight" and "This Everyday Love," hit the Top 10 on the country charts. They also recorded "Walk the Llama Llama" for the soundtrack of Disney's "The Emperor's New Groove."
This year, they went on the road with Jo Dee Messina's "Burn" tour. In May, they received the Academy of Country Music's award for top new vocal group.
Their album is expected to go gold this month, hitting the 500,000 sales mark.
"We were driven to do this, so we went for it, and those dreams started coming true," says Mr. Rooney, who sings and plays guitar. "It's all hard to believe at times because the three of us have wanted to do this all our lives."
Mr. LeVox and Mr. DeMarcus grew up in Columbus. They played several instruments together and sang with their relatives into the early morning hours on most weekend nights. Many of their family members, reared in the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia, grew up playing and listening to country and bluegrass tunes.
Mr. Rooney was similarly influenced by his musical siblings in Picher, Okla., and his job at the Grand Lake Opry, Oklahoma's version of the Grand Ole Opry.
Mr. DeMarcus moved to Nashville in 1992 and had some success in Christian music circles as a singer and producer. Mr. LeVox followed in 1997.
The cousins began writing songs and playing music together almost immediately. Meanwhile, Mr. DeMarcus got a job singing alongside Mr. Rooney in Chely Wright's band.
Shortly thereafter, Rascal Flatts was formed.
"Even when they first started playing together, all three of them just sounded great," says Alison Bradsher, owner of the Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar, where the trio played regularly.
"Their harmonies were awesome from the beginning."
Neil Pond, editor of Country Weekly and Country Music magazines, says that although country music has a long tradition of three-member harmony groups, few have been able to blend their voices like Rascal Flatts.
"They've taken a three-part harmony and woven a really distinctive sound. That's what separates them," he says. "They worked on their craft and finally through the right combination got it together."
Gail Austin, programming director at WCOL-FM in Columbus, says the trio "pops right off the radio and commands your attention."
"They have this harmony that's amazing because their voices blend so well," she says. "They have such chemistry when they're playing together."
The three members of Rascal Flatts say they have been successful because they have had the freedom to create their own style and choose songs with wide appeal.
"We did the record we wanted to do. It's a hybrid of everything that we've been influenced by," Mr. DeMarcus says.
"We tried to take everything that we love about music and tried to make our own kind of musical stew."
"It's got flare to it," Mr. Rooney adds.
They're planning to release another album next spring.
"We've got a lot more to say," Mr. DeMarcus says. "We know we can do more and do better. Everybody's going to see a lot more of Rascal Flatts."

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