Q&A: Gary LeVox
Rascal Flatts could have embarked on an extensive fall tour to promote their latest album. Instead, Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney chose to delay touring until 2018 and head to Vegas for an October extended run at The Venetian. Lead vocalist LeVox, who at the time of this interview had just attended country legend Troy Gentry’s memorial service, spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen by phone from Nashville prior to the opening of Rascal Flatts’ Night to Shine. They perform Oct. 11, 13-14, 18 and 20-21.
It’s been a week of reflection and reverence for you and the country music industry this week, I imagine. Yesterday (Sept. 14) was Troy Gentry’s memorial at the Grand Ole Opry, and the day before you were scheduled to participate in the “Hand in Hand” benefit for Hurricane Harvey relief in Houston. Were you able to get out to both places?
Yeah, we did. We did the Hurricane Harvey relief benefit show on TV, and yesterday was family and friends, and then they just finished the public funeral that was streamed live from the Opry. They just finished that. It’s a really sad day here in Nashville. It has been since last Friday.
My condolences to you. When you lose someone like Don Williams it’s sad but you’re a little more prepared for it. When something unexpected like that happens is must really bring the community together there.
Yeah. (Gentry was) 50 years old. For something so unexpected and so out of left field to happen, hearts just break for (Gentry’s wife) Angie, his girls Taylor and Kaylee. The country music community has really gotten behind them. They have a great support system. Vince Gill was just on the Opry stage 15 minutes ago. He told Eddie (Montgomery) from the stage, “This Opry family, we’ve lost a lot over the years but I just want you to know … use this family. Don’t go away. Don’t feel that you don’t have a place to go because this Opry family is a great family to be a part of and we’re all here.” Vince was crying. It was sad. Death is sad, period. God has a plan, and that’s what you’ve just got to rely on. It might not be our plan, but you’ve just got to put your trust in the Lord. He’s got it all figured out. … That’s what country music is. We’re all one big family and we’ll do whatever, wherever.
I wasn’t sure how close you were personally.
We got signed and we’re trying to get records played at the same time, competing at the tops of the charts with each other. It’s an awesome brotherhood to have.
Did you tour together?
We did some shows together, fairs and festivals and all that stuff. Never a major tour because we were opening acts.
I just saw an old photo of him with Blake Shelton, who you’re advising the season on The Voice. Blake looked like he was about 20 and his hair was past his shoulders beneath a baseball cap.
(Laughs) He wishes he could grow his hair out that long and not be gray. We just did The Voice with him and we were sitting there talking. I was like, “Daggone, Blake. You look old.” (Blake replied) “Shut up!”
You seemed to be having a nice summer before these tragic circumstances. You sang “After the Love” with Earth Wind and Fire on CMT’s Country Crossroads, popped in on a Wisconsin wedding to serenade a surprised couple and played some selected concerts. Were there other highlights?
Probably just the release of our Back to Us album and just having that out. Our single “Yours If You Want It” is our 17th No. 1. This is probably one of my favorite records that I’ve ever done. I love it top to bottom. Our new single “Back to Us” is out. It’s the title track to the record. … We have a lighter schedule this year which is really, really nice, because we just wanted to focus on the record and go to some B and C markets that we hadn’t been to in a long time. Just share the new music with them.
I didn’t learn until yesterday that the title of your new residency has several levels of significance for Rascal Flatts. One, obviously, is it’s a song (“Our Night to Shine”) on your latest album, but you specifically wrote the song for Tim Tebow’s charity organization of the same name. Can you talk about the exact origin of that song?
Yeah, Timmy’s one of my best friends, and Timmy and I were talking two years ago. We were talking about Night to Shine and, you know, my background, I worked with special needs kids for 10 years. They’ve always had a special place in my heart, so with Timmy doing that prom all around the world, all in one night, I was so blown away by the idea. I flew out and I met Tim. … I was like “Man, I gotta write a song about this because it’s just too magical not to. I brought the idea to my buddies Scooter Carusoe and Chris DeStefano, and we got together and I showed them the clip of Tim and I at Night to Shine, and we just started writing it. When we were cutting the Back to Us record I kinda looked out of the studio and said, “Dad gum, this Chris DeStefano song, I gotta go and put a vocal on that thing. So I did. We wrote it about a half a year ago or so, but I went in there and put a vocal on it, and brought it back in the studio the next day and we cut it. … It was kind of an 11th hour thing.
Obviously, as far as songs from the new album go, “Our Night to Shine” lends itself better to a residency title than “Vandalized,” but why choose that as a title for a residency over “Back to Us”?
(Laughs) Everybody shines in Vegas, with all the lights and everything. It just kind of made perfect sense. We’re going to have a lot of different friends and a lot of special little things happening while we’re at The Venetian, so with appearances and stuff it’s going to be everybody’s night to shine.
Are you starting with a blank slate or is it modified from the set you’ve been working with this summer?
We’re fortunate enough that we have some standards that we have to do or everybody’d be mad, so that’s kind of the outline and then we build around that—some of the new stuff, some of the old stuff. Different ways to do it, different ways to come into the music, so yeah there’s a standard that’s kind of the foundation and we build around it.
Your previous residencies were promoted as being “stripped down.” Is this one going to be similarly a back to basics?
It’s going to be different than the last two years at the Hard Rock. We have a new player that’s coming out with us. No it’s not going to be completely stripped down. It’ll be more about the music and having a good time than bells and whistles.
Do you plan to release a new single from Back to Us during the residency?
Nope. It tales so long for songs to get up the charts now. “Back to Us” (the single) will still be rockin’. We were talking about it not too long ago. Darius Rucker’s last single, it took 60 weeks to go No. 1. It’s unbelievable. Man, it used to take 13 weeks sometimes, 12. Now it’s 60. “Back to Us” will be out there. We’ll still be early on into the song. I wish we could release another one!
Yeah, you guys seem to release three or four per album. It must have been a relief to go to No. 1 with the first single.
Yeah, it is. Especially because the last song off the last record, “I Like the Sound of That,” that went No. 1. You want to follow it up with something as good then you’re sitting there looking at this body of work and you’re going, “Well, I don’t know. Which one?” It is nerve-wracking. We’ve just gone with our gut, and our gut has served us well over the years. Got with Scott Borchetta for “Yours If You Want It.” It just kind of rose to the top. It’s terrible that Andrew Dorff, one of the songwriters, he passed two months after we cut it, unfortunately. And tragically at 40 years old.
Do you start with the songwriters or the songs when picking material for a new album?
We usually start with the songs. We’ve got out friends and stuff, like Neil Thrasher and Wendell Mobley. We wrote “I Melt” together and “Changed,” and “Fast Cars and Freedom,” “Bob That Head.” We’ve written a lot together so when they send in stuff we’re going to look at that, but yeah, usually it’s just the music. We’re getting pitches from all over the world, but like with “Vandalized,” when Chris Stapleton sends something in you’re gonna listen to it. First, probably. (Laughs)
When you’ve got lyrics like “I’m a mailbox, you’re a baseball bat / You’re an egg and I’m a windshield,” it brings a song right up front.
(Laughs) And Chris did the demo on it, so you can imagine how that sounded.
Did working with Jay as the main producer, or most consistent producer throughout the album, allow you to take things a little more casually when it came to recording?
Yeah, and the great things too that really helps, Jay is a great producer. We’ve co-produced every project from Day One, but the greatest things about doing it at his house with Scott Borchetta is we weren’t under any time restraints. That’s when it becomes tough, because we’re out touring and we come home, and then we go from the road straight into the studio, back to the road, back to the studio. That gets tough when you have a deadline, so this time Scott was like, “Look, we’ll release it when it’s ready, when you guys feel like it’s ready.”
There’s been some reportage that you guys are planning to tour extensively in 2018. Is that still the case?
Yeah, we’ll have another big blowout tour next year. It’ll be fun, and we’ll be back in all the A markets and stuff.
You wrapped the summer tour in Pittsburgh, where I believe Rascal Flatts’ newest restaurant opened. Has there been any chatter of opening a restaurant in Vegas where Gary’s Buttermilk Biscuits or Gary’s Toll House Pie will be on the menu?
(Laughs) No, we haven’t talked about Vegas. Actually, in LA, we’ve already got the store location. That’ll probably be as close as we get to Vegas. You never know though. You just never know.