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Superstar country group Rascal Flatts look ahead with new album 'Rewind'

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TORONTO - Superstar country group Rascal Flatts named their ninth album "Rewind," but don't expect them to start looking back anytime soon.

The multiplatinum trio — lead vocalist Gary LeVox, keyboardist Jay DeMarcus and guitarist Joe Don Rooney — say their latest record, named after the lead single, is actually a musical leap forward in their 15-year career.

"It's funny, because fans are like, 'Are you rewinding back to your original sound?'" said LeVox with a laugh.

"Really, it has nothing to do with that. It's just more about the song being sexy, being cool and being hip — and more or less, being a kind of new direction for Rascal Flatts and maybe a bridge to where Rascal Flatts is going sonically and musically."

Since their debut in 2000, the band has sold more than 22.5 million albums and had 14 singles reach No. 1 on the U.S. country chart — including "Bless the Broken Road" and "What Hurts the Most." Former U.S. president George W. Bush even invited them to the White House on several occasions.

DeMarcus said the group recorded the new album at a "critical point" in their lives professionally. Rascal Flatts had worked with the same producer, Dann Huff, for the past six records and it was time to shake things up.

"I think we were all sort of in this scary no-man's land where you get to when you've had a certain level of success," said DeMarcus. "You can sort of get to a place to where you almost become complacent as well."

So they piled into DeMarcus's home studio and, for the first time, experimented with new songs and arrangements with no one else in the room. The band has a producer credit on the album, alongside Howard Benson and Huff.

"We ended up making some of my most favourite musical memories we've ever had together, with just us sitting around," said DeMarcus. "I believe this is the best album we've ever done, simply because there is more of ourselves in it than ever before."

But when asked which is the most personal song on the album, DeMarcus quipped: "Well, that's none of your business."

He then admitted his most personal track was likely "The Mechanic," a ballad about how love fixes everything. The song opens with the lyric, "When I'm broke down, you're the mechanic."

"When I heard that song, I was just blown away by the lyric and the simplicity of it, married together with that melody. It really, really is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in a long, long time," DeMarcus said.

It hasn't always been a smooth ride for Rascal Flatts. The band faced criticism in April when viewers noticed LeVox was lip-synching during a performance at the Academy of Country Music Awards. ("He's still in time-out," joked DeMarcus.)

LeVox said the band had played two shows and done multiple interviews in the days leading up to the award show, and the dry desert air affected his voice.

"We couldn't really bail. They had nobody else to fill the slot. So we talked about it with the producers of the show and they said, 'Hey, we've got the tape, so let's just try it.' I said, 'Well, I've never lip-synched before, so this should be interesting.'"

"It was interesting," laughed DeMarcus. "I didn't realize that we were the only artists to have ever done it. I was very surprised by that."

All three of the band members have become fathers since Rascal Flatts first formed in 1999. LeVox has two daughters, while DeMarcus and Rooney each have a daughter and a son.

"It gives weight to every single thing that you do," said DeMarcus of fatherhood. "Every decision you make, every song that you pick, you want your kids listening to it, whereas before you wouldn't have necessarily paid as much attention to things like that. It finds its way to every aspect of your life."

Asked whether they will still be around in another 15 years, DeMarcus said fans can count on it.

"We all feel a greater responsibility to the music we've been able to make and how deeply it's touched people's lives. We'll probably lay it down when our fans tell us it's time to lay it down. We love what we do so much and we love being with each other and making music together, so I'm sure we'll be together for a long, long time," he said.

"I don't know that Rascal Flatts is a band that will ever officially break up. We may do a few opera shows here and there, and they may wheel us out in wheelchairs. You never know. But we don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon."

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