Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

As Rascal Flatts prepares to return to the market with its sophomore effort, "Melt," the group and label Lyric Street Records face the challenge of topping a platinum-selling eponymous debut CD.

Sales of "Rascal Flatts" have created high expectations for "Melt." The album peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart in April, spawned four top-10 singles, and earned the trio two nominations in the upcoming Country Music Association Awards, including one for vocal group of the year.

Vocalist Gary LeVox says, "After selling a million-and-a-half records, that sets the goal for the next album: Either equal it or get better. You have no choice, really. No one likes to go backward."

In order to increase its fan base, Rascal Flatts has continually toured; the threesome is currently opening for Toby Keith, and it has been confirmed on the bill for Brooks & Dunn's tour next summer.

Guitarist Joe Don Rooney says they have to be "road dogs" because "this kind of success just doesn't come to anybody. We know that to stabilize it and keep it and make it grow, you've gotta keep going, growing the fan base, and reaching more people. If we continue that, there's no telling what Rascal Flatts can do."

Bass player Jay DeMarcus agrees: "It's been a bit of a grueling process, but we're not afraid to work, get out there, and get after it to keep the momentum going."

That momentum has continued, Rooney believes, due to joining Keith on tour. "He averages 18,000 people every night. Those are crowds we haven't been used to," he says. "We take our 40 minutes and try to captivate a lot of people. We're trying to be tighter [with our] movements onstage because people way back have a harder time seeing the stage. You feel a huge speaker system so much differently from [the sound system in] a club. It just rocks."

The group is hoping to continue to grow as artists as well, according to LeVox, who believes the new project shows maturity. "We made the music we wanted to make on the first album. It's a great foundation, like building a house. Now you expand on it. That's what we've done-broadened our horizons a little bit. We've grown from being on the road for three years."

The three share producing credit for "Melt" with co-producers Mark Bright and Marty Williams, and Rooney contends that several of the cuts on the new project would not have found "a place in the first record. Sonically, it sounds different, with more grit, acoustic drive, and it's ballsier. We've made a record that, song for song, is stronger than the first record."

Excerpted from the Nov. 2, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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