Rascal Flatts Turns to Dan + Shay & Meghan Trainor for New 'Sound'

Akron Beacon Journal/ TNS /LANDOV
Rascal Flatts perform the national anthem before the start of Game 3 of the NBA Finals as the Cleveland Cavaliers play host to the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on June 9, 2015.

"I Like the Sound of That" balances band's classic sound with future direction.

The trio has racked up a cool 6.8 million “likes” on Facebook. But the “like” Rascal Flatts is most excited about these days is its new single, “I Like the Sound of That.”

With its big, sing-along chorus, smart harmonies, and an identifiable hook, there’s plenty to like about its chances of a long chart life. It doesn’t hurt, either, that there’s a marketable personality behind it. Two of the title’s three songwriters are successful artists in their own right: Nashville-based pop singer Meghan Trainor and Dan + Shay lead vocalist Shay Mooney. Both are major Rascal Flatts fans -- particularly Mooney, whose tenor resonance and phrasing have drawn frequent comparisons to Flatts frontman Gary LeVox since “19 You + Me” introduced Dan + Shay nationally in 2013.

“To get a song with [them], and then to actually have one of those songs as a single, is definitely a personal goal,” says Mooney. “I can knock that one off the bucket list.”

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Mooney’s similarities to LeVox were advantageous. Mooney, Trainor and co-writer Jesse Frasure (“Crash and Burn,” “Sun Daze”) actually landed two songs on Flatts’ Rewind album -- “I Like the Sound of That” and “DJ Tonight” -- in part because Mooney’s performances eliminated any questions about the material’s compatibility.

“When Shay had his vocal on the demo, the picture was painted perfectly as to what it would sound like with Gary on it,” says Flatts producer-bassist Jay DeMarcus.

It’s safe to say the band liked the sound of those demos.

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The seeds for “Like” were actually sown a year or two before when Frasure and Trainor became musical penpals. Still living in Nantucket, Mass., at the time, Trainor had garnered attention from Big Yellow Dog owner/GM Carla Wallace, who lined up some long-distance co-writers, including Frasure, whose pop sensibilities were a good match for the “All About That Bass” singer.

“She wrote to a few of my pop tracks and then sent me the vocals to mix them and they were awesome -- full-blown [background vocals], great tracks, great hooks,” says Frasure. “We wrote via email for quite a while. Then she started coming to town for prolonged periods of time, and we started doing some collaboration.”

Trainor and Frasure co-wrote with Mooney for the first time on June 18, 2013, banging out “DJ Tonight” a year before “All About That Bass” was released and three months before Dan + Shay launched publicly. The writing trio reconvened on Jan. 22, 2014 -- a month before Trainor signed with Epic -- and Mooney played a big part in laying the groundwork for that day’s efforts.

He and Frasure arrived at Major Bob Music on Nashville’s 17th Avenue before Trainor made it in, and Mooney concocted an upbeat guitar groove. Frasure, in turn, started building a track on his laptop that they could use to sustain the tempo and energy in the room, and when Trainor arrived with her ukulele, they all flipped through lists of potential titles on their phones for one with the right mood. Mooney had logged “I Like the Sound of That” months earlier.

“I wrote it down because it’s something I say all the time,” remembers Mooney. “I always would say, ‘Hey, man, I like the sound of that.’”

It didn’t take long before they found the right angle to make it work, focusing on the household sounds in the morning that one associates with a significant other, beginning with the splatter of a shower.

“It’s just the kind of noises that go down when you’re not alone in the house, those routines that you get used to but would kind of miss if they were gone,” notes Frasure. “I think it was the shower scene that really opened up the whole thing.”

The second verse moved on to the sonics of the evening, hinting strongly at a love-making session. In contrast, the chorus focused on the noises -- or silence -- of separation. By 6 p.m. that day, the writers had finished both the song and the demo.

“You have Shay and Meghan singing their asses off, and you aren’t touching the Auto-Tuner, ever,” says Frasure. “You just have them sing a couple passes, so we built that thing up and it was done, out the door.”

Neither Trainor nor Mooney had the song in mind for their own careers as artists, so Razor & Tie vp music publishing/creative Brad Kennard (a Big Yellow Dog exec at the time) got the song to Big Machine Label Group senior vp A&R Allison Jones, who in turn passed it to DeMarcus. LeVox and Flatts guitarist Joe Don Rooney bought into it, too, though the original lyrics in the second verse -- which suggested the couple’s love sounds were so loud that they annoyed the neighbors -- were over the line for the band.

The writers softened that allusion and replaced an alcohol reference with lighted candles, and Flatts indeed liked the sound of that. DeMarcus convened a session at the Grip Studio in his home, and the night before, he spent some preparation time with a bouzouki, a Greek stringed instrument that’s similar in tone to a mandolin. He developed a hook for the intro and taught it the next morning to Ilya Toshinsky, and the band created a slow-building arc that hit its full groove in the second chorus. Getting there took some effort.

“The first few times we tracked, it [felt] a little stoppy and starty,” says DeMarcus.

Drummer Dorian Crozier tried a disco beat, but that was too much. Eventually, the key was lightly thumping quarter notes from DeMarcus on bass, offset by Crozier playing 16th notes on the high hat.

Once the foundation was set, additional pieces were added -- including steel and a couple extra guitar parts -- and the focus turned to vocals. LeVox contributed his typically wavy phrasing and made another lyrical change, altering a line about “Motown bumpin’ ” to “Timberlake bumpin’.” DeMarcus and Rooney’s background parts filled out the sound nicely.

“We always like to refer to it as ‘Flatterizing’ a track,” says DeMarcus. “Gary’s voice is so distinctive, but once you get our unique blend on there and the counter melodies I think that we’re known a little bit for, it starts to come to life.”

“I Like the Sound of That” was considered for the second single from Rewind, but it was held for the fourth slot and finally released to radio via Play MPE on Aug. 31. It debuted at No. 40 on the Country Airplay chart dated Oct. 3 and moves to No. 37 in week two.

“It’s the familiar old sound of Rascal Flatts mixed with fresh new production,” surmises DeMarcus. “I think it’s a perfect blend between what you love about Rascal Flatts and where Rascal Flatts is headed in the future.”

It has, however, created one small issue for Mooney. He still says “I like the sound of that” in his daily speech, and the pattern has begun to sound self-referential.

“Now when I say that,” he notes, “my girlfriend is like, ‘Are you quoting your own song? That’s weird.’ I’ve got to stop.”