You don’t sell more than 27 million albums without intimately knowing the rigors that recording artists face with the promotion for each new project. From schmoozing radio DJs on-air, to giving one-armed hugs to dozens of strangers during backstage meet-and-greets each night of a concert tour, Rascal Flatts bassist Jay DeMarcus has done it all since the country trio first formed in 1999.
If he thought the logistics behind getting the word out about his first memoir – Shotgun Angels: My Story of Broken Roads and Unshakeable Hope – would be less arduous, DeMarcus quickly learned otherwise since the book’s release April 30. After days spent recording televised interviews in New York City, and full afternoons spent speaking to fans and personalizing copies during an hours-long virtual book signing, one might assume he’s counting down the days until he returns to the steady schedule of a Rascal Flatts summer tour on May 16th in Cincinnati.
The segment of Shotgun Angels that has proved to be the biggest headline grabber is DeMarcus’s reveal that in his early 20s, he and his girlfriend made the difficult decision to put their then-unborn child up for adoption, a chapter of his life that only those that he considers extremely close had been privy to until now. Billboard sat down with DeMarcus, 48, in Nashville to discuss writing the book and opening himself up so publicly.
You have stated that writing the book at a certain point became almost a form of therapy. How hard was it to find a balance in sharing the good and the bad?
Probably it’s the bad days [that come up during therapy] because that’s when you have to dig the deepest to figure out who you are, and how you’re going to make it through. I wanted to try to have a healthy balance, to balance the times that were tough – that were seemingly insurmountable – with the great blessing that I’ve had in my life. I didn’t want people to read this book and think, “What in the world does he have to be so depressed about?” I wanted to paint as realistic of a picture as I could. Yes, I’ve been very blessed on the one hand, but there are things that nobody sees that have happened to get me to this point.
How hard has it been to be so transparent about giving a child up for adoption, especially given that was a moment in your life that wasn’t previously public knowledge?
It’s been difficult, because the pain is back up to the surface again, remembering just how sad and painful it really was to live through that time. That feeling of being stuck with an impossible decision to make, with the young lady looking to me like, ‘What do we do now?’
Abortion wasn’t an option for us, particularly at the time. We talked about getting married, but obviously for all the wrong reasons, and we talked about my mother adopting her at one time. We just made the best decision we could, and she made the best decision for her. There was some joy in knowing that we were placing her with a family that had tried to conceive for several years, and knowing we had brought them some joy gave me a little more peace, but still…thinking about the fact that I ran the risk of having a child in the world that I would never have a relationship with, it was and has been really painful. Quite honestly, its been painful talking out loud about it. Having the conversations about it has made it more difficult than I imagined it to be, writing in the book.
In hindsight, do you regret including the story in your book?
There’s no regret in telling my story, because I felt like if I was going to tell my story, it was a big turning point in my life. It was a catalyst for a lot of things that unfolded after that. It’s one of the biggest things that happened to me in my early life – in my early career – as a young man, so I wanted to at least be transparent with myself about it. It’s been hidden for so many years, and to kind of get it out there has felt a little bit free, but I’ve also been very diligent about trying to be respectful of [my daughter’s] privacy.
Are you prepared for the possibility of multiple would-be scam artists coming forward in the next few weeks, claiming that they are your daughter?
I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but I’ve got a really good attorney. It’s so funny that you ask that, as that’s one of the first things I considered, that I would have people knocking on my door.
“Hey, I’m your daughter.”
“…but you’re 40 years old.”
Did you discuss the decision of including this story in the book with your family?
Yes. My wife, my mom and my family were completely supportive of me. I have children that are six and eight, they’re too young to understand, but when they get older I will tell them. I have the support of [the other members of Rascal Flatts], and some others know what I’ve lived through, but it’s no small thing.
The book also recounts how that moment brought an end to your involvement in the Christian music industry at the time [DeMarcus was a member of the contemporary Christian duo East to West]. You write that having an entire segment of the music industry turn their back on you so suddenly deeply affected you, bringing with it bouts of depression. Sitting here years later, are you still jaded toward that community?
No, I take responsibility for my actions. There are still so many things I love about that industry. I love the message of hope, and the message of Christ in the music, and that’s why I opened up a Christian label [Red Street Records]. I want to be a part of that industry, to be part of taking that message to the world in any way I can.
Looking back, I understand why I had to live through those things, and understand what I had to learn from those things in order to get me to this place. I was bitter and jaded for a long time, but I don’t hold the same feelings anymore.
Were there artists in the Christian music industry at that time who called you with some encouraging words?
The only artist that reached out to me during that time was Michael English [“Your Love Amazes Me”]. He had just gone through a very public scandal [following the discovery of an extramarital affair], I guess for lack of a better word, and he was very encouraging to me.
Actually, I shouldn’t say he was the only one: Mark Lowry was one of the first people to call me up and ask me to go out to dinner and hang out with him, and was a very good friend to me.
Was it difficult to separate your faith from the way the contemporary Christian music world may have treated you at the time?
In a lot of ways, I lost my faith after that all happened. I really questioned it, questioned what the purpose was of trying to live the life I felt like I should live, when what I considered to be one irresponsible decision meant that everything was gone.
That lasted a very short time, because I started to really deconstruct everything that I believed in, making sure I believed it because I believed it and not because I was told to believe it. That was a great rebuilding process in my life.
While Shotgun Angels touches on how Rascal Flatts evolved, the book doesn’t really delve deeply into the band’s history. Was that intentional?
It’s with an eye toward us telling our story together at some point. I just feel like it wasn’t my responsibility, or my job, to tell our collective story. I feel like my brothers want to be very involved with that, and when we decide to tell that story, we will.
Are you happy with the book’s reception so far?
You know, we live in a world where people are pretty brave behind a keyboard. [The majority] of the reception has been positive, but there have been people out there that have been critical, and feel like I’m using my story to just exploit them. It’s that part of the process that has been frustrating, because you pass judgment before you read the book. I have protected everybody the best I could, and done my best to tell my truth while not exposing anybody or putting anybody in any awkward situation, but people are drawing assumptions based on headlines and clickbait instead of reading the book. It’s a lot of the world that we live in now: people get online, they blow you up, and then move on to the next thing. It’s a shame, it really is.