“During a new season in my life, I turned a horrific time into something great,” says Gary LeVox. The singer is in excited spirits while on a phone call with Billboard, and putting the final touches on his new solo single, out March 19.
For two decades, LeVox was best known as the frontman of superstar country trio Rascal Flatts. The group announced its retirement in January 2020, and was scheduled to part ways last year after their 17th headlining concert tour in 20 years. However, last March’s onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic postponed — and has now canceled — those dates.
“[Rascal Flatts] had a farewell tour planned, but COVID kinda told us all farewell,” LeVox notes, bittersweetly.
One of many results from his time in quarantine is the new, uplifting, Christian-themed single, “The Distance,” which the veteran artist recorded at the onset of the pandemic. It follows “Christmas Will Be Different This Year,” which he released in December.
“People are losing jobs, falling prey to drug addiction, and the divorce rate is rising,” LeVox says, regarding his motivation for writing the song with Josh Hoge and Matt McVaney. Making a direct thematic call to both his fanbase and to music fans all blighted by global turmoil, he continues, “This is a hopeful song. People need that sentiment expressed right now.”
Out on Big Machine Records, the single is part of a larger Christian project that LeVox calls a “bucket list item.” Citing the unexpected end to his constant and hectic touring schedule as a factor in his decision (“I couldn’t say, ‘It’s Thursday, can’t record because it’s time to jump on the plane or the bus and tour Florida over the weekend.’”), quarantine’s interminable length has also forced him to be more mindful of “my family, God, and my walk in faith,” he says. He regards these as “truly important things in life” that he may have occasionally “taken for granted.”
He harbors no ill will towards his Rascal Flatts bandmates Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney. Still, he says that no longer working in a trio has provided him creative freedom, allowing him to “cut the music that I believe in when I feel like it. When you’re working with three dudes, you have three different opinions, and it becomes a case of ‘Let the best song win.'”
To wit, he launches into an animated discussion of another track called “Working On Sunday” from his forthcoming Christian EP. Originally pitched as a Rascal Flatts song, DeMarcus and Rooney “passed on it for some reason or another,” LeVox recalls. “[“Working on Sunday”] made it to being recorded for this project, and it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of as a songwriter.”
LeVox describes the song as “spiritually-based” with a “tongue-in-cheek” sentiment, regarding someone in a relationship who’s seeking heavenly guidance following an argument. “I’ve called her, and texted her — and [though] I know how you feel about working on Sundays — but I don’t think I can make it to Monday if she doesn’t call me back,” LeVox says, paraphrasing the song’s lyrical content.
“In my opinion, the best singers come from the gospel world,” LeVox says. A number of them are on his upcoming project, including Tauren Wells, who wrote “While I Wait,” a song LeVox sings with his 20-year old daughter, Brittany. A duet between LeVox and Grammy-nominated gospel vocalist Jonathan McReynolds also appears on the project.
LeVox isn’t limiting his work to his own EP: He recently collaborated on the a new project for Christian rock act Mercy Me, plus names a smattering of other performers — Tasha Cobbs, CeCe Winans, Toby Mac, and Natalie Grant — with whom he would enjoy combining musical forces.
Though he’s spent the past two decades as a steadfast face at country music’s forefront, LeVox says that since he grew up in the church, country, bluegrass, and gospel music have all been familiar to his ears, and beloved in his heart since childhood. The idea that gospel’s most legendary lyrics “stand the test of time” — similar to country — is what allows him to return to the genre so comfortably as an adult musically. “No matter how great you sing or play, it’s the lyrics, story, and melody that allow you to tell someone else’s story through music,” he says. “You can find a piece of your life in the music I’m making.”
As happy as he is to be making music, LeVox — who is also working on a solo country album — shows the most enthusiasm when he talks about getting in front of an audience, especially as vaccination efforts make touring a not-too-distant reality again. “I’m so ready to play live shows again I can’t even see straight! Go get vaccinated!” he says.
Regarding that now-canceled final Rascal Flatts tour in 2020, it appears that the group will forego their farewell dates. “We’ve been quarantined, so there hasn’t been much work stuff to talk about,” LeVox relates when asked if he’s spoken to his bandmates in the past year. But, the group’s former lead singer still advises that “Flattheads” should still hold out hope to hear the songs that he helped make famous with the trio.
“Flatts aren’t going to go back on the road this year. But I’ll be on the road for sure,” he says. “I have 17 No. 1s with Rascal Flatts, plus there’s my new stuff. I’ll be covering all bases.”
When asked what keeps him grounded as he counts the days to both his new single being released and potentially performing it onstage, LeVox sighs wearily. Then, given the direction he’s embraced during a “new season” in his life, he quotes 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “This, too, shall pass,” he says.