Over the course of their two decades as a band, Rascal Flatts' signature brand of harmony-laden country music has become a staple for legions of country fans. The trio has cemented their place in the country community, even becoming members of the Grand Ole Opry in 2011, but early on, they were criticized for being too pop.

"I think it was hard for some people to believe that we loved hardcore country music, that we were raised on it," bandmate Joe Don Rooney admitted during a panel interview of Rascal Flatts at the 2020 Country Radio Seminar in Nashville.

When they were coming up, cutting their teeth by playing for tips in bars, however, "hardcore country music" was all the trio did. Still, Rooney goes on to say, they've always had an affinity for country groups that pushed the genre's boundaries while staying connected to its roots.

"We loved Alabama. We loved Diamond Rio. We loved all these bands that really pushed the envelope in country and had these really amazing harmonies," he explains. "So we just wanted to take that, and some of the other influences we had -- in music, period -- and kind of possibly make our own kind of country music from our own hearts, and our own country music that we loved."

"Our timing wasn't the greatest, either, because we came in right at the end of the boy band stuff," jokes Rascal Flatts lead singer Gary LeVox. "*NSYNC was just getting done, all of that, and then we came on the scene, like, 'Backstreet's back, alright!' We were like, 'Listen, I promise you we don't dance.'"

From their earliest days as country music fans, however, all three bandmates listened to country music. "All three of us grew up on real, traditional country, bluegrass and gospel. Those were our roots and our foundation," LeVox adds.

As they grew up into teenagers and adults, the trio began taking influence from other genres of music, too. "We were children of the '80s," points out Jay DeMarcus. "So we loved pop music. We loved Journey, Chicago and Kiss. So we wanted to take all of those things and make them into a unique blend of what they were, and an expression of who we were."

More than anything, Rascal Flatts proved that being "country" didn't necessarily have to do with wearing a cowboy hat or listening exclusively to traditional country artists.

"We used to say, early on on the radio, that country music wasn't necessarily the way you looked," DeMarcus goes on to say. "It was the set of values and principles you lived by."

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