Rascal Flatts bassist Jay DeMarcus has decided to make a foray into the Christian music world, annoucing on Wednesday (Oct. 24) his plans to launch Christian label Red Street Records.

DeMarcus also disclosed his first artist signings: Longtime Christian hitmakers Avalon, as well as newcomer Lauren James, who is a worship leader at celebrity pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church.

The label will be a totally independent venture, with DeMarcus explaining he'd considered a major-label imprint route but ultimately decided to go at it on his own. "It's been a long time coming," DeMarcus tells Billboard. "I've thought about doing it for several years and the timing just never seemed right and now the pieces fell into place."

While he'll be continuing as part of Rascal Flatts, DeMarcus intends to have a hands-on role at Red Street, throwing his hat in as a co-producer on both Avalon and James' upcoming albums. DeMarcus is a longtime friend of Avalon members Janna and Greg Long, and says establishing a business relationship with personal connections is "a wonderful thing."

Overall, DeMarcus has a deep love of the genre, and wants to champion artists he believes in. "I grew up in the church and loved contemporary Christian music," he tells Billboard. "I go back to the early days of when it first started with the likes of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Those people that really pioneered are heroes of mine."

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