After 20 years as the front man of country group Rascal Flatts, vocal superstar Gary LeVox is officially going solo with the Christian anthem, “The Distance” — and it’s title is perfect, since he’s looking at it like the beginning of a long journey.
Mixing soul-stirring faith with his signature high-flying vocal and an exhilarating, modern-electronic sound, “The Distance” was released Friday (March 19) as the first taste of two solo projects LeVox is working on, starting with a gospel EP. And according to him, it’s nothing short of a bittersweet moment.
“There’s some mixed emotions,” he admitted, speaking to a group of reporters via Zoom. “It was just time. There’s a time for a new season, and now’s that time, so it feels really good.”
That new season may be finally here, but fans know it partially came out of necessity. LeVox’s heavily-awarded group, Rascal Flatts, made its farewell last year after two decades of pop-inflected country hits. They left on top, posting one final hit with the current single “How They Remember You.” But they also never really got to say goodbye — since COVID-19 nixed their 2020 farewell tour. So, without that sense of closure (and totally uninterested in hitting the couch), LeVox has thrown himself into new music … and there’s apparently quite a bit of it.
“The Distance” is just the first track fans will hear, and although it was made with a new team of writers and producers, the hit maker says it’s not that different from what he, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney had always done as a group. Just a little more upfront in its spirituality.
“I sing the way that I sing,” LeVox noted. “But I’ve always tried to sneak some Jesus in there somewhere. I don’t think [it changes] a whole lot. I think whatever I sing will be recognized as Flatts. But a song like ‘The Distance’ is a song of hope, and I think everybody needs that. It was actually the first thing we wrote for the project.”
Indeed, LeVox said the upbeat worship anthem was written just as the COVID-19 pandemic started, with concerts getting cancelled and an unexpected time of quiet contemplation upon him. He’d always wanted to do a Christian album eventually — a true passion project, he said. And likewise, fans and friends had asked him to do it. So with plenty of time on his hands, LeVox enlisted trusted collaborators Josh Hoge and Matt McVaney, and ended up with the perfect song to kick his solo chapter off.
“We got there and talked about it, and I was like ‘We need to write something about hope. Not just about the pandemic, but I mean the divorce rate and drugs and mental health issues,’” he explained. “All of that was starting to break loose with the uncertainty of what the world was. So that was kind of the inspiration.
“We needed something with some fire and some tempo, just a big soaring chorus, and I think we captured it with ‘The Distance,’ LeVox continued. “It’s like ‘Look, we can’t do it on our own at this point. Don’t loose hope, don’t ever give up. Stay in the fight, and with God, we can get through anything.'”
Gary LeVox turned back to McVaney to produce it — another first. And working with COVID-19 precautions in place, they ended up capturing the power LeVox finds in his faith. Determined to give “The Distance” a fresh sound, it feels totally unconstrained by country tradition, almost exploding with spiritual energy and it even putting an auto-tuner on LeVox’s stratospheric vocal.
“There’s so much out there today that’s kind of the same, and there’s no substance to it,” the star says bluntly. “I wasn’t trying to do something completely different. But I did use different producer and different studio players, so hopefully it sounds different that way, just because I used people who I’d never worked with before. I think it sounds super fresh and super new.”
The news should be exciting for the Rascal Flatts faithful, who never even got to enjoy the band’s planned-for-but-cancelled farewell tour. And LeVox wants them to know both DeMarcus and Rooney are supportive of his solo effort. They’re pursuing their own projects as well, he says, so the feeling is mutual.
“We talked about doing [a Christian album] collectively, but we were always so busy with putting records out and touring with Flatts,” Gary LeVox said. “It was something I wanted to do since I was a kid. And I actually talked with Jay and Joe Don, and was like ‘Hey, I’m gonna do a solo Christian record.’ And they were like ‘That’s killer, do it!’”
Looking ahead, LeVox plans to release a whole Christian EP to go with “The Distance” — but even that is just the beginning. He’s also planning to tour as a solo act, and then hints that a solo country project is forthcoming, although the details are not available just yet.
All in all, it amounts to the start of a whole new chapter for one of country’s most decorated vocalists. And just like “The Distance” suggests, it’s one that he’s determined to see through to the finish line — however far away that may be.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I want to continue to go for as long as the fans want me to stand in front of them.”