If Jay DeMarcus could go back in time and talk to his teenage self, what would he say? “Hold on tight! You have no idea what is ahead and condoms do break,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville while sitting in his manager’s office on Nashville’s famed Music Row.
Those words might seem like an unusual message to his younger self, but it makes perfect sense to anyone who has read DeMarcus’ new book Shotgun Angels: My Story of Broken Roads and Unshakable Hope. Published by Zondervan and written with Timothy D. Willard, the memoir chronicles DeMarcus’ rise from humble beginnings in Columbus, Ohio to his early days as one half of the Christian music duo East to West to his meteoric success as one third of award-winning country trio Rascal Flatts.
“I wanted it to be very conversational and feel I was sitting next to them on the couch and telling somebody about my life,” DeMarcus says of his approach to sharing his story. “It was pretty intentional to make sure it was relaxed and had some humor while dealing with some pretty heavy stuff. It was like therapy for me. I’m happy with it. I hope everyone else loves it as much as I loved writing it.”
One of the heroes DeMarcus celebrates in his book is his mother, Caron, who turned down a record deal in her youth to focus on being a wife and mother. “It was wonderful to have a strong woman like that in my life to look up to and admire her strength and her faith,” he says of his mother who was a single parent for much of his childhood. (His parents divorced when he was seven, then later remarried and divorced again.)
“I know there had to be times that she probably had to lock herself away and go, ‘How in the world am I ever going to make it?’ But the woman did,” he smiles proudly. “She clung to her faith like nobody you’d ever seen before. I used to wait and watch for a time that her faith would fail her, and it never did.”
When asked what he learned about himself in the process of writing the book, DeMarcus responds, “I guess that I’ve made more mistakes in life than I cared to put down on page. The thing that resonated the most with me was that there were other things happening in my life to get me to where I am. I’m not smart enough or a planner enough to have put everything together to get me to where I am. There was someone else’s hand guiding my footsteps when I didn’t even realize it. To put those things in chronological order and unpack them into the book the way I did, it really became evident to me how much God was looking out for me even when I didn’t want to admit it at the time. That is one thing that as I look back over my story I’m so grateful and thankful for.”
In Shotgun Angels DeMarcus talks about his early days in Nashville, his short-lived career as a Christian music artist and how he and his cousin Gary LeVox and guitarist Joe Don Rooney came together to form Rascal Flatts. He also shares the story of how he met his wife Allison and how they fell in love. These days the couple has been married 15 years and have two beautiful children, eight-year-old Madeline Leigh and six-year-old Dylan Jay.
One of the most surprising revelations in the book is that before his marriage, back during his days as a Christian artist, DeMarcus briefly dated a girl who got pregnant the first time they slept together because the condom broke. They had a daughter and the mother chose to put the baby up for adoption.
DeMarcus doesn’t know where she is and hasn’t pursued meeting his daughter. “I want that to be her decision,” he says. “I don’t want to force anybody into anything they don’t want to do. I want to respect everybody’s privacy. I wanted to tell my truth about the situation and how it affected me and my life. That was a really big turning point in my life, a monumental occasion and without that piece in there, I can’t tell the whole story of who I am.”
At the time DeMarcus had a deal with a Christian record label as part of the successful duo East to West with his friend Neal Coomer. “At the time, you’re like, ‘Oh my God! I’ve lost everything I’ve ever worked for and dreamed of. It was a tough, tough few years there,” he admits.
When Coomer came out as gay, many people thought that was the reason East to West’s career ended. “Everybody has thought that for years. Part of the reason that I wanted to tell that is because a lot of people have assumed that over the years and blamed it on that,” he says of the duo’s demise. “That was not the case. What was amazing to me Neal’s love and compassion for me in that moment, proving to me that there are people who could love you unconditionally no matter what. I felt like I ruined his life too.”
Throughout the book, DeMarcus is unflinchingly honest about his failures as well as his successes. “Being a believer is not about being perfect. We are all flawed, broken human beings. When you put yourself out there and you are honest about it, you leave yourself open to a lot of criticism and I definitely considered that,” he admits, “but I felt like I had a story to tell, to give credit where credit was due. It was less about patting myself on the back and more about celebrating my mother, celebrating the relationships I’ve had that have gotten me through the turbulent times, and celebrating the faith I’ve had in a God who has had His hand on me, who has guided me and helped me. I know there are people out there who would say that I’m trying to exploit this or that, but it’s not. It’s just about trying to present my side of the story in a life that I feel like in a lot of ways has been miraculous.”
Faith and hope are the dominant themes in the book and DeMarcus’ self-deprecating sense of humor is a welcome thread throughout. He’s hoping by openly sharing his life, he’ll inspire others to pursue their dreams and never lose hope. “The big message that I hope people will take away is failure is not fatal,” he says with a smile. “You can screw up your life and make a bunch of bad decisions and be in darkness and depression, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the end. You can find hope in the most unlikely of places when you least expect it. I found in my own life what works for me is my relationship with Christ and all I’m simply saying in this book is, ‘This is what works for me.’ If you are opened to considering everything else as a remedy—People go to therapists. People use drugs to balance out chemicals—maybe there’s another option that you might find your hope and strength and answers in. If you are open to considering that, I believe you just might find what you are looking for in a relationship and a faith in Christ.”