BANGOR, Maine — Joe Don Rooney says it’s all about faith.
So even though the title of the eighth studio album released by his multiplatinum country music megaband is “Changed,” there is still much that has remained the same with Rascal Flatts, which will perform Friday night on the Bangor Waterfront.
“The title cut on the new album is about a person struggling and going through so much heartache that they give themselves to the Lord and get baptized,” said Rooney, lead guitarist and backing vocalist. “It’s a really special song that Kenny [Chesney] wrote [along with Neil Thrasher] and it’s really powerful. We have already gotten a lot of emails about how that song has impacted them.”
Rooney said there probably have been more changes with the band in the last 18 to 24 months then there were in the previous 10 years that Rooney, lead vocalist Gary LeVox and bass-electric guitarist and vocalist Jay DeMarcus had been writing, recording and playing together.
But one of the constants has been a strong Christian faith that Rooney credits for inspiring him and his bandmates and helping them get through turbulence and upheaval.
“We joke that it’s taken us 12 years and eight albums to make this album,” Rooney said in a telephone interview. “We’ve been through a lot and I think the hard-core fan can hear it in this album. I think it’s our strongest record to date. It’s exactly what the three of us are about musically.”
Rooney said the trio flirted with going their separate ways not too long ago.
“A year and a half ago, we all looked at each other and I think there was a part of us wondering if we could go on after 10 years,” Rooney said. “We had just gone through a significant management change where we had to make a tough decision and move on, and we had a meeting at Jay’s house.
“We had a talk to see if it [performing as Rascal Flatts] was something we still wanted to do, and we decided yes, so let’s make the next 10 years another great run.”
Rooney said the band isn’t unlike a marriage in which all three always have been able to talk and work things out.
“It’s a tough business and we’re lucky to have each other to fall back on,” he said. “We all have something special together that no one else can really understand, just the three of us. I think it’s a blessing.”
That Christian faith has also remained a central rather than underlying theme in their music.
“We try to do things for God because we’re all Christians and that’s the way we were raised,” said Rooney, now a married father of one son and one daughter.
Rooney said he never has felt that the band has ever had to curtail or soften any of the Christian lyrics and themes that have been incorporated into songs.
“I don’t really think so, no. We’ve had several songs through the years that extol Christian values,” said Rooney. “We’re not afraid to dip into some subject matter that’s challenging or hard to talk about. Nothing’s fake with us.”
Rooney mentioned a popular Flatts single titled “He Ain’t the Leavin’ Kind,” which he said is all about God and how he’s not going to walk away.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had any kind of worry or trouble about us cutting a song with a Christian style. We’ve never had stones thrown at us,” he said. “It’s kind of a shame — and I’m all about religious freedom and speaking your mind about what you believe — but I feel like Christianity at times gets a bad rap in this country.”
“I think the core of our fans feel the same way we do and that’s something we can hold onto and smile about,” he added.
The statistics seem to back Rooney up on that point. Rascal Flatts has sold more than 21 million albums and 25 million digital downloads, seen 13 of its singles top the charts and won more than 40 major awards, including seven Academy of Country Music trophies for Vocal Group of the Year and six as Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year.
While this won’t be the first time Rascal Flatts has played in Maine, it will be their first trip to Bangor despite what Rooney estimates have been almost 12 years of touring with as many as 200 shows per year early in their career.
“We’ve been to Maine, but it’s been awhile and I can’t wait to get up there,” said Rooney, who noted the number of shows per year has been scaled back to 65 or 70. “What I’ve heard is they have a lot of success up there and we haven’t been up there yet.”
Rooney said having a new management team, which went along with a new record label in 2010, fueled a desire to expand the group’s touring territory.
“We wanted to plug in some new markets we haven’t been in awhile or we have never been before,” Rooney said. “We’re excited to get up there and I know we’ll enjoy it. I hope the fans do too.”
Rascal Flatts will join opening acts Eli Young, Edens Edge, and Little Big Town in playing the Bangor Waterfront pavilion starting at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Gates open at 5 p.m.