Jay DeMarcus may be calling it quits with Rascal Flatts after the country trio's 2020 Farewell: Life Is a Highway Tour, but that doesn't mean he's hanging up his hat in the music industry for good. DeMarcus launched his own Christian label, Red Street Records, in 2018, and he has already signed a handful of new and established artists.

Recently, the singer and musician added to his roster with Christian singer-songwriter Jason Crabb. Unlike some of the newer artists signed to Red Street, many of whom are just getting their start in the business, Crabb is an already-acclaimed performer.

The two men have worked together, too, with impressive results: DeMarcus produced Crabb's Grammy Award-winning 2018 album Unexpected. "We just loved being in the studio and creating and making music together," DeMarcus tells The Boot of that experience.

After that project, the two artists went their separate ways, but circumstances -- namely, Crabb's completion of his contract at his then-label, and DeMarcus' own label launch -- soon brought them back together.

"Shortly toward the end of last year, he called me and said, 'Hey, I'm actually not with Daywind Records anymore. I don't have a record deal. Would you be interested in talking to me and working with me, and what does that look like?'" DeMarcus recalls, explaining that he broached the idea of Crabb joining Red Street at that time.

"The more we met, the more we talked and the more I shared the vision for what we have here and he shared his heart and his vision, we felt like there was a lot of great work we could do together," DeMarcus relates.

For instance, the pair agree that they want Crabb's music to start making a splash in the Contemporary Christian radio scene. "CCM is really what we're targeting," says Crabb. "That's my heartbeat right now. We've been playing festivals, you know, for the longest time.

"So Jay says, 'Let's figure this radio thing out,'" he continues. "Let's tackle it. He knows how to do that and is passionate about it, passionate about where I need to be, where I want to be. And that's exciting."

During his time with Rascal Flatts, DeMarcus amassed plenty of experience as an artist on country radio. There's always been overlap between the country and Christian genres -- now more than ever, with artists including Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire blending the formats through collaborations and solo work. As the country format continues to expand, it's possible there could be a home for a Christian artist such as Crabb on country stations -- but not at the expense of his position in the CCM realm.

"I absolutely think it's a huge possibility for Jason to cross over with the right song," DeMarcus responds, when asked about the potential for Crabb to crossover onto country radio. "But I think for us to be deliberate about that and say, 'This is where we wanna be,' would be the wrong thing for us to do right now," he adds.

"I think it has to happen organically and naturally, not feel like it's forced," DeMarcus continues. "We have a lot of work to do with him at Christian radio, and making sure that we take care of his fanbase and continue to grow his career that's already been on fire for the last few years."

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In addition to supporting Crabb's career, DeMarcus says he's excited to bring Crabb into the Red Street family as more of a peer, with the expertise to help mentor younger artists and help take the label in new directions. After all, as one-third of Rascal Flatts for the past 20 years, DeMarcus has always had partners in his musical ventures. When it comes to Red Street, Crabb will serve as a kind of confidant and counsel, in addition to recording music on the label.

"It is great to shut the door to the office when he comes over," DeMarcus admits, explaining that before they started working together, he and Crabb had already been friends for a decade and a half. "We can honestly share about, you know, 'How are you doing? How's your family doing? How's life going?' You can't do that with everybody that comes through your door, so it's great to have that support system, for sure."

For example, Crabb has the freedom to bring new artists into the Red Street fold. But, as a longtime friend of DeMarcus', he doesn't take that power lightly.

"There's no way that if I did not believe in them 1,000 percent I would ever bring 'em here," Crabb stresses. "When you're truly friends, you look for the best. You just don't take advantage of it."

Crabb and DeMarcus' new partnership is intentionally flexible, leaving room for plenty of growth. Right now, their work together is primarily on the business side of things -- but that doesn't mean there's not potential for musical collaboration in the future. DeMarcus' Rascal Flatts bandmate Gary LeVox made a cameo on the album of Crabb's that DeMarcus produced in 2018, for example, and the pair aren't ruling out similar team-ups in the future.

"I'm never gonna say never," DeMarcus hints. "This morning I was on the phone with Gary, and I told him [that we were doing press for the label] this afternoon, and he said, 'You tell that boy that I'm ready to write whenever he's ready to get started.' We all love [LeVox], so I'm sure if it's appropriate and the right song came along, [we might work together]."

As for DeMarcus himself, it seems unlikely he'll spend too much time away from the musical aspect of recording. "I enjoy being behind the scenes. I enjoy working with this label. But performing is in my blood," he says. "I can't imagine that I won't find a way to do something, somehow, in due time.

"I might go out and do some things with him," he adds, nodding to Crabb. "You never know."

"Absolutely! Who knows? We might start a ..." Crabb trails off with a laugh, a twinkle in his eye.

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