I had the opportunity to speak with rising country music group Old Dominion in 2014 when I interviewed them for The Red and Black shortly after they released their debut EP. Since then, they’ve signed with Sony Music Nashville, released a debut studio album Meat and Candy, headlined their first solo tour and are preparing to head back on tour with Kenny Chesney for his Spread the Love Tour, which stops in Louisville on Saturday, May 28. I recently caught up with Matt Ramsey, lead singer of Old Dominion, to talk about their journey, their success and how they’re staying true to themselves through it all.
Nashville is a city for dreamers. The country music capitol of the world beckons aspiring musicians who, when they move there, learn a few hard and fast truths right off the bat, the most significant one being that you will probably fail. If you’re going to be one of the ones who make it, you need to be bulletproof and ignore every statistic staring you in the face.
Old Dominion is a band formed quite by accident, never intending to be a real thing. But when opportunity came knocking, the group of five friends opened the door.
Matt Ramsey had moved to Nashville to pursue a solo career. Like most fresh talent trying to make it big in Music City, he was crafting and pitching tracks as a songwriter when he met guitarist Trevor Rosen. Somewhere along the line, their paths crossed with Geoff Sprung and drummer Whit Sellers, and the foundation of what would soon become Old Dominion was formed. The guys established a genuine friendship as they began backing each other when one of them had an artist showcase. Guitarist Brad Tursi joined the group a few years later, right around the time things began falling into place.
“It’s never going to work anyway.”
Until recently, that had been the motto by which Old Dominion lived. Lead singer Matt Ramsey explained that the motto originated as a way for the guys not to take things too seriously, perhaps doubling as their own defense mechanism at times. If something fell through, of course it fell through. It’s never going to work, anyway. When things did begin to work and with every new step forward the band made, they reveled in the moment but never let it go to their heads. That’s cool, but it’s never going to work anyway.
“We’ve been friends and a band for a long time,” lead singer Matt Ramsey says. “We’re lucky. We’re five friends making music. That never happens. Why would this happen to us?”
Well, guess wha,t fellas? You’re doing something right because it’s working. Now that things are beginning to take off, Ramsey says that motto hasn’t really changed, though.
“We still say it,” Ramsey says. “It just kind of stuck.”
The guys could be traveling down the highway on the way to their next show or backstage before a performance when it just hits them: it’s actually happening. They’ll just look at each other and share a laugh because ironically, it is happening.
We Got It Right
It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the country band. After releasing their debut EP, produced by renowned producer Shane McAnally back in 2014, country music fans and radio stations have begun to take notice — “Break Up With Him,” the first song all five members wrote together, was being played on country radio stations across the nation. In addition to the success they were beginning to experience as a band, their individual songwriting talents were being noticed as well, sitting comfortably on top of the country charts.
Collectively, a member of Old Dominion has had a hand in writing some of country music’s big hits like The Band Perry’s “Chainsaw” and “Better Dig Two,” Tyler Farr’s “A Guy Walks Into A Bar,” Craig Morgan’s “Wake Up Lovin’ You,” Dierks Bentley’s “Say You Do” and most recently Blake Shelton’s “Sangria.” Along with penning hits for other musical acts, the group has also written tracks for ABC’s musical drama (and recently cancelled) “Nashville.”
“It’s hard to even say,” Ramsey says, when asked what it’s like to watch it all unfold. They’re being told to do this and do that, to constantly strike while its hot, and all that work pays off as soon as the lights come up. “Those little moments on stage when you look out at the audience and they’re singing your songs back to you … they’re amazing,” he says.
These accomplishments are nothing short of impressive but you won’t see the band running around town touting their achievements to anyone who is willing to listen. No, there’s something different about this group of guys. From their casual career approach to their ever-humble demeanor, it’s nearly impossible not to root for their success.
Last winter, Old Dominion signed with Sony Nashville, released their debut album Meat and Candy and recently wrapped their first headlining tour. As if that wasn’t enough to pack into the last few months, the band was also recently nominated for two Academy of Country Music Awards: Vocal Group of the Year and New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year. The ACMs surprised the band with their ACM trophies for their win in New Vocal Duo or Group on stage at the ACM Party for a Cause festival in Las Vegas at the beginning of April.
“Just to be nominated was enough,” Ramsey says. “It feels great. It’s very validating and relieving and nerve-wracking all at the same time.”
Having toured with Kenny Chesney on last summer’s Big Revival tour, Old Dominion was tapped by Chesney again to accompany him on this summer’s Spread the Love tour, which stops in Louisville next weekend.
“He’s playing a huge part in the band we become,” Ramsey says, speaking of Chesney. “We were this unsigned band on his stadium tour and they treated us like rock stars. We learned a lot watching how he works and connects with his audience. It’s the little things he does. This summer we are going to learn so much more. He really is the best there is.”
‘Til It’s Over
Old Dominion recently played the Stagecoach music festival in Indio, California, but it wasn’t their debut at the festival they will remember years from now; it’s the American Country Countdown Awards Breakthrough Group/Duo of the Year win they received later that night.
“When we started this band, winning awards never crossed our minds,” Ramsey says of their band that now has an impressive collection of trophies, including CMA Triple Play Awards — presented to top songwriters who have penned more than three No. 1 hits within a year — for three of the members. “We just wanted to make the best music we could. But winning this award really shows us that the years of work we have put into this are paying off in ways we never dreamed of.”
To quote a line from their song “Til It’s Over:”
It is what it is,
’til it was what it was.
Let it do what it does ’til it’s over.
If it’s right, then it’s right.
If it’s wrong then it’s wrong.
Just keep playing the song ’til it’s over.
It doesn’t look like it’ll be over for Old Dominion anytime soon as country radio seems to have their songs on repeat. I know I certainly do!
Old Dominion plays Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday, May 28, along with Sam Hunt and Miranda Lambert, on Kenny Chesney’s “Spread the Love” tour. Purchase your tickets here.
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