Old Dominion Interview: Hit Songwriters-Turned-Rising Band Discuss New-Found Fame, Touring With Kenny Chesney
As a band, Old Dominion are pretty new to the country music world -- the five-man group just released their self-titled debut EP in October of 2014 -- but they're no strangers to life in the spotlight.
Collectively, lead singer Matthew Ramsey, guitarist / keyboard player Trevor Rosen, drummer Whit Sellers, bassist Geoff Sprung and guitarist Brad Tursi have written songs for and played, both in the studio and live, with everyone from Kenny Chesney and Craig Morgan to Dierks Bentley and Luke Bryan -- the list is seriously impressive. The quintet began writing and playing together and, somewhat unintentionally, formed Old Dominion.
The band's smart lyrics and fun fusion of country and other influences -- think Sam Hunt, whose 'Montevallo' album includes two songs co-penned by Ramsey -- set them apart from the "bro-country" crowd, even if some may lump them into that category. And the up-and-coming band keeps going up, so to speak: Old Dominion's newest single, 'Break Up With Him,' was rushed out due to fan and radio demand, and in December, they landed a coveted spot as one of Chesney's 2015 Big Revival Tour openers.
Ramsey and Sprung recently spoke with The Boot about Old Dominion's background, past hits for other artists and massive summer tour plans.
We formed a band just kind of organically. We loved playing with each other and have been really lucky to run it as far as we have.
Let's start at the beginning: What prompted the move from songwriters to band?
Matthew Ramsey: It was kind of a natural progression, really. It was never, like, a big moment where we said, "Let's make a run for this as a band." Just, as a songwriter, I was in town performing songs I had written, and these guys, I had known forever and had played music with them, and they were playing with me, and we just started playing as much as possible, and, you know, people kept asking us what the name of our band was. We didn't have a name, and we were just kind of going -- we'd just kind of look at each other going, "I think we actually are a band." It just kind of ... happened.
And now we're lucky that we've had that success as songwriters, and we're just kind of parlaying that into success as a band that never really set out to [be a band]. We didn't really form a band to make a run for it, you know? We formed a band just kind of organically. We loved playing with each other and have been really lucky to run it as far as we have.
Did your experiences in Nashville, songwriting and playing with other artists, help prepare you for the band's success and what comes with it?
Ramsey: I think we all, as songwriters and musicians, have been around it for so long that there's not a lot of surprises. Some of the other guys -- Geoff has played with lots of different artists, and Whit and Brad have also played with lots of different artists on the road and in the songwriting community. We've gone out on the road with artists, and we've all seen it all behind the scenes, from A to Z, so there really isn't any surprises. So it definitely has helped us to be here for so long and in the trenches, so to speak, to progress to what we have ahead.
Collectively, you guys have written hits for a few different artists. Looking back, is there a song you wish you'd kept for yourselves?
Ramsey: I think the hardest one to let go was 'Wake Up Lovin' You,' that Craig Morgan recorded. It's not that we regret letting that go; it was just hard to do because that song, for a long time, was our kind of our flag in the ground of who Old Dominion was and, you know, that was definitely the one that got the most attention there for a long time and opened a lot of doors for us. So when the opportunity for Craig to cut it came along, it was a big decision point and really hard to decide what we should do. Ultimately, when an artist like that decides that they want to cut your song, you kind of have to let them.
And it helps, you know? It definitely helps get your name out there. We can still play that song. We play it every night, we close our shows with it every night, and people know the words to it, and so in the end, it definitely helps. But we don't really have any regrets about letting songs go or wishing we'd held on to them. We can always write more.
We're excited to learn ... We want to figure out what works for them, what makes them successful, and try to learn from it.
So let's talk about the Chesney tour. What did it feel like when you got that call?
Geoff Sprung: You know, it's funny. We joked about it for a long time -- getting on the Chesney tour -- when it was no way a possibility, with our management, and so then, after a while they said, "Well, maybe this is something that can happen. You know, maybe this is going to happen." But it was such a long time coming that when they actually said, "You're on the Chesney tour," I think at first we thought they were joking. [Laughs] We really, we all kind of laughed for a little bit, and then somebody -- I don't know, it might have been Trevor -- went, "Wait a minute, are you serious?" So, I think it was like, we had hoped it was going to happen but never thought it would actually happen, and now we're thrilled.
What are you hoping to get out of the experience?
Sprung: We're excited to learn, just like we are every time we open for another artist. I know that, we were out all fall with Chase Rice, and every show with another artist, we want to figure out what works for them, what makes them successful, and try to learn from it, so I don't think this will be any different. I'm sure we'll be side stage most nights, trying to figure out what all these different artists are doing to capture the attention of the audience, and then it kind of integrates in.
You'll be playing in front of some massive crowds on that tour. Do you get nervous?
Sprung: Like Matt said, I played for a lot of artists before this band happened, and all these guys, you know, we've all done these shows. I know that for me, every once in a while in the show, it'll creep into the back of my mind, and I'll go, "There are 20,000 or 25,000 or whatever-thousand people watching this. What if I make a mistake?" or "What if, how bad would I have to screw up before somebody noticed?" And you never let it get too far forward. I do a thing where I say, "I'm going to think about it later." I'm just like, "Oh, OK, well, I'm gonna think about it later, think about it after the show." And I never do. But, yeah, sometimes it creeps up there, and then you've just got to push it back; you've got to defer.
Ramsey: For me, I just, I don't know if I get nervous. I don't easily get nervous. The only time I've ever really been nervous playing in this band is playing the Grand Ole Opry. That made me nervous. I think just the sheer size of the audience, that won't bother me. I just want to make sure that we, with our song choice and selection, that we put on an entertaining show for the short period of time that we get in front of them. We just have to raise the bar up to stadium level.
We just keep hitting these little milestones that are like, 'Wow, it's working ...'
What was it like for you guys, playing the Grand Ole Opry?
Ramsey: That was my first time. I think Brad had performed with some other artists as a guitar player before, but that was my first time ... Brad had done it, I think, with Sarah Darling, as her guitar player.
Like Geoff said, it was one of those things that we didn't really think about until after it happened. It all happened so fast, the whole [thing]: They booked it, and then we were there, and we were like, "Oh my god, we're at the Grand Ole Opry," and we played it, and then we were done. And then it's like, "Oh my gosh, that just happened." For the few days after, looking at pictures and things, it took a while to sink in, you know, what had happened.
Sprung: The second time we played, I was more nervous than the first time because I had a chance to think about what the deal was.
Ramsey: And every time, something happens that is like ... you know, it's just mind blowing. Like, the last time we played there -- the third time we played there -- we were getting ready to walk off the stage, and Charlie Daniels is walking on the stage and comes up and shakes my hand and says great job, and you're just like, "Is this really happening right now?"
What other "Is this really happening?" moments have you guys had since the band has taken off?
Ramsey: We keep having them. We keep having those moments. Like last night, we were sitting around -- we all met up at a bar here, and we were sitting around, literally shopping for tour buses. I had to step back for a minute and go, "I can't believe we're picking out tour buses right now." We just keep hitting these little milestones that are like, "Wow, it's working ..."