It’s 6:45 a.m. when Old Dominion vocalist Matthew Ramsey calls us, the exhaustion heavy in his voice. There’s no other time for the band to do phone interviews these days, requiring wake-up calls that would make most musicians blush, curse, and dive back under the covers. When asked if these early mornings are the toughest thing about his life right now, he laughs.
“It’s sleep, man, that’s the big one,” he says. “Just trying to eat well and keep in touch with our family and friends back home, it’s the little things you don’t think about when you’re out on the road and doing things like this.”
Old Dominion is on a meteoric ascent in country music, marked by an Academy of Country Music Award win for New Vocal Duo or Group of The Year last weekend and a slew of dates with their buddy Kenny Chesney. Hailing from a background as successful Nashville songwriters, Old Dominion may be a new band, but its members have accolades to spare. Ramsey alone has helped to pen an insane stable of country hits including Chesney’s “Save It for a Rainy Day,” Dierks Bentley’s “Say You Do,” and The Band Perry’s “Chainsaw,” plus others. However, it seems that the strongest songs are the ones you want to keep the most. Ramsey’s work on Craig Morgan’s “Wake Up Lovin’ You” was “one of the harder ones to let go of,” though Morgan himself says that “it’s one of those special, rare jewels that does something magical.”
It’s an odd situation that Old Dominion’s in – the members had already experienced success individually, and it’s with that same approach that they formed a band. What became a cathartic writing exercise to showcase their hit-making sensibilities developed into something much more, with their opening slot on Kenny Chesney’s 2015 arena tour planting Old Dominion’s flag in Nashville soil.
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“We never really talked [about] a major label deal and never set out to do that initially, getting together with the goal to be on a major,” Ramsey says. “We all met in Nashville and started playing together, playing around town, playing out of town, then got the booking agent, realized we needed a manager, and then spoke to majors from there.”
Maybe it’s part of the recent tidal change in country music that’s seen groups equally favored for radio airplay as solo acts, but those major labels were right to court Old Dominion, with their hit “Snapback” breaking the Billboard Country Top 10 this week. They’ve come a long way from cross-country jaunts in vans and cold nights on strangers’ floors, but Ramsey tempers his band’s success against those teeth-cutting memories.
“You hear 'no' a lot, and especially in Nashville, and that’s tough to hear when you’re starting out and new here," he says. "We’ve all been broke, not able to pay our bills, and it makes you wonder why you’re doing this. When there’s highs, they’re super high, and when there’s lows, they’re super low; you have to remember those highs when you’re at the bottom.”