Interview: Old Dominion

by Ceylan Kumbarji
Interview: Old Dominion

Since emerging into the country music scene with their first EP in 2014, Old Dominion have come a long way. They’ve been recognised as the Group of the Year at both the 2018 and 2019 ACM Awards and won the award for the CMA Vocal Group of the Year last year. It’s been a very exciting few years for the group of five, who openly talk about their journey and the long road they travelled before getting to where they are now. What works so well for the band is their collaborative stance. With some of the members having a history with song-writing for other, well-established artists, together, they’re etching their way to the top of the country music hub.

From Nashville to London, the band graced the UK on a tour before the launch of their new, self-titled album (out today!), and we watched them perform old classics and new songs from the album. At the show, they reminisced about when they first performed in London, playing for only a handful of people. They’ve since opened for Thomas Rhett in 2017 and been on the main stage at C2C Festival (they’ll also be back next year!) The band took to the stage and talked about the three songs they wrote that helped them break through in Nashville, performing acoustic versions of each.

According to Matt Ramsey, they wrote a lot of bad songs first. Then, it all started coming together when lead vocalist Matt Ramsey and guitarist Brad Tursi wrote Kenny Chesney’s “Save It For A Rainy Day,” in 2014. Shortly after, Brad also wrote Tyler Farr’s “A Guy Walks Into A Bar,” in 2015 and Trevor Rosen wrote Blake Shelton’s “Sangria,” in 2015. The band have also written for Kelsea Ballerini, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt to name just a few. As well as hearing more about their journey so far, we had a chat with Old Dominion and found out more about the brand new album, band dynamics and leaving their egos at home, and the importance of rawness and emotion in music.

“We’re proud to be able to make music we love. Our new album differs because it felt more comfortable – there are a lot of different music personalities in the band and so it has a lot of inspiration in it from different artists that we look up to.” – Old Dominion

Taylor Magazine: Tell us about you guys and how you got started?

Old Dominion: We started a long time ago. We have quite a history together as friends and musicians. Matt and Whit grew up together, and went to middle school together. Whit went to college and met Geoff and Brad and they played in bands together. We all played the same circuit in Virginia, and we all knew each other there. Then we moved to Nashville one by one. We started writing songs, playing music together and it just organically turned into, “Let’s play some of these songs, let’s play in bars.” We started having success as song-writers, and then at the same time we were starting to get some attention as a band and they both fed into each other and snowballed… but it happened slowly!

Taylor Magazine: People often talk about the struggle to get to a point where they feel they’re successful – when did it all come together for you guys?

Old Dominion: There are different moments for sure. Even now, with success, there are some level we feel we’re trying to get to. But you have these little moments along the way, like back when we were playing clubs and nobody knew who we were, the first time anybody sang lyrics back to us, we looked at each other and thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s really cool!” And then the first time you have a song on the radio and hear it, you think, “Okay, we’re sort of making it!” Then, when you have a number one single… so it’s a series of rungs on the ladder and different things. Every now and then we have to take a step back for a second and remind ourselves that we’ve done some pretty cool things! Of course, there are still things we want to achieve that we haven’t quite done yet too. 

Taylor Magazine: What would you say has been the biggest challenge when you were starting out and building what you are now as a band?

Old Dominion: As a band, the biggest challenge was just getting people to listen. It was different at the time. It’s hard to imagine that now but at the time we started, it was different. A lot of people didn’t get it and we got turned down by everyone! It was a challenge, but also it was working enough for us to keep doing it. 

“We have such a long history and know each other really well. It’s really important to keep egos out of it. Once you have an ego, it’s pretty quickly brought back down!” – Old Dominion

Taylor Magazine: How do you maintain good band dynamics? Being five of you, how do you come to decisions together and keep that friendship? 

Old Dominion: We all hate each other. Kidding! We’re all after the same thing and a lot of things go into that. One is we have such a long history and we all know each other really well. It helps to keep egos out of it, because as soon as someone’s ego starts to swell it’s pretty quickly brought back down to earth. We’re also men of a certain age that can have a mature conversation with each other and come to a decision… basically, we’re old! 

Taylor Magazine: You’ve previously talked about releasing a “commercially-minded first album” which put you on the map. Tell me a bit more about the new album, and how this differs from what you’ve previously released?

Old Dominion: There will always be an element of our music that is commercially-minded, that’s just engrained in us. This album may not be so blatant with that. I think we were definitely aiming for that with the first album, and with this album there was no aim. It was just, ‘Let’s make something that we love.’ Those commercial tendencies are there and they’re going to be in whatever music we make, and we just sat down and made music that we loved – it just happens to have some commercial viability to it. We’re very proud to be able to do that, to be able to make music we love and it’s also already been commercially successful. Stylistically and production-wise it differs from what we’ve done before because it felt more comfortable to draw on all of the influences that we grew up on. There are a lot of different musical personalities in the band, and that’s always helped us have this sound to us but on this album, we didn’t feel the pressure to make “country radio songs” per se. We could make a song that sounds like The Eagles or sounds like Elton John or these different artists that we consider to be timeless artists. We felt more comfortable to record it the way we felt like we would love it.

Interview: Old Dominion

Taylor Magazine: Who are you listening to now in the up-and-coming country music scene?

Old Dominion: Obviously Hardy is killing it right now, he’s doing basically what we did, he’s writing for everyone and he’s also got his own thing going on. We just played a show with Matt Stell, he’s great. Mitchell Tenpenny – he’s a little more coming than up I guess. Wait, a little more up than coming? Yeah, a little more up than coming! He’s been on tour with us, and he’s also cool. 

Taylor Magazine: Fans and a lot of people in Nashville, artists too, really resonate with your song Some People Do – what do you think it is about this song that people really connect with?

Old Dominion: I think that’s the thing with a song of that nature that is so raw and emotional. It’s a little scary to put something out like that. But it always happens when you put something out like that and put yourself out there, everyone goes, “Me too, I’ve felt like that before.” It’s one of those songs that is truly relatable. Not everyone can relate to having a party in a cornfield, but you can jam to it and everyone can relate to a certain feeling/mood.

Taylor Magazine: You guys write for other artists too. How does the writing differ when you’re writing for Old Dominion, compared to when you’re writing for somebody else?

Old Dominion: It doesn’t differ really. We just sit down and always try to write the best song that we can on that particular day. Afterwards, you kind of figure it out. We’ll try it and we might think it would be perfect for us but it might be that we just can’t get it together, so you just really never know until you start playing it. 

Taylor Magazine: Who would be your dream collaboration?

Old Dominion: Anybody! We watched John Mayor play in Amsterdam recently, and we were so inspired by him. He would be amazing to work with.

Some People Do is a really raw and emotional song. When you put something out like that, people will always connect and resonate with it. It’s one of those songs that is truly relatable. Not everyone can relate to having a party in a corn-field, but everyone can relate to Some People Do.” – Old Dominion

Taylor Magazine: With the new album coming out, how would you describe your sound in three words?

Old Dominion: One of the words for new album is definitely timeless, it feels timeless. That’s one word… Sincere and confident. 

Taylor Magazine: We’ve seen you guys at C2C and Stagecoach – you put on an incredible show! What is it like for you to perform at big festivals like that in front of huge crowds?

Old Dominion: It’s a completely exhilarating thing. Stagecoach was just a sea of people. You almost feel closed in in a way – it becomes so big that you’re like, ‘What is this?’ It’s always fun and you have to calm yourself a little bit, because you’re temptation is to be extra but that can make the show suffer a little bit!

Taylor Magazine: What do you want to achieve that you would deem as the pinnacle of success? You’ve mentioned a few of your highlights but is there a point you imagine ‘making it?’

Old Dominion: It’s an over-arching goal of just staying relevant for as long as we can – that would be nice! I don’t know that there will be this crown jewel other than just being able to look back and go, “Look at this body of work that we made and we’re still here, doing this.” It’s hard to keep a band together, bands break up all the time and on top of that, music now comes and goes so fast. So far, our career is a long one. More up than coming!

Taylor Magazine: What’s next for you guys?

Old Dominion: Album is coming out in a few weeks so that’s a big one! We’ll be headlining once we get home from Europe and we’ll be on tour in the States and Canada – just more touring! We’re always writing and the way we made this album was we started early, so I imagine we’ll start early this time round too. Hopefully world domination!

You can purchase Old Dominion’s latest album (which is released today) here, and make sure you follow them on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

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