Old Dominion’s Casual Career Approach Paying Off
Old Dominion have been a band for most of a decade, but it was never supposed to be a real thing. The group admit that at every juncture and with every opportunity they'd sit back, look at one another and say "So, this is really gonna happen?"
It's not a conventional 10-year overnight success story. If you're looking for drama, keep channel surfing. You only get tension and anxious outbursts when there's a diva or slacker in the room, or when everyone is so consumed by an idea that things reach a fever pitch. It's impossible to paint Old Dominion into either of those scenarios.
“There wouldn’t be any big thing to give up on” bassist Geoff Sprung says when asked the "did you ever come close to calling it quits?" question. “It was kind of like when it started working we were like ‘Oh, I guess we’re really doing this.’”
There were a couple (of people) like, if you’re eating in front of your dog and it turns its head sideways like, ‘Huh?'
"That was our motto for the longest time," singer Matt Ramsey adds. "‘This is never gonna work.’”
Except suddenly, it did. The group's transition from independent act playing bars and clubs to opening Kenny Chesney's tour began about two years ago when "Shut Me Up" began receiving airplay on SiriusXM's the Highway channel. Prior to that it was a slow progression from friends playing random gigs out of state to, “now we have a booking agency and we’re doing every weekend."
“Oh, we have interest from a management company," guitarist Trevor Rosen says, recalling the journey. He and Ramsey met in Nashville as songwriters as Ramsey pursued a solo career. Along with Sprung and drummer Whit Sellers, the nucleus of the band began to form. Tursi joined just a few years ago.
“Every step up we made we were like, ‘That’s cool, but it’s never gonna work,'" Ramsey adds. The whole band laughs, but not because they're joking. It's just a funny approach to take, made even funnier because it worked.
Last winter Old Dominion signed with Sony Nashville, cementing their "made it" status. And now they stand poised to release their first studio album with the label. Meat and Candy drops on Nov. 6 and features a mix of playful, R&B-tinged country cuts and more introspective love songs. "Catchy" is how you'd describe most of the tracks, including the chart-topping "Break Up With Him."
That's the one song the group of writers say they never tried to pitch to another artist. Their lack of urgency could be attributed to their collective success as songwriters. At any given time they seem to have four songs on the Billboard Top 40 airplay chart. "Neon" (Chris Young), "Wake Up Lovin' You" (Craig Morgan) and "A Guy Walks Into a Bar" (Tyler Farr) are three. A recent No. 1 is Blake Shelton's "Sangria," co-written by Rosen.
“For some reason on that one we were positive that was us,” Sprung says about how they knew to keep "Break Up With Him." It's a signature song on Meat and Candy, with many of the others complementing its sound. "Snapback" and "Half Empty" are two early mid-to-uptempo looking for love songs. Later, the snacky "Beer Can in a Truck Bed" does something similar.
"Song for Another Time" is the one the group says will surprise their fans. "It definitely shows our more meaty side," Ramsey says about a heartbreaker that calls out a dozen or more famous song titles, adding that it's amongst their most well-written songs. "I'm pretty proud of that one."
"Let's be brown eyed girl, sweet caroline / Free fallin', small town Saturday night / Before you lose that lovin' feeling / Let's go dancing on the ceiling," he sings to begin the chorus.
Sony has been nothing but a supportive partner, the group says. In fact, maybe too supportive. The band say they keep suggesting crazy ideas and get responses like, "Alright, if that's what you wanna do."
The album's title is one idea they expected some resistance on. Instead they got ... confusion, they say.
“There were a couple (of people) like, if you’re eating in front of your dog and it turns its head sideways like, ‘Huh?'" Ramsey says.
“It was funny," Sprung adds. "I remember the email chain where we were starting to talk about it, and then we got one email back from someone at the label that said, ‘So … is this for real?’”
That executive now knows how Old Dominion does things. If you're not asking "So, we're really doing this?" you're not headed in the proper direction. The good news now is that the slow road means a long and successful career on country radio.
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