Makin' Tracks: Old Dominion Turns Personal Pain Into Public Inspiration on 'Some People Do'

Old Dominion
Mason Allen

Old Dominion

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you are.”

The words of 20th-century poet e.e. cummings get to the heart of being an adult. It isn’t easy, or fun, to take responsibility for your own actions in the short run. But in the long term, it’s the most graceful and productive way to live. Some people figure that out in their 20s. Some people, even at age 73, never will.

Old Dominion’s “Some People Do,” released to radio via PlayMPE on Jan. 21, explores that phenomenon in a dramatic way, capturing a proud man who finally admits his shortcomings when a relationship is at a crossroads. It’s not clear in the song whether the couple will survive the moment, but it is apparent that the singer is choosing full-fledged manhood. And it’s presented in a way that makes his difficult journey compelling and listenable.

“It’s not an easy topic,” says Old Dominion vocalist Matthew Ramsey, one of the song’s four composers. “It wasn’t easy to write, and it’s not easy to sing every night.”

But “in a world that’s gone crazy,” as the song says, “Some People Do” has made a remarkable connection. Released as a gratis track on May 3, 2019, it found an audience through streaming platforms months before RCA issued the band’s self-titled album on Oct. 25.

“Fan reaction was crazy,” recalls Ramsey. “Messages started pouring in about people’s lives and what they’ve gone through and how this song is helping them.”

It’s likely working because the song is built on reality, captured in an unfiltered moment as Ramsey was leaving a writing session at Nashville’s Rhythm House on Jan. 5, 2018. Thomas Rhett and co-writers Jesse Frasure (“Dirt on My Boots,” “Road Less Traveled”) and Shane McAnally (“Nobody But You,” “Rainbow”) already had written a radio-friendly uptempo song, and as they packed to leave, one of them questioned if anybody liked one difficult aspect of touring.

“Some people do,” quipped Ramsey.

Rhett heard that as a song title. He sat down at the piano, moved his fingers across a few dark chords and sang what would become the chorus’ opening line: “Some people quit drinkin’ too much.” Ramsey followed with, “Some people quit lyin’,” reaching a fragile falsetto note with the last word.

So much for leaving -- they all recognized a song in progress, and built the story of a man who reveals his internal evolution by asking for forgiveness in an intimate conversation. The words came quickly, with the end of the first verse locking in on the singer’s new outlook: “Most people don’t change, but some people do.” As he continues the “some people” line of thought, he further elaborates his faults before quietly, cleverly, reframing that phrase: “Most wouldn’t forgive what I put you through/ But I’m here tonight, hoping some people do.”

“I think if we had had that hook before we went in the room, we would have messed it up because we didn’t know where we were headed,” notes McAnally. “The chorus is about the singer, and then you flip it where the ‘some people do’ is about the other person. And I just don’t think we would have done that. It just would have been too complicated, but it’s actually very simple when you hear it.”

Simple, but powerful -- so emotional, in fact, that McAnally and Ramsey struggled with their composure. “He couldn’t even look at me,” says Ramsey, “because he and I would just burst into tears.”

The second verse digs in deeply to underscore the sincerity of his apology. And when the song reaches the bridge, it peaks in a cliff-hanger moment: “So whether you kiss me or you close the door/ Just know that I’m better than I was before.” The mystery about the couple’s future is, Frasure believes, one of the strengths of “Some People Do.”

“Just because you say this doesn’t mean you’re going to get forgiven,” he explains. “Sometimes the damage is done. So I like some of that language in there because I do think we tend to tidy up s--t so much in this town, songwise. And, you know, real life is not always resolved.”

Rhett sang the vocal for the end-of-day work tape, and Frasure created a demo that used an electric piano as the foundation. Rhett considered it seriously for Center Point Road, but ultimately decided it didn’t fit that project. When he passed, different members of the Old Dominion team -- particularly Sony Music Nashville and Morris Higham Management -- started lobbying for the band to tackle “Some People Do,” though it was not an obvious fit.

“It was hard to kind of imagine Old Dominion doing it, because they are a band and their playing is so integral,” says McAnally. “The only thing they don’t have in the band is a piano player -- Trevor plays piano, but that’s not his main instrument. So it’s kind of hard to convince a band that doesn’t have a piano player to do a piano ballad.”

They spent two days at Sound Stage Studios with session keyboardist Dave Cohen augmenting Old Dominion. They tried turning it into an anthemic ballad that involved the entire group, including guitarist Brad Tursi, bassist Geoff Sprung and drummer Whit Sellers. When those efforts failed, Ramsey was ready to throw in the towel, not wanting to waste any more of his bandmates’ time on a personal passion project. But it got one more shot.

“Trevor actually said, ‘Can we just try one more thing? The thing that makes this song special is how simple that demo is. So can we just do that and see what happens?’ ” recalls Ramsey. “He was right. And he saved it.”

The rest of the band sat out while Cohen replayed the piano part, replacing the demo’s original electronic sound with a tone that worked more like a distant, muffled acoustic piano.

Ramsey did his final vocal later, singing in the dark at Blackbird Studio with McAnally and engineer Justin Niebank. His first renditions were on the mark, in tune and forceful. But something was missing. McAnally reminded him of the emotional power from the day that they wrote it, how they couldn’t even look at each other without crying. Ramsey found the right mood after that, treating the song like a conversation and practically cracking on the high note in the chorus.

“The thing that makes this song is the falsetto lift,” says Frasure. “And the powerful thing about the recording compared to the demo [is] there’s so much restraint in the tracking of the Old Dominion cut. The cut is even more emotional because of just how raw it is.”

What it taps into is even more raw and primal than Ramsey’s co-writers knew back in 2018. He was struggling in his own life at the time, and the process gave him the courage to become one of the “some people” who takes responsibility for his actions. “This song sent me into therapy for the first time in my life,” he says. “The next day, I called a therapist because I felt like I needed to change. I wasn’t the person that I knew I could be, and I wasn’t the person that I wanted to be.”

As RCA Nashville builds toward a March 2 radio add date, Old Dominion trusts that the emotional truth behind “Some People Do” will make it one of the band’s most important releases. In “a world that’s gone crazy,” plenty of folks are standing at their own personal crossroads, wondering if they should take the more difficult path. After hearing the song, Ramsey hopes that some people do.

“If just one person does that, then it’s succeeded,” he says. “I know the song did it for me.”

This article first appeared in the Billboard Country Update newsletter. Click here to sign up for free.