For country fans who don’t recognize the name Old Dominion (beyond the Commonwealth, at least), the band might actually be more familiar than you realize. In fact, the group was borne of a distinctly Nashville necessity: a bunch of aspiring songwriters — specifically Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, Brad Tursi, Geoff Sprung, and Whit Sellers — needed a way to showcase their work. The big names came calling (and licensing) thanks to their smart, distinctive songwriting, which in turn fueled the group’s own hits (“Break Up With Him,” “Snapback” and now “Song for Another Time,” currently at No. 13 on Country Airplay).
Here, Ramsey, Rosen and Tursi take Billboard behind the scenes of some of their most memorable singles.
“A Guy Walks Into a Bar,” Tyler Farr (2014)
“Ironically enough, Tyler Farr first heard this song one afternoon when he walked into a bar in Nashville,” says Tursi, who co-wrote the heartfelt single with Jonathan Singleton (“Don’t”) and Melissa Peirce (“I’m Gonna Take That Mountain”). “When he heard my co-writer, Jonathan Singleton, playing the song in a writers’ round, [Farr] put it on hold right then and there.” “Bar,” a defiantly unfunny take on the classic joke opener, would go on to become Farr’s first No. 1 on Country Airplay, spending 43 weeks on the chart.
“Say You Do,” Dierks Bentley (2014)
“After we wrote this, I went about the rest of my day,” says Ramsey. “Then later that night, I sat down and listened to the little work tape. Then I listened again and again and again. Not all songs feel special like that. I wasn’t sure how we did it, but I knew it felt big.” The single, which was written by Ramsey, Rosen and Nashville hitmaker Shane McAnally, wound up spending 23 weeks on Country Airplay, including two weeks at the top — which gave the Old Dominion guys just the smallest twinge of regret. “We had been playing it in our live set for a while when Dierks cut it, so it was a little tough to let it go,” says Rosen. “It would’ve made a great Old Dominion song. But it showed us that we weren’t crazy — our songs really could be hit songs!”
“Save It for a Rainy Day,” Kenny Chesney (2014)
“This song is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written,” Tursi says of the optimistic track. “I got the idea for this in the shower the morning we wrote it. I sang it into my phone as soon as I got out and we wrote it in like an hour or so,” Ramsey adds. The song reigned atop Country Airplay for three weeks in 2015 — after the band spent their first summer on the road with Chesney. “It’s been an amazing journey from the shower to actually singing in stadiums with Kenny Chesney,” says Ramsey. “It’s one that feels more like it belongs to them more than it does to us now, and that makes me extremely proud.”
“Come Back to Me,” Keith Urban (2013)
“The song came from a conversation that Shane McAnally [who co-wrote it, along with Brandy Clark] had recently had with his partner Michael,” says Rosen. “Michael told him if there was someone or something better for him out there, then he would never want Shane to miss out on that. He loved him that much and wanted him to be the happiest person in the world. It really is just a song about pure, unadulterated, unconditional love for another human being.” Of the 2013 album cut on Keith Urban‘s Fuse, Rosen adds, “It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.”
“Better Dig Two,” The Band Perry (2012)
Rosen’s first No. 1 (written with — surprise! — Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally), the 2012 single came courtesy of an unlikely investment: “I wrote it on a gango [banjo/guitar hybrid] that I bought online for $400 back when I definitely did not have $400 to blow,” he says, “but it was worth the risk!”
“Make You Miss Me,” Sam Hunt (2014)
“I had been listening to a lot of NEEDTOBREATHE and Ryan Adams when we wrote this,” Ramsey says of the track — Sam Hunt’s fourth Country Airplay No. 1 off his 2014 debut, Montevallo — which he co-wrote with Hunt and Josh Osbourne. “When Sam brought this title in, I thought it would be cool to write it around a Ryan Adams-y chord progression. We started playing around and singing the ‘woah ohh’ part of the chorus — which, to me, felt like the NEEDTOBREATHE songs I had been loving. Plus, any song you write with Josh Osborne has a little extra heart in it. I loved this one from the minute we started.”
“I Met a Girl,” William Michael Morgan (2016)
For William Michael Morgan, the romantic Trevor Rosen-Sam Hunt-Shane McAnally track — his first single — has fueled his chart debut (it’s currently at No. 2 on Country Airplay). “I love how traditional this cut sounds compared to our demo, and I’m thrilled that country radio has embraced it,” Rosen says. “We’d originally hoped it would work for Sam [Hunt]’s project, which it of course did not. But that was a blessing in disguise, because it’s very rewarding to have written the breakout single of a new artist’s career.”