If you wanted to pen the best way to kick off a career, you would be hard pressed to find a better path than RCA Records’ Old Dominion. Of their first six singles, five hit the pinnacle of the Country Airplay chart. And even the one that didn’t hit the top spot, 2016’s “Snapback,” still managed to climb all the way to No. 2.
“I guess if it’s going to take as long as it does to get going, that’s the way you want it to go after it really starts to kick in,” the group’s lead singer Matthew Ramsey suggests. “It’s very rewarding, and I think we just love to think of what’s coming next. That’s something that we really are always thinking about — the next song. That songwriter brain is always on in us, so we’re always looking for ideas on what’s next. We love it when what’s out is hitting, but we’re always so excited to put out the next thing.”
Their current “next thing” is the first single from their upcoming third album, “Make It Sweet.” The acoustic, lighthearted tune is special for the group, particularly because they weren’t anticipating a single contender to come out the day they wrote it.
“We went into the recording studio back in January, and we didn’t talk about what songs we were going to record or anything,” Ramsey recalls. “We just wanted to start making the next album and we had some dates — the dates snuck up on us. We hadn’t talked about what songs to record so, we said, “We have this time, why don’t we just see what we can write that day and see what happens?”
Needless to say, the band liked the result. “That [final] recording is probably the second time we’ve ever played that song. You can kind of hear the excitement and the energy we have for it right there, because we had just created it and said, ‘Okay, let’s record it.'”
Despite just releasing the song officially on Oct. 8, the song has already broken onto the Country Airplay chart — and if the single is anything like its predecessors, it won’t stay at its current No. 48 spot for long. While country radio play is not necessarily surprising for an Old Dominion song now, Ramsey is still getting used to hearing his band’s songs on air.
“It’s still a little strange,” he admits. “It’s still hard because we’re so inside of it. It’s hard to hear it, especially in Nashville, I think. But for me personally, when I’m out of town and we’re in a random place and I hear it come on, then it starts to kind of go sink in that, ‘Wow, we’re a part of country music, we’re definitely in the fabric of the industry.’ So it is still new, but starting to accept it a little bit.”
Helping him ease those concerns is the fact that the past three years, the band has been out on the road with Kenny Chesney – whose hit “Save It For a Rainy Day” was co-written by Ramsey and bandmate Brad Tursi. While a stadium tour is something they have gotten used to (“Being on tour with Kenny was kind of like going home for us,” Ramsey suggests), carving out such a personal relationship with one of the format’s most dependable live artists is something that Old Dominion doesn’t take for granted.
“We’ve developed quite a friendship with Kenny and we’re fortunate that he likes our music and likes us as people,” Ramsey says. “We really just click with his whole organization, from him to his crew to his fans. Everything seems to really fit nicely so I think that’s why he kept having us back.”
All in all, it’s been a successful run for Old Dominion so far. In Ramsey’s mind, though, he and his group are just now starting to feel it.
“When we won the ACM award, we felt a sense of success,” Ramsey says, referring to the vocal group of the year award they won in April. “We kind of been operating under this like, ‘Aw, shucks, it’s just little ole us,’ kind of mantra, but I think when we won that, we were forced to own it a little bit. We feel successful now, but just barely. We definitely want to create something that is lasting and that’s exciting to us to think about, but winning that award was a big moment.”
The band has not lost any of their songwriting fire as well: Collectively, their resume includes recent hits by Chris Young, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, and Kelsea Ballerini. Success sometimes takes away time for composing, but not for Old Dominion.
“I think we have a huge leg up on songwriting. That’s what we came here to do, so we spent so much time learning how to write a great song with no one in mind,” Ramsey says. “Now, we still try to keep that attitude. We just try to write a great song, because if you’re chasing after an artist – even if you are that artist – you’re not going to hit that mark because you never know what that artist is really looking for. The song is what dictates that, so you have to follow the song and not an artist. In my mind, we just sit down and try to write a great song.”
With five No. 1s in their cannon now, Ramsey admits they’re a little more cautious about giving a song away (“We do hold on to it a little longer now,” he laughs). But no matter who is singing their tunes, Old Dominion clearly know the songwriting recipe for success.