When RCA shipped the latest Old Dominion single to programmers on Nov. 23, 2015, the Play MPE email did not contain a photo of the band. Instead, the group’s logo was slapped on the rear of a baseball cap along with the word “Snapback.”
It was a shrewd move, because for those not in the know, the image explained the title, which refers to an adjustable ball cap. It’s a slang usage of “snapback” that can’t be found in Merriam-Webster or on Dictionary.com, though it’s represented at UrbanDictionary.com.
Snapback is “a relatively new name for it,” says Old Dominion lead singer Matthew Ramsey. “The first time I heard it, I didn’t know what it was. I forget how I found out, but then as soon as I [heard it], I started seeing ‘snapback’ on stickers on the bills of hats.”
“It’s usually the hats that have a flat bill,” adds guitarist Brad Tursi. “They don’t bend them. It’s just kind of a certain style.”
It’s likely that plenty of listeners won’t have a clue about the meaning. But neither did producer Shane McAnally (Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves) when he first heard “Snapback,” and it didn’t seem to matter.
“I worried, honestly, about people not knowing it,” admits McAnally. “But I’ve seen the early reaction, and I realized that this song is so melodically strong that they might not even need words.”
“Snapback” was always about the groove anyway. Tursi had fired up his laptop in the back of Old Dominion’s bus somewhere on the road in early 2015, and it triggered a songwriting session in some now-forgotten parking lot.
“I had a drum beat going and that keyboard sound, and the rest of the guys — Matt and [guitarist] Trevor [Rosen] — started coming back and were just kind of like, ‘Oh, that sounds cool. What is that?’ Matt had the title ‘Snapback,’ and then we just kind of worked it from there.”
The sound provided a starting place for the words. One of the writers voiced a thought about changing the beat — “Strictly out of curiosity, what would happen if…” — and Ramsey immediately blurted out the first line and opening melody for the song: “Strictly out of curiosity/What would happen if you got with me?”
“Snapback” evolved from there in linear fashion, with each line following the next as they worked their way to the chorus. The piece was essentially an optimistic come-on to a middle-class girl, expressed in short, quick bursts. The phrasing stayed the same as they reached the chorus while the core of the melody stepped up in pitch. The first three lines in that refrain employed some rather common language, but they managed to make the words sound fresh: “Those stars need to be wished on/Your skin needs to be kissed on/My eyes, baby, they’re fixed on you/In your snapback.”
“You get a couple good [lines], but then the challenge is to make the third one rhyme and be as cool as the other two,” says drummer Whitt Sellers.
After six chorus lines, the writers injected yet another thought, a quasi-anthemic “whoa-oh-oh-oh” that provided yet another catchy melodic signature.
“Any song that we ever write, even if it’s a ballad, we’re constantly looking for the hook,” notes Rosen. “But you try not to stop at one. You try to have hook after hook at every turn of the song.”
Tursi finished up the track on his own, adding a synthesized bass part. Once that demo was complete, they took it to Sellers and bassist Geoff Sprung and started working it up for Kenny Chesney’s Big Revival Tour, where Old Dominion was opening a number of stadium dates. They used pieces of the demo in the live presentation — particularly the central keyboard part, which gave it a stadium-sized sound — and “Snapback” took yet another detour in that setting, as Tursi started vamping a guitar section after the last chorus.
“It just felt so good, we wanted to keep it going,” says Ramsey.
The band had released a five-cut EP through Thirty Tigers in October 2014, then signed with RCA in early 2015. As “Break Up With Him” climbed toward its Nov. 14 peak at No. 1 on Country Airplay, the band used four of the songs from the EP to seed a full album. But with tour dates stacked up, it had just two days to record the remaining seven songs for the album, Meat and Candy, at Nashville’s House of Blues Studio.
McAnally played Taylor Swift’s “Style” as a template for “Snapback,” suggesting the band shoot for the “pulsy ’80s thing” that her song captures. Getting the initial performance wasn’t difficult, though the original keyboard part suddenly felt out of place. A good deal of post-production time was spent trying to work with — then replace — that component.
“It’s interesting that they built so much of the song around that sound, and it brought people’s attention to it,” says McAnally, “But ultimately, it didn’t end up in the recorded version.”
The recorded voices for the “whoa-oh-oh-oh” hook came directly from the road. Since they were short on time for the tracking sessions, Old Dominion cut a lot of the album’s background vocals in remote locations on the road, then emailed them to engineer Ryan Gore. They did the “whoa-oh” section in a hotel room, though no one’s sure exactly where.
“I remember just waiting for the hotel people to come knocking on the door and tell us to shut up,” says Rosen.
“Which they did,” adds Ramsey.
Tursi also played the guitar coda that they had worked up in concert, building up the song to its inevitable climax.
“It’s another hook,” notes Ramsey. “You go the whole song with this hook, and this hook, and this hook, and then you’re on the back 30 seconds of the song, and you get a new one.”
“Snapback” was different in tone from “Break Up With Him,” which is part of the reason it became a follow-up single. The band thought it would bridge some of the music from Meat and Candy that might be a bigger leap for listeners as the group attempts to establish a wide range of sounds. It shipped with a Jan. 11 add date, though programmers didn’t wait. It debuted on Country Airplay the same week it shipped, and it’s currently at No. 27 in its eighth charting week. As a result, listeners are likely discovering exactly what a snapback is.
“We’re educators,” says Rosen with a laugh.
Not that the words are that important. “Snapback” really is all about the groove.
“I can never get it out of my head,” says McAnally. “I have to check myself when I go into writing appointments right now that I’m not lifting the melody off of ‘Snapback.’ It’s such an earworm.”