For over ten years, Matthew Ramsey has written and performed with Old Dominion, a five-member country band formed in Nashville. Together they've released a number of popular singles, including platinum hits such as "Break Up with Him." On October 25th, the band released their self-titled album and we caught up with Ramsey to learn what went into producing three chart-topping albums, meeting country fans around the world, as well as their highly anticipated 2020 tour with Kenny Chesney and Florida Georgia Line.
Let's talk about the new album, "Old Dominion," what went into putting it together?
It was a longer process putting this one together than it has in the past. It started with writing in the studio, as opposed to writing songs and then bringing them into the studio. We started with a blank page in the studio and challenged ourselves to write and record on the same day. The first song that we wrote was called "Make It Sweet" and it went number one, that was a good way to start making this album.
How did that spontaneity shape the album?
Spontaneity is a great word. It set a precedent for us to be comfortable and trust our instincts. We could just try things in the studio without feeling pressure and feel confident in our abilities as songwriters. We just said, "Let's try it and see what happens."
With this being your third album, did you feel pressure to give your fans what they'll want or did you trust that they'll continue to support your music?
It's more trust, we didn't feel pressure at all. One great thing about our fans is that they've followed us through whatever musical incarnation we throw at them. To us, it feels like every single we've released has been a different style. It still ultimately sounds like us, but it might have more of a country or pop sound. They follow us wherever we go and it's given us the confidence to do what we love.
You mentioned "Make It Sweet," the debut single, what about "One Man Band?" What went into making that song?
That was an idea that came to me on the bus one night. We had a guest on the bus from a radio station and he said something about someone being a one man band. That phrase struck me and I thought it would be a cool angle on a love song. We've never really written a love song before and it was a cool angle to say, "You don't want to go through life alone, everything is better with someone to share it with." I told the guys the idea and we were actually standing on the stage, we were supposed to be walking out to play the show. Our intro music was playing but we were all huddled around my phone starting to write "One Man Band" so that we didn't forget it. We finished it in our dressing room later.
One of your biggest accomplishments this year was winning "Vocal Group of the Year" at the 2019 CMAs. What went through your head when your name was called?
It's funny. You can kind of go through the whole award show process and say that you don't really care. It's not the reason we got into this at all, awards are not what we were after. But then when they start reading off the nominees, you get nervous. And when they called our name it kind of pulled back the curtain for us. It revealed that we had a lot more support than we thought and our peers recognizing us is an extremely rewarding feeling.
How would you describe the modern country music scene?
It's all over the place at this point, which all music kind of is. The way people listen to music now, everyone's playlists have all different genres and it only makes sense that genres bleed together. There are all these collaborations with pop stars and rockstars, everyone is working together. It's drastically changing.
What's a group or an artist that our readers might be surprised that you jam out to?
We have a turntable that travels with us and a record collection in the dressing room. People are always shocked to hear us listening to jazz before the show. It's a very chill vibe for us and old school jazz is something that plays a lot in our dressing room.
What are some of the other rituals that you do before a show?
Before every show, we take a shot of tequila. It started with just the five of us and now we have a crew of 30 people who get together, drink tequila, do a toast and take that moment to realize how lucky we are to have thousands of people waiting for us to play. We take that moment to let it sink in before we do our job.
Take us through your year-long "Make It Sweet" Tour.
At this point, it's taken us to many places that we never thought we would be. We went to Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and we just got back from playing in the UK. Playing for arenas full of people is quite a different environment from the bars that we came up in. It's been amazing to see our fanbase grow, seeing kids and grandparents coming to our shows. It's been an unforgettable tour.
How have fans around the world responded to your music and country music in general?
Country music feels very new over there. It feels like they've discovered something and they're diving into it. They dig into the entire album. They don't have country radio over there, so when they find it, they really seek it out. It's amazing to hear them singing your songs in thick German accents, it's wild. [Country] is growing fast over there.
2020 is going to big a big deal for you as well, seeing as you're going on tour with Kenny Chesney and Florida Georgia Line. What can fans expect from that tour?
That's going to be quite a party. This will be our fourth year touring with Kenny and he's like family to us, it's like coming home. Then FTL, those guys are insanely talented and we love their music. I can't think of a better lineup, honestly. It's like a music festival in itself and Kenny really knows how to set the mood.
What are some things that you've learned from touring with Kenny?
Oh man, we've learned everything from him. We learned how to treat people that work for you, how to treat an opening act. We learned how to craft a setlist and how important it is to connect with people in the very last row. He can do that in a football stadium, so we should be able to do that in an arena. We soak up every moment like a sponge when we're on tour with him.
What was your first tattoo, what's your favorite tattoo and what is your most recent tattoo?
My first tattoo is on my back and who knows what it means. It happened after one of those bad decision nights where someone said, "Dude, let's go get tattoos." I forget that it's there.
It's hard to pick a favorite. A lot of my tattoos are about my kids. I've got this one here (points to left bicep) that's a little garden gnome. My daughter's name is Naomi and I called her Gnome all the time. Then this one here (points to right bicep) is a bird. My oldest daughter's name is Janie and I've called her my little bird since before she was even born. So those are probably my favorite ones.
My most recent one is this little lightning bolt on my hand. It's the first time I ever wandered into a tattoo shop to get a tattoo. But I actually really love it, there's a lot wrapped up in that little lightning bolt.