Old Dominion: Empire High

For the past few years, Old Dominion has been taking the country world by storm. Their immediate success is telling of how relevant their music has been and will continue to be. With their carefree, sweet, pop instrumentals and relatable lyrics–often about love and life–the band is really hard not to love. The only way from here is up at the rate they’re going.

The five-piece is made up of Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, Whit Sellers, Geoff Sprung, and Brad Tursi, and they have been Old Dominion since 2007. Their band name comes from Virginia’s nickname, which is an important place to majority of the members. Their first album, Meat And Candy, kick-started their career with hits like, “Snapback,” “Break Up With Him,” and, “Song For Another Time.” Now with their sophomore album, Happy Endings–which released in August–the group is at the top of the charts with, “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart,” and soon, “Written In The Stars,” which is on the rise, and fast!

I had the opportunity to speak with Ramsey about the new album, the group’s constant touring, the sheer gratitude and appreciation that Old Dominion has for their journey and success thus far, and more.

Congratulations on the new album! It’s a few months old now. How has the reception been so far?

So far, so good! It’s been great. People seem to be listening to the whole thing, which is ideally what you want. Fans are definitely showing up and singing all the words and knowing all the songs. It’s great.

Can you talk a bit about the reason you chose the album title, Happy Endings?

Naming an album is one of the hardest things. Especially after naming, Meat And Candy, everybody was kind of waiting on us to see what we were going to call it [laughs]. But we had a long list of titles that we were considering, but we wound up with a bunch of radio people one day on a boat in Key West. Everyone was drinking and we were listening to the album, explaining songs, and we were listening to the song, “So You Go,” and at the end of it, it’s kind of unclear whether it’s a happy ending or not in that song. And so we got in this big discussion of is it a happy ending or isn’t it a happy ending. We said “happy ending” so many times we started laughing and making a big joke out of it. The label president was there and we said, “We should just call it Happy Endings,” and everybody cheered and we looked at him and said, “What do you think?” He just said, “I don’t care what you call it, as long as it’s got hit songs on it.” So, Happy Endings stuck!

And its artwork?

We kind of shy away from putting our faces on album covers. We just think it’s a little more interesting to look at some piece of visual art, than it is a picture of us [laughs]. But actually Whit, our drummer, found a cross-stitch of Walter White from Breaking Bad. He was like, “Look at this! This is cool! We should do something like this!” We kind of started digging into the cross-stitch artwork that’s out there and actually ended up finding this woman in Arkansas who cross-stitched the entire thing, so there’s a real piece of cross-stitch art created for the album cover.

So did you have an idea of the specific things that you wanted in the cross-stitch design? ‘Cause it’s very sporadic, you know?

Definitely, yeah. You know, if you know anything about the cross-stitch world [laughs], there are things called samplers, which is what that is. A sampler is supposedly what people who cross-stitch do to show their skills, so there’s lettering and different styles of whatever art they can do. So we went through and created a sampler of these little images that appear in the lyrics of our songs. So all those little images are pulled from songs.

Nice! How did the writing and recording process of this album compare to your first album, Meat And Candy?

It wasn’t a lot different except for that we were on the road a lot on the writing of this album. There were a lot of songs we wrote for the first album here in town in Nashville. We had to adapt a little bit because we’ve been on the road so much so we would fly writers out to write with us on the road. We did some of that on the first album, too. And then we recorded really fast. I think we tracked for like, four days in Nashville, and then we would record background vocals and extra guitar parts and things, we would record on the back of the bus. You know, it’s all very kind of guerilla style [laughs]. It’s kind of the only way we know how to do it so far. We’ve always been so busy, we just had to plug in when we can and write and record.

What made you want to put the live version of, “Can’t Get You,” on the album, rather than recording it?

We actually tried to record that song. We actually tried to record it for Meat And Candy, our first album, and we just felt like we missed somehow. It just didn’t come across good. So we scrapped it. When we came around to do this album, it was still the staple of our live set, and we knew our fans love it so we tried it again and still felt like we missed on it. And then kind of realized that maybe what it was missing was the energy that comes when we play it live with an audience, ‘cause for some reason we just couldn’t quite capture it. I was listening to an Alabama album and there was a live track on there and I was like, “Why don’t we just put a live version on there?” So, everybody was cool with it.

Did you already have it recorded, or did you have to then do a recording at a show?

We record every show, so we have lots and lots of versions of it. Our engineer had a few on his hard drive and he sent us a few options that he thought were cool and we listened to them and picked one.

I know guitarist, Brad Tursi, sings on, “New York At Night.” How did the band come to the decision of him singing?

That’s a song that he and Trevor wrote. This band is made up of a bunch of great musicians and singers and that’s a song that he could certainly sing better than I can. He definitely has a different voice, and we do a lot of that in our live show. We have hits as songwriters and we have elements where Trevor will sing a song that he wrote that was a hit, or Brad will sing a song that he wrote that was a hit, so we thought it would be cool to show the depth of the band’s talent

Yeah, absolutely. You don’t really see that too often.

It confused my mom, for sure [laughs].

How was working with Little Big Town on “Stars In The City,” and how did that come about?

They were great. They are the most talented people. That came about because we had been working on that song and I was actually going in that morning to work on the mix of that song. Brad had actually done a lot of the background vocals already, but I walked into this restaurant to meet our producer for breakfast and Karen Fairchild was in there and I talked to her for a minute and just said hi, and we didn’t really know each other that well. We know each other, but we’re not really close friends or anything so we just talked for a minute.

Then I went on to work on that song and later that night I was falling asleep in my bunk on the bus listening to the song and I was kind of half asleep/half awake, and my day was going through my head, and there was Karen Fairchild’s face and there was this song, and I thought that this was perfect for them if they would even consider it. Took a shot in the dark, and just tried to see if they would do it and they loved the song and came and did it. They’re amazing people.

Do you have a personal favorite lyric or song from this album?

Oh man, it’s tough. I love, “Written In The Sand,” but everyday is different. I love a lot of the lines in, “Stars In The City.” I really love, “She sees a diamond when the world sees dust.” That’s one of my favorite lines, for sure. And, “She’s the kind of a girl that can break up a band,”–I love that line.

Are there any songs that didn’t make the cut? Do you think we’ll hear them in the future?

Yeah, definitely. We recorded probably 15 songs or so, and had to whittle it down. I would hope you would hear them. There’s some from the first album that didn’t make it either, and it always bugs me a little bit that we have these recorded songs just waiting there that we could somehow release, and I really hope that someday we can get them out there. Maybe they weren’t our favorite songs then, but I have a feeling if we pull them back up and listen to them a bit, it’s actually pretty good and nothing we’d be ashamed of putting out. So, I would love to.

Can you tell me about the thought process that went into the video game theme of the video for, “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart?”

In general, when we do videos, we’re just trying so hard to not get stuck doing the same old thing. That video was actually the brainchild of our director, Steve Condon. He’s our age and definitely grew up in the same way we did. None of us are big video gamers, but back when we were kids, we had Ataris and Nintendos and it was a much simpler kind of game style. It was just a fun way to present that song and show a little bit of our upbringing.

Why did you decide to go with a lyric video for, “Written In The Sand?”

Well, we put out a few lyric videos. As we were coming up to the release of the album, we were releasing songs. I think we made four videos. “Shoe Shopping,” has one and, “Written In The Sand.” I think we are actually going to make a video for “Written In The Sand,” so we’re in the talks with directors and trying to have an angle for it. But it’s moving up the charts kind of fast. We’re going to have to hurry up and make the video before it tops out.

Old Dominion has been touring non-stop and you have tour dates all the way through next summer. How do you handle the constant being away?

It’s hard. We’ve been doing it for so long that it’s our life now. This week, we were supposed to leave tonight and be gone until Sunday, and then Thomas Rhett had to postpone some of the shows because he’s ill, and so we got that news yesterday and now we’re all sitting here looking at each other going, “What are we going to do now this week?” [Laughs]. We wound up feeling like we’re twiddling our thumbs so it’s definitely become our life. But it is hard being away from family. You try to come back home as much as you can.

Are there any other bands or artists that Old Dominion has gotten especially close with while touring?

Definitely. We have a great, incredible relationship with Kenny Chesney. We’ve toured with him for two summers in a row, which is kind of unheard of, and then he took a year off and then invited us again next year. We definitely have a thing with him and with his fans, honestly. I never thought opening for someone would actually build a fanbase like it has with his. He’s a great friend. And this Thomas Rhett tour has been a blast. We’ve been hanging out with TR a bunch and we’ve been having a great time with him.

How does it feel to be headlining after all of the supporting?

That feels great and that’s what you want and that’s the goal—to never have to open for anyone again [laughs]. It just shows you that it’s working and that your music’s working. It’s connecting enough to bring people out of their homes and spend the evening with you and hopefully get some sort of escape through your music. It feels incredible.

Other than touring, what can be expected of Old Dominion in the coming months?

I think we’re going to be spending a lot of time getting back into writing a lot. We haven’t been writing so much because of the album release and the go-go-go nature of all that. Now we’re starting to get some holes in our schedule where we can actually sit down and write some songs. Other than that, it’s pretty much just tour. We go over to Europe pretty soon. We go to Hawaii which is pretty cool. It’s the last state that we have to check off our list.

Lastly, what has your favorite memory been so far as a band?

Oh, there’s so many, it’s impossible to choose a favorite memory. We have so many and we constantly rehash them with each other. There’s so many great memories from back when we were in a van slugging it out across the country, which at the time sometimes seems miserable, but now we look back and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, that was amazing!”

Yeah, and you seem super close-knit.

Yeah, definitely. We had to be. We were on top of each other all the time and we still are. But we have those moments all the time. I remember when we got the bus for the first time and it was an amazing feeling to get that. The other night, we were playing and it was my birthday, and we had to stop the song because 12,000 people were singing happy birthday to me. There’s just all these unbelievable moments that happen, you just kind of go, “I can’t believe this is my life right now.”

It seems so surreal.

It’s a trippy thing. It really is unbelievable. There’s no way to really put it into words. We were just buddies and normal guys and friends that loved to play music and write songs, and suddenly this is happening for us, and we’re all on stage going, “Can you believe this is happening to us? This is our life right now, this is crazy!”


Old Dominion’s album, Happy Endings, is available now. Catch the band as they roll through Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Nov. 3.