It took Matthew Ramsey a while to realize that his band, Old Dominion, had made it.
But after the country outfit landed group of the year at both the 2018 and 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards and penned seven country radio No. 1s, he decided it was time to embrace it.
"We operated under an aw-shucks, little-old-us attitude for a long time," Ramsey said. "We’re at a point now where we’re being forced to own it a little."
We spoke with Ramsey in March, just after several of the band’s overseas concerts were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and just before its May tour stops in San Antonio, Dallas and Houston as part of Kenny Chesney’s Chillaxification Tour were postponed.
Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Before Old Dominion took off, you wrote numerous hits for other bands. How has your songwriting process changed?
A lot has changed about our songwriting. There’s a certain set of, I hate to say the word rules, because they’re not really rules, they’re choices that you come to when you’re writing a song and you have to learn. For us, we were trying to write for the radio. There are choices that you make to try to get a hit song on the radio. You’ve got to learn those. We learned those and we succeeded, and I think over the past year or two we’ve been able to let go of those a little bit and write more freely. At this point we don’t have to consciously think about them. We write what’s on our hearts.
RELATED: Legendary songwriter John Prine in critical condition with coronavirus symptoms
What’s your favorite song from your new self-titled album, which you released late last year?
It’s hard to pick one. I really love "My Heart Is a Bar." That’s a song that shows a frustrated point of view and something that a lot of people feel and are struggling with a way to say it. We said it in a song that has a singalong kind of vibe to it, but it’s a pretty heart-wrenching statement to say, "I’m closing my heart down to love completely." I love how we approached it and ultimately recorded it.
What was the process of recording this album?
The process was really different this time. Usually, we have a list of songs that we compile, we record them, it’s done. This one, we didn’t really have any songs planned to record. We have hundreds of songs that we’ve written, but we didn’t talk about what we were going to record. We decided, let’s go in the studio and try to write a song and record it in the same day. The first day we went in and recorded "Make It Sweet" all in one day. The next day we did the same thing with a song on the album called "Hear You Now." We would sit in the studio and go, "Remember that? Let’s record."
Looking back, are you surprised by how far you’ve come?
The level that we’ve reached is pretty impossible to get to, and we feel exceedingly grateful for every show and every fan. It’s just incredible. We’re having such a great time writing music and playing songs together. It’s awesome.
You name-dropped Austin in your hit, "Hotel Key." Have you spent much time here?
We haven’t spent a lot of time in Austin, just a couple of shows. Trevor (Rosen) is always trying to get me to change the lyric to whatever town we’re in, (he’s like), "Change it, people will go crazy every time." But I keep it Austin.
You’ve toured a lot with Kenny Chesney. Why is he a good fit for the band?
If you’ve never been to a Kenny Chesney show, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever been to. It’s a whole day, a whole event. You’ll be smiling all day long. When we first started touring in 2016 with him we didn’t even have a record deal yet. He just kind of liked us and added us on. We just clicked. We hit it off with him and his whole crew. He taught us a lot about touring, and it’s just our family now. We were like, "Of course we’ll go out again."
You also co-wrote one of Chesney’s big hits, "Save It for a Rainy Day."
A big part of our relationship was him hearing it and hearing what we were about. My first conversation with Kenny was about that song. He called and talked to me about that song and we worked together on it. From then on he spoke to me like he’d known me for years. We just hit it off. It was so amazing to watch that song rise on the charts while were on tour with him. Super special.
If and when the tour ultimately starts back up, what do you hope fans will get from your shows?
I hope that people leave the shows feeling better than they did when they got there, better about their day, about their life, about their family. We just want to leave people with a good feeling inside because that’s what we get out of it. Hopefully, that’s what we get and that’s what everyone gets out of the tour.