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Interview: Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey talks songwriting, new album and UK tour

Old Dominion
Credit: Sony Music

Since bursting onto the scene with their number one song Break Up With Him back in 2015, Old Dominion have rapidly become one of the biggest bands in country music.

They’ve notched up a string of hits – including six Billboard Country Airplay chart-toppers – as well as writing for artists including Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, Randy Houser, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Young and Blake Shelton, and winning over plenty of fans with their live shows too. Following appearances at C2C in 2018 and supporting Thomas Rhett, now they’re heading back to the UK this October for their second headline tour, before the release of their upcoming self-titled third album later that month.

Ahead of their trip across the pond, I spoke to the band’s frontman Matthew Ramsey about the tour, what to expect from the new album, current single One Man Band, UK fans and songwriting. Read on to find out more.

You’re coming back to the UK in October – what can people coming to see those shows expect?

Well, yeah, I think they hopefully can expect more new music, because we’ll be releasing our new album soon in October as well. We’ll be playing some of the new music, we’ll be playing old music, stuff we’ve written for other people. We always have fun, so it’ll hopefully be a little bit bigger this time. We’re really looking forward to it.

Is there anything that’s surprised you about UK audiences when you’ve been over here before?

I think in general we just didn’t expect people to really know who we were or like our music at all [laughs]. So it was a pleasant surprise to know that we had fans over there in general, and the fact that we can keep coming back there and keep growing it like we did here in the States is very exciting. So I think that’s probably the biggest surprise, that we are allowed to keep going over there and playing shows.

You’ve mentioned the new album – what can you tell us about that?

Yeah, it comes out October 25th. It’s a self-titled album, so we’ve been kind of slowly releasing some songs off of it so everybody can get a little bit of a taste of what it’s gonna sound like. It sounds like us, but it’s definitely gone a little bit of a different direction than it has in the past. But we still love the craft of writing songs and take great care in that, so we’re very proud of all of these songs. I think they just expand who we are as a band, at least we think that way.

Did you consciously want to explore different sounds when you were making this album? Or was it something that evolved that way during the process?

I think it’s just a natural evolution of who we are as a band and who we are as men, and the period of our lives that we’re in. I think we’ve just become that way – a little bit more introspective and a little bit more honest in our writing. And those were the songs that spoke to us a little bit more. Because we’ve certainly written our fair share of catchy ditties too [laughs]. So I think those were just the songs that spoke to us a little bit more as we were recording this album.

Are there any particular songs on this record you’re really excited for people to hear?

One song? It’s hard to pick, because we’re so proud of all of them. I think that’s why our single right now is One Man Band, because of the fan response to that song when we started playing that live. So we’re excited to play that one every night. And then we’re just excited to see if any of the other songs have that type of response too.

One Man Band is a very different sound for you guys. How did that song come about?

Someone was on the bus one day and said something about a one man band, and when they left I looked at Brad [Tursi] and said ‘we need to write that, but how would we write that? A love song, like, I don’t wanna be a one man band’. And then it was time for us to go on stage and play, and we were sitting side stage and we were singing it right into our phone as we were supposed to be actually on stage. Then later on the road we finished that song. We just thought it would be a cool take on a love song, to write it from that perspective.

Is that typical of your approach to writing? Are you someone who’s able to write on the road or do you tend to keep writing and touring separate?

We write on the road and at home. It’s a switch that we always have turned on. So we’re ready for it at any point in time [laughs].

Does your approach change when you write for other artists compared to when you’re writing for the band?

It’s the same. We don’t ever set out to write a song for a specific artist, including ourselves. We just set out to write a great song and then after that song is done we take a look at it and see if it’s an Old Dominion song or if it’s a song that we’d like to send to another artist.

Were there any songs that were particularly easy or particularly difficult to write for the new album?

Most of them were actually pretty easy writes. We didn’t get stuck too much on them. Like a song like Make It Sweet. There’s two songs on the album that we wrote as a band together in the studio and recorded the same day that we wrote them. One of them was Make It Sweet and one of them was a song called Hear You Now, that we all wrote together and recorded as we were writing. So that was a unique experience for us.

You had the collaboration with Little Big Town on the last album. Are there any special guests appearing on this one?

There are no collaborations on this one. It’s just us [laughs].

Is there anyone that you would like to collaborate with in the future?

That’s a question we get asked a lot, and we have a hard time answering it because we’re never against collaborating with anyone. We collaborate all the time with artists when we’re writing with them and stuff, so in some ways it feels like you collaborate all the time but I guess that’s behind the scenes. And I’m sure the opportunity will present itself to collaborate with some artists. But it’s tough to collaborate with a band because I think people might be a little bit intimidated to collaborate with us, because they don’t know how to collaborate with a band, you know what I mean? [laughs]

You’ve mentioned this is a self-titled album. Why did you decide this was the right time for that?

This just seems like the most confident we have been as a band in the sound that we’re creating and the words that we’re writing. It sounds like the most us that we could possibly get at the moment. So we had a big long list of quirky album titles that went along with the other two album titles that we’ve had, and none of them quite seemed to  fit the mood or the tone of this album as much as just calling it Old Dominion did. So that’s what we went with.

Can I ask what the ones that didn’t make the cut were? Or are you saving those for album number four?

[laughs] Yeah, we’re probably gonna save those. We didn’t toss them out. They may be there. Some are wildly inappropriate! [laughs]

You’re also going to be on an episode of Songland in the US soon. What was that experience like?

Very cool. It’s a very unique show and it’s cool to pull back the curtain a little bit on the songwriting world for people. It was exciting, and a different perspective for us because we write all of our songs, so to sit in that chair and be pitched a song was a different experience for us. We had a great time with it.

Is the song you picked going to be on the new record?

It is not on the record. Our episode was a little bit different from the other episodes. Our episode was kind of a two-fold challenge for the writer – they had to write a song that not only fit Old Dominion but is also gonna be used in a Jeep ad campaign. So ours is for a commercial campaign.

What’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Oh! [laughs] Song that I wish I had written… There’s that song, this comes up a lot when we get asked this question too, but a lot of us really love the song I Can’t Make You Love Me. Which I think is an incredible song.

What does the rest of 2019 look like for you? Is it mainly touring and the new album?

Yeah, we’re just hitting it hard. We’ll just tour, tour, tour, and then the album comes out and there’ll be a lot of promo for that, and we’ll tour right through mid-December. We always tour pretty heavily so that’s the name of the game right now.

Have you started work on the next record yet?

We’re always writing. We haven’t really started to think about a direction or what we wanna do next or record, but we’re definitely writing still. We never stop doing that. So in some ways yes and in some ways no.

Old Dominion’s self-titled third album will be released on 25th October 2019.

See Old Dominion on tour in the UK with special guest Jordan Davis this October:

Thursday 10 October – Eventim Apollo, London
Saturday 12 October – Waterfront Hall Auditorium, Belfast
Monday 14 October – Albert Hall, Manchester
Tuesday 15 October – O2 Academy, Birmingham
Wednesday 16 October – O2 Academy, Glasgow

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