If you are a fan of country music, chances are that you heard Old Dominion’s music before you even heard of the band. They have written songs for famous country artists like The Band Perry, Keith Urban and Luke Bryan, but now they are focused on writing music and on performing the music themselves. Old Dominion is a five member band of country songwriters: Matthew Ramsey (lead singer), Trevor Rosen (guitar and keyboard), Whit Sellers (drums), Geoff Sprung (bass), and Brad Tursi (guitar). Matthew Ramsey sat down with Full Access magazine and talked about the secrets to maneuvering through the Nashville music scene, the band’s songwriting, and the band’s road to success.
The band has its roots in Virginia, as 4 of the members are from there; those roots are reflected in the band’s name. Ramsey explained, “We wanted something that kind of would signify Virginia. Old Dominion happens to be the nickname for the State of Virginia…we were setting up for a show one night and I said, you know, the only thing I could find that’s not taken is Old Dominion and everybody looks at me and just says, well, ‘what’s wrong with that?’ So we said ‘alright, sounds good.’”
Old Dominion also has a very simple, but distinct logo as well. “We wanted something … that was kind of memorable and that we could kind of slap all over everything…we were looking at a lot of beer logos and a lot of like micro-brewery logos, and we just kind of liked the impact that they made,” Ramsey reflected as he described the origin of the band’s logo.
With their band name and logo, they moved to Nashville to chase the songwriter’s dream and found that it might take 10-15 years to acquire the ingredients needed for success. Ramsey explained,” It’s just like going to school when you move to Nashville, and the talent pool there is the best of the best writers and musicians from all over the country… that’s who you’re competing with… and it just takes that long, to stay after it, learn the game, get in the circles, do all the networking, and learn how to write for the radio and for what’s next on the radio; not for what’s on the radio now. A lot of people move there and they chase what’s on the radio now, but those songs were written three or four years ago; so you’re already late to the game if you’re doing that.” The band learned a lot while writing songs in Nashville. Ramsey continued, “Everyone hates the word “formula,” but there is sort of a formula to a hit song: there’s a big hit chorus, there are hooks, and finding ways to write these hooks in a new way…so you learn how to navigate around those things while still write what’s in your heart, it’s a balance, and these choices become second nature to you.”
With thousands of songwriters relocating to Nashville all of the time, chasing the same dream, one would think that the Nashville music scene would be cold and cut-throat. Ramsey described it quite differently,” I’ve been in Nashville for probably twelve, thirteen years now, and I have yet to see anything cut-throat about it… it’s competition for sure, but it’s healthy and supportive competition …everyone there loves a great song; that’s why they’re there…and when they recognize a great song, then they’re happy to let that song succeed…the ones that are cut-throat won’t make it, because it’s a very supportive business.” However, it takes more than talent and connections to get noticed in Nashville. “Some of it is luck… there are so many amazing people out there that will never see success and that’s a shame. There are people out there that are way better than us, that will probably never see success; there’s a big part of it that is just waiting your turn, being patient, keeping a positive attitude, and knowing that you have to constantly work to get better,” Ramsey added. Through this commitment, Old Dominion’s songwriting and performances has earned them recognition in the country world. For example, they were invited to perform at the Grand Old Opry. “It’s a huge badge of honor to be invited by the Opry to come and play because it’s been around so long, and it’s such a staple in country music that when you get tapped for it, people start turning their heads.” A few months ago, Old Dominion performed at the CMA Music Festival kick off concert. Ramsey recounted, “Award shows, I think, are always great because fans from everywhere come to those and there’s always like a certain energy that those fans bring. Country music fans in general are very loyal to not just one artist, but to the genre of country music…so when they show up and they travel for a show like that, they’re coming to celebrate the entire genre and every artist that’s there…so you really can feel a lot of love from those crowds.”
Old Dominion has been recording in the studio finishing up its first full-length album on RCA Nashville. RCA has given them full reign to express their musical and songwriting skills without creative interference. The album has accents from various genres of music sewn throughout. The band recognizes that the lines between the genres of music have been blurred, so the album has a little rock, rap, and hip hop in the country songs. Ramsey described the album as sounding, “Very fun with a sad undertone through the whole thing.”
Old Dominion will be returning to Florida to perform at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, on April 8th and at the Tortuga Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale on April 9th.