For country chart-toppers Old Dominion, a mission to carve out a unique niche
Matthew Ramsey clearly remembers the moment he and his ensemble, Old Dominion, first concocted what would become their latest hit song, “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart.”
“I remember there was a lot of stuff going on in the world, like there always is,” Ramsey, lead vocalist for the Nashville-based group, recalls from his home in Tennessee. “We were hanging out in the back of our tour bus and didn’t have any ideas, but we did have a groove going. For whatever reason, I have no idea where it came from, I just said that I wonder if Jack and Diane ever made it?”
Ramsey, of course, was referring to John Mellencamp’s 1982 classic rock staple named after the fictitious all-American couple.
“Everyone perked up and were like, ‘What does that mean?’ ”
From that bedrock, the band crafted a song that would further cement their status as country superstars. Since the release of their 2015 debut album “Meat and Candy,” which yielded their buoyant, breakout tracks “Snapback” and “Break Up With Him,” Old Dominion has successfully carved out its own niche as an act with a unique sound in a genre that is typically resistant to deviation.
“Our sound is different because it’s who we are as a band,” says Ramsey, who points to the fact that “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” employs the use of electronic hand claps as one example of their country genre-bending. “That’s just us trying to excite ourselves and trying to make music that we find interesting front to back. It does end up being quite different, and some traditionalists out there probably hate it, and I get it. I would hate it too if I was a traditionalist. That’s just the way it is, and so far it seems to be creating a lane for ourselves, which is a great place to be.”
That lane has taken Old Dominion to the heights of country success, whether it’s earning nominations for new artist and vocal group of the year at November’s upcoming Country Music Association Awards or the band’s current arena tour, which has traveled everywhere from Gillette Stadium (the immense Massachusetts home of the NFL’s Patriots) to an upcoming visit to San Diego’s Viejas Arena on Sunday, alongside fellow country stalwart Thomas Rhett. Oddly enough, the group has also been playing its fair share of bars as well.
“We had a three-week portion when our album was being released when we did every kind of show you could possibly think of,” says Ramsey of the promo tour behind sophomore album “Happy Endings,” which came out last month and promptly topped the charts. “We did it all, including in a dive bar where we did this thing where we’d play all of our songs from the new album so it was more of a storyteller kind of performance. For our stadium shows with 50,000 people, you kind of have to ramp it up a little bit. It was quite a challenge mostly for our crew; they worked really hard to make it pretty seamless for us.”
While Ramsey and his band mates are enjoying the fruits of their labor, constant life on the road can sometimes wear on the group.
“I always know when I’ve been gone too long when I think twice about brushing my teeth with the water out of the sink,” he says, referring to the fact that most of his time touring is usually spent on a bus. “We use truck stop water on the road, so we always have to get clean water to brush our teeth with.”
Ah, the glamorous life of a superstar act.
Old Dominion on Thomas Rhett’s Home Team Tour
When: 7:30 Sunday, Sept. 24
Where: Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl, San Diego State University, 5500 Canyon Crest Drive, San Diego
Tickets: $29 to $257 VIP
LeDonne is a freelance writer.
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