The last time Old Dominion performed during the CMA Awards broadcast, they were relegated to an abbreviated performance of their Number One song “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart,” the lead single from their second album Happy Endings. But at the 2018 CMAs on November 14th, they’ll get the opportunity to stretch out: the band scored a coveted full-length performance slot for their hit “Hotel Key.”
“The performance is really the win for us,” says singer Matthew Ramsey. “We’ve done some stuff that was like half a song before, or like the bumper into a commercial, but this time we get a nice full song.”
In September at a sold-out Ryman Auditorium, Old Dominion had the chance to play a rare full set in Nashville. A guest-heavy concert, it marked a milestone for the group, who also filmed an intimate performance of new single “Make It Sweet” in the empty Ryman before the show.
Now they’re looking ahead to the CMAs, where they’re up for Vocal Group of the Year — an award they were nominated for last year and took home at April’s ACM Awards. With the tasty “Make It Sweet” following a trio of Number One hits, a third album in the works and the biggest headlining tour of their career kicking off January 18th at Chicago’s AllState Arena, Old Dominion are picking up speed. Rolling Stone Country spoke with Ramsey about their whirlwind CMA Awards week, their new album and the “big boy” step of playing arenas.
What does the CMA nomination mean for the band?
It’s a real big deal, and it’s been a big year for us so we’re excited. We’ve never won a CMA, so the further we get down the road, the more it seems to become more important.
Why does it seem more important — because it’s more likely to actually happen?
I think so, but maybe “important” is the wrong word. It’s like it becomes more real. Once we won the [first] ACM award [in 2016, for New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year] — it was this moment that forced us to own our place a little bit more, if that makes sense. Now there’s more weight to these nominations, like “This is a real, possible thing,” whereas before it was like “Oh, that’s awesome we got nominated … there’s no chance in hell we’ll ever win.”
You’ll get to do your first full CMA Awards performance this year, and it seems like a lot rides on an opportunity like that. How much time do you get to rehearse?
Like, none. [Laughs] We’re actually gonna be touring in Europe and won’t be back until right before the CMAs, so I think we land and then the next day we go into rehearsal, and then we do the show the following night. It’s pretty fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, you just get thrown on the stage and have to do your thing. You don’t even really get a soundcheck, so it’s difficult to do.
Your new single “Make It Sweet” has a heartwarming message about living your best life. What’s the story behind that song?
I’m so proud of this song, and one of the reasons is that we had talked about going into the studio for this album for a while. We booked a bunch of dates, and then some of them snuck up on us — we hadn’t even listened to songs for them yet. So we thought “Well, we have a little bit more time to make this album [than the previous ones], why don’t we go in and see if we can write something? If it happens, cool, if it doesn’t, we have plenty of time to record some stuff that’s already written.”
So we went in and wrote “Make It Sweet” that first day, and we also recorded it that day. The recording you hear is probably the second time we’ve ever even played the song. It really brought us closer as a band, I think, and gave us a lot of confidence stepping into the third album.
What’s the status of the album?
We’ve tracked the whole thing. It’s all recorded except for some vocals, and I think we have to turn it in by January 1st. Then it should be out in the spring.
Is anything standing out about it so far?
“Make It Sweet” set the tone for us, so it’s that kind of sound. It’s funny, some people have said it’s the most country thing we’ve done, and somehow it’s also the most rock & roll thing we’ve done. It kind of leans away from the poppy-ness a little, and I think that’s true for the whole album. It’s very emotional.
You’re touring arenas for the first time this winter with the Make It Sweet Tour. What’s the expectation there?
Arenas, that’s big boy stuff. It’s hard to wrap your head around. But we’ve been touring with Kenny [Chesney] so much that it’s kept us out of the major markets on our own tours. This will be the first real chance in a couple of years to step back into places like Chicago, which is where we’re kicking the thing off. We have a huge fan base in Chicago, but we haven’t been able to play our own show there in like three years because of touring with Kenny. So it’s gonna be really special to come back after all this growth and success.
It doesn’t get much bigger than arenas — the only thing left is stadiums.
And we’ve got our sights set on that, too!