It doesn't matter if you are a musician or a fan, the release of a sophomore album is always met with a bit of trepidation. Artists don't want to fall into the fabled slump that others have met before. Fans hope their new favorite act didn't use all of their good songs the first go-round.
For Old Dominion, the stakes may have been even a little higher than that, as the success of their debut disc — 2015's "Meat and Candy" — led many country music insiders to proclaim that a new era in country bands was upon the industry. Many viewed the musicians — the opening act for Kenny Chesney's Trip Around the Sun tour stop at Raleigh's Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek May 12 — as a modern-day Alabama of sorts, a self-contained band who sing, write, and play their own music.
Well, if that kind of pressure met the band upon the release of 2017's "Happy Endings," one can only imagine how high the dial will be turned for their third.
Sales of their latest album are on pace to match or exceed the success seen by their debut, while it also became the band's first record to debut both atop the Billboard Country Album charts, and within the overall Album Charts Top 10. It's also home for OD's latest hits to land at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay charts with "No Such Thing as a Broken Heart" and "Written in the Sand".
And oh yeah. They just shocked the world by winning the Academy of Country Music's Vocal Group of the Year award, just days before their interview with The News & Observer.
"It feels pretty wild, man," singer Matthew Ramsey says with a laugh. "It's still sinking in a little bit. It feels important, like a big deal that's hard to measure right now. The band took a big, deep breath (after winning). We've been working so hard, and just pounding against that ceiling, and it felt good to finally break through it. We're finally there, and it feels great."
Ramsey chatted for a few minutes between stops on the summer tour. With the palpable sense of excitement from the ACM win still heavy in the air, we talked to OD's frontman about awards equaling a change in tour plans for the band's future, as well as a missed opportunity with Taylor Swift.
Q: I would imagine winning Best Vocal Group may mean that this is Old Dominion's last time touring as a supporting act for another artist for the foreseeable future?
A: That is something that is probably going to change for us, yeah. Our touring is basically booked through the rest of this year, so 2019 is when you'll really see an evident real change. This fall is when our headline tour starts, and it feels like we're probably going to be done being an opening act for a while.
Q: Although, let's be clear here, there's no shame in being the support act for one of the biggest country tours of the past decade. Is there a sense of relief that comes with being tapped by Kenny Chesney to go on the road with him for a few months, where you know you'll be playing in front of tens of thousands nearly every night out?
A: Well, first of all, there's no shame in being a support act for anyone. It's been extremely beneficial for us to be allowed onstage for any of the artists we've toured with, and we've gotten some big exposure from them sharing their crowds with us in the past.
With (Chesney), we have such a special relationship with him and his whole crew. This is our third year touring with him, and it's to the point where it just feels like a family reunion when we get together each time out. It's a good relationship, as we love them, and they love us. It just becomes this big, happy event, where everyone has a big smile because they're so proud and excited to be there each night.
Q: Every artist downplays the importance of award wins, but how good did it feel to know that your peers within the country music business believe that Old Dominion is the best group in the industry less than three years after your debut album dropped?
A: That's a really important part of winning that award, the fact that so many of our peers chose us as the best (country band) right now. For us, awards aren't really something that we've ever particularly hung our hats on.
After winning this one, it's almost like we didn't realize beforehand how much it would mean to us to actually receive that honor. It was this immediate sense of love and support, especially from the people who were nominated alongside us. (Fellow nominees) Little Big Town ("Girl Crush") were the first to jump up and congratulate us, and they were the last people we hung out with that night.
It's not about competition, so much as being proud of us, because they know how much this win means to us. Having that support from your peers is so important in this business.
Q: You moved to Nashville to perform as a solo singer-songwriter, but had a background in playing the drums. During the lean weeks, did you ever consider scrapping those original dreams in order to make a living as a drummer for someone else?
A: Not as a drummer, but as a guitar player I was offered a couple of gigs that I had to really stop and think about if I was making the right decision in turning them down. When Taylor Swift was first beginning to really take off, a couple of guys I knew in her band called and offered me a job on her tour playing acoustic guitar and singing background vocals, and they thought I would be a really good fit for it.
It was a good paying gig, but I turned it down, because I knew that I didn't move to Nashville for that kind of career. I moved to be a songwriter, and I knew if I started playing and singing someone else's songs on the road, it was going to hurt my chances of making it on my own. So, I turned it down, and went on to work every crap job I could find in order to keep the lights on, and focused on my own music.
Q: Even with the success that Old Dominion is currently seeing, are there moments that you think back to those dreams of being a solo artist and wonder if now is the time to work on your own project?
A: No, not at all. The other guys in (Old Dominion) are my brothers and my buddies, and I have been friends with most of them before I ever moved to Nashville, and they all just moved down here separately to be songwriters and musicians, too. We all fell into this band very naturally, with no real plan or agenda, and just playing music together for the love of it.
None of us would be where we are without the others. I wouldn't be where I am without them, so right now we're just riding high together. It'd be lonely out there without the rest of the boys around me.
Who: Kenny Chesney with Old Dominion
When: 7:30 p.m., May 12
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh
Cost: $33.25, $68.25, $83.25, $107.75
Info: 919-831-6400 or LiveNation.com