Since Old Dominion broke through with 2015’s “Break Up With Him,” the country quintet have scored six No. 1 hits. The most recent came courtesy of “Hotel Key,” a zippy ditty reminiscing about a very special night. The Nashville-based group — frontman Matthew Ramsey, guitarist-keyboardist Trevor Rosen, guitarist Brad Tursi, bassist Geoff Sprung, and drummer Whit Sellers — just released its latest single “Make it Sweet” and, given the early signs, it looks like it may be following its predecessors up the charts.
It follows in the vein of previous outings for a band that has specialized in the idea of taking in life’s pleasures while you can.
“Our lives are changing dramatically right now,” says Ramsey of Old Dominion’s success. “And it does get stressful and it’s hard to be away from your family and people you love. But then there’s this other great stuff happening. So, yeah, there is that sort of sentiment of like, ‘We need to be enjoying this.’ And the truth is, we’re having the time of our lives. We’re in a band with our buddies and we’re succeeding at everything we worked really hard for. So we are really enjoying the moment.”
The group recently finished up a tour with Kenny Chesney, and the superstar invited Ramsey and Tursi out each night to sing his hit “Save it for a Rainy Day,” which the pair co-wrote. It’s one of many tunes that the members of the band have written either together or in combination with other songwriters outside of the group that have hit for other artists. (A sampling of their non-OD discography includes Luke Bryan’s “Light it Up,” co-written by Tursi, Kelsea Ballerini’s “I Hate Love Songs” and the Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two,” which Rosen had a hand in and Sam Hunt’s “Ex to See,” to which Ramsey contributed.)
Playing “Save it for a Rainy Day” at those stadium gigs was a treat, says Ramsey. “That’s the gift that no songwriter gets: to write a song, have an artist like him, an iconic artist, record it, and then get to go on tour with that artist and then get to perform it with that artist. You’ve experienced every aspect of that song you could possibly get. It’s really an amazing thing.”
And now the group will get to experience another aspect as they sing it alongside their own hits during their current headlining tour, which will take them across the U.S. — and across the pond — through early summer 2019.
EW asked Ramsey to break down the elements that helped “Hotel Key” unlock chart success.
INSPIRATION: “We spend a lot of time in hotels, and I had a key in my pocket and I said, ‘Man, that’s a cool idea for a song. What if we could write a story about someone who keeps the key as a souvenir of a great night?’ Then [guitarist-keyboardist] Trevor [Rosen] said, ‘Man, my wife actually does keep hotel keys.'”
THE RIGHT RIFF: “The great thing about that guitar lick is it’s Brad [Tursi] trying to figure out what he was going to play, fumbling through it,” says Ramsey with a laugh. “He wanted to rerecord those licks, but we wouldn’t let him…. He’s always a little bothered that it’s him just making mistakes all the way through the song. But to us, it’s what adds the perfect character.”
PITCHING WOO: “That one just felt like it needed some woos,” he says of the celebratory shouts. “A lot of times those types of things happen as an accident and maybe you’re singing a melody idea that you intend to write lyrics to, but you realize, ‘Actually, that sounds cool as just a woo-woo.'”
PICK YOUR POISON (IN THIS SONG, TEQUILA): “You know, we definitely drink a lot of tequila in this band, for sure. It’s a pre-show ritual where we have shots of Don Julio.”
MAKE IT UNIVERSAL…: “We wanted to paint a picture of just a carefree night. Where you’ve let your guard down, you’re just living in that moment and not really thinking about tomorrow. You’re just hazily drifting through this night, wherever it goes.”
…BUT ALSO KEEP THEM GUESSING: “A lot of people do think this is a one-night-stand type of song. And yes, it sort of has that vibe. But I always say, ‘That’s not necessarily true.’ I mean, nowhere in there do we say that it’s a one-night stand. It’s just about that one night. It could be a couple married for 10 years and they had an amazing night where they were on vacation without the kids, and this night they just let loose and they had to keep that hotel key, you know? It could be anything.”
“You can never really know if a song is gonna be a hit or not,” says Ramsey. “You just put your best guess out there and hope it connects.”
The band is hoping to connect with some hardware at the CMA awards next month, where they are nominated for Vocal Group of the Year.