Era, to be sure, a genuine crisis for Old Dominion. In all their months off the road, the band that’s built its success on some of country music’s happiest sounds had slowly but surely lost their bliss.
“It was so strange to go through the pandemic where we were still operating as a business,” bass player Geoff Sprung tells PEOPLE. “We’re still making all these decisions together, but without doing the thing that brought all the joy. The reason that we have all these business decisions is because of this 60- or 90-minute portion of the day where we have the most fun that five friends can have. But you take that away for a year, and it weighs on you.”
Vocalista Matthew Ramsey says the multi-platinum-selling band was never in any danger of breaking up, but the five bandmates still knew they desperately needed to do something to dig themselves out of the doldrums. So they returned to their roots, simply tapping into those first garage-band impulses.
“As kids growing up, that’s the way we were — a band of friends getting together and jamming it out until we came up with something,” says Ramsey, 43.
Embracing that spirit, the five bandmates — also including guitarist Brad Tursi, guitarist/keyboardist Trevor Rosen and drummer Whit Sellers — took over an Asheville, Carolina do Norte, studio for three weeks last year with no plan other than just to see what would happen.
Rosen, 46, wryly notes that “tempering expectations” is a byword for the band. “We had a slogan for a long time: ‘We’re never gonna make it anyway,'” ele diz, “so I think we said, Ei, if we get three or four good songs, then we’ll be fine.”
There was no need to worry. When the band began creating songs at a rate of one a day, they knew they’d quickly found their groove again. “After we got three or four solid ones under our belts,” says Rosen, “then I felt like, Nós vamos, now we’ve got another two weeks and some change to just be free to create whatever we want to create.”
The result is Old Dominion’s fourth full-length album, Tempo, Tequila and Therapy, a joy-filled 13-track testament to the brotherhood of this celebrated band. Just a glance at the liner notes tells you the exceptional nature of the project that debuts on Friday: All five members share writing credits on every single song, a harmonic convergence that’s happened on only two of their previous cuts. (Para o registro, they’re also two of their biggest hits: “Make It Sweet” e “Break Up with Him.”)
Reflecting on the process, Ramsey still savors the teamwork of those weeks. “As soon as you stepped into the room, você é como, ah, sim, this is what we do!” ele diz. “And we’re really good together. Not only that, but we really love doing this.”
Com 14 years of togetherness, Rosen says, the five members easily add up to far more than the sum of their parts. “It’s hard to really define what it is,” ele diz, “but there’s a certain thing that becomes Old Dominion. It’s no longer individuals. There’s a sound. There’s an attitude. There’s a language.”
During the marathon writing and recording sessions, everyone pulled their own weight, say the bandmates, and roles easily shifted.
“We all respect what the other ones bring to the table,” says Ramsey. “It really is just this super-crazy brainstorm session. There’s a lot of speaking and a lot of listening going on at the same time. And then somehow you turn around at some point and you have a song. It doesn’t feel like there’s someone who leads the charge all the time creatively. We’re a true band in that sense.”
Traditionally, the names of Ramsey, Rosen and Tursi have appeared most frequently on the band’s songwriting credits. This time around allowed Sellers’ and Sprung’s gifts to be realized more fully.
Rosen, who prides himself on his lyrics, says he particularly appreciated how the drummer and bass player “hear music differently than I do — and in a musical way.” Sellers’ drums, adds Ramsey, can instantly “infuse all of this energy into a song … He starts playing a beat, and it brings this whole other voice into the song.”
Como sempre, three other essential ingredients also went into the band’s secret sauce: hit-making songwriters Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Matt Jenkins. All were invited into the process, and they share credits on various cuts; McAnally also co-produced the album with the band. All three songwriters came up through the ranks with Old Dominion and have long been an integral part of the band’s music.
“They’re brilliant idea people,” says Rosen. “They do it all — melody, lyrics — but we all started out together, so when we talk about the chemistry that we have with each other, they’re part of that, também. Long before they were these giant hit songwriters and long before we were a successful band, we were spending all those hours in the writing rooms, trying to figure out how to write great songs.”
By now, the code has obviously been cracked, and once again, their efforts have produced an album’s worth of hooky melodies and catchy lyrics, both trademark features of the band’s output.
Besides current chart-climber “I Was on a Boat That Day,” treats that await on the new LP include the tropical breeziness of “Havaí” (a recently released single), the tight rhythms of “Blue Jeans” and the folksy, funky “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with Love.” Another track, “Don’t Forget Me,” arrives with propulsive heat, e “Lonely Side of Town” — featuring soul legend Gladys Knight — is a blast of cool.
Mandy Moore e Shane West revelam segredos sobre seu romance adolescente icônico, despite their diversity, they all sound unmistakably like Old Dominion songs. How does the band do that?
Rosen says it’s still a bit of a mystery, but the band no longer questions it.
“It never ceases to amaze me the amount of times that we’ve tried a song and said, ‘I don’t think this necessarily sounds like us,'” ele diz. “And then we record it and I’m like, 'Cara, that’s really different.’ And then people tell us, ‘It sounds like an Old Dominion song.’ When we come together and whatever choices we make, it just always ends up sounding like an Old Dominion song, which is a very freeing thing for us, because it gives us a lot of freedom to do anything we like.”
That includes their frequent playfulness with lyrics. Desta vez, “I Was on a Boat That Day” features some of their most sublimely ridiculous: “As drunk as a skunk eating lunch with a cross-eyed bear.”
Ramsey reveals the line is his — and it was never supposed to make it into the song.
“We’re all sitting there throwing things out, and I heard this rhythm that I wanted,” ele lembra. “And so literally, just stream of consciousness, eu disse, 'OK, this is not the line, but it needs to sound like this.'”
The moment Ramsey spit out the words, says Sprung, “The room exploded. We’re like, 'Sim, that’s amazing!’ And I think even Shane was like, ‘I don’t care what else we do with this song, that is the lyric.'”
More serendipity ushered in Gladys Knight’s participation.
“We had written this song and recorded it without anyone in mind other than ourselves,” says Ramsey. “And we were listening to it and thought, homem, it has such a Motown feel. It’d be great to have somebody like Gladys Knight on it.”
Unbeknownst to the band, Knight actually lives in the Asheville area, and the studio’s manager is a friend. An invitation was extended and “she didn’t even blink,” says Ramsey. “She just said, 'Sim, I would love to.'”
There was still a wait to get Knight into the studio; Ramsey and McAnally returned to Asheville a few months later to oversee the session, “and it was awesome,” Ramsey says, promising that a video of the experience will eventually be released.
Once the album was complete, there was still one important task that remained — picking a name — and the bandmates say it also arrived by happenstance. Rosen says he came up with Tempo, Tequila and Therapy, taken from the cheerful lyrics of “No Hard Feelings,” in a back-of-the-bus conversation with the band’s manager only to discover, at that very moment, his bandmates in the front of the bus were floating the same name.
“Foi como, feito,” says Rosen. “We knew it was the title right away. It’s a title that’s sort of catchy, but it also sums up the album, and it sums up the headspace that we were in when we made it.”
E, just like the name of their first album, Meat and Candy, it’s also just a little on the weird side.
“É isso, no entanto?” Rosen counters with a laugh. “Who doesn’t like a little time, tequila and therapy?”
Old Dominion is now back out on tour — they’ve been on the road since late spring — and once again they’re feeling the joy of the stage. But now that emotion, says Rosen, is accompanied by a brand new one.
“It’s just pure appreciation for something that maybe you took a little bit for granted,” ele diz. “When it’s gone for a little while, you appreciate it that much more when you get back.”