FARGO — Country hit-makers Old Dominion wrap up the year with concerts in Fargo on Friday, Dec. 14, and Duluth, Minn., on Saturday, Dec. 15. Singer and guitarist Matthew Ramsey wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel like we always end up in the cold areas around Christmastime, so we got it down,” he says with a laugh, explaining how it puts the group in the holiday spirit. “We got the bus decorated, and we’ll put the Yule log on the TV and we’ll stay warm.”
He wasn’t always so jolly about the holidays. The season used to present something of a conflict for him when he was trying to make a name for himself.
“I used to say how frustrated I would get around the holidays when I was trying, as a songwriter, to propel my career forward and between Thanksgiving and New Year's, Nashville would just shut down. I was thinking, ‘No, I have got to keep working,’” he says. “Now I just want to sit down on the couch with my family and try to soak it up and reflect on the year, let it sink in and then start preparing for the next one.”
It’s been a pretty good year for the quintet, punctuated by winning the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year awards.
“That’s a big deal,” Ramsey says of the CMA win. “It’s very validating. It’s a prestigious award. For us to win it was really special. You can never really prepare for when they call your name and all of the feelings that happen.”
The group has already released a new track, “Make it Sweet,” from their forthcoming album, which should be out in the spring. Ramsey says the new record won’t stray from the sound they’ve developed, but will be more assured as they have settled into a comfort zone as writers and musicians.
“We’re more confident in who we are and what our identity is, so we kind of pushed the edges a little bit on this album. We sound very much like a band that’s been playing together for a while on this one,” he says.
The group has been around for over a decade, but finally started breaking out in 2014 with “Shut Me Up” and followed that with “Break Up With Him.” Before that, members had more luck writing songs for other artists like Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, The Band Perry and Kelsea Ballerini.
“Back in the day when we were just starting to get traction, it was a little harder to let go of some of the songs,” Ramsey says. “There was a song Craig Morgan recorded, ‘Wake Up Loving You.’ It was one of our first hits for us as songwriters, but it was also getting a lot of attention around Nashville for Old Dominion. When Craig wanted to record it, it was tough to let go, but we really weren’t at a point where we could afford to say no. We had to pay our bills. All of those songs, in the end, got us to where we are, so we’re grateful to the artists who cut them.”
Old Dominion’s style is a mix of rock and country with some hip-hop elements thrown in as well. In high school, Ramsey listened to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, but his parents always had country music radio on in the kitchen.
“We never sit down and try to write a country song,” Ramsey says of the group. “We try to write a great song and whatever style it leans toward, we’re OK with whatever is appropriate for the song.”
With the group’s rock tendencies, they are often asked which artist they would like to perform with, a la the "CMT Crossroads" series.
“I’d say Lenny Kravitz. We all love his music and he’d be really fun to hang with. Maroon 5, John Mayer and bands like that are great, too,” Ramsey says.
The group’s most recent crossover was performing The Beach Boys “Little Saint Nick” on the recent "CMA Country Christmas" special.
“We can’t touch the Beach Boys version. We’re not the Beach Boys. We put our own spin on it,” Ramsey says. “It kind of came out as a cross between the Beach Boys and a Neil Young ‘Harvest Moon’ type of vibe. It’s a pretty chill version.”
Working on that song may have changed his mind, opening him up to doing a Christmas album. In the meantime, he says Fargo and Duluth crowds might hear a holiday tune or two sprinkled in the concerts. It would be his way of giving something back to the fans that have given the group so much.
“That’s the most heartwarming thing of all is that people are making music a part of their lives,” Ramsey says. “We win awards and that’s cool, but the most rewarding thing is that our fans keep coming back and our fan base keeps growing more diverse. It’s really gratifying.”
If you go
What: Old Dominion
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14
Where: Scheels Arena, 5225 31st Ave. S., Fargo
Info: Tickets range from $31.50 to $61.50; https://www.scheelsarena.com or 701-364-3672