The Old Dominion singer has a leather jacket addiction and a beard he’ll never shave.
One look at Matthew Ramsey, and you can tell the guy’s meant to be famous. If it’s not his leather jacket collection, black jeans, or gold boots that will tip you off, it’s his dark, full-grown beard—which somehow stands out while bringing everything else in his look together. There’s also the fact that he is already *pretty* well known: He’s the lead singer of Old Dominion—the band behind the hit song “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart”—with not one but two CMA nominations this year.
But the real kicker in all this? Matthew never really envisioned himself as a singer growing up. Sure, he had a guitar and rocked out to Soundgarden and Nirvana with his pals, but much like the rest of his band—made up of writers and studio musicians—he was more of a behind-the-scenes guy. “I moved to Nashville in 2002 with the goal of being a songwriter,” he tells me, as we talk about his career (and I eye his Gucci bag and Saint Laurent boots). “That’s probably a big reason that we are successful as a band—all of us did that. We were so dedicated to the song, and songwriting, and serving the song as musicians, that I think that’s really what our thing is.”
So how did it all get to this point? And does Matthew’s look have anything to do with it? Allow the singer to answer these question and more in his own words.
When was the moment when you thought, “Wow, I really have to pursue a singing career”?
“It’s hard to pinpoint that moment. I remember getting to a point where we went, ‘Ok, we need a booking agent because we can’t be making these phone calls anymore.’ So, we got a booking agent, and when we met with him, he was like, ‘Do you guys even have a van?’ He actually had a van, and sold us a real touring van. Then it grew to a point where we were like, ‘We need a manager,’ and so, the same thing—got a manager. We started getting some success on satellite radio, and then we got invited home to a stadium tour before we had the record deal. Then we get the record deal. All of these little things kept growing to a point of ‘We need to take the next step because we can’t do this anymore on our own.’”
Do you consider yourself a writer first?
“I still don’t ever consider myself a singer. I’m definitely a songwriter before anything else. It’s something I’ll always be able to do—I won’t always be able to do this. I think, in our minds, this is a pretty temporary thing. We’re going to ride it as long as we possibly can, and hopefully it does last for twenty years. It could be over tomorrow [laughs]. But I’ll always be able to write songs.
“Bands are hard. We’re lucky we’re friends, and that we were friends before we were a band, so our goal when we started was to make sure that we were friends when it’s over. So far, so good on that. We get along great; we laugh all the time. But we’ve been around the music business long enough to know it doesn’t last forever. Even as a songwriter; songwriters have their runs where they’re writing everything, and then it tapers off and the new guys come in. Right now, we’re still the new guys.”
A lot of country music seems to cross over into more mainstream these days. Is that what you’re finding with Old Dominion?
“I think the nature of how people listen to music is causing genres to go away. With streaming, every kind of music is at your fingertips, so whatever you [want to] hear, it’s right there. It’s not like you have to go listen to the rock station or go listen to the country station. You can listen to everything—build your own station. Luckily, that's helping us. We grew up listening to everything, and that bleeds into the songs we write and the music that we play.”
How would you describe your signature style?
“I have a leather jacket problem. I feel like every time I turn around, I’m buying a leather jacket [laughs]. I have this habit of going into the Tom Ford store in Vegas whenever we’re there. I’ve learned I hate Las Vegas [laughs]—I’m not a gambler and I’m not a huge partier. So I learned the shopping side of Vegas, and that’s when I ended up buying a Tom Ford jacket as a gift to myself. I pat myself on the back for getting an ACM award. So now it’s tradition that every time I go to Vegas, I end up shopping and buying. I bought those gold Saint Laurent boots in Vegas. I wanted to buy them when [Old Dominion’s] album went gold to wear to the Gold Party, but I couldn’t get them in time.
“My grandad told me when I was a kid to dress for the job that I wanted. He wasn’t talking about this, but it’s like speaking your goals out loud, only through your clothes. It’s all about setting yourself apart, but being comfortable at the same time. I don’t wear anything I feel uncomfortable in. I don’t think any of us in the band do, but I think we all enjoy dressing up a little bit. It’s fun to walk on stage and own it a little bit.”
What’s the story with your blue shirt?
“This shirt has been washed probably five times in the five years that I’ve had it. It’s been shoved in that backpack or any backpack. It’s been through the van days. I still wear it. I’ve worn it onstage. It’s just comfortable. It’s reversible. It feels good; it feels like home when I wear it.”
Can we talk about your accessories?
“This [bracelet] was a gift from my daughter. I think she gave this to me about two years ago. Both of my daughters—I have two girls, 8 and 11—and they’re my biggest fans, for sure. I definitely wear the things they give me a lot. The little emojis on my backpack are from them. They’re always trying to remind of home when I’m gone.”
You have a bee bracelet and a bee tattoo. Does the bee hold a special meaning for you?
“The bee is from a poem I read a lot. [It’s] called ‘Vanity of Vanities,’ by Helen Hunt Jackson. There’s a line in there about bees, [bee to the blossom, moth to the flame]. Sometimes it makes me feel good. Sometimes it makes me feel terrible. It’s an interesting mix. It’s just about passion and going after what you want. I think anyone in this line of work doesn’t necessarily feel like they chose it 100 percent. We would never have stuck with it as long as we did if we didn’t feel like we had to do it. We keep going and going.”
Would you ever shave your beard?
“It started as a little goatee back in the day, and now I’ve just had it for so long that I don’t think I’ll ever shave it. I shaved it six or seven years [ago] and I immediately regretted it. I grew it right back out. It goes through various thicknesses, but it just feels too much like me now at this point. I’d be lost without it. What would I do when I’m thinking about things? What would I run my fingers through? [laughs]”
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