Between their pre-pandemic tour schedule as a headlining act and personal responsibilities at home in Nashville, country band Old Dominion could never find time to press pause and go on a buddies retreat that'd potentially spawn spontaneous songwriting and recording sessions. As the country music business reclaimed some sense of normalcy earlier in 2021, bandmates and close friends Trevor Rosen, Matthew Ramsey, Whit Sellers, Geoff Sprung and Brad Tursi found themselves in a rare position to get away from it all, making the trek to Echo Mountain Recording in Asheville, N.C. to reconvene as in-person co-workers and rekindle their creative chemistry.
"It was basically born out of the pandemic," Rosen told Wide Open Country. "We hadn't seen each other in a while, and we'd always talked about just getting in the studio without a plan and creating like that. That's how this whole thing was written in May. We went out to Asheville, N.C. for three weeks and lived out there and had a house and would show up in the studio every morning and start fresh on a song. We had a studio upstairs that we could record in. We didn't have a plan."
No plan morphed into the group's fourth album, Time, Tequila & Therapy, once the five-piece reconnected with its go-to producer, Shane McAnally.
"We expected to get maybe a few good songs," Rosen said. "They kept coming and kept coming. We'd write a song and then go upstairs and record it. We ended up with a whole album. It was really a cool way to write an album and something we'd always wanted to do and never thought we'd have the time or get the chance to do it. It's a snapshot of how we were in that three week span of time."
The looseness of the Asheville sessions pushed members' senses of humor to the forefront on songs like instant fan favorite "I Was on a Boat That Day," which packs a punchline on par with those in Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)" and Hoyt Axton's Renee Armand duet "Boney Fingers."
"We pretty much laughed through the writing of it and the recording of it," Rosen added. "Which we do a lot of times anyway, even when we're not writing a fun, light-hearted song. We've written for so many years, there's such a chemistry and we also thoroughly enjoy doing it still to this day to where there's always a lot of laughter. On a song like that, we want to one-up each other and it turns into this contest of who can say a more clever or funnier line. That was definitely fun to write. It was also fun to record, too. After we had it written, we went into the studio and knew we had to just make it fun and just make it loose. We all took a shot or two of tequila before we did it and Matt counted it off. Pretty much the main bones of the track you hear was one of the first couple of takes where we all jammed in and played it through as a band."
"I Want to Live in a House With You," a title easy enough to imagine reading on an old Porter Wagoner or Norma Jean 45, might be even more delightfully ridiculous than Old Dominion's most recent hit single. It's certainly more surreal, with lines like "sweeter piece of aspiration" upping the absurdity quotient.
"It's almost like a Ringo tongue-in-cheek kind of Beatles song, or it's kind of old country, too," Rosen said. "It really started as a joke. Whit kept throwing that out as a joke for a title for a song. We weren't seriously going to write it as a real song. He was making fun of some other song. I can't remember what it was. Some other country song, and he felt like it was just a little over the top, pandering or something like that.
"Then at one point we were setting there getting ready to write, and we started talking about it," Rosen continued. "We were like, 'You know, that could actually be a real title.' Things just started to snowball from there. You start giggling, someone starts playing the guitar riff and throwing out a couple of lines. The next thing you know, we're going, 'Okay, I guess we're actually writing this.' Then it becomes a challenge to take a joke, weird title and actually make a real song out of it."
Beyond those two examples of inside jokes negating the need for outside cuts, the band raised the bar for its serious--and seriously good--material, from "Don't Forget Me," which updates the pop-country of '80s bands Exile and Restless Heart for modern ears, to a dream collaboration with Gladys Knight, "Lonely Side of Town."
"We were sitting in the studio, playing it back and talking about how it had this Motown feel," Rosen said. "I think I said, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we got Smokey Robinson.' Somebody Motown, you know. It was either Matt or Shane McAnally, our producer, who said, 'Yeah, or Gladys Knight would be really cool.' We were like, 'Oh yeah, that would be great.' It dawned on us, we were like, 'Wait a second, Gladys Knight lives here in Asheville, N.C. I wonder if she'd be interested or if anybody knows her.' It turns out [the manager of the studio], we talked to her and she said, 'Oh, I know Gladys. Her and her husband are good friends of mine.' It just blew our minds. She was like, 'I don't mind asking her.' Even without hearing the song right away, Gladys was like, 'Oh, I love those guys. I'm in. I'll definitely do it.' We were jumping up and down like little kids. We couldn't believe it was going to happen."
A couple of weeks later, Ramsey and McAnally returned to Asheville for the surreal experience of watching Knight cut her vocal parts. Not a bad payoff for a trip with no plan.
Time, Tequila & Therapy Tracklist
1. "Why Are You Still Here"
3. "Walk on Whiskey"
4. "All I Know About Girls"
5. "Blue Jeans"
6. "No Hard Feelings"
7. "Lonely Side of Town" (Feat. Gladys Knight)
8. "I Was on a Boat That Day"
9. "Drinking My Feelings"
10. "Somethings the Same About You"
11. "I Want to Live in a House With You"
12. "Don't Forget Me"
13. "Ain't Nothing Wrong With Love"