Country group Old Dominion head into ACMs already winners

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2015, file photo, members of Old Dominion, from left, Trevor Rosen, Whit Sellers, Matthew Ramsey, Geoff Sprung and Brad Tursi arrive at the 49th annual CMA Awards at in Nashville, Tenn. When members of the band saw their name on the voting ballots for the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards that will be held Sunday, April 3, 2016, for both new vocal duo/group of the year and vocal group of the year, the whole thing felt like a joke on them. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When members of Old Dominion saw the band’s name on the voting ballots for the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards for both new vocal duo/group of the year and vocal group of the year, it felt like a joke.

Lead singer Matthew Ramsey said it hit home when a friend told him it was like “being nominated for rookie of the year and MVP of the year at the same time.”

Old Dominion will go into Sunday’s awards show already winners. The band has picked up the newcomer award, announced last week.

It’s a validation for Old Dominion, whose other members include Trevor Rosen, Whit Sellers, Geoff Sprung and Brad Tursi, after writing country songs for solo acts for years.

But Ramsey said it still feels unreal. “Sometimes I feel like apologizing when we’re on these lists,” he said. “We’re just goofing off and we made that list, sorry.”

As they were promoting their full-length debut album, “Meat and Candy,” last year, the group, which picked the name Old Dominion because of their ties to Virginia, kept hearing the same backhanded compliment from fans.

“One of our favorite things we get a lot from people at our shows is, ‘You know what, I don’t even like country music, but I like you guys,'” said multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Rosen with a laugh. Added Ramsey, “We’re not exactly out there with fiddles jumping around.”

Old Dominion is one of the few country groups that doesn’t need a backing band, doesn’t rely heavily on vocal harmonies and writes its own songs, which tend to be upbeat, cleverly worded and tinged with pop rock melodies. The band’s songwriters helped write hit songs for Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Chris Young, The Band Perry and Tyler Farr.

It’s not easy being a country band these days when solo artists rule the radio waves. But Old Dominion was persistent, pitching songs to other artists, handing out free CDs to any fan that asked and hitting the road nearly 200 days a year.

“We were told, ‘No, there’s not a spot for you,’ quite a few times,” Ramsey said.

The band got its first hit single, “Break Up With Him,” which they wrote together, thanks to heavy airplay on Sirius XM Radio, similar to how Florida Georgia Line got its break. Songwriter and producer Shane McAnally, best known for his work with Sam Hunt and Kacey Musgraves, helped produce the record. They got an opening spot on Kenny Chesney’s Big Revival tour, which moved them from playing in clubs to performing in stadiums.

“It got us in front of thousands of people a night and raised the profile of the band,” said Tursi, a guitarist and songwriter.

What they learned from their experience on the road was to keep their shows and songs light, fun and energetic, which reflects their attitude off the road, too, where they are constantly laughing and making fun of each other.

“A band in our position, we have a first impression to make,” Ramsey said. “We don’t want to come out of the gate and make people sad. I think we consciously made that choice to keep it happy and up.”

To which Tursi joked, “Here’s our new single: ‘Never Going to Get Better.'”

The ACM Awards will be presented Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, hosted by Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley. The show will air live on CBS (8 p.m. Eastern).