PEORIA — One of the headlining acts at this year's Tailgate N' Tallboys Music Festival has finally completed its rise to the top of the country music ranks.

Old Dominion was announced as the headliner for the country music festival last fall on the heels of its latest album, "Happy Endings," hitting No. 1 on the country charts. Thousands are expected to descend upon the Peoria riverfront Sunday night in order to catch the band that is considered the next wave of country music.

Ahead of the concert, we chatted with lead singer Matthew Ramsey about the band's writing process, touring with Kenny Chesney and his grunge rock roots.

Q: You guys are playing with Kenny Chesney right now, right?

Matthew Ramsey: This is our third year touring with him. It’s been pretty great.

Q: I was recently reading about the aftermath of one of the shows. The angle of the article wasn't the actual concert but what was leftover after.

Ramsey: That’s definitely Pittsburgh, man. Pittsburgh gets nuts. It’s definitely a party vibe there. You walk out on stage, they’ve already been hitting it pretty hard (laughs).

Q: What’s the difference between Old Dominion now and Old Dominion from 2011 and 2012 when you still hadn’t released a formal album?

Ramsey: There’s so many different things. Obviously, our lives have changed quite a bit with having hits on the radio and actual fans coming to shows (laughs). The way we travel is different. We’re in buses and planes and not a van, like we were for years.

But as far as we go, we try to treat it the same. We try to write the best songs we can, record them and make music that excites us. And that seems to be what keeps propelling us. If we stay true to what we think is cool and not chase anything, then it’s going to work for us. So far, it’s served us well.

Q: Many of the band members have songwriting credits on popular songs for other artists. How did you navigate that along with performing as Old Dominion?

Ramsey: It all sort of came together at the same time. We were friends and knew each other for a really long time before we were ever successful at anything. We were in Nashville, playing music together any way. One by one, we started having these successes individually as songwriters, but we were still playing music together at the same time. We’d go out to some little bar to play just to make an extra $40 and just for fun. And as we got success as songwriters, it started to shine a spotlight on what we were doing as a band.

Q: Because you have all these songwriters, what is it like in the writing room and then in the studio with all of these creative voices in the band?

Ramsey: That’s what makes it exciting. That’s kind of how Nashville is built is on co-writing. I learned how to co-write a song when I moved to Nashville. We get in there and bounce ideas and everyone is after the best possible results. You have to throw everything out there and try everything and then everyone can settle on the best. Usually, we wind up being on the same page. It’s a whirlwind of creativity and it’s pretty exciting when the finished product comes out.

Q: The band’s lyrics are often witty, playful, maybe a hint of sadness here and there. Is that the vibe you’re going for when you write songs?

Ramsey: I think that’s just our personalities coming out. That’s who we are as people: we’re funny, witty, goofy guys, but there’s maybe that hint of sadness. That’s the music that we love, too, that can kind of stir up all those emotions. We don’t really take ourselves too seriously, so that probably comes across (laughs).

Q: One of the lines that sticks out to me when I’ve listened to you is in “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” is when you reference “Jack and Diane” and what happens to those two characters after the song. Do you have that reference in mind ahead of time and want to work it into the song, or do you just plug it in to that particular song off the top of your head?

Ramsey: It’s funny, a lot of times when you write a song you have an idea or a title to write around. And on that song in particular we didn’t have any idea what we were going to write that day.

To be honest with you, I have no idea why I had said that. That was the first thing I said. I said, “ I wonder if Jack and Diane ever made it.” And the rest of the guys were like, “Whoa, what does that mean?” And that sent us down this road to write that song. For whatever reason, that’s what came out of my mouth, and sometimes that happens and we’re lucky to be there when it does.

Q: Now a little about yourself. I read somewhere that you were a big fan of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and that you were in a grunge band growing up. What was it about grunge that appealed so much to you?

Ramsey: I was a kid, and I loved all of that music. I think I heard Pearl Jam first and just thought, “What is this?” There was just so much raw feeling and raw emotion that spoke to me. And all of that guitar work made me want to lock myself in a room and learn how to play guitar.

Country music was always on in my house with my parents, but I was never the one seeking out country music until later in my life. I was always rock and pop until I was probably 19 or 20, and then I started really digging into country.

Q: In your time as a musician, either in Nashville or elsewhere, did you ever bump into someone from those two bands?

Ramsey: We did see Matt Cameron, the drummer for Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, on an airplane once. But I was too nervous to go talk to him (laughs).

Q: Having experienced success within the genre now, what to you is the essence of country music?

Ramsey: I think it is the storytelling. I'm a huge fan of a good story, and songwriters in general. I also was drawn to storytelling songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and these people that could really weave a story. And I think country music is really centered around that story and the songwriter. Songwriters are amazing creative minds, and just to be in Nashville and hear what they can come up with is inspiring.

Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or tbruch@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.