On the Road — and Reminiscing — with Todd O'Neill

20 April 2017

Since being named the winner of NASH Next — a nationwide country music competition — Todd O’Neill has gotten used to making himself at home on the road.
We were lucky enough to catch Todd on a rare day off, and he was kind enough to give us a peek into his life on the go. From opening for some of country music’s hottest musicians to heading home for mom’s cooking, Todd is never in one place for long, but he certainly knows how to make the most of every visit. 

Tell us how you got started playing music.

Well, I’ve been singing since I was 3 or 4 years old. Then in 2000, I took a job as a roadie for a Louisiana band called Big Cat Daddy. I was only 17, so I’d have to sneak into where they were playing and hide out backstage.

One night they were playing in my hometown, and someone yelled out, “You ought to hear Todd O’Neill sing!” The lead singer looked at me and said, “You sing?”

So I got up and sang with the band and they were floored.

Well, that’s an on-the-spot audition.

It was! But they invited me to be a full-time member, so I guess it went well. Since then, I’ve probably played every weekend for the past 16 years.

As the winner of NASH Next, you were signed with the Big Machine label. How did you hear about the competition?

That was a godsend. I really believe that. In a 24-hour period, three people contacted me about it. After the third person, I said, “Dear Lord, you have my attention.” I emailed the information to my manager, Barbara. About 45 minutes later she called me back and said, “Todd, you have to do this.”

What’s it been like since the finale?

It’s a been whirlwind experience. From getting out on the road again and traveling and getting to meet all these wonderful people — it’s humbling.

I have a son and daughter — they’re 6 and 10. So video chat is my favorite because I get to interact and see them, not just hear them.

Tell us what you like about traveling. 

You know, it’s easy to get in sort of a rut and play the same circuit, the same bars. But when I’m traveling, I get to meet different people, see new places. There’s nothing like it. You can take the same music and songs, and it’s new again every night.

What’s something you try to do in each new city? 

I try to get into their culture. I talk to locals and ask, “What is the one thing I need to do while I’m here? What do I need to see? What do I need to eat?” We’re gone for about two weeks at a time, so we try to take a lot in.

How do you stay in touch with family and friends with such a busy schedule? 

Video chat. Thank goodness for smartphones making it easy. I have a son and daughter — they’re 6 and 10. So video chat is my favorite because I get to interact and see them, not just hear them.

Do they enjoy seeing you out on the road?

Oh yeah. Well, my little boy loves to sing. He’s been singing on stage since he was 2 and he’s a great singer. My daughter is a bit shy.

And you’re originally from Louisiana — what did you enjoy about growing up there? 

Our culture and our food. The exotic Cajun — crawfish, gumbo. I take advantage every time I’m there to indulge. Mom’s cooking is always the best — that’s what Louisiana is to me. Home and Mom’s cooking.

And now you live in Nashville. What’s that like? 

There’s music everywhere. It’s coming out of every crack and crevice. You can be walking down the street and hear people rehearsing in their homes. It’s fantastic. So is the food! You don’t have to go far to get fat around here.

You seem to be a fan of food. Do you have any go-to snacks when traveling?

Lately, sweet and salty bars, trail mix and purple-pack Skittles. I had to get specific, because once when I asked for Tropical Skittles, they bought me the red pack. So I had to label them as the purple pack. Don’t mess it up.

You’re about to hit the road for NASH Next: Live in the Lobby at Country Inns & Suites tour. How does it feel to headline your own tour after all these years?

I’ve been fortunate to be in this business and be successful. There’s so many people with talent equivalent that don’t get to do what I do. I feel really lucky to be in my shoes right now. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“This or That” Travel Trivia with Todd

Scenic tour or tourist sights?
Scenic tour.
Historic landmarks or hot new spots?
Historic landmarks.
Drive or fly?
Do you over-pack or under-pack?
Under. I forget the easy stuff, like a toothbrush and deodorant.
Beach or pool?
Pool — sand gets on my nerves.
BBQ or Creole?
Waffles or pancakes?
Coffee or tea?
Soft or firm pillow?
Wi-Fi or a book?
Chocolate chip cookies or peanut butter?
Peanut butter.
Shower or bath?

Hear more from Todd and other NASH Next finalists!

Each week, we’ll post a new podcast interview with country music’s next big names. Keep checking back as they discuss the competition, life on the road, their hometowns and more!

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