Interview: The Story Behind Nash Next Winner Todd O’Neill’s New Single “Love Again”

On a cold New York City night in February this year, Todd O’Neill had just wrapped up a show at Printers Alley and was scheduled to fly out the following day – then came winter weather, and lots of it. A snowstorm hit the Northeast, covering the city and stranding O’Neill. He had nothing to do and nowhere to go, until a phone call from his manager led him to make another visit to the venue he’d just played.

At the time, O’Neill had won the 2016 Nash Next Challenge in October, and was preparing to record his first radio single. He blew away the competition’s judges (Big Machine Records president Scott Borchetta, Danielle Bradbery, Kix Brooks, and Jay DeMarcus) and earned a recording contract that would ultimately lead to a national airplay single produced by DeMarcus. O’Neill sat beside the Rascal Flatts member and compiled a list of songs they had received, and one in particular, titled “Love Again,” jumped off the page.

“I knew what I wanted – an upbeat, positive song – but I knew I didn’t have it in my catalog,” O’Neill said. “I was at Big Machine with Jay for a couple days, and we heard some great material which made it difficult to pick from. When I heard “Love Again,” I instantly fell in love with it. When I submitted my top five favorite songs, Scott [Borchetta] actually picked that song, which was very exciting.”

The song was written by rising country star Brett Young, along with Jessie Fraser and Cary Barlowe, and after submitting a request to do the song, O’Neill and his team learned that Young had put the song on hold for a future project. This is where that snowy-night phone call from his manager became one of most influential pieces to the moving puzzle, because playing at Printers Alley that Thursday night was none other than Brett Young himself.

His manager encouraged him to ask Young about the track in person, in hopes that Young might change his mind or otherwise allow O’Neill to cut the song. “I told her I couldn’t just walk up to Brett Young and do that,” O’Neill said. “But I did.” He was very complimentary of the track, and Young instantly told O’Neill he should cut it – it was that simple. Days later, O’Neill and DeMarcus were in the studio producing “Love Again” before it would hit radio airwaves on April 14.

O’Neill was raised in Hammond, Louisiana, approximately 45 miles east of Baton Rouge. It was here where his love of singing began when he was just three or four years old. His mother had a diverse collection of music to place on the family’s record player – the likes of Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and Otis Redding – and since hearing those legends, all he’s ever wanted to do is play music.

“I just loved music,” he recalled. “I would walk around humming and wanting to play guitar from a very early age. Hearing those old records I knew right away.”

In his high school days, a band called “Big Cat Daddy” was made famous in southeast Louisiana, compiled of seasoned musicians who held day jobs but still managed to play few shows a week. O’Neill started as a roadie for the group, and one night in his hometown, with friends and family in attendance, he made a surprise appearance on stage for the first time.

“In the middle of the set, one of my friends yelled out, ‘Let him sing!’” O’Neill said. “Scott, the leader of the band, looked over at me and asked if I could sing. I got up there, and it was so addictive being on stage and singing.”

A month or two later, O’Neill was asked to join the band, which was renamed “Todd O’Neill and the Big Cat Daddy” after the young singer gained popularity in the area. In the 15-year period that followed, O’Neill traveled across the region playing with groups here and there, but something told him the time was right to get back to doing original country music again and begin his solo career.

Even throughout the year-to-year grind on the local circuit, O’Neill remained positive and shielded away any thoughts about giving it up. “You’ll always have something in the back of your mind saying, ‘Should I have stayed in school or chosen a different career path?’ but I’ve never doubted whether I should be playing music or not,” O’Neill said. “I think no matter what you do, if you’re consistent and you put everything you have into it, success will come. My daddy always said you’ll never work a day in your life if you love what you do, and I love what I do.”

After forming a band in 2013 alongside longtime friend Seth Lecoq, O’Neill set off on tour and recorded six tracks for his 2015 EP Fast Lane. One year later, he was on the Nash Next regional stage in Lafayette after multiple people encouraged him to try out.

Fast forward to present day, O’Neill’s single “Love Again” can be heard across the nation. With its catchy rhythm and top-notch production by DeMarcus, there’s a reason why it has found itself climbing the charts week-by-week. O’Neill has even crossed paths with Young since the track’s release, and even played it for Young in person. (According to O’Neill, Young smiled the entire time.)

The last six months have been life-changing for O’Neill. He hears himself on local radio stations on a regular basis, receives screenshots from fans showcasing his hit single reaching #59 on Billboard’s Top 100 during release week, and he’ll be opening for Brothers Osborne at the 2017 Nash Country Kick Off on June 6.

If this was O’Neill in his 20s right now, he admitted he would be savoring the fame and fortune that has come along with the journey. But he remains genuine, hosting Facebook Live videos as he shouts out friends and family members from the seat of his bus. Beside him is his son, who chimes in with, “Settle it down, settle in down, settle it down,” a line from his dad’s newest song.

It’s been a learning process with a revamped schedule, but O’Neill remains the same – a father who wants to provide for his family. “It’s definitely been different from my normal day-to-day regimen,” he said with a laugh. “From being a dad during the week and playing on the weekends, I’m learning how to juggle everything. But it’s been a whirlwind experience.”

“When I was younger, I wanted it for different reasons,” he says. “But now, I really want it for [my family]. If something happens where I have national success, I can give them a way better life and a lot more stability.”

Todd would like to thank his longtime fans, friends and family for their support. You can download “Love Again” on iTunes or listen on streaming platforms. Visit his website for upcoming shows, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat @toddoneillmusic.