Eli Young, country band from Texas, hits it big
With country at another of its commercial peaks, there are many artists out there who are touring big rooms with only a first album or a handful of hit singles to their names. Not so for the Eli Young Band, who spent years on the road before they started hitting the top of the country charts.
“There are times when it would have been nice to be further ahead in our careers, but when I think about it we’ve been really lucky to have this path we’re on,” said Jon Jones, bassist for the Eli Young Band, in an interview from his home in Grapevine, Texas. “When we started, we were just immature kids in college, so it was a good thing that we worked on a small scale and got some of that energy out while learning how to play better.
“We always had the willpower to make something happen, but we weren’t ready ’til a number of years later, and it came to us at an appropriate time. I think we would have been lost in the wilderness if would have happened overnight.”
Now, with 15-plus years touring the world, the Eli Young Band has found its loyal following and become big enough to tour theaters on their own, such as their show on May 25 at Montbleu Resort.
The band’s thus-far unchanging lineup includes Mike Eli on vocals and guitar, James Young on guitar, Jones on bass and Chris Thompson on drums. The group began in 2000 when Eli and Young were college roommates at the University of North Texas in Denton. Starting as a duo and eventually being joined by Jones and Thompson, the Eli Young Band’s debut was released on a Texas indie in 2002 as the band began steady gigging.
It was help from national country video networks such as CMT that helped the Eli Young Band gain a bigger following. This soon drew the attention of Universal Records, which released the group’s third album, “Jet Black and Jealous,” in 2008. It was an immediate smash, reaching the top 5 of the country album charts. Subsequent albums on Universal’s Republic imprint — “Life at Best” in 2011 and “10,000 Towns” in 2014 — led to bigger mainstream success as well, as both albums reached the top 10 on the pop and country charts, while “10,000 Towns” was a No. 1 on the country album charts.
Right down the middle
The band’s best known songs include a pair of country No. 1s, “Crazy Girl” and “Even if It Breaks Your Heart.” Other hits include “Always the Love Songs,” “Dust,” “Say Goodnight” and “Saltwater Gospel.” You could make a case that these songs were ahead of the current trend to merge more rock elements with country, although Jones said that the band isn’t concerned about being adaptable with what’s hot right now in his genre.
“We really scratch our heads with what’s going on in country radio and country music sometimes,” he said. “When we started we were are group that was too rock-and-roll and too pop for country, and now it’s totally the opposite sometimes. It’s weird.”
The solution, Jones said, is to just play what sounds right to them, no matter the trends.
“When one of our songs works, it’s because it doesn’t fit in, whether it’s too far left or to right. We just go down the middle and try not to think about it. We will experiment with something like the song we did with Andy Grammer (pop music singer), but we’ve always mixed country with something that had a more pop or polished feel to it. Melody has always been key to us and always will be. We want songs that get stuck in your head, and that’s true in country more than in any genre.”
Those sharp melodies have a new home for 2017. The Eli Young Band is now on Valory Records, an indie owned by the Big Machine management group known for promoting artists such as Taylor Swift and the most recent Tim McGraw comeback.
“It’s a really good fit for us,” Jones said about Big Machine and the new label. “We were really given the freedom on this new record to do make it that way we wanted. There may have been too much influence and over thinking on our past few projects, so we really had to find ourselves again, and they gave us the freedom to do that. I hope the fans appreciate it.”
Jones said the band’s new album will be released on June 16. He wouldn’t give the title of the album, but he did give some details on the contents within, and longtime fans of the band will be happy to hear his thoughts on it.
“I feel like we’ve gone full circle to where we started as an independent band,” Jones said. “We thought a lot about what songs we’ve done that have endured through the years and why they were that way. And, we realized that those earlier songs were just about writing a song to be witty or clever, but that they were the ones were we just put ourselves into the music. I think that sometimes you can over think it when you are in the studio, so we’ve rediscovered what kind of sound the four of us could make together.”
Keeping that sound together is even more remarkable when you consider the Eli Young Band has not had a personnel change since it started. Jones said the four band members still put their friendship first when it comes to being in a band together, and he believes that’s part of why the band is so successful. Even band tension is handled in a positive way.
“We argue like a family now, or we argue like brothers do: we get up the next day and hit the reset button,” Jones said. “There’s no question that it will be four of us together until we decide we don’t want to do this anymore, or if the fans decide they don’t have any more interest. We just realize that the sum of what we four have together is greater than what one of us could do with another group at this point. It helps that it’s also a ton of fun and they got all of the messy crap about being in a band out of the way.”