Eli Young Band: Hot Country Sounds for a Warm Springfest Night
What: Springfest w/ Eli Young Band / Logan Mize / Murphy500 / Natu Visinia
The Eli Young Band has roots in the small clubs and bars of Denton, Texas, where Mike Eli and James Young met in 2000 and began performing as a duo while students at North Texas State University. Within a year mutual friends Chris Thompson and Jon Jones had joined the musical brotherhood, and the Eli Young Band was born.
In a Nashville career that has yet to reach a decade in age, The Eli Young Band has released more than a half-dozen top twenty albums, and has received more than twenty wins and nominations for major country and pop industry awards.
Recently, the group released their latest single, “Skin and Bones,” and later this year will release their next studio project.
Tickets to the Springfest show will sell for $25, or $15 for SIU students, with the price going up by $5 on the day of the show.
For tickets, call (618) 453-6000 or visit ticket outlets at McLeod or the SIU Arena. To buy online, visit <http://www.SIUSalukis.com>, click on the Tickets popup, and then on the Tickets Home link. There are no service charges for in-person purchases, though phone and online purchases will carry $3 charges.
As the band prepared to take to the SIU stage with the same passion and fire it has used to conquer the country-music world, guitarist and founding member James Young sat down with Nightlife to talk about the band’s new album, roots, and what they learned from working with stars like Kenny Chesney.
The Eli Young Band last visited Southern Illinois in 2016 when you played at Rend Lake. Are you ready to come back?
Absolutely! We’ve been having a lot of fun this year. We’ve been having a few years where we’ve kind of been the opening act, and it’s been fun this past year to be able to go out and do your whole set. We’ve got a new record coming out hopefully this year, so it’s just been fun to just play a few new songs and just try out a bunch of stuff, so we’re really excited.
Can you tell our readers anything about the new music?
We’ve had the new record done for a while. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the right time for these things. But we just released a new record off that album on iTunes the other day. This record is kind of like our older records. We recorded the record from the beginning all the way to the last song on the record. It’s a complete body of work, and we’re really proud of it. We just can’t wait to get it out to the fans.
I want to go back many years and talk about the origins of the Eli Young Band. Do you remember the first day you all met? Was the chemistry instant? Did you have any idea that someday you would be Academy of Country Music winners and Grammy nominees?
Well, we always hoped. We were going to take it as far as we could. But you never sit and think that all that stuff is going to happen to you. I met Jon [Jones] and Chris [Thompson] first. Mike [Eli] came a year later. We just started jamming in garages and playing acoustic. When Mike came along, we played acoustic in the bars or wherever people would have us. The great thing about Texas is the love of live music there, so we just got to play all over. That’s how we got to cut our teeth, just playing the different clubs and bars. You always hope, but you never know where it’s going to lead you. We’ve some incredible pinch-yourself moments along the way, and they continue to this day.
Do you remember the first song that you all wrote together as the Eli Young Band, and do you ever play it, just for fun or for old times’ sake?
Anything off that first record [2008’s Jet Black and Jealous] would be some of those first songs. Actually, we recorded a record before that in Frank [Liddell]’s basement. But yeah, sometime you just have to go back and play those songs, because if you don’t you can forget about some of those early songs. A lot of that early stuff was just us jamming around and coming up with new stuff. But yeah, it’s always fun to go back and revisit a lot of that old stuff.
Coming from Texas, was it difficult making a name for yourselves as a group, with all of the musical competition?
Yes, because there is so much great talent there. It does have its own scene, and people who come to Texas expect great live music. You had to earn your place in the ranks and pay your dues. And we spent many, many years paying dues and just playing wherever people would have us. We traveled, just us and a trailer, a different place every week, sometimes every night.
During that time of paying dues, was there a particular Texas band that you all looked up to or tried to emulate as you built your careers?
When we were coming up, Pat Green was the big act in Texas country. We looked up to him a lot, and he’s actually a good buddy of ours now. But there were even other guys starting out at the same time as us, like Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen. Those guys really inspired us to make good music and be proud to be a part of the Texas music scene.
One of the most common fears for artists is how they will live up to the success of their first number-one record. Do you still deal with that fear? How do you keep that fear from inhibiting your creative growth as artists?
Number ones are just awesome! We just love them, and we are so blessed to have had them. Yeah, you’re always hoping for that next number one, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way. But you never know what a song is going to do on the radio, and we savor those accomplishments. You always want a song to do well, but when we record, we always cut songs that we love, and we put songs on our records that we’re going to be happy to play night in and night out. As far as our songs go, we always try to put together albums so that every song on the album, we would be happy to put out as a single. We don’t put songs on records hoping that they’ll be radio singles. That all happens afterward.
You all have been making music for almost twenty years. During that time, what have you learned about building a successful country music career?
When we started out, of course, there wasn’t the social media that we have today. There was no Facebook or Twitter or anything like that. So it was just a lot of hard work and a lot of nose-to-the-grindstone planning. We just had to play and challenge ourselves and write every day. We wanted a career that lasted decades, so we just took it slow and steady. Things just built by word of mouth, and eventually we established a fan base. Each time we would go back to a city, there were a few more people. And we would just do that and repeat.
That’s pretty much how the attention came. Eventually, we got the attention of the record company, and people eventually hear your music all over the country. And it just builds a lot by word of mouth. I don’t think there is any one right formula for any one band or artist, but that’s kind of how we did it.
Did you have a hard time making a name for yourself in Music City? Was it like starting over?
I think because we had the Texas thing first, maybe we were a little more confident going into Nashville. At first we felt like outsiders, but luckily, with meeting the right people and getting good people to follow you, it does make things easier. Frank Liddell was our producer on those first couple of records. He had a small independent record label, and they wanted to take what we were already doing and just follow the same model. They wanted to help us to build our name and our brand and help us to really concentrate on songwriting. We were very lucky to wind up there, and when we had the song “When it Rains,” that kind of took us to the next level. Yes, walking into Nashville, there is definitely no one formula. Fortunately, everything just worked out for us.
One of the songs that definitely helped to put you on the map as far as being at the forefront was “Always the Love Songs.” That song actually has a Southern Illinois connection, because it was cowritten by Herrin, Illinois, native David Lee Murphy. When you first heard that song, did you think it was going to be a career-making record?
Yeah, it’s crazy, because that was actually our first top-ten record! Yes, you hear songs, and we just felt something with it right off the top. And David Lee Murphy was one of our favorites. We had listened to him growing up and we’ve always been big fans of his. We’ve actually gotten a chance to write with him. So having him write that song was just the icing on the cake. Still, you never know what radio is going to do. You just hope and pray that the song does what it does, and we were so blessed to have that.
Is it ever hard, given the fame and fortune you now enjoy, to maintain the friendships that have their roots in the bars of Denton, Texas?
I think because we started as friends first, in college, playing together every night, and when you’ve spent so long building that success, it’s like family. We’re like four brothers. If we fight over anything, it’s about silly stuff. Brothers will fight, but we were friends first, and I think that’s what has really solidified us as a band.
Is there any one album or single that you would consider to be your favorite, or your best?
Well, I hate to cliché it to the new single we have out, which is “Skin and Bones.” I’m a big fan of Jet Black and Jealous and even some of our first stuff that we recorded independently here in Denton. Those are always records you can go back and put on and remember being young and not knowing any of this was coming our way. We were just making music and having fun. We were just really green in the music business then, and it’s always fun to go back and remember where you were at that time.
Is there a moment in your career that you’re the proudest of?
There has been a lot of special moments. Getting awards is awesome. We were so blessed to win [the Academy of Country Music Award for] Song the Year [in 2011 for “Crazy Girl,” the band’s first number-one single]. Getting awards means a lot because the fans truly fell in love with that song. The fans are the reason you’re up there to accept the award. Also, getting to be able to play for the troops. You feel so blessed any time you have moments like those.
Do you ever miss Texas?
We all still live here in Texas, so we all get to come home when we’re not on the road. It’s a big blessing to get to come home every week. We always want to get back here as quick as we can when we’re out on the road. Yes, if you’re gone too long, you do miss Texas.
Crazy Question. Many country stars these days have personal items on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. When they put together an Eli Young Band exhibit, what’s going to be there?
That would be awesome! Who knows? Shirts? Guitars? Drums? I don’t know.
When you all are out on the road together, and you turn on that stereo, whose music comes out?
We’re all kind of a melting pot of different influences. It can swing all the way from Paul Simon to eighties hair metal to classic rock to jazz. We also love listening to new stuff, too, people like Ryan Adams and Maren Morris. With so much new music coming up out there, we just all kind of listen to each other and pick each other’s brains.
Is there a difference, for you as a band, between playing those small Texas bars, and being out there in the spotlight in front of tens of thousands of people?
Oh, yes, they are two different worlds. We’ve been blessed to play with a bunch of different people that we’ve loved and admired. Kenny Chesney was one of those. When you’re playing huge stadiums like that, you’ve got to work the room differently than you do in a small venue that holds maybe nine-hundred people. You have to work that much harder in the big rooms. That was an amazing learning experience, to watch people like Chesney do it night after night, year after year. Just to watch them control the room is amazing, and it’s amazing to play in front of that many people. But we still live for those small clubs and theaters, too. It’s wonderful to have an intimate show where people are butted up against the stage and you can see the expressions on their faces. It’s two different worlds, but we love them both equally.
What have you learned from other artists about performing live?
Everybody does it differently, and we’ve learned a lot from everybody. Rascal Flatts just likes to have fun, and does it with a down-to-earth approach to relating to the crowd. We’re always standing at the side stage taking notes, and it’s always an education to watch another band or performer play.
What is the most creatively rewarding part of your career? Is it the writing and recording and studio production, or does it come when you can actually go on stage and take the music to the fans live?
Both, but it is very rewarding to [take] a song that you wrote in your bedroom or on the back of your tour bus to the studio and see the time when everybody puts parts down and then the production, when everything gets put together. It’s rewarding to hear where it went from just a demo with a guitar to the final product. That’s always fun for me to hear.
Can you tell us any more about the new album?
It’s a whole and complete piece of work. From song one to the last, it’s very cohesive. It reminds me of earlier records of ours. It was a lot of fun to make. It was just all of us, sitting together in a room, rocking out and playing music like we used to do. It felt like we were getting back to our roots, just having fun in the studio.
If you were inviting potential new fans to come out to the show this Saturday night, how would you describe the Eli Young Band live experience?
We just love playing music, and it’s what we live for. That time on stage, when we can relax and have fun and play our music, is what we love. We let our hair down, and just have a lot of fun. We love it when the crowd sings back to us as loud as they can. We dial it up a little hotter. That’s what we really look forward to, and we hope people will come out and enjoy it with us.
who: Student Programming Council
what: Springfest w/ Eli Young Band / Logan Mize / Murphy500 / Natu Visinia
where: SIU Arena
when: Saturday, April 22