“It’s always been about having fun,” said guitarist James Young, one-fourth of the Texas-based Eli Young Band.
“I think we all dreamed of getting to this point where we’re making national records and doing national tours,” added lead singer Mike Eli. “But I think as far as having that immediate goal, we just wanted to get around the next corner.”
This off-the-cuff, everyone-gets-a-chance-to-speak approach seems to be the norm for these jovial guys. In what felt like a pregame huddle, Young and Eli (the band’s namesake), bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson sat closely together as they took turns politely answering questions for CMT.com.
But they’re used to this kind of camaraderie. After all, they’ve been a team now for almost a decade.
In fact, what began as two University of North Texas college students who enjoyed writing and performing music together at local coffee houses turned into a full band when fellow classmates Jones and Thompson joined them onstage one evening for an impromptu jam session. The band was born, but it didn’t have a name.
“We tried to have those meetings where we tried to come up with new band names, but we tended to have those meetings at the bar,” Eli admitted.
“I don’t think we got as far as writing anything down on paper,” Jones chimed in.
“We’re the four hardest critics on ourselves, too,” added Young.
“Nothing felt right,” Eli confirmed. “So when we didn’t come up with any new ideas, we would give up for the evening. And, 10 years later, here we are.”
“And once you get the T-shirts and the bumper stickers printed,” Thompson smiled, “you’re committed.”
In 2005, the Eli Young Band released its debut studio album, Level, and three years later followed with the Universal South labeled, Jet Black and Jealous. Recycling “When It Rains” from their first record, the group also charted with singles, “Always the Love Songs,” “Radio Waves” and “Guinevere.”
Currently working on their third album scheduled for the fall, the quartet recently released the album’s first single, “Crazy Girl.” Written by two well-known songwriters, Lee Brice and Taylor Swift collaborator Liz Rose, the song spouts witty lyrics regarding a man’s mad love for his woman — rather than about the woman’s insanity as the title suggests.
Directed by Brian Lazzarro, the music video transforms Nashville’s Rehabilitation Hospital into the fictional Youngsville Psychiatric Hospital, where the band members are employed. Easily distracted with their music, they each fail to notice one of the patients devising an escape plan. But not to worry, it’s only a dream.
“We got to act in this video, which is something different. We’ve never done that before,” said Eli. “Our acting chops are not as great as we thought they might have been — but we had a good time making the video.”
As well as acting, choosing the right songs for the band is also a difficult task. As one of the toughest dynamics about being in the band, all members are required for the sign-off of each song.
“Can we play the song for the rest of our lives?” Jones asked of the song selection process. “If it’s something that sounds completely different, are we OK changing our sound in the future because that’s what people expect out of us? I think you have to take some of those things into consideration. So sometimes, you do have to pass on a song that you know is going to be a huge hit for somebody else.”
Writing mostly original songs for their upcoming album, the group did reveal a few details regarding the outside songs they chose to include. Besides “Crazy Girl,” the band felt compelled to record Will Hoge’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” featured on his 2009 album, Wreckage. Another tune, “The Fight,” was written by singer-songwriter Natalie Hemby, whose co-writing credits include Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar” and “Only Prettier.”
“We heard the song [“The Fight”],” Eli said. “And being a band for the last 10 years, knowing the struggles and everything we’ve gone through, this song, I guess, kind of helped to personify that whole situation of everything we’ve gone through.”
But pleasing their core Texas fan while still engaging a wider audience doesn’t impact any of their decisions.
“I think for us, it’s just important for us to be who we are and create the music that we are,” Eli explained. “I think that’s hopefully what our fans think. Hopefully, they think that’s what’s special about is. It’s the way that we sound.”
“As opposed to where we’re from or any of that,” Young added.
“The way the culture is down there really lent us being able to mature as musicians,” Jones noted. “There are just so many great small clubs to play, and people love the live music scene down there. So, that allowed us to really learn how to play together and allowed us to be who we are, allowed us to find our sound and to come up here and play for everybody.”
“Texas is always going to be home to us,” Thompson said. “That’s always where we’re going and [where we] live, and that’s where our lives are. In a way, we’re true in that vein for sure.”
Through the years they’ve shared career highlights like playing the Grand Ole Opry to performing on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and sharing the stage with acts such as Lambert, Gary Allan and Jamey Johnson to name a few. But perhaps their pinnacle moment came this year in Texas at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“It really is a dream come true,” said Eli, who as a little boy often fantasized what it would be like to play that arena. “If you can imagine what it feels like being on that stage in front of 60,000 people, it’s probably 10 times better than that.”
Jones added, “It’s a feeling everybody should get to experience once in their life. It’s a truly unique kind of feeling.”
Looking forward to an upcoming EP as well as their full album in the fall, the band members are enjoying time out on the road with plenty of performances on the horizon. Touring the nation throughout the end of the summer, their rigorous schedule includes several festivals, fairs and more rodeos.
It’s a lot of work, but that doesn’t bother them.
“We’re very blessed and very humbled by what we get to do every day,” Young said.