LAS VEGAS — Moments after claiming their ACM trophies, Toby Keith, the Eli Young Band, Lady Antebellum and Thompson Square spent a few minutes with reporters backstage Sunday night (April 1) in Las Vegas.
And in the case of the Eli Young Band and Lee Brice, the interview sessions after accepting ACM trophies were a first-time experience. Both artists appeared wide-eyed, overwhelmed and humbled by the proceedings.
The Texas-based band shared song of the year honors for “Crazy Girl” with Brice and co-writer Liz Rose.
Reflecting on their slow but steady climb to the top of the country charts, singer Mike Eli said, “You keep yourself in the moment. That’s one thing that really kept us going. We always felt like there was something bigger around the corner — like when we bought our first PA system or when I finally got to buy a guitar that cost more than $200, and when I could finally replace the truck that I traded in for our first van. We always felt like we were destined for something.”
“We love the fact that people think we’re an overnight sensation,” bassist Jon Jones told the reporters. “The fact that we’re still making new fans is great. Country radio is allowing us to get in front of so many new people for the first time.”
Asked about the moment their band’s name was called from the podium, James Young said, “You start shaking. It’s so surreal. We’ve been at this for 10-plus years now, just four guys making music in college bars. And here we are today. It’s hard to wrap your head around.”
Drummer Chris Thompson added, “I think after we got the awards, we walked a little taller. Walking off the stage, it felt like we were walking on a cloud.”
Brice told reporters the song was composed in 2002 or 2003.
“It’s been around a while,” he said. “I knew it was a special song, and I even wanted to release it myself, but some things didn’t work out with the label and timing. Those guys [in the Eli Young Band] loved it, and I saw the passion in them. I was so happy and honored for them to do it.”
Keith claimed his second trophy in the ACM’s video category, this time for “Red Solo Cup.” Written by Brett and Brad Warren and Brett and Jim Beavers, the tune took on a life of its own with a quirky, hilarious video that went viral.
“The Warren Brothers weren’t convinced until halfway through the video shoot that we were actually filming a video. They thought they were being punked,” Keith joked with reporters backstage while holding his own red Solo cup. “They were like, ‘At what point are you going to tell us this is fake?’”
Keith said the song’s trajectory was swift, especially overseas. He noted that fans in Europe were hoisting red Solo cups at concerts, even though the colorful receptacles aren’t sold there. The song was also featured on Glee and became Keith’s first digital platinum single.
“Once in a while, you rope a big steer like that and you just hang on and ride it. I’m really honored,” said Keith. “I’ve always been looked upon as ‘he’s too country.’ All my colleagues and comrades in my business, for the most part, get crossovers once in a while, and I never get a sniff. I’m cool with that. I like being too red for the heads, you know? But at some point, I thought one of these ballads or something I do has to cross over, at least to female pop, and it’s just never happened. This thing did on its own. And it deserves it. The second I heard it, I said, ‘This is so stupid, it’s brilliant.’”
Lady Antebellum claimed their third consecutive vocal group of the year award. Hillary Scott, who was celebrating her birthday on Sunday night, recalled the trio’s first ACM Awards in 2008, when they won top new vocal duo or group.
“One of the first things I think of is how green we were. It was all so new to us, and I think it was literally the second red carpet we ever walked down — and our first award ever,” she said. “The ACMs have been so fantastic to us, and all of the people involved are important and special to us. We’re always happy to come back.”
Thompson Square captured their first ACM trophy in the vocal duo category. Keifer and Shawna Thompson were caught completely off guard by the honor — and not just because it was presented to them the night before at a tribute concert to the military.
Asked if they knew it would be their year, Keifer replied, “To win this? Hell, no I didn’t know we were going to win this. … We didn’t expect it. We had a great year, but a lot of people were looking at us as the underdog — and we were the underdog.”
Shawna said they’re writing material for the new album and recording demos on the bus. “Hopefully, in April, we’ll be in the studio working on some new music,” she noted.
Keifer told reporters, “This last year and a-half has been amazing. It took us 13 years to get a record deal — on the brink of quitting everything. We were out in the garage and had a discussion about it. It was like, ‘One more year, that’s it.’ We vowed that was it. Two months later, we got a record deal. A few weeks later, we found ‘Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not.’ ”
Shawna added, “He was in the garage because he was smoking like a chimney.”
Keifer laughed and said, “We’d just gone through a couple of bad record deals and stuff, and that was my breaking point. I was in the garage smoking and really freaked out because I thought it was never going to happen. It was the first time I had ever felt that way. She got me through that and I got her through a few and …”
“Here we are!” they both cheerfully noted.View photos from backstage at the ACM Awards.