Friendship was a major theme as well-wishers filled the marbled foyer of performance rights organization ASCAP’s Music Row headquarters on Tuesday (Sept. 25) to celebrate the success of Love and Theft’s first No. 1 song, “Angel Eyes.”
The single rose to the top of Billboard’s country songs chart in the steamy week of Aug. 25.
Personally welcoming their guests with glowing smiles, the duo’s Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson milled around the room as partygoers munched on finger foods and sipped drinks mixed with (legal) moonshine and fireball whiskey. A tall, indoor palm tree adorned the spacious venue, adding to the casual atmosphere.
Later on, the pair would become understandably emotional as they recalled the difficult road they had traveled — first as a group and then as a duo. Above all, they said, their status as best friends is what carried them through.
Calling the chatty gathering to order, ASCAP executive Mike Sistad brought the band, writers Jeff Coplan, Eric Paslay and Gunderson and the song’s producer Josh Leo to the makeshift stage to commence the ceremony.
Gunderson, he said, is a songwriter who truly deserves accolades as a humble and hardworking country boy originally from Charlotte, N.C. This is his first No. 1 song as a writer and also as an artist.
Coplan, a songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist from New York, has written songs performed by artists in many different genres, but “Angel Eyes” is also his first No. 1.
Paslay, on the other hand, was the relative veteran onstage enjoying his third No. 1. The other two also came this year, “Even if It Breaks Your Heart” by the Eli Young Band and “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” by Jake Owen.
As a band, Love and Theft were also celebrating the gold status of “Angel Eyes” for sales of 500,000 units, their inclusion on this year’s CMT on Tour and their two CMA Award nominations in the fields of vocal duo of the year and new artist of the year.
A slew of plaques and medallions were then bestowed on the group before each was given a chance to speak.
Leo took the mic first, saying he loved Liles and Gunderson like his own kids.
Coplan took his time to thank his parents and friends who had come down from New York, saying that moving to Nashville was the best decision he had ever made. Before giving each of the guys a big hug, he said his belief in Love and Theft was a big part of the reason he moved to town.
Paslay remarked with wonder that the 29th year of his life has turned out to be utterly life changing and remembered that ASCAP was the second building on Music Row he ever walked into, some 10 years earlier.
Next, Liles reluctantly spoke as tears began to well up in his eyes.
“I’m so proud of my best friend,” he said, fighting to find his voice and looking at Gunderson. “It’s been a long road, and we stuck it out together.”
He then recalled the departure of one third of the band’s original lineup, Brian Bandas, and the uncertainty it brought.
“We had one of our members quit the day we signed to RCA,” said Liles. “And we called up [Sony Music Nashville vice president of A&R] Jim Catino like, ’Dude, do you still want to sign us?’ We were really freaking out.”
Of course, Love and Theft were signed despite the setback and have begun to flourish since then.
Finally, Gunderson took his chance before the audience to thank his family, wife Emily and Liles, who he called his “partner in crime … sometimes literally.”
After that, he motioned toward the crowd itself and brought the formal portion of the party to a close.
“We couldn’t do this without everyone that’s here today,” he said. “We are incredibly grateful.”View photos from the party.