On the surface, there’s some basic math behind Eli Young Band.
They’re four guys — Mike Eli, James Young, Chris Thompson and Jon Jones. They’ve been in a band since 2000. So that’s 17 years of making music together, and there are four kids among them.
“There’s eight children total, counting us,” Thompson joked during our CMT.com interview.
Add their career achievements together, and that takes their basic math to more complex algebra.
They’ve released five studio albums, two EPs and one live collection and have garnered 24 music award nominations, three No. 1 Billboard country airplay hits and a Grammy nomination for “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.”
Then their formula gets even more complicated with the travel involved.
They’ve lost count over the airline miles, tour buses and band vans they’ve been through on the road. They estimate they easily can put 100,000 miles on a tour bus a year because their gigs are constant. The odometer on their last ride was nearing 1 million miles before it was destroyed by a fire in January — an experience no artist ever welcomes or wants.
Add the pallets of beer, and Eli Young Band have experienced one crazy trip in country music.
“There was a point when we were sponsored by a beer company, and we’d get a pallet of beer a month,” Jones said.
“Early in our career when we still lived in Denton, Texas, the three of us lived in this 1,200-square-foot little band house, and the truck would pull up in the front of the house and they’d start bringing in all this beer. They’d put it in the kitchenette dining area and it would fill up that entire area.”
And they’re quick to say that none of it would be possible without the unwavering support of their fans. Their triumphant sixth studio album Fingerprints, out June 16, is for them.
“We wanted to make a record we knew our fans would like,” Thompson said of their next collection. “We’ve been afforded the chance to make all kinds of different records, experiment and do different things. At this point in our career, we wanted to make a record that served them and made them happy.”
Including their current single “Skin & Bones,” most of the 11-song collection celebrates commitment and faith in one another. Eli co-wrote the song with hitmakers Lori McKenna and Phil Barton.
“There’s a reality to love that all of us see and live every day,” Eli explained. “It’s not a fantasy all the time, and I wanted a love song like that. It’s based in reality. My wife and I have been together for a long time. And there comes a point when you’ve been together for so long that who you are starts intertwining both of you. So, where she ends and where I begin becomes a little muddy.”
The opener “Saltwater Gospel” sings of finding heaven on some beach somewhere. Although they know they’re not mean to be together, couples reunite in “Never Again” and “A Heart Needs a Break,” while the sexy title track tells the story of a heartbreaker who leaves a lover like a guilty criminal leaves the scene of a crime.
“That’s a song we’ve been kicking off our live show with,” Jones said of the title song. “And in a way because we have so much music we’ve recorded over the years that people know, to start the show with something they haven’t heard, and that song kind of hits you, it’s fun to watch.
“By the end of the song people are singing along,” Eli added. “We knew right away that song was going to be incredible for the live show, and starting the show off with it has been really telling about how that song is going to be perceived by fans.”
So how do they balance satisfying the need to stretch creatively from album-to-album, while serving what their fans want?
“I think the creative part comes from the lyrics,” Young says. “And then we get to choose what we write about and sing about. But I think for this record, we went in knowing that we wanted whatever we recorded to get back to come full circle and get back to what we had originally started when we started our first records. We just wanted to recapture that, and so we strove to do that. I think that hopefully comes through on the record that this was a cohesive record on all of our accounts.”