The Eli Young Band will embark on their first international tour on Friday (March 16) as they head to Australia to open concerts for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
"That's as big as it gets," says drummer Chris Thompson.
"We have flirted with going to Canada before but the dates got axed off the tour," adds bassist Jon Jones. "We figured Canada or Mexico would be where we would go first. But, no, we're going all the way."
The group's Australian itinerary includes stops in Adelaide, Hunter Valley, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
And the timing is right. Their breakthrough single, "Crazy Girl," has crossed over to CMC, Australia's country music channel. Australian fans are logging onto the band's Facebook page and requesting catalog cuts like "Oklahoma Girl," too.
"It's kind of surreal," says Jones. "If this was 20 years ago, it'd seem really odd, but our music is very accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. It's going to be great to see what their country music is like compared to ours. The festival [in Hunter Valley] is about half of their artists and half from the States. The different nuances from what we call country music should be really interesting."
Starting this June, the Eli Young Band will be hitting the road with Rascal Flatts on the American Band tour. They'll be joined by Little Big Town and Edens Edge.
"It's really cool that they're doing the band thing," Thompson says of the tour. "Every artist on there is a vocal group or a band, and we haven't seen a tour like that in country music that I can think of. It's the biggest thing that we've ever done. Rascal Flatts will have a huge production and a great show, which we're all interested in. It's a treat. And this past week, we spent getting to know them because our paths have never really crossed."
Of course, everybody's paths cross at Nashville's Country Radio Seminar, where this interview took place in late February. The members of the Eli Young Band have attended the event for several years, and those relationships finally paid off when "Crazy Girl" was the most-played song on country radio in 2011.
"You really have to be on your game and remember everyone," says lead singer Mike Eli. "The first year we did it, our heads were spinning, but we've been to CRS for many years, and we realize how to do it. It's mayhem. For us, it's great because now when we do interviews, they actually run the interviews. Before, we did a lot of interviews that never saw the light of day."
"I think there would be some things that would be a lot more difficult if this was the second year that we've been together," says Jones. "I don't know if we'd make it through so well with our friendships intact. At this point, whenever we go, somewhere we pretty much know what we're getting into and know the people we're talking to. It makes it a lot easier and stress-free for us."
Thompson adds, "This is the first year that when we see other artists in the hall, it's not like, 'Oh, my gosh. It's so and so.' ... If you see, like, Darius Rucker walking by, it's like, 'He probably knows who we are,' rather than just four guys going, 'Hey, how's it going?!'"
The Eli Young Band earned an invitation-only performance slot on CRS' New Faces Show this year. And although they've been together for more than a decade, they can understand the perception among country radio programmers that they're a new band.
"With 'Crazy Girl' doing what it's done for us in the past year, we kind of feel like it's the start of our career in a certain way," Eli notes. "It's really the next chapter in our lives. As far as our national career, it's the beginning. Luckily, we're still young, and we have a long way to go. Seeing that we've been a band for 11 years, we have a lot of history together, but that doesn't mean that we can't be a new band nationally."
Or internationally, as the case may be.