With "Angel Eyes" climbing all the way to No. 1 at country radio this year, Love and Theft are enjoying a career resurgence. Now they're amid a whirlwind of live shows, radio station visits, video shoots and record label meetings. And they'll probably get prime seating at the CMA Awards on Thursday night (Nov. 1) because they're nominated in the new artist and vocal duo categories.
Luckily, though, fans are still getting the best view of Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles. The duo is holding down the middle slot on CMT on Tour with Jake Owen and Florida Georgia Line.
"Our live show is probably our favorite part of what we get to do," Gunderson says. "It's definitely the most energetic, and we get to show people what we love to do. When people react positively to that, it's makes the show better and it makes us have more fun."
Before heading back on the road, the upbeat duo dropped by CMT to talk about the tour, as well as their big merchandising dream and the country remake they'll do someday.
CMT: How has "Angel Eyes" changed your touring career? Is your phone ringing more? Are the crowds bigger?
Gunderson: All of the above! It's been awesome. Somebody told me when I moved to town, "The number one change is everything." It was a guy that was a songwriter who'd just had his first No. 1 and he said, "Man, you have no idea. The artists and the writers I get to write with now ..." I think for us we get to write with some of the A-list writers. Obviously people are calling to book us for next summer and next fall already. We've never had that before. Having a No. 1, your price point goes up a little bit so that's nice because we've played for free the last five years. (laughs)
Liles: Yeah, just playing to break even.
Gunderson: It's all about exposure, but if we could make some money in the future, that wouldn't hurt. We're just grateful to play music every day. We wouldn't change it for the world.
What cover songs do you play in your set?
Gunderson: We play some Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Johnny Cash. Tom Petty.
Liles: That's such an important part of your show -- picking songs to do -- because we have a couple of songs that people know, and people are starting to get familiar with the new album, but you want people to relate to you on some sort of level. We also want to play stuff that we like and we're passionate about.
Are you playing "Fishin' in the Dark" from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band?
Gunderson: Yeah. Oddly enough, the guy who produced our current album, Josh Leo, produced the original version of "Fishin' in the Dark." So he said he wants to record another version of it, and he's never done it yet. So he's going to do it with us.
The first date on the CMT on Tour schedule was New York City. Do you remember the first time you went to New York City?
Gunderson: I was born right outside the city so I lived there for a while. And the first time Stephen and I went there together was back right when we started the band. We went up there to record some demos and do some writing. It was fun because we stayed in Brooklyn and took the subway everywhere.
Liles: That first time we went there, we went to an Italian restaurant, a place called Carmine's. We sat next to an old couple at the bar -- a couple that was vacationing there. We told them what we were doing, our career and all that. And right before they walked out, they gave us a hundred dollar bill to pay for our dinner and said, "Good luck with your music career. We're wishing you guys the best." They said a couple of nice things and then they just left. I don't know their names or anything! And here we are, so that was a really special moment. That was a random thing, like, "Pay it forward," you know?
How involved are you in the merchandise side of touring?
Gunderson: Incredibly involved! More so now than in the first incarnation of what we do. Because at that point, there were people deciding what kind of merch we were going to have and it didn't really reflect our personalities. It was the typical stuff that sells well but ... at this point in our career we're pretty much picking everything. We're helping with the design work. We've been on a lot of tours now. We've seen a lot of the other acts and the cool stuff that they do. We've tried to pull from all of that and have something unique to us. If it has our names and our faces on it, we want it to be something we like -- that we're not embarrassed by.
What would be your ultimate merchandise idea?
Gunderson: For me, personally, I collect artist books. Like a coffee table book or a tour book with a lot of pictures in it. They'll come with a T-shirt or a CD or a DVD of behind-the-scenes stuff. They're really expensive to make so at some point ... I know whenever I go to a show and I see something like that, I always buy it, just because it's cool to have and it's different.
Liles: Sometimes when we take pictures somewhere, we say, "Hey, maybe this will be in the coffee table book someday." That's one of our weird goals. We want to have a big enough career, and for people to care enough, that we can fill up a coffee table book. They're inspirational. That's one of the things I like about them. You start reading about the Beatles and certain things they did backstage, and you're backstage.
Gunderson: The Country Music Hall of Fame did one called Will the Circle Be Unbroken. I've read the entire thing three or four times. There's so much cool stuff in there that you don't know about, even about artists that were huge back in the day, but they're not as well-known now. Obviously there's Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, people like that, but there were some artists that I knew nothing about. I went back and listened to some of their music, just because of that book.