Performing Unreleased New Music, Saturday, March 19th
By Lisa Morgan
It was early 2000 when University of North Texas students Mike Eli (vocals, guitar) and James Young (guitar) laid the foundation of what was to become the Eli Young Band in their freshman dorm room. Joined by bass man, Jon Jones, and drummer, Chris Thompson, the four piece released their self titled album in 2002, the days when MySpace and Napster were the new big thing, and Facebook and YouTube were still in the not so distant future. Most importantly, it was at a time, when radio disc jockeys had autonomy, and could play new music that they felt would be well received by their fans. Thanks to those DJs, the Eli Young Band has since celebrated three No. 1 hits, a Grammy nomination, an Academy of Country Music Award for Song of the Year for their hit “Crazy Girl,” and most recently, their fourth ACM Nomination for Vocal Group of the Year.
On behalf of CV Weekly and Spotlight 29 Casino, I had the chance to chat with drummer, Chris Thompson, about the brotherhood of EYB, and their musical journey from those early years to the present.
CVW: “You guys had been at this for a while before you started getting serious attention. Can you tell me how that happened?”
Thompson: “We’d built up a pretty good midwest fan base and our song, “When it Rains” (from their third album, Jet Black & Jealous, released in 2008) started getting radio play around the country. We didn’t have a label or a radio team; we just got this organic natural radio play (“When It Rains” spent 37 weeks on the country charts and peaked at No. 34). Our guitar player, James Jones, wrote that song years and years ago, and we’d been playing it live for a long time.”
CVW: “How did you manage to get your song on the air organically? That’s almost unheard of these days.”
Thompson: “There’s a lot of work you have to do to get through the gates. You gotta be out there getting it all the time. A lot of it for us then came through MySpace. We started right at the beginning of the internet thing. We put some music on MySpace, and people started showing up to shows. This was in the days when you could call your radio station and request a song, and they’d actually play it – back before all the big changes in radio. There were a couple of guys who had their finger on the pulse of what the fans really wanted to hear and started giving it some spins on the weekend, and then it just caught on. Next thing you know we were in the 30s on the charts. The labels started asking, ‘Who are these guys showing up on the charts?’ We got a record deal from that, and it just kept rolling. “Always a Love Song” from that album was our first top 10. When “Crazy Girl” and “Even if it Breaks Your Hear”’ (from EYB’s fourth album, Life at Best) went to number one, it was a game changer. It introduced us to a national audience in a way we never experienced before.”
CVW: “How do you keep momentum going in today’s industry with all its changes over the last decade and a half?”
Thompson: “Performing live: that’s where people really get to see who we are, what we do, and what we love. We put on a real honest show – some nights are good some nights are bad, but it’s not choreographed or done with tracks.”
CVW: “You recently recorded with pop star, Andy Grammer. What was he like to work with, and how did that come together?”
Thompson: “He was just as awesome as everyone says he is – he is a ball of non-stop energy, super positive, and an amazing singer, top to bottom. I guess, when Andy came out with the song, “Honey I’m Good,” everyone around him said that it sounded like a country song. They had the idea that if the song got big, they’d want to cross over and they would want to do it with another country artist. So that was always the plan in their camp. Our manager met with his and he said he had just the band. We all flew out to LA and hung with Andy. It was just a great vibe, a great fit, and we got a great song out of it.”
CVW: “You all were just nominated ‘Vocal Group of the Year’ by the Academy of Country Music – how does that feel?”
Thompson: “That’s a huge honor that we really did not see coming. Sometimes you can get wind of those kind of things, but we were completely blindsided in the best kind of way. That’s the “band” category for those awards, so them nominating us for doing what we do is a huge honor.
CVW: “What can fans look forward to at your show March 19th at Spotlight 29?”
Thompson: “We just finished up recording in the studio, and have been getting some mixes back. Yesterday, we were at rehearsals working up some of these new songs and we’re pretty excited about it. So, along with all the favorites our fans like to hear at our shows, they’ll also be hearing music that hasn’t been released yet.”
CVW: “And when can we hope to hear the new album?”
Thompson: “We’ll release a single from the new album in a little over a month, and we’ll hopefully release the record mid summer.”
CVW: “What did the song selection process look like for you guys on this album?”
Thompson: “At the end of the day, the best song lives. We don’t get caught up in any other reason for recording a song. We get sent a lot of great songs from some great writers, and we get a lot of great songs from within the band as well. We probably had 15-20 songs we agreed on for this record. We passed around the songs/cut demos, and we listened to them for a couple of days. We know each other – we’ll look for a nod or a shake of the head. Once we go through the songs, we let producers and managers give their feedback. Once we start cutting songs, we realize which ones stand out as far as singles go. That actually makes us work harder on the ones that people say are not singles because we want to put out a great ALBUM.”
CVW: “How many of the songs on the new album were written by the band?”
Thompson: “Out of about 11 cuts, probably 8-9 that came from somewhere within the band. After we put out 10,000 Towns (EYB’s fifth studio album which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart), I think everyone wanted to write more. A lot of the guys in the band went full board with that, and the fruits of those efforts are on this record. This is kind of a revivalist record for us – a kind of getting back to our roots – how we used to record, and how we used to do records.”
CVW: “What is at the core of you guys staying together through all these years.”
Thompson: “I know it’s been said before, but we really are like brothers. I grew up with a brother, and I understand that kind of bond, and that’s how we operate. Some nights we can get in a humongous fight, and somebody may say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ Then we’ll sit there after an amazing day, and we’ll all say, ‘This is awesome.’ It’s just the way it’s always kind of been. We’re there for each other when we need help or support, and we get to share all the fun stuff – winning awards, doing cool live shows – we’re all in it together. I just can’t imagine another way of doing this, to be honest with you.”
For tickets and information about Eli Young Band’s show, Saturday, March 19th at Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella, go to the Shows and Events page at Spotlight29.com or call (760) 775-5566.
To follow the Eli Young Band go to eliyoungband.com.