New Artist Spotlight: Eli Young Band

With the release of Major label debut "Jet Black & Jealous" imminent, Eli Young Band's Mike Eli took the time out of his busy schedule to talk with Roughstock about his band's roots, the recording process behind the new album and addressed those who think the band has sold out. 

With the release of "Jet Black & Jealous" imminent, The Eli Young Band took the divide-and-conquer approach and had all four members of the band (Voalist/guitarist Mike Eli, Lead guitarist James Young, bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson) speaking to different folks at the same time. Roughstock was lucky enough to have Eli Young Band front man Mike Eli take the time to call us and discuss their roots,the recording process behind the new album and addressing people who say the band has sold out.

Matt Bjorke: Many of the great Texas/Oklahoma bands got started while they were in college together.  Is that how you got your start?

Mike Eli: Yeah, James Young and I were roommates and Chris and Jon were roommates next door to us. It was pretty easy for us. I realized that when James and I wrote songs, we were doing what came easy to us.  We weren’t planning on starting a band and were just enjoying college. Being that Chris and Jon were right next to us, it just felt like it needed to happen.  Being the four of us just felt natural. 

Matt Bjorke: A lot of bands have difficulties when it comes to choosing a band name, how did you settle on “Eli Young Band?”

Mike Eli: Well, we never really settled on the name, it just happened.  When James and I started playing acoustic shows together for a six month period or so at the R Bar in Denton, Texas, our first show as a band wasn’t until October of 2000 so during that time, people were going to see Eli and Young play.  Eventually, after a year and a half of playing, it felt like it was too late so we just took out the “and” out of the name.  Hopefully one day it turns into this Van Halen or Marshall Tucker thing.

Matt: Speaking to that, Do people assume that there is one person in the band named “Eli Young?” given your last name isn’t as common as James Young’s name is? 

Eli: Absolutely, I think that eventually that will change, and it happens a little bit less  than say it would if we were just breaking into the scene.  Eventually they’ll get it but we still get every other day or so (laughing).

Matt: A lot of bands go through personnel changes over the years, what has been the glue that’s kept the Eli Young Band together?

Eli: You know, we just like each other.  Decisions that are made and the way we write songs as we go down the road are done together.  We just enjoy having each other around.  We get up on stage and there’s an energy between all four of us.  I think if you think that way, it’s gonna happen.  If you feel at any point that you don’t believe in somebody or their ability to play, that’s when stuff falls apart.  We’ve been fortunate enough that were friends before we started the band so we care about each other. It has been easy

Matt: Miranda Lambert introduced you to producer Frank Liddell, did she not?  How has the partnership with him helped your band grow into a national act?

Eli: We owe Miranda and Frank a huge amount of gratitude, a huge debt.  We played a show back in 2003 and she invited Frank down to see her play before he produced her record and she said ‘you should come out a little early and check out the Eli Young Band.’  He did and enjoyed our show. So we started a relationship he helping us release our first few records and co-produced the new record “Jet Black and Jealous.”

Matt: Speaking to that, didn’t he start his label, Carnival Recording Company, to help distribute your records?

Eli: Right, we were on the forefront of him starting that label. His whole idea was to help bands like us start a foundation, to be able to go out and play.  Being able to get your records out in stores and playing shows is harder than you think, to be successful at it, so he helped us grab a hold of it, and build that foundation.  It sounds cliché, but if you nurture your roots, your tree is less likely to fall. 

Matt: With the record industry looking for “quick hits,” you’re a band that started out working small and continued to grow organically, eventually selling 40 thousand albums on your own.  Does that DYI mentality help set you apart to record labels?

Eli: Absoluetly.  I think at times, with the labels we wanted to be with, they understood that it was a big deal, that we were an asset to be part of their label.  But the labels that didn’t think that was so much of an asset were definitely not the labels we wanted to be with in the first place.  We were lucky that the label we’re with now, they got us and understand where we’re going musically.  Now it’s understood that the current fans are an important part of what we’re doing.

Matt: Obviously that’s what drew you to Universal Republic/Universal Records South. Is it a partnership between the NY and Nashville labels?

Eli: Yeah, it’s a partnership between the two of ‘em but Universal South is handling, we’re a country band, obviously some people think that’s up for debate but it’s not for us. So Universal South has been a very important key for us to break into the national scene. 

Matt: Listening to the album, there’s a definitely a real live feel to it.  Was that the goal when you created the album?

Eli: Yes, I’m glad you said that because this record we feel like is more us than anything we’ve done before.  That doesn’t always come out of records. When you’ve listened to a record, pick any one of the national releases, there are some that are albums that can definitely be recreated live.  I heard Willie Nelson say this once: “I want to make records we can re-create live.” For us it was important to take part of our live show and incorporate it into the record.  We realized when we made our live record, there were things that we didn’t know would work on a studio record, we realized they would, after making the live record, so we incorporated that into our records.  We play on our records.  It’s us, Mike Wrucke our co-producer and choice musicians to fill in stuff like steel guitar here or there.

Matt: Was that the reason you chose to have Mike Wrucke co-produce the record to get the live feel, like what he did with Miranda’s record?

Eli: Yes, when we talked with Frank about whom we wanted to co-produce; we definitely knew it had to be Mike, because of the way that he could work with us as a band.  It was important because we’re NOT studio musicians and we needed a producer who understood that and how to get the best out of us without having to call a studio musician. 

Matt: What songs are getting the greatest responses on the road?

Eli: “Jet Black & Jealous” we’ve been playing for two years so the crowds are digging that one. “Guinivere,” which is my favorite song on the record, has gotten a huge response.  I was just happy to come up with that song in the first place; it’s very cool and different melody and lyric. The crowds have been really responsive to that one.

Matt: Are you ever surprised when fans react the way they do some songs live?

Eli: Yes, “When It Rains” was one of those songs for us.  We knew it was a special song but we didn’t know it was going to have the kind of impact that it had on our career.

Matt: Well, it became a Top 40 record out of it, which has to be cool.

Eli: Yeah, it’s pretty darn cool to have done that (laughs). 

Matt: Especially since you got that basically all on your own, which is really rare these days.

Eli: That means now that the pressure is on with the label. They have to do something with this next single because of past successes (laughs). 

Matt: What’s the new single?

Eli: “Always Love Songs” is the new single.

Matt: Did you help the label to choose the single?

Eli: Yeah, we all talked about it and we knew this next single; we really needed to knock it out of the park.  We knew that “Love Songs” was going to be a big single for us but we didn’t know if it would be the next single at first but we ended up feeling that it would be the best song to do it.  It’s a great platform for us to just have that beer drinkin’, hang out with your friends kind of song.  It reminded us a lot of the song “Small Town Kid” from our first record “Level” and we knew that it needed to be on this record. 

Matt: Some people who are staunch loyalist to the Texas music scene in Texas say you’ve “sold-out.” What you say to people who say such things?

Eli: Well, that’s tough because I understand where they’re coming from.  I would just ask them to listen to the record.  If you listen to it and you’ve seen us live, then you understand that there’s no way we’ve sold out.  It’s us.  It’s more us than our “Level” record.  On that record we experimented with so many different sounds where on this record we’ve really honed in on what we done live. 

It’s almost strange to me to have people thinking we’ve sold out.  Especially because we started recording this record a year and a half before we had our new deal.  We had it mostly finished before we partnered with universal.  They said “we like what you have, go finish it.”  Talk to me after two more records and I may have a different answer for you. 

Matt: I guess you’re always gonna have detractors to your music. 

Eli: Of course.  They’re always going to be around.  As long as you’re making music that is true to yourself and your fans, I think we’ve found that balance.  There are bands out there that aren’t able to maintain that balance that they’re not happy with.  That backfires on you.  There is always that pressure from a label but we haven’t experienced it yet.  Will we fell it later on in our career, probably but luckily we have more of a backing to say ‘no, we’re not changing a damn thing.’

Matt: What would you like to say to people who may be hearing about Eli Young Band for the first time?

Eli:  You know, I just want them to listen to the record.  I grew up on country music and while this record has a lot of different sounds on it; it’s an evolution of us, The Eli Young Band and our take on our kind of country music. We want to put our stamp on history and this is the way we’re doing it.