Texans getting closer to big stage
> Eli Young Band’s eclectic sounds stir the country
Special to The Commercial Appeal
As their major-label debut inches up the country music charts and they play bigger venues before larger crowds, members of the Eli Young Band have found a simple way to track their progress in the music world.
“We’ve been going to a lot of awards shows recently,” says the band’s lead singer, Mike Eli. “The first one we went to, we were up in the rafters, but as the awards season has gone on we’ve gotten a little closer and a little closer. Finally at this last awards show — we played the CMT Awards (in June) — we got to be on stage. We played 40 seconds of ‘Always the Love Songs.’”
If the success of Jet Black & Jealous is any indication, the Texas quartet will likely be on award show stages a lot more in the future. Released last fall, Jet Black & Jealous climbed to No. 5 on the country charts and has already spawned three Top 40 singles, including the band’s current hit “Radio Waves.” The record also earned them a nomination for Top New Vocal Duo or Group earlier this year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
The hits have
catapulted the eight-year-old Eli Young Band into some prestigious company, opening for, among others, such diverse headlining acts as Alan Jackson and the Dave Matthews Band. On Wednesday the group, which opened for Jamey Johnson at Minglewood Hall in the spring, headlines their own show at the Midtown venue.
“This has been the busiest year we’ve ever had,” says Eli. “We’ve gone from traveling just in the Southwest to traveling nationally and playing shows all over the United States.”
The Eli Young Band started in Denton, Texas, as a collaboration between its namesakes, University of North Texas students Eli and guitarist James Young. In 2000, fellow Eagles Jon Jones and Chris Thompson signed up on bass and drums, respectively, and the band made its official debut.
“The first few years it was just going and playing and having a good time,” says Eli. “We were playing mostly covers because we had just started writing together. So the sound kind of evolved on its own.”
When the band did start producing original material, they drew on a wide range of influences — ’70s pop country, Americana, Paul Simon — that reflected the independent spirit of Denton.
“Denton is a different kind of town. The people there and the music there is extremely diverse,” says Eli. “It’s a music school, so you have all kinds of ... musicians in one town.”
With its tremendous crossover appeal, the Eli Young Band began winning over fans across the state, including another young artist named Miranda Lambert. When the “Nashville Star” finalist signed her record deal in 2003, she invited the band to open for her in Dallas and told her producer Frank Liddell to get there early to check them out. Liddell was so impressed with the group he formed a label to release their 2005 debut, Level , and the 2006 concert album, Live at the Jolly Fox.
“We owe (Miranda) a huge debt of gratitude,” says Eli. “If we get any bigger she might start asking for some payback.”
Liddell and the band had already started working on their third record, Jet Black & Jealous, when Universal Records-South picked up the band. Consequently, the album has no influence from Nashville tastemakers.
“We just wanted to make a cool record,” says Eli. “We were lucky enough with this record to have finished most of it before we signed with the label. They already kind of liked what we had done in the studio, so we were able to just go in and finish it.”
Now, the Eli Young Band faces the prospect of following up their breakthrough, a process they’ve already begun with a slew of songs they hope to have recorded by the end of the year.
“Hopefully, we’ll just keep getting closer and closer,” says Eli of the band’s seating prospects at future awards shows. “We want to be in that front row.”
Up and coming Texas country-inclined but broadly influenced group The Eli Young Band plays Minglewood Hall on Madison this Wednesday.