As I said when I reviewed their latest album, Eli Young Band have built a sizable following by mixing pop, rock and country into a blender and putting a Texas label on it. As they prepare to blitz the nation with their take on country music via tours, videos and major label support, I met with Mike Eli to talk about where the band has been and where they are headed. Yet, what started as a one-on-one interview with Mike turned into a cool group effort involving the entire band. Check out the latest edition of Galleywinter’s 20 Questions to find out more about the history and future of EYB.
1. With the release of Jet Black and Jealous, tell us what life’s been like for EYB over the past couple weeks and months?
It’s been fast. The four of us have been trying to stay sane. We’ve been on a radio tour any time that we haven’t been playing shows. So I guess you could say that our time off has been touring and playing shows. There is no such thing as real time off right now but that’s perfectly okay with us. -Mike
2. Y’all recently got to play the Ryman, country music’s motherchurch. Can you describe what that experience was like?
It was incredible! We documented the night by filming it and putting together a blog for everyone to check out. But, I’ve dreamed about playing on the Opry as long as I can remember. -Mike
3. Name association:
-Jack Ingram-Angry Jack, larger than life.-Mike
-Randy Rogers-David Letterman, couldn’t think of anyone better to represent the scene.-Mike
-Micky Braun- Not in it for the money!-James
-Stoney LaRue-He hit me in the balls once, never again.-Mike
-Johnny Cooper-Bright future.-Chris
-Steve Rice-Makes me regret our choice for eating Chinese for dinner. Will we ever learn?-Mike
-Ryan James-Tags along with us a lot. Will somebody please fill up his tour schedule? One of our favorites!-Mike
-Wade Bowen-Genuine. We don’t get to play enough shows together.-Mike
-Pat Green-The first name people bring up to reference Texas music outside of the region. He built something down here that may never be done again. -Mike
4. For those who don’t know or are new to EYB, could you talk a bit about how the group formed and who plays what. And, what your favorite thing about each member is.
We were friends in college at the University of North Texas. James and I were roommates and Chris and Jon were roommates. We lived next door to each other. Our 1st show as a band was in October of 2000 at the RBar in Denton, TX. James and I were already playing acoustic sets together and that night Chris and Jon got up on stage for about 4 songs and thus the Eli Young Band was born.
James Young plays harmonica, lead guitar and any other strung instrument he can get a hold of, I play rhythm guitars and sing while Chris Thompson is the drum and percussion extraordinaire while also being our resident Philosopher and Jon plays bass while singing background vocals and is also our Psychotherapist on retainer. -Mike
We have been a hard working band since day one. We never modeled our sound after a trend or on compromise. Favorite thing about each member is that we all have different personalities that shine through every night on stage. -James
5. Following up on that question, the University of North Texas, is known as a great musical school. Is that what originally attracted you there? Or, was it just a coincidence? And, did you find the Denton community to be ultra supportive of your music?
I chose UNT for music. Of course, I didn’t stay in the music program past the first year, 8AM classes were kicking my ass! I ended up with a business degree. But, we all were attracted to UNT for its eclectic music scene. It was the perfect town for us. -Mike
I chose UNT because it was close to LD Bell in Hurst where I went to high school. UNT students more than other people in the Denton community were very supportive of us right from the start. -Chris
6. Recently, UNT football coach Todd Dodge randomly drug tested his team and found a high number of positive tests for marijuana. The schools mascot is ironically The Mean Green. If you could give a clever nickname to the music business what would it be and why?
“Recoupable Expense report”-Mike
7. Stories behind the following songs:
-When It Rains-When it rains is a song I wrote and the words just came after a idea I had recorded with a drum track and guitar. I listened to the music while driving in the rain one day and the words just came really quick. I wish they were all like that.-James
-Enough is Enough-I started writing this song in Nashville, about relationship troubles, not knowing who’s fault it really was, so it can go either way and either your talking about yourself or the significant other. -James
-Small Town Kid-I started writing this song when I was 18. Chris and I were going through old songs right before we recorded our first EP and we finished it. I’m glad we did. -Mike
-Guinevere-I had this crazy idea and I brought it to James and Scooter thinking they were gonna hate it. And about an hour later we had written one of my favorite songs I’ve ever been a part of writing. -Mike
-Highways and Broken Hearts-I wanted to write a waltz and this idea was me trying to understand what the hell being in a band was all about. I’m not quite sure we knew back then but this is definitely my favorite song from Level.
-So Close Now-The band and I were ready to move on with our music and leave college behind. James had this really cool guitar lick that I wrapped this song around. The lyrics came easy. -Mike
-How Should I Know-James and I wrote this soon after Level came out. We were playing it live long before we ever thought it would be on a record. Love is complicated, this song is not. -Mike
-Radio Waves-Blu Sanders and I were sitting around one day messing around with this idea and we weren’t getting anywhere. We had a few lyrics down but couldn’t finish the song. That night after quite a few beers the song was finished. Sometimes music is the only way I know how to communicate. It sucks.-Mike
8. As lore has it, y’alls big break came when Frank Liddell caught y’all opening for Miranda Lambert in Dallas. What do you remember about that night? And, do you remember if y’all played what you would consider a good set?
I think the set was good for us at the time. Nobody died! (laughs)-Mike
I remember finding in Frank, someone with amazing drinking and social skills. Trying to keep up with him has omitted any other memories I might have had. -Jon
9. Speaking of good sets. What makes a gig or set stand out for you?
The crowd. Not the size, but the energy and passion. Starting and ending songs together as a band is also key. -Jon
10. How do you think Jet Black and Jealous is different from Level? And, in what ways is it the same thing EYB fans are accustomed to?
Jet Black obviously has more production because we had a little more time and a little more money. Were a band not studio musicians and so it takes time to really get something truly special on tape. We feel like Jet Black is the perfect meeting point between the studio and the live show. But the music is one in the same because we haven’t changed the kind of songs we like and were still the same kind of songwriters. -Mike
11. When did you know that making music was going to be your career and not just a fun hobby?
I think we all wanted this since we were kids. But the day you get to quit your day job is a glorious summit! -Mike
12. Favorite memories of the following towns:
-Dallas-Playing Adair Saloon on Tuesday Nights-Mike
-Houston-New Years 2009-Mike
-Fort Worth-4 hour sets and the Thirsty Armadillo, playing on a truck bed-Mike
-Austin-ACL and seeing Robert Plant at South by Southwest-James
-Stephenville-Our first show at City Limits for less than 10 people-Jon
-Lubbock-The first time a Lubbock crowd faced the stage during a show.-Chris
-Oklahoma City-Showing up to the Wormy Dog sh*tfaced. The night is pretty hazy.-Mike
-Nashville-Our first round of meetings to get our team together consisted of 2 for 1 shots at happy hour after happy hour.-Mike
-Chicago-Anytime we’ve been to Joe’s Bar and the city in the summer.-James
14. Of all the live shows you’ve taken in as a spectator on this crazy road you’ve been down the last couple years, who has impressed you the most?
I would have to say Jack Ingram because he was the one musician that made me want to be in a band. I would also have to say Ryan James. His music is hidden away right now and sooner than later people will start to notice. -Mike
Pat Green always gets the crowd going and Jack Ingram and his band still bring it every night. As far as up-and-comers I think the Scott Wiggins Band put on a top notch show night after night. Outside of that its rare that you see a performer who can just blow crowds away, even on a national level. That’s part of the beauty of starting out in the clubs and honky tonks of Texas. You learn how to perform to 10 people all the way to 10,000 people. -Chris
15. Your band displays a wealth of influences in your sound and stage show. If you were to put together the Mike Eli Music Festival, what five acts (living or dead) would you make sure were included on the bill?
Rodney Crowell, Bruce Springsteen, Don Williams, Jack Ingram and Elvis. -Mike
16. Being from Texas can be a good thing and a bad thing on the national
music scene. Some folks are impressed by your achievements down here, while others ignorantly and quickly dismiss Texas success as regional tripe. Has being from Texas helped or hindered your national rise?
We would have no chance to have any type of success on a national scale if it wasn’t for all of the years of hard work we did in Texas. The band found it’s soul and style down here. Most people in the industry outside of Texas really like the fact that we are four guys who have a real story behind us. We came from somewhere and we are going somewhere. It has helped way more than it has hindered. -Mike
17. How awkward is making a video? And, what does it feel to turn on CMT
or GAC and see your video played between Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift?
Making a video is a little awkward. There are so many people there to make it happen that there can be a lot if pressure to get it right. It’s just hard to know what “right” is. By the end of the shoot it was very relaxed. It’s really up to the directors and editors to make it look “right” anyway. Seeing our video along with the Taylor Swifts and Rascal Flatts of the world is a strange feeling at first. It was like the first time I heard us on the radio during drive time instead of the Front Porch Show. -Jon
18. Rapid fire:
-Favorite restaurant? Anything seafood!-Mike
-Favorite movie character of all time? Indiana Jones-Jon
-Who is cooler: Frank Liddell or Scooter Carusoe? Trick question? (laughs)-Mike.
-Favorite Houston sports hero of all time? Nolan Ryan-Mike
-Spinal Tap or Tenacious D? The Tap for sure!-James
19. Now, it’s time for our Galleywinter lithmus test. What is your favorite George Strait song and why?
So many to choose from, but I would say “Baby Blue” because it reminds me of a girl I dated in high school. It’s a beautiful song! -James
I’d have to go with “Famous Last Words of a Fool”..need I say more? (laughs)-Mike
20. What do you think makes your music stand out from everything else on country radio right now?
I would hope that there is an honesty in our music that people can feel. We know who we are and the kind of music that we enjoy and want to make. -Mike
We have created a sound that is our own. People can always say “Eli Young Band sound like this or that” but at the end of the day they realize that at its core there is nothing truly like us. -Chris