LOS ANGELES – What started out as a garage band while attending the University of North Texas, turned out to become an award-winning, storied career in country music for Mike Eli, James Young, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson of the Eli Young Band.
Looking back at their nearly 20-year career, it is not lost on the musicians on how “blessed” they are to have come so far in the industry.
Fox News spoke to the Eli Young Band on their humble beginnings, their rise to fame, what they think of the country music scene today and their newest record, “This Is Eli Young Band,” which is comprised of 14 of their greatest hits.
Fox News: What is the inspiration behind your new record, “This Is Eli Young Band?”
Mike Eli: The new album is a greatest hits record. It’s a combination of the hits you’ve heard on the radio as well as some of the fan favorites and some of those older songs that were just really pivotal songs in our career of being this garage band from Texas, and then it’s got two brand new songs that we recorded including, “Love Ain’t,” which is our current song that’s climbing the charts.
Fox News: What was it like going through almost two decades worth of music to pick out the songs for this album?
Jon Jones: You know we’ve been talking about being a band for 19 years and what that means and it’s interesting to talk about because it doesn’t really feel like it’s been that long, but then we went back to do this compilation record and to go through the archives and look at all this old footage we have, and all of our pictures, and to listen to all the records again because we’re so in the moment that you don’t really take the time to just sift through it. It was really kind of, it was a great experience to get back all those memories and it just had us sharing stories and things we haven’t thought about in a long time. It was a really neat thing for us.
Fox News: Were there any songs you wanted to include, but didn’t make it?
Eli: I think that there are a lot of songs that you have to leave behind, sadly — songs that didn’t do anything or songs that just never got legs or for whatever reason, it was, you know, one of those things that I would love for certain songs to get another opportunity, but this album wasn’t necessarily about that. It was about we knew which songs were the fan favorites; we knew which songs obviously were the more popular songs, and it wasn’t necessarily: “What’s James’ favorite song?” We didn’t really go by that. It was all about the ones that are requested the most from the fans and then obviously the songs that were hits on the radio.
Fox News: How have you managed to survive being on the road away from family while pursuing your passion for music for nearly 20 years?
James Young: You know we’ve found kind of a formula for the most part…
Eli: We did?
Young: Well, you know it’s a never-ending struggle, but you know we’re very lucky, in that, we got all that hard touring out of the way, you know, when we were on the bus for months at a time and when we were young and before kids and all that. We’re still young but…
Jones: [Laughs] Keep on telling yourself, James.
Young: But yeah, we get to go home and we get to fly home and we get to be there you know for a good part of our week, and then we’ll go out and play shows and tour and so when we’re home, we’re home. We’re full-on dad mode when we get home, and so it’s kind of nice where we are right now — and I think we’re very blessed to be where we are.
Jones: A lot of people ask like, “How long’s our tour when we get off tour?”… We never really get off tour, but we’re never fully out for long periods of time. That’s kind of the way that we’re trying to strike the balance is to keep the home life good and strong. And luckily all four of us are in the same position. And it’s nice I think for all the different categories of life, the four of us are really on the same page. And so there’s not one or two people going off and doing destructive things because you can kind of, you know, you see other acts and bands that kind of eat ’em up internally. But the four of us have always been on the same page on the big things.
Fox News: For those who don’t know your journey, how did you get started in the music industry?
Eli: We started in college. I mean we had just gone to college. These guys [Jones, Young and Chris Thompson] started a year before I did and they started playing music together that year — kind of jamming. I think all four of us came from musical backgrounds. We all needed that outlet whether it was having a band in high school or you know doing whatever. I think that we all needed some kind of musical outlet. And so these three guys started jamming together before I came to college, and when I came to college James and I started writing songs, and then at that point, it’s like, “Well, we’ve got a band. Let’s go and see if we can play a show.”
Chris Thompson: And we didn’t put ourselves together and be like, “We need to go get a record deal. We need to do X Y and Z because this is the formula for success or whatever.” We just went out and had fun and we start touring and just really enjoyed it and enjoyed creating the music together and that kind of stuff. And because of that, we were able to grow this organic fan base and start touring a little bit more, and then eventually labels came and started knocking on the door, and we started to get some chart success and all that. And that kind of led us to where we are today, but it’s always just been a fun thing with the four of us.
Jones: We were also able to also to finish school together which was, at the time, I mean it’s going back quite a few years now, but it was a big accomplishment to be able to be a touring act and still focus on school enough to make it to the end, and I think we all came from families that were supportive of our musical aspirations and dreams, but also very wanting us to finish college. So that’s a big reason why it was such a slow start, but I think it helped us build something in the right way and learn a whole lot of things while we were still in college.
Fox News: When you first started out, you opened for Miranda Lambert. What was that experience like?
Eli: Yeah. I mean back then we were, you know, it was before we had any hits or anything. It was before she did. We were all kids back then, you know, playing a lot of these circuits down in Texas that you know there were just a lot of places to play and so we were playing all the same places that Miranda was playing and Maren Morris. [It] was the first time I played an open mic night with a 12-year-old you know, which is, it’s one of those things that there were a lot of artists that back then, that were just on the same circuit and playing all these open mic nights in these small stages, where half the time you were having to build your own stage before you could get the band in to set up.
Young: It did lead us to kind of record deal and we met our producer Frank Liddell, and so that was kind of a pivotal moment where that started the ball really rolling for us.
Eli: Yeah. It was the night we played in Dallas with Miranda. We opened up for her and that was the night we met Frank Liddell, our producer that produced our first three records.
Jones: It’s been great to see some of the people that we were really kids with, have come so far and had so much huge success. And if you were to ask us back then, “Who are the people that you’ve met who are going to be at the top of your industry?” You just never know. It’s been a pretty wild ride.
Fox News: Miranda gave an interview where she spoke about the radio chart disparity when it comes to female artists’ songs being played on the radio. What changes do you think should be made in country music?
Eli: I think there are a lot of women in country music that deserve to be heard, and there are a lot of very talented women — Maren Morris and Miranda — are two of those artists we absolutely love and they absolutely make music that we listen to and it deserves to be heard. Do I have an answer to why radio doesn’t necessarily always play enough of the ladies in country music? I don’t have that answer. We still fight to get our music played — and we are men.
Young: [Laughs] And there’s four of us.
Jones: We’ve learned a lot of different things about the industry over the years. And being an act from Texas, for a long time, there was a struggle for a Texas artist to have any kind of presence on Nashville or national country radio, and in a lot of ways Miranda was one of the, you know, folks from Texas to break through and she also broke a lot of doors down for the women. When you think about someone like Kacey Musgraves who deserve all the accolades she has gotten for her last record — I personally can’t stop listening to that record, it’s fantastic. But I don’t know. It’s hard to answer the questions when it comes to radio. Country radio as a thing. I think there’s definitely a lot of space and a lot of want for the females in country music. Look at some of the tours that are going to be happening this year, some really big tours, you know they’re banding together and going out and it’s going to be a real force to be reckoned with, but everybody has their struggles getting on radio.
Eli: And I think the answer might be in the fans’ hands. You know I think letting the fans know that this is a struggle that’s happening, and some artists need some support —whether it’s the radio stations or the labels or whatever, the fans need to say, ‘Hey look. You know we want to hear more of them.’ And that’s what might get them listening.
Jones: And one thing we’ve learned from Miranda, if there is any female artists that we know who can stand on her own two feet it’s Miranda. I mean she is an absolute force.
Eli: Yeah. She’ll kick your a–.
Fox News: What do you think is missing from country music these days?
Eli: I don’t know if there’s anything missing in country music. I know that there are a lot more possibilities than there used to be. And I feel like they’re not necessarily trying to keep you in a box as much as they used to. Even though we’ve been a band for 19 years, we didn’t hit the radio until several years of being a band, but even just a small amount of time between our single “Crazy Girl” — which was 2011 — to now, even then, just in that small amount of time, country music has changed and the landscape has changed.
I would hope that country music continues being the genre that is open to different sounds and the creative side of music and not necessarily a cookie-cutter: “This is the formula that works and we’re going to keep trying this instead of, you know, being followers, you know, being leaders in music.” And so I hope that it continues down that road because country music, I think has come a long way in recent years, and kind of taken back a little bit of some of the stuff that made it special.
Being an open book and accepting of outside artists and artists that were thinking outside the box. You know we have always felt like we were a little bit of some misfits and we were outside of what was accepted and in the genre, and so it was a fight, and it always continues to be a fight, but it’s nice to be accepted even if you live outside of that formula.
Fox News: There are a lot of new sounds in country music today. Reba McEntire gave an interview talking about bro country, and how she’d like to “get back to the real strong country” — how do you feel about this?
Eli: I completely agree with Reba. I think that, you know, with us, we’ve always wanted to make music that had content and that made somebody feel something and it wasn’t just about the party. That’s just how we feel. That’s the kind of music we want to make. That’s not a diss towards anyone else. I think everyone wants to be the artist that they are.
I don’t want to diss anybody or put anybody down, but you know I think that when it comes to our music and how we want to be seen or heard on country radios, we want our music to have content and to move you, make you feel something, and we’ve been really lucky to have songs like, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and “Love Ain’t” to make you think about something more than just you know picking up the beer, which is fine, I like to drink.
Jones: Country music should be a spectrum. I think that’s what it comes down to that. There are times where you want that drinking song, that party song, but it shouldn’t be a thing where you go to country radio and that’s all you’re going to hear. And I think that they need to find a place for everybody. I think with any genre if it gets too focused on one thing it’s not going to last, but I think there is this period that’s happening right now as it’s happened before — something will come along and we’ll move past it and open it back up and it’ll all be fine.
“This Is Eli Young Band: Greatest Hits” is out now.