Eli Young Band
Sat, October 26, 2013
Doors: 7:00 PM / Show: 8:00 PM
$20 ADV / $25 DOS
ELI YOUNG BAND
It’s a crazy-good story. The Eli Young Band—four musicians who met during their college days in Texas—is now 11 years into a career built on touring without a single lineup change. That dedication is paying off big-time as the band enjoys a crazy new level of success. They sell a crazy amount of tickets. Get a crazy amount of airplay. And are selling a crazy amount of downloads—EYB is on the verge of its first Gold single for the aptly named “Crazy Girl.”
Penned by fellow artist Lee Brice and Nashville songwriter Liz Rose (“You Belong With Me”), “Crazy Girl” is a perfect introduction to Life At Best, a 14-track album that takes the band’s wide-ranging multi-genre influences and distills them into a focused, engaging vision: edgy country with hints of heartland rock bands such as Tom Petty and classic Eagles.
Produced by Mike Wrucke with executive producer Frank Liddell (a team noted for its award-winning work with Miranda Lambert), Life At Best takes the listener on a journey, winding through songscapes that walk a delicate line. There’s a distinct variance from track to track as EYB veers from energetic quasi-rockers to steel-ladled country songs to conflicted ballads. And yet the album maintains a singular identity, built around a sound that’s been masterfully created over the course of three studio albums.
“We were able to just go in and record the entire record all in the same time period, and so you’re in the same state of mind the entire time you’re recording,” lead singer Mike Eli notes. “There’s something to be said about that when you’re creating music, and I think this album demonstrates it. There’s a degree of cohesiveness with this record that I don’t think we’ve had with our prior records.”
There’s also a degree of anticipation—understandable given that “Crazy Girl” provides a new level of exposure to a national presence that’s been created by simple touring. Their last album, Jet Black & Jealous, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in 2008 even though the group had never made the Top 10 through radio play at that point in its career. One title from that project, “Always The Love Songs,” provided that Top 10 breakthrough while the group earned critical acclaim from People, USA Today, Billboard, The New Yorker, American Songwriter and Country Weekly and picked up television appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. EYB also nabbed a nomination from the Academy of Country Music for Top New Vocal Group of the Year.
Still, nothing demonstrated the band’s impact on the public consciousness better than its ability to turn a disappointing concert hurdle into personal triumph. A handful of dates on the multi-act Country Throwdown Tour were dropped in 2010 as the promoters made a cost-cutting move during a difficult touring season. With only nine days notice, the Eli Young Band announced a concert on its own in Dallas and sold an impressive 20,000 tickets with little advance.
“We were rolling the dice on that show,” drummer Chris Thompson admits. “It was great to see the payoff on that concert and know that those people have our back.”
If the band’s fan base has its back, it’s merely an extension of the solidarity the Eli Young Band has demonstrated since the beginning. Thompson, guitarist James Young and bass player Jon Jones formed an instant friendship and started performing around Denton when they were students at North Texas State University in 1998. Eli came into the picture when he enrolled at the school the next year, first playing duo shows with Young, then singing lead as the gang of four officially made its live debut in October 2000.
“In the very beginning, we decided that this is gonna be the four of us or it wasn’t gonna work,” Jones reflects. “Way before Nashville was even on our radar, we had time to figure out how we wanted to do it and really kind of commit to each other. We decided that we would be stronger, the four of us going through it together instead of just one person, which I think is the best thing about being a band. You have a group of people to share everything with—to share some of the work and keep each other grounded.”
There was plenty of work. And little pay. EYB built its reputation by honing its music in front of audiences. They’d play a club, sometimes for fewer than 100 members, but when they returned to that venue, the crowds were invariably larger. Within three visits, they usually sold out the house and would soon need to move up to a larger hall.
The group routinely plowed its earnings back into the business, buying better equipment, fueling its cramped van, and gambling on the good vibes the musicians shared as a band—and with their growing legion of fans. It’s the same method that lifted many classic bands: New Jersey’s Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Seattle’s Nirvana and Detroit’s Bob Seger. The Eli Young Band established itself first in Denton, grew to prominence in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, expanded into a regional act across Texas and Oklahoma and eventually extended its tentacles from coast to coast.
EYB shed the van in favor of a bus several years ago and has stepped into even larger venues, opening for the likes of Alan Jackson, Jason Aldean and the Dave Matthews Band. And the group has reached a level where it regularly sells out 5,000-seaters on its own in the Southwest and 3,000-seaters in other areas of the nation.
“Crazy Girl” underscored the strength of the group’s foundation when it sold 47,000 copies in its first week out. It quickly became the fastest radio hit in EYB’s career and sent an undisputable signal that the group is now a coast-to-coast phenomenon.
“Some of the biggest responders were way outside of Texas,” Jones asserts. “It seemed like everywhere we’re went people were really welcoming us into the doors and ready to give the single a chance.”
But as strong a reception as “Crazy Girl” has received; it’s merely an introduction to an album long on ingratiating melodies, magnetic hooks and subtly provocative storylines. “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” kicks it off with a breezy Petty feel, and the project runs through the punchy “Every Other Memory,” the optimistic crunch of “Recover,” the introspective ballad “My Old Man’s Son” and the gritty “Skeletons.”
“What I like about our records is there are different kinds of songs here and there, and there’s something for everybody,” Young says. “We don’t set out to write just one kind of song.”
EYB members wrote or co-wrote nine of the 14 tracks, drawing on their collective experiences as musical partners and growing individuals. They referenced their struggles as a band, the pitfalls of relationships, the complexities of family heritage and the difficulties of simply being human. Despite digging into hardship, they transmitted it with an unerring sense of optimism.
And they did it in a way that only four guys who have held together as friends and business partners through several years of difficult touring can. They were all born within a 15-month span, and that’s created a shared prism through which they’re able to see the world and their music.
“Life At Best has just a little bit more maturity than anything we’ve done before,” Jones says. “We’re always writing about what we’re going through, and the type of song that appeals to us changes with our lives. We’ve been growing up together and going through the same phases really since college, and you can see some of that in this record. You can see that we’re a little bit older than in Jet Black & Jealous.”
And a little more established. Their growing TV presence, their continuing road-warrior commitment and the imminent Gold of “Crazy Girl” all point Life At Best in one direction: a crazy little thing called success.
Honesty is a powerful magnet that always draws an eager audience and it has proven to be a potent tool in Eric Paslay’s creative arsenal. Sometimes playful, often poignant and always thoroughly entertaining, the 6’ 4” singer/songwriter with the fiery red hair and easy smile has quickly earned a reputation as an artist that knows how to capture the attention of an audience and hold them in the palm of his hands.
All it takes is seeing Paslay perform once to become hooked, a fact that has become obvious as he’s toured the country, opening for Little Big Town, The Eli Young Band, Jake Owen and others. Prior to the release of his EMI Nashville debut album, fans have been able to purchase a five-song sampler at Paslay’s shows. “The very first night we got to sell them I gave the merch guy two boxes and he sold out,” Paslay says in a tone that exudes a mixture of humility and awe. After Paslay did the math, he realized that one in 12 attendees went home with his CD. “I’m just excited that I made some fans and they got to take me with them. I’m excited that my music is out there.”
When country music fans see Paslay perform, they want to take his music home and make his songs the soundtrack of their lives. Whether he’s performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry or taking his place this summer on the Country Throwdown Tour sharing his new hit, “If the Fish Don’t Bite,” Paslay always knows how to reel a crowd in.
His music has substance and depth, but his debut album is every bit as entertaining and accessible as it is meaningful, and therein lies Paslay’s charm. “It’s hopeful music,” he says describing his style. “There’s only one sad song on the whole record and that’s ‘Amarillo Rain,’ but there’s still a beauty behind it that makes people feel alive somehow.”
Paslay has the ability to paint vivid portraits in his songs and he does just that with his new single, “If The Fish Don’t Bite,” a sly, sexy romp about a guy who has plans for his girl beyond casting a line in the water. “A lot of guys are annoyed by chicks coming to fish when it can be a lot of fun,” he says with a smile. “If the fish aren’t biting, why not cuddle up a little closer?”
Whether he’s serving up a light-hearted up tempo tune like “If The Fish Don’t Bite” or delivering an emotionally riveting song like “Deep As It Is Wide,” Paslay proves to be a compelling storyteller and versatile performer. It’s a gift he comes by honestly. “My granddad was a musician,” says Paslay, a native Texan, who was born in Abilene and raised in Waco and Temple. “Granddad and his brothers had a band called Arnold Schiller and the Moonlight Serenaders. My grandfather was Arnold, and they played at dance halls. I was two and a half when he died. It’s interesting how it rubbed off even though I didn’t really know him very well. He had red hair and it’s kind of funny because I like all the things he liked.”
Paslay says his family never pushed him to play music, but supported his interest when he began playing guitar at 15. “I love melodies,” he says. “My dad always had oldies on, and listening to that music growing up influenced me. There’s so many cool melodies and it was great ear candy. It still resonates with every teenager, every grown up, every grandmother because it’s human. That type of music really stays with you.”
By the time he began performing around Texas, Paslay had studied some of the great singer/songwriters and learned how to make a song memorable. “I was influenced by Rich Mullins,” Paslay says. “He was one of those guys I really listened to because he was real. He was a Christian artist, but it was cool to hear someone mix their beliefs with real life. He was honest and it was almost scary honest. I’d listen to his songs and think, ‘Did you really mean to say that?’ It was cool. Then there was Rodney Crowell. I love Rodney Crowell. Johnny Cash has influenced me from his storytelling. He was such a cool storyteller and you really believed him.”
He also studied what made an artist command a crowd’s attention while they were on stage. “I watched Austin City Limits and the Grand Ole Opry,” he says. “I was into everything from country artists to rock artists to Southern rock artists to jazz players. In high school I definitely went and saw quite a few Dave Matthews Band shows and that was always an experience.”
Though most aspiring artists playing clubs routinely perform cover tunes, Paslay learned to lead with his strengths and played his original songs. Even though he was building a reputation for his live show, like most artists, he briefly flirted with a more stable career and during his early days in college, he planned on becoming a pediatric endocrinologist. “I had diabetes and I thought I could help kids with diabetes because I could relate to them and talk to them,” he says.
However, music was too strong a passion to be ignored and following a friend’s advice, he moved to Nashville. Paslay attended Middle Tennessee State University. He also volunteered for anything just to get his foot in a door on Nashville’s famed Music Row. He did everything from help out at a charity golf tournament to change light bulbs in the NARAS office, a feat made easier because of his height. “I’d just go help anywhere I could because I thought if you have a job to do and you do it well, then if they let you be creative and make a record, at least they know you’re going to do it well,” Paslay says. “They’ll know you are going to put all your mind, strength and skill into doing whatever job they give you.”
Paslay landed a deal at Cal IV Publishing. His songwriting credits include Jake Owen’s hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” as well as the title track for Donny and Marie Osmond’s country set “The Good Life” and cuts by Lady Antebellum and the Eli Young Band. Though appreciative of the songs that others have recorded, Paslay will be the first to admit he didn’t move to Nashville to be a songwriter, but to be an artist.
He has a passion for using his voice to connect with an audience, and there’s a warm, earnest quality that commands attention, particularly on potent anthems such as “Deep As It is Wide.” “It’s about the hope that there is something bigger and better than us,” he says. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel and there’s something out there. When I finished this song I wanted to make sure there wasn’t a disconnect between each verse, so I went down the street to play it for a friend. The way I was sitting, I couldn’t see her while I was playing. When I was finished singing, I turned around and she was crying, so I figured I was done.”
“Less Than Whole” is a thoughtful treatise on grace and forgiveness Paslay co-wrote with Big Kenny that Kenny included on his 2010 solo album. “Sweet By and By” is an infectious number Paslay penned with his friend Sarah Buxton. “That was the first song we ever wrote together,” he says. “I saw her the other night and she didn’t even know it was on the record. She started crying and saying, ‘I’m so happy it made the record!’”
Though Paslay enjoyed recording the album and has an affinity for the studio, his true love is the stage. “I turn it on when I get on stage. I love to entertain,” says Paslay, who has opened for Dierks Bentley, Clint Black, Eric Church, Blake Shelton and Little Big Town, among others. “The songs on this record are the ones that really connect when I played them live. When I write, I’d rather there be a little bit of hope in every song, even in the sad songs. There’s still hope in there. With all the negativity everywhere these days, I’d like the positive to come out. A song can give you a little boost in confidence or make you fall in love deeper or dream higher. I’m not writing and singing this stuff to be cool. I was never the cool kid. I was the kid standing in the back of the room watching.”
Off stage, Paslay has a gentle, everyman quality that endears him to all who meet him. He loves performing, but is just as comfortable remodeling a bathroom or getting in the kitchen with his mom, Donna, and making kolaches, a pastry that is a favorite among Texans. Most of all, Eric Paslay loves forging that special connection with people that can only be made with a song. “I just love making music. I love how much you can say to someone in a song,” he says. “I want to be a part of the soundtrack of people’s lives.”
This event has was in the past.