Since they formed at the University of North Texas back in 2000, Eli Young Band have become one of the biggest groups in country music.
Over that time they’ve amassed an array of hits, including five number one singles, and recorded five studio albums. Now they’re back with number six, ‘Love Talking’, which is the follow-up to their 2019 release ‘This Is Eli Young Band: Greatest Hits’, alongside a 52-date US tour.
I recently caught up with Mike, James, Jon and Chris to talk about the new record, latest single ‘Break Up In A Bar’, the success of ‘Love Ain’t’ and how they’re finding life back on the road – as well as a possible trip over to Europe…
Your new album comes out today – what can you tell us about that?
Mike: Well, it’s called ‘Love Talking’, it comes out June 3. We’re excited. There was a lot of creative time for us, which in the last 21 years of being in a band, we were always on the road. And so to be able to completely focus on the creative side of things, and really hone into finding the right tunes to release at this time, it really was a treat to have that much time to be creative. So the great thing is that we had a lot of tunes to pick from and so we were really able to find the tunes that reflected a positivity that we wanted to make sure this album had. I think coming out of 2020 and 2021 was a difficult time for for everyone. And we really wanted to showcase that positive side of what came out of it for us. And even though there is one small, darker, more vulnerable moment on the record, we really focused on – I’m gonna say positive one more time, the positive side.
Did you have that positivity consciously at the forefront throughout the process of making this record? Or did it evolve into that?
Jon: Of the songs we picked, I think that was a concerted effort to keep things upbeat, but going into the studio, we love that time. We just love having that opportunity to create new music, because we know that whatever we create, we’re gonna go play those songs night after night after night, for hopefully years and years and years to come. So we want to put our best foot forward. And going into the studio, we really had not played any of these songs together, which is the first time we’ve gone in… not blind, because we were in some ways more clear-eyed than before, because we had great demos to work with. And we all have our own little home studios where we could practice, just not in the same room together. And we hadn’t been able to spend that much time together at all, touring or otherwise. it was mostly just kind of like this on Zoom with each other. So it was just really nice to be back in the room together. COVID gave us that opportunity to miss each other, which we haven’t allowed ourselves that kind of time in the past 21 years. So there was just this great energy when we were in the studio together. So I think they lifted those songs up even more to elevate to a really nice level that I think really comes through on the record.
I actually wanted to ask a bit about the process of picking songs as Mike, I read you wrote 150 songs between the Greatest Hits record coming out and now, and there’s also a couple of outside tracks on this album as well. So how do you as a band narrow down what you’re going to put on an album?
Mike: I think [for] all four of us, one thing was obviously finding the light at the end of the tunnel in a way with the with the songs. But as a songwriter, you can’t help but write what what you’re experiencing at the time. And so I think a lot of the songs that were written will be perfect for a project down the road. So the four of us, when we were kind of going through songs, I think we all knew what the top list was. And then we siphoned it down from there with listening to our wives or our managers and the label and really tried to see which ones were finding their way to the top of the list. And so eventually, once we realised that that we wanted to make sure that this was a positive project, it made it pretty easy. And I think all four of us have always – one of the reasons why I think we’ve lasted 21 years is that we listen to each other.
And ‘Break Up In A Bar’ was a song that – it’s an outside song that, coming out of writing so much over 2021 and 2020, I was probably a little bit too close to some of those songs. And so I really needed to listen to these three guys, when they said, “Hey, I think the song is really on to something”, and they were right. And the moment we played it live for the first time and everybody was trying to sing along by the second chorus, even though they hadn’t even heard the song before, we really knew that it was the right song to add to the list. And so I think that we accomplished something in finding the record that was right for the time for us, and I think for a lot of our fans.
Is there anything you’ve learned from the process of making this album that you’re going to take forward on to future projects?
Chris: I think that being off the road during COVID and having a break from what we do night after night after night after night, and then through the process of having made a lot of records at this point, we’ve sort of gotten really comfortable in our own skin. And we know what we do and what we do well when it comes to being in the studio, and what we like when it comes to being in the studio. So I think that this record really was kind of a good stamp of, this is what Eli Young Band is now and probably a lot of our future records, we might reference this record about. So yeah, that’s one part of it.
You’re currently out on tour in the US. How is it being back on the road, after having had the break for COVID and everything?
James: It’s amazing.
Jon: It’s great. I feel like just there’s this renewed enthusiasm on both sides of the stage. For us, since we got we had the chance to miss it, it helped us remember why we do it, and why we love it. And all those little things that could kind of bog you down to the grind on the road – they seem small, again, they don’t seem like big things, and it was a good reset for us. But also the audience. Everybody is just so happy to be out. And I think live music is just such an important part of so many people’s lives. And people have missed that and are really just coming out with a lot of enthusiasm and just are out there to have a good time. And so it’s just been a lot of fun to see a lot of the fans that we’ve gotten to know over the years and then to see, new fans coming out that have had a chance to learn our music – Not from our live show but over the past few years while we’ve kind of had to take this break. It’s just been an absolute pleasure to be out.
Are there any songs you’re particularly enjoying performing live at the moment?
Chris: Definitely ‘Break Up In A Bar’ has been a really fun one. Because it’s a brand new song for us. And it just has this feeling during the show that everybody already knows it and loves it. And so that’s just a really cool moment. We haven’t had a song like this to perform live in a while. And so that’s been really fun. And then also ‘Love Talking’. I mean, as it starts doing its thing as a single, it’s fun to see the crowd response, and people get more and more into it and really attaching themselves to that.
We’ve mentioned ‘Break Up In A Bar’ a couple of times which is one of the outside tracks on the record. What was it that drew you to that song in particular?
Jon: It’s a happy breakup song. I mean, it’s hard to find a happy breakup song that makes you feel something other than heartache. It’s one of those really common themes, but it’s twisted around in a way that we hadn’t heard before. And that’s something we really latch on to as a band, is that cleverness.
Mike: I mean, we’ve all we’ve all experienced that moment where you go through the breakup, and you go to your friends and wherever that place might be and that’s what helps you get out of the funk, out of that moment that you don’t want to be in anymore, and something that cheers you up. And I feel like that song makes you feel happy about breaking up and it’s such a battle of emotions in a way that we’ve all experienced that battle of emotions. It’s like liberation, but you don’t want that, that liberation, you want to still be tied to that person. But yet you have this freedom over here. And so there there was this battle of emotions that I think we were kind of drawn to.
I also wanted to ask you about ‘Love Ain’t’ which is featured on this project and has gone platinum already. When you were working on that song, was it one that you always knew would be special?
Mike: We kind of had a feeling that was one of those songs that we could feel that it was going to be fun for the live show. And we knew we loved it. There’s a certain point with every single that we put out, we’re like, “this is gonna be a big one for us.” We don’t always nail it. There are highs and lows with every career, and so ‘Love Ain’t’ came at a perfect time for us, except that it didn’t make its way onto one of our records because we it was at a time where we hadn’t fully developed an album yet. And so finally now, coming out of 2020 and 2021, we can finally put it on a record where it’s supposed to be. And that was a special song for us. And it came at a time when when we really needed that single and that song for the live show and for our career. And so we do feel like we’ve been really blessed when it comes to that tune.
What’s the one song you wish you written?
Jon: I tend to fall back on, just from a greedy standpoint, ‘Happy Birthday’ [Mike laughs]. If I could have written a song that everybody knows. But the royalties from that song have probably been absolutely incredible. Sometimes it’s the simple tunes.
Mike: You can pick a lot of Springsteen tunes for me. ‘Learning To Live Again’ by Garth Brooks, I heard the other day. And I would have loved to have written that one. There’s so many.
James: ‘Walking On Sunshine’, Katrina and The Waves. That song is in, like, every commercial. 40 years old, it’s still everywhere in the world you turn. Yeah.
Chris: Anything by Paul Simon’d be great. Yeah. They’re all great.
We’ve talked about this a little already but you’ve been together as a band for 20 years now and achieved so much. Is there anything still left on the bucket list?
Chris: Yeah, we’ve never done a headlining tour of sheds or outdoor venues, that kind of stuff. I think that’d be a really good one. So yeah, so that one.
Jon: And obviously, we haven’t been able to do like much much touring over in Europe. So it’s great talking to you. But that’s one of the things that we would absolutely love. That’s still in the bucket. And that’s what we’re hoping to get get accomplished very soon.
Mike: Sooner than later.
What does the rest of this year look like for you? Are the album and tour the main focus?
James: It is, yeah. For us, we’re a live band and we make records to go play live and so it’s fun just to be back at it again. And summertime’s you know, our most favourite time to tour, and to be back doing festivals and be outside and be around all our fans and just doing our thing. At the beginning of this year, we revised the setlist, the stage show, the lights, everything. And so it’s been fun to just take that out with us this summer and just looking forward to being out there and playing the new songs.
Eli Young Band’s new album, ‘Love Talking’, is out now on The Valory Music Co.