Eli Young Band’s ascent to Nashville fame

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With their new album Life at Best, The Eli Young Band brings an optimistic outlook to fans as they return to Austin on December 13th (Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Cowart).

Eli Young Band’s Texas country sound and heartfelt lyrics have brought the band a long way from their garage jamming sessions at the University of North Texas. 

From humble beginnings, EYB has strived to focus on the little things and stay grounded throughout its ascent to stardom. The four-man band began in 1999 when Mike Eli met James Young, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson, sophomores at UNT.

Country Music Association award nominations and international tours were the last thing on drummer Chris Thompson’s mind as he registered for his freshman classes as a civil
engineering student.

“I had actually decided to stop playing music when I entered college. I was going to study engineering and then finance,” Thompson said. “I played through high school and middle school and all that, but it didn’t feel like it was in the cards for me.”

Fortunately for fans, Thompson ultimately did not pursue a career in finance or civil engineering. Instead he changed his major to philosophy and banded together with his best friends. Soon after, they hit the Texas music scene and began playing at local music venues.

“Coming from Texas is the critical part of us, because of how we started and created and how we are different,” Thompson said. “Texas musicians are really accessible to the fans and because of that you make fans for life. There’s no other scene like that in country. It doesn’t really exist. Being from Texas has allowed us to learn how to song write and perform before the huge national spotlight turned onto us. I don’t think this band would have survived if we hadn’t started the way that we did.”

Staying true to their Texas roots came at a price; EYB had to work hard for the spotlight. But it paid off. With their single “Crazy Girl” going platinum and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” surpassing gold, the band is celebrating a new level of success.

“Right now we are playing in front of hundreds of thousands of people each night and they actually want us to be there. They know our songs. It’s really crazy,” Thompson said.

EYB has caught fire in its home state. The hearty crooning of Mike Eli can be heard incessantly on radio stations throughout Texas. “Crazy Girl” has become a harmonic love anthem that draws couples of all ages to the dance floor for a slow two-step. It is this harmony that has captured America’s ears and hearts.

“It’s catchy because it’s so relatable, the songs get stuck in your head for any situation,” radio-television-film freshman Taylor Wingfield said. “There is a great mix of more hardcore songs heavy on electric guitar and slower ballads with more acoustic sounds.”

The multiple song styles and themes represent the band’s ability to constantly diversify its music; it draws from myriad musical backgrounds and inspirations. Yet the band stays true to its roots and its message. Drawing on the changing dynamics of their friendship and life on the path to stardom, EYB writes music that reflects their journey together.

“You can really tell they love what they do; they have a true sense of identity,” Wingfield said. “They play what they love and haven’t moved into the more pop style of country. Their albums have a consistent sound. Fame isn’t their main goal, the music is.”

For many fans, Eli Young Band’s music brings an optimistic outlook to everyday hardships.

“My favorite song is definitely ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’ because it’s an inspiring song with a positive message,” said biomedical engineering freshman Connor Vershel. “Whenever I feel discouraged, I’ll sometimes listen to that song and feel ready to tackle whatever is discouraging me.”

Opening with the redolent image of a child enraptured by the familiar charm of a “beat-up old guitar,” “Even if it Breaks Your Heart” preaches to ambitious musicians to keep dreaming regardless of challenges. In line with the message of the band’s music, Thompson urges aspiring artists to continue to do what they love.

“Don’t ever stop. I stopped,” Thompson said. “Don’t ever be afraid to take the gig and surround yourself with really talented people.”

Eli Young Band will be playing at Emo’s Dec. 13. Tickets go on sale Friday.

Printed on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 as: Small-town musicians go big