By Kelly Dearmore
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They don't refer to Denton as Austin North for nothing. In a small college town that's rife with bands spanning all genres and any kind of indie sub-genre you can think of, musician acquaintances fast become friends, then form into bands which start playing around town—and eventually other towns across the state and region. And, if a band is lucky, they'll get noticed by a label or get some exposure on an "it" music blog and have the ability to play across the nation.
Or so the story goes.
Thing is, though, even for all the big names coming out of Denton, it's kind of a rare story when one of those acts actually attains an honest-to-goodness batch of national acclaim. But, for the Eli Young Band, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck seems to have placed the band on a road toward success—even if the band's sound isn't exactly what you would expect to come out of Denton. (Read: There's nothing indie about the Eli Young Band.)
"It's country music, but it's very much rock driven," Eli Young Band bass player Jon Jones says. "It's not easy-listening, but it's easy to let you in if you want to because it's driven by rock and by melodies. But at the heart? It's just country."
But even in Denton, there are country audiences. And after gigging around town for a few years, the Eli Young Band was able to develop a bit of a local following. Eventually, that led to bigger gigs: In 2003, the band was picked to open for Miranda Lambert at the Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas. And, with the help of a label honcho Lambert invited along to the show, the group was soon signed to Carnival Recording Company, which eventually released the band's 2005 debut album, Level. Since then, though, even more doors have opened up for the band, which, as part of its relentless touring schedule, has played support for Red Dirt heavyweights like Reckless Kelly and Cross Canadian Ragweed and Texas country troubadours like Jack Ingram and Pat Green.
"There is something really nice about the fact that we're really open to different types of music and that we're exposed to different types of music," Jones says. "I think that's why our sound is different from country bands that have come out of Denton. With the combination of what we were hearing and evolving with in Denton and what we were hearing and playing with on the road, it kinda helped us develop our sound."
It's a slick country sound, but one that's paid off for the band: It's 2008 major-label debut on Universal Records, Jet Black & Jealous, reached as high as the No. 5 spot on Billboard's Country Albums chart; today, a full year-and-a-half after its release, it still sits at No. 53. It's a situation for which Jones says the band's quite thankful.
"When we were in college and we were starting, it was just about having fun," he says. "We all wanted to graduate from college. To do things like play the Grand Ole Opry and go on big tours and play Red Rocks is amazing to us."
And despite where the sound's taken them, the fellas still consider Denton home.
"There is something really special about Denton when we go back there," Jones says. "It still feels like we're part of the scene."