The Eli Young Band is, by now, a household name, at least in households across North Texas, where three of its four members still reside, and in other households whose speakers blare with country. With each single released by the four-piece, formed in Denton in 2000 and led by lead singer Mike Eli and lead-guitarist James Young, the band's name becomes more commonplace on the nation's playlists. With the release of its latest effort, the slick, something-for-everyone 10,000 Towns, a more prominent spot on Country Music's A-List seems inevitable.
It's been a long march, starting in 2002, with their self-titled debut. By 2005's Level and Live at the Jolly Fox, the group had become popular enough in North texas to fill House of Blues in Dallas, among other rooms that dwarf most college-town dives that comprise the majority of the Texas Country touring circuit. With the release of their 2008 major label debut on Universal South, Jet Black and Jealous, Eli Young Band became the most commercially successful Tex-port into the mainstream in several years, dating back to when Jack Ingram and Pat Green popped up in the top 10 of the Billboard charts for a short time. With their single, "Always the Love Songs" hitting big on radio and on the various Country Music video channels, the table was set for a much bigger splash.
That came in 2011, with "Crazy Girl," the Liz Rose-penned single that hit number one on the Billboard chart and went on to become a double-platinum single in the States, winning the Academy of Country Music Award for "Song of the Year." The band was nominated for Top Vocal Group alongside Zac Brown Band, Rascall Flatts and other stadium-packing enterprises. The accolades, and the work, have kept flowing since. Last year, the group played on Kenney Chesney's stadium tour, and it's currently on the road with Darius Rucker, joining Rucker on stage each night for a song or two. And last year ended with a Ballpark-sized bang, when an estimated 18,000 fans showed up for the first concert-only event to be held on the grounds of the home of the Texas Rangers. It "was a glimpse into where we can take this," Eli says.
"Growing into a larger tour where we headline is certainly the goal," says Eli, a newish father. "We've played to big rooms before, because we'll book our own shows throughout the country when we have a break in whichever tour we're supporting. Hopefully in 2015, we can do a big tour of our own, but that will depend on the success of the new record. Thankfully, we've already had a couple of songs do well on radio [the new single, "Dust" is already primed to crack the top 40 only a couple of weeks after being released to DJs across the country], so this might be a chance for us to release several singles onto radio from the one record. It'll be interesting to see how this record changes our career."
They're intimately aware of the pitfalls of country-music stardom. Texas Country artist Josh Abbott, who performed with EYB at the Ballpark in Arlington, recently took to Twitter to come clean with fans about recent bad decisions, including infidelity, and to apologize for letting the fame and temptations of life on the road get the best of him. So it's understandable that a band that goes from playing the smelliest, smallest dives of Denton to entertaining 80,000 people at Cowboys Stadium may also experience the temptation that comes paired with celebrity. But Eli seems to have a firm grasp on what's at stake as his star rises.
"It can be hard to make the right choices when you live life on the road," he says. "For us as a band, that hasn't been the case. It's been easy to make the right choices. Each of us is married, and both Jon and I have little ones at home, too. I have a beautiful wife and I can't imagine a scenario where I would make a choice to put all of that in danger. I definitely understand how tough decisions are presented to bands and musicians out on the road, though, but not every band makes the same decisions and lives the same wild lives."
Eli tries to bring his family on the road with him as often as he can, but caring for a toddler can be tough even the most palatial of tour buses. But the band's unexpected friendship with the members of hit-making, motor-boating group Little Big Town, who regularly have family in tow when they tour, have helped them understand they can indeed be happy family men and successful road warriors, too.
"The reality of this job, and the worst part of this job, is that you often have to leave your family at home," Eli says. "Finding a balance is important, but it's hard. Sometimes I think we all question whether it's worth the time away from our families to live our dreams of playing music for a living, and that's why we have worked hard to find that proper balance of life away from home, and being at home as much as we can."
That will only get harder in the coming years, with years of tough decisions, bad gigs and busted dreams finally paying off for the group. As complicated as life can surely get for them as they continue their climb, Eli offers up his simplistically profound, grounded philosophy for making sure he does his part to keep it going in the right direction.
"For me, I don't do anything I wouldn't want my Mom to find out about," he says. "That's not a bad rule, and it keeps me honest."
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.