When I called Mike Eli of the Eli Young Band to interview him for this month’s issue of Nashville Music Guide, I didn’t expect that he would be taking a sick day. After a day of traveling cross-country, from California where the band performed on the Tonight Show to Virginia Beach, Eli’s voice was rough and scratchy when he spoke, and at one point he had to put me on hold while he took care of a nosebleed. But when I asked if he’d like to reschedule for a day when he felt better, he insisted on continuing the interview. There’s something to be said for a musician who’s so passionate about his band and his music that he wants to talk about it even on his worst days.
Fans new and old know that 2011 was a big year for the Eli Young Band. “Crazy Girl,” the first single from their album Life At Best and the fifth single of their career, was the band’s first to reach No. 1.
“You kind of have a sense of relief,” says Eli about having a No. 1 song. “I mean, for the last few years we’ve been really wanting to take this thing as big as we can take it, and to hit a milestone like that, you know, you just feel like, ‘Alright, we’ve gotten to this point. This can only mean great things for the next step.’ ”
And Eli was right about what would happen next: the song’s success catapulted the band from Texas onto the national stage.
“We’ve been doing this for 11 years, and living down in Texas, we’ve done extremely well down there,” Eli says. “I guess we didn’t really realize, when you have this kind of success at radio, how quickly the rest of the country figures out who you are. It happens a lot faster than you realize.”
Since the release of their 2009 album Jet Black and Jealous, the band has been playing sold out shows all over the U.S., but the success of “Crazy Girl” at radio has made them superstars and procured the band some well-known followers.
“We’re pretty low key. We’ve always kind of stuck to ourselves,” Eli tells me before talking about their famous fans. “But [Disney pop starlet] Demi Lovato twittered about us the other day. That was kind of weird. The craziest thing was when we had a show the other day in San Antonio, and Roger Clemens showed up and hung out with us. I’m a huge baseball fan, and so it was cool that The Rocket showed up at our show. He came up on stage and it was fun.”
Perhaps some of the best-known fans of the Eli Young band are Tim McGraw and Faith Hill who asked the band to be their opening act on tour in Australia this year.
“We were invited to do CMC Rocks, which is a big festival for the video channel there,” says Eli about going to Australia. “Some of our previous songs had done well there, but ‘Crazy Girl’ did really, really well there. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were going to be on CMC Rocks too, and they were going to do a whole tour there, so they invited us to be the opening act. It was awesome.”
In late January the band will release “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” the second single from Life At Best, and in addition to touring Australia, they will soon be announcing a huge tour for the U.S. this summer where they hope make fans of “Crazy Girl” into die-hard fans of the Eli Young Band.
“With us over the last 10 years, we’ve built this whole thing about being the Eli Young Band and our story, and people have bought into the band and our show,” Eli says. “Now that we have this big song that happened at radio, it was kind of a big step backwards that will help us take a huge step forward. Now, we’re a song again. Back when we first started, people started finding out about us because of a few of these songs that they had heard that college friends had been passing around. Now on the national scene, it’s one of those things where we’re a song again, and we’ll have to convince everyone to buy into the band. What we play this year and with this song, people are going to start realizing that there are a lot of songs that are in our past and there’s a big story behind us.”
By Andrew Miller