Eli Young Band to bring country sound to Manistee

By David Yarnell
Special to the News Advocate

MANISTEE — In the year 2000 four friends at the North Texas State University put together a band that is still at it today – three platinum singles, two gold singles and a No. 1 album later.

The Eli Young Band will bring its soulful, Texas-rooted, live-show-focused country sound to the Little River Casino Resort at 8 p.m. on June 16. Tickets go on sale Friday.

Drummer Chris Thompson tells how it all got started.

“Jon (Jones), our bass player, and I met the week before we started our freshman year at North Texas State University,” Thompson said. “We became friends and started jamming together. When Mike (Eli) enrolled the following year, he and James (Young) started writing and eventually we started playing together and writing together and 18 years later, here we are.”

The Eli Young Band will perform at 8 p.m. on June 16 the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee. Tickets go on sale Friday.

The Eli Young Band will perform at 8 p.m. on June 16 the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee. Tickets go on sale Friday.

Most bands are discovered by an agent, go on the road and then record a CD. The Eli Young Band didn’t follow that formula.

“It’s a funny story,” Thompson said. “Mike and James wanted to make a record, but they ran out of money to hire the musicians to play on it. Since we all had jammed together, played and written together, we went to a buddy’s house who had some basic recording gear and we spent about four months cutting this record. It took us that long because we didn’t know what we were doing.

“When we finally got a product out, we started getting noticed, and a few years after that we put out an actual professional record from a studio in Denton (Texas). That put us on the map as a touring band and got us to be more of a mainstay on the Texas-Oklahoma circuit.

“We had a song out, ‘When It Rains,’ which was getting played on peoples’ MySpace and then program directors in Denver and Chicago and some other places heard the song and started playing it, which put us on the charts. It also got attention from record labels, which led us to the next record with the single ‘Always The Love Songs’ that actually got in the top 10.”

Thompson laughs when he thinks about how they got started.

“Yeah, we were pretty cocky back then. We thought we could handle all of it by ourselves and be the biggest band on the planet.”

Thompson said the college musicians didn’t try to make money with their music.

“No, it was all just for fun,” he said. “We were all pretty dialed in to getting our degrees and getting real jobs after college. Our parents really wanted us to finish.”

Thompson said all the members had played in bands and music was part of all their lives for a long time before they met each other at North Texas State.

“So it was really just an outlet when we started,” he said. “But when Mike and James started writing, there was something really special there, so after we cut that record we started making fans in our college town pretty quickly, and that encouraged us to book shows, and we grew bigger and bigger and not even a year after we all graduated we were playing full time.”

The members of the band continue to write many of its songs.

“We’ve all written collectively and individually and with other writers in probably every which way you can write,” Thompson said. “When we go into the studio we pull out the 30 songs that everyone kind of likes at that time and we cut through them so the best can rise to the top.”

Thompson said he started playing the drums when he was in the eighth grade.

“I was in a band with a drummer and he wanted to start another band. He said, ‘hey, do you want to play drums and I’ll play guitar in this band,’ so I said, ‘sure.’ Being a cocky teenager I was pretty sure I could figure it out and I’ve never stopped playing.”

Thompson currently lives in Austin and the others live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, not far from where they attended North Texas State.

The Eli Young Band released its first album, “Eli Young Band,” in 2002, followed by “Level” in 2005.

After signing with Universal South Records, they released the album “Jet Black & Jealous” in 2008 and it reached No. 5 on the country charts. “Life At Best,” recorded on the Republic Nashville label, reached No. 3 in 2011. It was followed by “10,000 Towns,” reaching No. 1 in 2014, and “Fingerprints,” which reached No. 17 in 2017.

In 2007 the band’s second single, “When It Rains,” reached No. 34 on the country charts. “Always the Love Songs” reached No. 11 in 2008, “Radio Waves” reached No. 35 in 2009 and “Guinevere” No. 45 in 2010.

“Crazy Girl” reached No. 1 in 2011 and was the Academy of Country Music song of the year. “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” also reached No. 1 in 2012 and that same year “Say Goodnight” reached No. 31.

“Drunk Last Night” reached No. 3 in 2013, “Dust” reached No. 19 in 2014, “Turn It On” reached No. 42 in 2015 and “Saltwater Gospel” No. 43 in 2016.

Did the success surprise Thompson?

“It’s still a surprise to me,” he laughed. “We continue to work as hard as we can and make good business decisions and good decisions for our relationships – and make good music. And the rest we leave up to the powers that be.

“’Crazy Girl’ was our first no. 1 and the song that solidified us on the national stage,” Thompson continued. “To this day it’s the biggest song of our careers.”

Among the Eli Young Band’s award nominations, Thompson said the Grammy nomination in 2012 for “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” was the most significant.

“Being nominated for a Grammy was the coolest thing ever,” he said. “Going to the Grammys as a nominee is something that I think pretty much every musician dreams of doing. It was just a blast to get to do that.”

In 2015 the band collaborated with pop singer Andy Grammer to record a more countrified version of Grammer’s hit “Honey I’m Good.”

“His manager and our manager had dinner one night at about the same time Mike (Eli) talked about how much he liked that song,” Thompson said. “So we all went to the studio in L.A. and it was a really fun crossover experimentation kind of thing.”

Thompson said band members are always working together to try to come up with the “next thing.”

“We were back in the studio in January and did a couple of new songs that will be out hopefully in May or June,” he said.

Thompson said the band has enjoyed touring from the start.

“We have been a touring band since day No. 1, so it’s always been a big component of what we do,” he said. “We love getting on stage. It’s always the best part of our day.”

Tickets for the concert will be available Friday at LRCR.com or by calling 800-585-3737.

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