Eli Young Band: "We Like to Stay Busy"
Now more than a decade old, the Eli Young Band is the rare Texas country act whose lyrics are not dominated by their home state and its musical heroes. Their music is largely fiddle-free, rather cut from the same cloth as pop-rockers like Tom Petty, Matchbox 20 and the Wallflowers, and if someone in the band is going to wear a hat, it will likely be a fedora rather than something of the cowboy or ballcap variety.
Photos courtesy of HBPR (except where indicated)
So not by coincidence, since the release of 2008 album Jet Black and Jealous, the Denton-formed EYB has become the most successful Texas act within country music at large, spinning off the huge hits "Crazy Girl," "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" and now "Say Goodnight" from Life at Best, whose weekly sales continue to grow despite its August 2011 release. "Crazy Girl" also picked up some hardware for the band by winning Song of the Year at the 2012 Academy of Country Music Awards.
One thing that definitely marks EYB as a Texas act, though, is its road-dog schedule. Last year the quartet went out with Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley (separately), and this year will do the opening honors on Kenny Chesney's summer fling.
"We like to stay busy," admits EYB's Jon Jones. Rocks Off caught up with the bassist and brand-new father as he was "starting to figure out what day of the week it is again" a few days before tomorrow and Friday's shows at House of Blues, which are almost guaranteed to be packed.
Jon Jones: I would say the R Bar in Denton. That's the first place we ever played, and I think that's why we loved it. There wasn't even a stage there; we had to kind of set up in a corner. It was all of our friends, and if they don't like you, then you should really give up.
College Station, I don't think the bar is there anymore -- Hurricane Harry's is the place that we play now. But that was the first town we ever sold out a show. It was only a couple of hundred people back then, but I remember showing up for the show. We had done sound check and gone back to the motel and came back in our van trailer, and there was a line out the door all the way down the building.
We had never seen that before, and it was just this moment of, "Wow! That's what that looks like. That's really for us." So College Station is really the first market outside our friends and family that kind of caught onto our music.
RO: How long were you there at R Bar?
JJ: All the way through college, until we graduated. So four years.
RO: What were some of the places down here in Houston you broke into?
JJ: Firehouse Saloon was the big place. It was always, "Go play the Firehouse, wait six months and go play the Firehouse again." We did that for a good five years, probably.
RO: When you were getting your name out there, playing a lot of radio-promotional-type shows, does one or two stand out as being especially awkward?
JJ: I'm sure you interview artists from all genres, but country music definitely does the most radio stuff. We've got a great relationship with country radio. It kind of sets the genre apart. But sometimes they're trying a new restaurant to play at; sometimes we'd play at a hibachi/sushi place during the lunch hour.
There was a place called Quaker Steak and Lube. I guess it's a chain, I don't know how big it is. It's a [pun] on Quaker State, but it's like a Philly steak place. I want to say we've actually played there twice for whatever radio station. I remember going to see the pinup schedule and thinking, "Oh, we're going back to Quaker Steak and Lube."