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Photo by Corey Ray
If you’ve never quite connected with country music, Eli Young Band might be the group that finally wins you over. With their latest singles, “Lucky for Me” and “Love Talking” (released in November and early January, respectively), they have a unique blend of edge and warmth to their sound, perhaps because they’ve always operated outside of the usual Nashville country music pipeline. The quartet formed two decades ago when the members met while attending the University of North Texas, and they’ve remained in the Lone Star State ever since. Their distinctive sound has helped them achieve multiplatinum sales status with their six studio albums. Their numerous Top 10 tracks – including “Crazy Girl,” “Drunk Last Night,” “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (which was prominently featured in the popular TV series Nashville), and “Love Ain’t” were compiled on 2019’s This Is Eli Young Band: Greatest Hits. Calling from a tour stop in Denver, bassist Jon Jones discusses the band’s unique, uplifting music, their plans for a new album – and why everyone should give country music a chance.
Lately, many artists are releasing somber songs, maybe because of the pandemic – but your singles “Lucky for Me” and “Love Talking” are both uplifting– did you take that approach deliberately?
JON JONES: I think there was definitely some intentionality there. There is enough negativity to go around, it feels like, in the world right now. It would be too easy to write about that. Hopefully songs like this can be a nice escape from everything else that’s not so happy. We had the opportunity to go back in the studio, and it was just such a joyful, happy time. We hadn’t been able to spend that much time together and create music, which is something we’ve loved doing so much over the past twenty years. It was really easy to get a fun vibe going and to create happy music.
Are these new songs a sign that you have another album coming out this year?
JON JONES: We do. We’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to roll it all out. Mike [Eli], our singer, wrote a ton of songs over the lockdown – he wrote about a hundred songs last year. So we had a ton of music to pick from, and we recorded seven new songs, so there’s enough for an album with a couple of other things we can sprinkle in there. It’s really exciting. It feels like a long time since we’ve had new music. It feels like a long time since we’ve done anything, really.
When Mike brings a song to the band, how do you then put your own stamp on it?
JON JONES: As a bass player, it’s always just little things. If you can find one little signature, lick, or one thing that’s melodic that stands out in the song, and then just give the song what it needs. I’ve learned over the years it’s not about showing off. It’s, “How do you serve the song?” I really enjoy doing that. It’s a fun process.
How did you find your distinctive sound as a band in the first place?
JON JONES: Back in college, when we were getting started as a band, it was figuring out who we were going to be, what kind of music. We really came from diverse musical backgrounds of country and rock and jazz – a little bit of everything. When we played music together, and especially Mike’s voice, it was undeniably a country band, but definitely had a lot more influences in there. At the end of the day, we are who we are, and the music we make is just being ourselves. I don’t think we sound like any other country acts because we bring our own experiences to the table.
How did you know when you first met that it was the right combination of people to create something different and special like that?
JON JONES: Oh, I don’t think we knew that at first! If you would have told me 21 years ago that I’d be sitting on a tour bus talking to you, I would have laughed. We were having fun. We all played in bands before, like in high school, and it was something we really missed. And we just loved making music. Some people started liking what we were doing, and we started taking it more seriously. I’m really glad we did.
What do you think it is about your work that’s connected so strongly with listeners?
JON JONES: I think we try to sing about relatable things: love, relationships, growing up – it’s those things we can all identify with. We always try to say it slightly differently, in a way that’s interesting.
What made you want to be a musician in the first place?
JON JONES: My mom started me on violin when I was two and a half years old, so it wasn’t a choice at first. I played violin for ten years, and then switched to guitar and bass. And was in choirs my whole life. So I guess I slowly fell in love with it. I didn’t necessarily know that it would be something I would do my whole life, as a career. Honestly, it was after we all graduated from college that we decided that we were going to make this our career. We graduated and we had a little following, though we definitely weren’t making a living. We were putting gas in the van and that was about it. But we were stubborn. It was, “We’re never going to have another opportunity like this. We could either go off and get real jobs, or we can give this a try and see what happens.”
What would you say to someone who hasn’t given country music much of a chance yet?
JON JONES: Country music is such a broad genre these days. It’s not what you think of – it’s so different than it was twenty, thirty years ago. I think someone could find “their kind” of country music. It may not be the Top 40 stuff you hear on the radio. It might be the more alternative or singer-songwriter country stuff. Listen to our music, honestly. One of the biggest compliments [we get] is, “I hate country music, but I love your band.” Or, “You’re the band that got me into country music.” We hopefully have songs that stick out for being slightly different, and I think honestly that’s been part of our strength.
Upcoming Eli Young Band tour dates:
Thursday, Jan. 20 – The Paramount | Huntington, N.Y.
Friday, Jan. 21 – Brooklyn Bowl | Philadelphia, Pa.
Saturday, Jan. 22 – Brooklyn Bowl | Brooklyn, N.Y.
Saturday, Feb. 5 – Silver Saloon | Terrell, Texas
Thursday, Feb. 10 – The Hub | Monroe, La.
Friday, Feb. 11 – The Hall | Little Rock, Ark.
Saturday, Feb. 12 – Georges Majestic Lounge | Fayetteville, Ark.
Thursday, Feb. 17 – Fox Theatre | Hays, Kan.
Friday, Feb. 18 – The Liberty | Roswell, N.M.
Saturday, Feb. 19 – Potosi Live | Abilene, Texas
Friday, March 4 – Hurricane Harry’s | College Station, Texas
Saturday, March 5 – The Railhouse | Kyle, Texas
Tuesday, March 8 – Gallo Center for the Ars | Modesto, Calif.
Thursday, March 10 – Rialto Theatre | Tucson, Ariz.
Thursday, March 24 – Georgia Theatre | Athens, Ga.
Friday, March 25 – The National | Richmond, Va.
Friday, April 1 – Wildcatter Saloon | Katy, Texas
Wednesday, April 13 – Bogart’s | Cincinnati, Ohio
Thursday, April 14 – The Bluestone | Columbus, Ohio
Friday, April 15 – Bluebird Nightclub | Bloomington, Ill.
Thursday, April 21 – The Hangout | Gulf Shores, Ala.
Friday, April 22 – Dallas Bull | Tampa, Fla.
Saturday, April 23 – The Ranch | Fort Myers, Fla.
Thursday, April 28 – Wally’s Pub | Hampton Beach, N.H.
Friday, April 29 – The Pub | Manchester, N.H.
Saturday, April 30 – Aura | Portland, Maine
Friday, May 20 – Floore’s Country Store | Helotes, Texas
Saturday, May 21 – Big Texan Starlight Ranch | Amarillo, Texas
Friday, June 17 – Whitewater Amphitheater | New Braunfels, Texas
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