Gary James' Interview With Jon Jones Of

The Eli Young Band

They released their debut album in 2005 and started opening shows for Miranda Lambert. By 2007 they were on the same bill as Pat Green, Robert Earl Keen and Jack Ingram. They were nominated for an Academy Of Country Music award as the Top New Vocal Group Or Duo and for Top New Vocal Group of 2010 at the Academy Of Country Music Awards.

We are speaking about the Eli Young Band. Jon Jones talked with us about his group.

Q - Somebody's coming to the New York State Fair this year. (2010)

A - Yeah. I was just looking at the line-up and I guess we're there the same day Rush is playing as well, which I think is gonna be pretty cool. I'm a huge fan. But we did a fair amount of Fairs last year and it looks like we have some bigger Fairs this year, some State Fairs.

Q - So, your star is rising on the horizon.

A - Well, over the past two years we've been getting a lot more national airplay. We're a band from Texas that started more as a touring act than a radio act and so it was more of a traditional way to do it. You go out and hit the road, play wherever they let you play, try to make one fan at a time. It wasn't until we started getting some national success radio wise that we were able to tour out further and further. And so, a lot more opportunities have come our way. And it seems like Fairs and festivals like that this season are a great way to get into a market. You don't get to play a club as easily. You get paid a little more to come to these Fairs and festivals and it can get you in front of a lot of people. So, you're not taking the same chance you'd be taking to play a small club for the first time.

Q - As long as we're on the subject of business, how important was it for you to sign with Monterey Peninsula Artists Paradigm Agency? Why not Buddy Lee or William Morris?

A - Well, William Morris is the biggest. And we talked to everybody. We're, I guess, pretty deliberate and careful when we make our decisions with who we're gonna work with. We'd worked with a couple of regional booking agents and we met Brian Hill, who is our main booking agent. He's our go-to guy. It's called Paradigm now. It was Monterey Peninsula. As large as they are, they just seem to have kind of a boutique type feeling to them. A very one-on-one relationship with their artists and it's always felt that way. I know some of the Fairs and festivals are booked by other people, but Brian does 90% of our booking and we've met everybody else. We're kind of getting up in our careers where we're settling down a little, buying houses, getting engaged, getting married. I bought my house and then Brian called me and said "Hey, I just want you to know that that house is just as much my responsibility as it is your." They really feel that connection with their artists.

Q - So, this band was formed when? In 1999?

A - I think technically you'd say 2000 and Chris the drummer and James the guitar player, we all met that first week in college. We kind of came from separate places musically and also geographically, but that first year in college we just kind of... we were friends. We all played in bands in high school. We'd all get together and jam and play those cover songs we all had in common. It was that next year in '99 that Mike, our lead singer, came to school and became friends with him. He and James were living together. I guess it was about the year 2000 that they started doing a little bit of songwriting together and playing acoustically in one little club in Denton, Texas, where we met. A few months after that, Chris and I hopped up onstage and the band just kind of formed from there.

Q - It seems like I've heard quite a few famous musicians have come out of Denton, Texas.

A - I don't know who is really from Denton, Texas, but it's a college town. The University Of Texas is there. I think them and Indiana go back and forth between which is the largest music college in the nation. But it's a fabulous Jazz program. The Eagles all went to school there. That could probably be it. There's a lot of Jazz musicians and studio musicians that come from there. For a college town and a college that size, there's really a hot-bed of music.

Q - This band really did a lot of roadwork before you released your first CD in 2001, didn't you?

A - We did. Before 2002 we played as much as we could. We were still all in college and so it was kind of a weekend thing. We played basically Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton is about half an hour away from the Dallas, Fort Worth area. So we played Dallas, Fort Worth and a couple other college towns, pretty much wherever we could drive to in a day and whoever would let us in. Basically that first CD was literally in a friends basement with a pretty remedial recording set-up. We just wanted to put some of our music down. With that CD we really just kind of sold it out of the trunk of our car basically at shows and whoever would listen to us. It just kind of grew very slowly from there.

Q - Would the roadwork have been so great that it forced Mark Sims and Brian Taylor to leave?

A - You know, it was the four of us that started the band together. So, if you look at Wikipedia and certain things that talk about B.T. and Mark, B.T. was a friend of ours in college who was kind of like everybody's friend. He had a very magnetic personality that everybody wanted to be around. He'd play guitar a little bit. He kind of just had fun playing with us. He was with us for a couple of years. I don't think he had the passion and drive to take it as far and do all the things it takes to have some success. I think once he graduated, he had more of a mentality of getting a job and then we did start to play out more. He was trying to hold down a corporate job and make the shows at night. His interest was just in different places. Mark was a friend. I guess a guy who owned a bar in Denton that we played was managing a band Mark was in. We kind of just became friends with him. He was more like a guest of ours for a little while.

Q - What kind of music were you playing in those early days?

A - We had bar gigs where we played, three...three and a half hour sets and we only had a handful of our own tunes. A lot of Classic Rock, some of the Classic Rock that lends itself more to Country and then some more Country things. The four of us really came from different musical backgrounds, anywhere from Jazz to Hard Rock, Classic Rock and Country. The first few years it really was an experimental time for us to get to know each other's music and as we were writing songs, exactly where our music sits. I think we quickly found out that it was gonna be Country. Mike, our lead singer, has the strongest background in Country and that's really what he grew up listening to. And so, that's where his voice goes. There's some things that Country music embodies that we really like. Compared to other genres now, it has more to do with a song and a story and the melody that you don't really find anywhere else right now. Those were the things that appealed to us and so Country music became a no-brainer.

Q - If you are a Country performer, do you have to record in Nashville?

A - You don't. And a lot of people would say you have to live in Nashville too. I don't think either one of those is true. There's some great studios in Denton, but we do our recording in Nashville now. We've hooked up with a couple of really great producers, Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucks. Frank is actually a Texas guy too. Miranda Lambert, who's another Texas artist, introduced us to them. They did her records and we just really like the way they enjoy working with the band, which can be hard to find in Nashville. There's a lot of groups that when they get to Nashville to record, they don't put down their own music. They have studio musicians come in and do it and then the singer will come in and the band will go play it 'live'. We never wanted to have that kind of Nashville mentality. It's the four of us in the studio and a lot of times a song won't really take life until we can get into the studio with the producer and woodshed it down.

Q - With your songwriting, you will schedule a songwriting trip or retreat. If you're all gathered in one spot, you can turn on and off your songwriting talents? Many songwriters will write when inspiration hits, whenever that is. It could be an idea that comes when they're sleeping and they have a pen and pad by the nightstand and they wake up and write it down. What if the four of you are in a room and nothing happens?

A - You can sit in a room and stare at somebody for an awful long time and in fact can become very tedious. You very rarely can get anything productive out of that. There's been a few situations where you kind of end up writing in a cubicle it feels like. Songwriting places in Nashville can be especially stale. Whenever you have one of those ideas, and it can just be a hook or a melody or a verse or chorus or a guitar lick or rhythm, you write it down. You find a way to put it in your back pocket if you don't have time to write it or enough ideas to bring it to life. A lot of the times when you do go to a writing session, you just kind of bring those out. You bring your little book of ideas out until something clicks with everybody and kind of take it from there. What we really found is there's no good method that works for us to write a song. Two weeks ago, we had a couple of days off from this tour, we rented a rehearsal room in Charlotte, North Carolina, the four of us. We pretty much locked ourselves in for a few days to do some more songwriting in a different way. Just the four of us starting from scratch. It was very productive. We got some really good things recorded, but we have to keep on trying new things. Sometimes the traditional Nashville way of sitting in a room and staring at each other and writing a song doesn't work. But sometimes you'd be surprised the inspiration that can come out of that.

Q - And where do you draw your inspiration from?

A - Well, a lot of times you just have to be aware. If you listen around you can hear some of the most classic lyrics that just haven't been written yet and it does feel like sometimes almost everything good has been written, so you just have to keep your eyes out. People say the strangest things. Sometimes you write that down and it becomes something huge. A lot of it I think has to do with just going from personal experience and if you can't be writing from the heart, that also becomes pretty transparent.

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