The Eli Young Band brings a taste of Red Dirt music to the forefront of Country music. The band has an upbeat and distinct sound that has caught on quickly on a national scale. EYB saw mild success through the years touring on Jet Black and Jealous and hit a major stride with its most recent album, Life At Best, featuring the hits “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and ACM "Song of the Year," “Crazy Girl.”
The Eli Young Band has now reached a new height, opening Kenny Chesney’s current tour (which is hitting mostly stadiums). CityBeat was able to catch up with band drummer Chris Thompson to get the band’s feeling on its new found success and life on tour with Kenny. The tour comes to Cincy tonight at Riverbend Music Center for a sold-out stop (the tour moves to Crew Stadium in Columbus on Saturday night). It is truly the most impressive tour in Country music.
CityBeat: How did the tour come about with Kenny Chesney?
Chris Thompson: A lot of people don’t know this but Kenny is really involved in who he picks to go on tour with him. In a lot of other tours, a record label will put someone on the bill or management will partner up with other management to find a tour that works with that kind of artist, but Kenny is super hands-on.
Two years ago at the Academy of Country Music Awards, we were nominated for "Song of the Year" and so was Kenny, and we actually beat him, we won the category. I guess shortly after, there was a text going around from Kenny to his management, “Who are these guys that beat me?” and “I want to find out more about them.” He started getting into our music and shortly after we got the phone call that we were invited to go out on tour with him.
It’s just a huge honor. Like I was saying, he hand picks the folks that are out here on the road with him. It’s the biggest tour in Country music and we are just happy to be here.
CB: I was there the night you guys won the "Song of the Year" award. I was so happy for you guys. I know you have worked very hard over the years. What was the highlight of CMA for the band this year in Nashville?
CT: We were only there for a couple hours really. We flew in that morning and did a signing for two or three hours and then had a couple meetings. Then, we were out of town.
We have been going to CMA Music Fest for seven or eight years now. Back in the day we would stay for three or four days and play a show or two and be able to hang and meet as many people as we could. It seems like more and more nowadays, especially with the tours we have been on and our headlining tours, we are only able to get in for a day and get out.
It is always fun to do the signings because you meet people from all over the country and from all over the world really who love Country music. They are so excited to meet you. They are die hard fans. They bring pictures from five years ago when we met. It’s just cool that Country music does that. We are the only genre of music that has anything like that where fans can go and interact directly with the artists and have one-on-one face time with them.
CB: Tell me a little bit about “Drunk Last Night,” the new single.
CT: I think “Drunk Last Night” is a lyric we can all relate to. When we all first heard the song, we were like, “Yes, this is a song for us."
A lot of people hear a title and automatically think it’s a drinking song. We went through some of that with “Crazy Girl.” A lot of people saw the title and went “Oh, I know what this song is about,” and I think they were wrong.
I think people will find this is not the standard drinking song. It is all about, I hate to sum it up as drunk dialing, but it is kind of like the thought of doing that and alcohol feeding that desire a little bit more than in daily life.
It is also a song that we went in the studio and recorded (and) as soon as we finished the session, we could go out and play (it) live right now because it’s a great track, it’s rocking, it’s in our wheelhouse and we actually did. We started playing it at the very beginning of the Chesney tour before it was even picked as a single. The crowd really seemed to dig it and now here it is, going to be a single. Good stuff.
CB: Do you guys know or do you have a feeling when you have a hit or when you hear a hit presented to you?
CT: Yeah. I think sometimes you hear a song, sometimes people say the song gives them chills and they know that’s the one. Sometimes you get that feeling in your gut. When you hear a song sometimes, you write a lyric and you feel that, it is almost like that feeling of falling in love. Your chest kind of swells.
When multiple people feel that way at the same spot or for the same song, then I don’t know if anybody can guarantee a hit, but you know that it is at least a lyric or a song that people can relate to and I think typically good songs are universal in that sort of way.
CB: I loved your “The Cuss Jar” video — I could buy a house if I implemented that process. I wanted to know if you had bought anything fun with the money?
CT: No, actually I think that era ended. The jar got too full and I think we used that jar for laundry money one day when we stopped somewhere on the road and had a few days off and emptied the whole thing for band and crew’s laundry. Then we got too lazy to keep up with it.
CB: What has been your craziest tour story recently?
CT: I think playing Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on the Chesney tour was probably the craziest thing because we are from Dallas and we have played every tiny bar around the stadium. To just get up on stage at the biggest stadium in America was totally wild. All of our families were there; it was craziness.
CB: That’s such a special moment, I am sure you have plenty of those all the time. Do you do anything special yourself to keep the tour memories? Do you take photos or journals? Some bands blog or journal and do things to keep it fresh.
CT: Yeah, we have been fortunate on this tour, since the beginning of this year, we have had a guy out on the road with us that has started doing social media. Mainly he is taking pictures. Since January, this whole thing has been documented and we really appreciate that.
It is definitely hard for us to get good photos when we are on stage playing, when we are really in the moment, because we are playing, so he is out there doing that. This is the biggest tour we have ever done and just the momentum that this year is building, we are just happy about that.
CB: What does a typical day look like for you?
CT: On the Chesney tour when we are doing stadiums like we are doing today, we will go out and do a tailgating event, at 1 or so in the afternoon, we will all get into some golf carts and we will go out to where all the fans are tailgating and they will bombard us with jello shots and beer bongs and the local foods they have.
We hang out with them for an hour or two then we will start doing radio events where we will play a couple songs acoustic, sitting on our bus or backstage for various winners. Then we will do a meet and greet for about 60-100 people. Then, we will grab a bite to eat around then. Then we hit the stage and rock out for about an hour.
After that, we will go hang out with some radio folks or some friend that are in town and wind down about the time Kenny hits the stage so we can watch him. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty unreal.
CB: If you could trade places for anyone for about a month, who would it be?
CT: Right now it feels like we are living the dream. I think the four of us are really happy with what is going on in our careers right now. We have had some national success. It feels like we have broken out of being a regional band and it feels like we are on the cusp of something more than that. It’s a great time for Eli Young Band and it is important for us to enjoy this. I probably wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone right now.
CB: What can the fans look for from you guys tonight in Cincinnati?
CT: We try to always bring a high-energy show. We were playing a show last night and there was this older gentleman almost in front row sitting in his chair arms crossed and it looked like he wasn’t really enjoying himself. About halfway through our set he leaned over to his wife and he points at us and he goes, “Those guys are workin’ up there.” Then he smiled real big.
We want to bring that energy. We want to get on stage and have a good time and fire up the crowd. We go on right after Kacey Musgraves. Kacey is real cool and laidback and all that when she does her thing and it’s great. Then we get to come in and kick the audience in the butt a little bit.
During our set we have some new music in there and some cover songs I think gets the crowd up and clapping. After that Eric (Church) comes up and burns it down. Then Kenny Chesney comes out and the place goes nuts.