Over the last 20 years, Eli Young Band has carved out space for themselves among the greats of country music. They’ve released six albums, won an ACM and shared a stage with other noteworthy artists in the genre. However, while they’ve had an exciting career that shows no signs of slowing down, they’ve remained humble throughout all of it. Despite their mainstream success, they still stay true to their Texas roots and appreciate each and every one of their fans – and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for them.
They’ll be kicking off their tour in Denver later this week. But before that, we got a chance to catch up with frontman Mike Eli to discuss a long career and its ties to Denver.
303 Magazine: You were just in town this summer for Denver Day of Rock. What was that experience like for you?
Mike Eli: Yeah. That was a really neat deal. Every time we’ve been to Denver, it’s been inside at the Grizzly Rose, or an arena or one of the theaters. So, I think that was one of the first times where we experienced downtown during a festival. It just a really fun day. It was a really diverse day – just really refreshing.
303: I suppose it was released before Denver Day of Rock, but your most recent single is “Break It In.” Can you talk to me about what that song means to you personally?
ME: We’ve been a band for 19 years. This is our 20th year of playing music together. Time really flies when you’re playing music together. It’s just one of those things where one day you’re putting out a record and then the next day you’re putting out your sixth record. So, it’s like, after all of this time and everything that we’ve been through, we kinda feel like we’re just revving this thing up and just breaking it in. So, I really feel like it’s an incredibly appropriate single right now for where we are in our lives and where we are in our careers.
303: The song is incredibly nostalgic and the music video really drives that home. Can you talk to me about putting that video together?
ME: It was neat because we hadn’t really gone through all of that old footage and all of those old photos in a long time. Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of it, you just don’t realize how far you’ve come, everything that you’ve accomplished and how you’ve all changed. And, how we’ve stayed the same! I think the four of us went from being single guys in college to being family men with kids at home. That all changed together, while we were making the same music together. It was really neat to go back and revisit those moments, and a lot of the moments that we forgot. It was a neat project.
303: That video is essentially a slideshow of the last 20 years of your life, what is it like to see it now that it’s all put together?
ME: It’s funny because during the show we have a lot of that footage and a lot of those videos playing behind us on our screen, while we’re performing. A lot of times I want to turn around and look at it. It’s actually really neat to see the crowd response and their reaction to some of that footage and some of those photos. Some of the photos, we’re babies. You can see the change from when we were babies to the end where you see our babies. It’s neat in both aspects. For us to be able to see it and to live it every night on stage when we perform that song and then also to see the crowd reaction to it – it’s just a neat thing.
303: As is clearly evident in the music video, you’ve accomplished quite a bit over the last two decades. What stands out as the highlight among those experiences?
ME: We’ve had a lot of really neat things happen for us over the years. Whether it was playing the Grand Ole Opry for the first time. And the venues! Such as playing Red Rocks for the first time. That’s not just an important venue for the folks in Colorado, but to performers like us, it’s one of those places that you put on your bucket list. Playing Red Rocks for the first time and being able to go back there has been just really cool. That’s a bucket list moment. But, we’ve had so many over the years. Winning an ACM award, being nominated for a Grammy – we’ve just been so lucky. At the end of the day, we’ve always said that all of that is incredible, but we want a long career. We want longevity, and we feel like we’ve been able to accomplish that by trying to be smart and make music that we’re proud of and our fans are proud of. We really feel like we try to look at the end game and not just what is immediately going to lead to success.
303: In addition to all of those accomplishments, over the years, you’ve toured with some pretty big names, including Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Rascall Flatts and Dave Matthews Band, just to name a few. Did you learn anything from those tours that have impacted you as a touring artist?
ME: Oh absolutely. I think that when you go in and play with someone like Kenny Chesney or Dave Matthews or Darius Rucker or Rascal Flatts – we’ve been so lucky to do so many of those tours. You can’t help but be a sponge. As entertainers, you need to learn how to entertain in so many different types of situations, so many different types of venues because crowds react differently whether you’re in an arena or if you’re in a small club or in a theater. You’ve got to learn how to entertain in all of those different types of situations and environments. Watching some of those guys adapt and the way that they can make a crowd feel that intimacy in such a huge venue. I think it was always an eye-opener. We learned a lot of great lessons I think, on how to be that kind of artist.
303: We’ve talked a lot about your past today, but you haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. So, what’s in store for Eli Young Band in the future?
ME: Yeah. I mean, it’s continuing on down the road, and making records. As the music industry changes you have to learn to adapt to those changes. Right now, this is the first time that we aren’t necessarily going in, creating a project and releasing the project with a single. We’re kind of going in slowly and doing song by song because that’s how the industry and how fans are consuming music. They’re really living song by song now. So, it’s just a whole lot of creating music in a different way than we’re used to. It’s not necessarily something that we love, because I guess we have a little bit of an old-school way of thinking.
I miss the days of going and buying a CD and reading the liner notes, and seeing who produced it and who wrote it and who played on it, et cetera. These days a lot of that has changed, a lot of it is obviously digital. Right now we’re going to be going in and we cut a couple of songs here and a couple of songs there. We’ve been writing a lot to be ready for the next round of recording. We’ve been writing a ton, so we’ve got a bunch of songs ready for the next round. Hopefully, this next year we’ll be kind of sealing the deal on the next project, which will include songs like “Love Ain’t” and “Break It In”
303: Your show in Denver this week is the kick-off for your tour, is there anything you’re looking forward to about that first show of the tour?
ME: Yeah. We love Denver. Denver is one of our favorite places to play and visit. One of the reasons is that long before we had a record deal, long before we had number ones on the radio, there were supporters in Denver that were coming to our shows. There were fans that really got things going for us. So, Denver has always kind of been one of those cities that we feel is an important one to us because it’s a big part of our story. So, anytime we get to come back to town we really, really look forward to it. Snow or not! It doesn’t matter the temperature.
Eli Young Band will perform at the Fillmore on February 14. Tickets are available here.