In this millennium, Denton's Eli Young Band has been one of the best modern country acts to emerge from the bustling Texas country scene. And in the past few years, the group has landed some big radio hits to become one of the most popular groups in country music, regardless of which state we're discussing.
Formed in 2000 by Mike Eli and James Young after meeting as students at the University of North Texas, the band has proffered a slick, rock-based sound that's won over fans of guitar-driven Americana as well as lovers of more polished, radio-friendly, singalong tunes.
The group, which consists of the same four guys it always has, catapulted from regional favorites into national darlings several years ago after signing a major label record deal with Universal South. Unlike other Lone Star State favorites such as Jack Ingram and Pat Green, who traversed the tricky artistic terrain between Texas and Tennessee by changing up their sonic approach, Eli Young Band didn't have to alter its commercially pleasing style to start seeing singles race up the charts.
Most of the songs from each of its records are written by band members, which is perhaps the main reason the sound has remained intact. By the time "Always the Love Songs" hit the top 10 in 2008, it was clear the group was heading faster up a path they had long been on already.
With Fingerprints, a fine new record out on June 16, the band will build upon its momentum from previous No. 1 hits "Drunk Last Night," "Even if it Breaks Your Heart" and "Crazy Girl."
Though they can pull in impressive crowds just about anywhere and have toured with A-list acts including Darius Rucker and Dierks Bentley, Eli Young Band still comes home to headline some of the biggest festivals in the state. For lead singer Eli, Texas hasn't ever been a minor league training ground as much as it has been a "breeding ground for creativity" for artists of all styles to develop a proprietary vibe and begin the search for who they are individually.
"Over the years, we've played a ton of shows with Jason Boland and the Stragglers," Eli says during a rare day off at home. "Those guys are a completely different style of music than we are, but we've always gotten along with them and we think they're great. The fans in Texas are cool about letting bands be themselves even when they sound differently."
The band's fans had a big role in the making of the new record, whether they knew it or not. Eli says it was the "passion of the fans" that literally directed the group into which songs were chosen: "We purposely recorded songs that shared some of the traits our fans clearly gravitate towards in other songs we know they are into," Eli says.
Having long since outgrown most of Texas's grandest stages, Eli Young Band's massive step to headlining its own arena tours and dominating award shows hasn't been completed just yet. That may or may not happen; Eli admits he's ready for it but insists it isn't the end goal. That humility is believable: A band together for so long, with such a successful career, isn't a fluke.
"A lot of things keep us together," Eli says, "but we've always valued our relationships more than we have the money. And besides, as a band, getting on the stage and playing our songs is what we live for."
Eli Young Band's new record "Fingerprints" becomes available on Friday, June 16. The band is on tour and will perform July 4 at Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth.