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Drawing on music’s ‘common bond’

Mike Eli and the Eli Young Band will perform Wednesday night at the fairgrounds. (Associated Press)
Mike Eli and the Eli Young Band will perform Wednesday night at the fairgrounds. (Associated Press)

Eli Young Band tries to stay true to roots

If you need more evidence that hard work eventually pays off, look no further than the Eli Young Band.

The quartet’s very first gigs, back when they were students at the University of North Texas, were in the local college bar, covering Lynyrd Skynyrd and Alabama tunes. Now, nearly 15 years later, they have two top 10 country albums and a couple of platinum-selling singles to their name, and they’ve toured the world opening for everyone from Rascal Flatts to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

For a group with such humble origins, playing shows with some of their musical influences, including Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney, was initially daunting.

“It’s intimidating at first, it always is,” said Chris Thompson, the Eli Young Band’s drummer. “But you realize they’re just people, just like anybody else, and we have the common bond of music. You could be from a different planet than somebody else, but if you like the same song, you kind of get each other.”

The Eli Young Band, named for founding members Mike Eli and James Young, began their journey to mainstream success when one of their songs, “When It Rains,” started to receive unexpected airplay.

“It was an organic thing – we had no record label or promotional staff or any of that,” Thompson said. “So we started touring more and developing a fan base.”

“When It Rains” was so popular, in fact, that it ended up appearing on two of the band’s albums, the second of which, 2008’s “Jet Black and Jealous,” cracked the top five on the country charts.

But the group’s success didn’t stop there: Two more singles, 2011’s “Crazy Girl” and 2012’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” became No. 1 country radio hits.

The band starts a headlining tour in October, and it’s heading back into the studio next month to continue work on a new album that Thompson expects to be out sometime next spring.

“The music we’re recording now is some of our best-sounding stuff,” Thompson said. “In our last session in the studio, we were playing better than we’ve ever played, and we’re really getting ideas across that we’ve been trying to get across for the better part of a decade.”

And despite the band’s newfound popularity, Thompson says it’s important that they stick to their roots.

“We’ve learned from years and years from being onstage that if you aren’t having a good time, the audience isn’t,” he said. “We’ve got the lights and the production and all that, but at the end of the day it’s got to come from inside. It can’t be something that’s fabricated. There’s no secret to it.”