Eli Young Band are self-described outliers. Formed in 2000 as students at University of North Texas, the band of Mike Eli, James Young, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson made a name for themselves touring extensively in their home state before Nashville took notice, signing a record deal in 2005. Their third record Jet Black & Jealous became their breakthrough project, spawning the hit “Always the Love Songs” in 2009. Though they had a string of No. 1s – 2011’s “Crazy Girl,” 2012’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and “Drunk Last Night” in 2014 – the group stalled on the charts until “Love Ain’t” made them a breakthrough act again when it claimed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in 2019.
Eli recalls hearing the demo for the first time while driving his daughter to school. By the second listen, she was singing along to the chorus, Eli also recognizing the appeal of the song that details the stark difference between what love does and doesn’t represent. “I think we felt it right away when it came to this song,” Eli tells Sounds Like Nashville and other media about the band’s reaction to the track penned by Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley and Ross Copperman. “This song felt really good. The energy right away when we started playing it live, there was a feeling that we were getting from the crowd. The magic was already there.”
Collectively, the band notes how the song defies convention, whether it’s breaking grammatical rules in the title, Eli jokes, or the “little things” that Jones picks up on, like how the writers made a rhyme out of “ain’t” and “can’t.” This idea of breaking the rules calls back to a similar feeling they had with preluding hits “Crazy Girl” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” both of which felt out-of-the-box at the time and took some convincing at radio to get airplay. “’Love Ain’t’ felt really edgy for us, the groove and the lyrics, and it felt like it was breaking a few rules,” Eli explains of the song they had a feeling would be their return to the top of the country charts. “It felt like it was taking a little bit more of a chance.”
The band’s current single “Break It In” is a natural follow up to “Love Ain’t.” As the four-member brotherhood approaches their 20th anniversary, “Break it In” is symbolic. The lyrics speak to persevering through a tough trial period, knowing that it will eventually become familiar with time like a new baseball glove and worn-out jeans. The message is embedded in such lyrics as, “When the shine wears off / When you lose that gloss / There’s so much underneath it all / You think that good is as good as it can get / Then you break it in.”
“This song spoke to us right away. We are big fans of old things and loyalty and that’s just kind of who we are, so that was a big reason that spoke to us like that. I think we’re just now kind of hitting our stride and that’s one of those things why we’ve always felt like we’ve got a good thing is that with every year that goes by and every show that goes by, we feel as if we get better in some small way or some big way,” Eli reflects. “Now more than ever, especially with this song being our first No. 1 in a while, we feel like it’s an a-ha moment and we kind of feel like we’re just breaking this Eli Young Band thing in.”
“In a lot of ways, this feels so fresh and so new and just so great because it has been a while since we’ve had a No. 1. I don’t think we took for granted the first time we had a No. 1, but we definitely don’t take this as our fourth. The older you get, the more experience we have,” adds Jones. “Nineteen years making music together, we really appreciate what it means to make it back up to the top again.”
Eli Young Band will hit the road on a series of new dates added to Chris Young’s Raised on Country Tour, beginning on Sept. 26 in Erie, Pa. and continuing through Nov. 23 when it wraps in Lexington, Ky.