The Eli Young Band returns to the area tomorrow with a headlining performance at Chilifest in Snook. Singer Mike Eli describes Aggieland as an integral element to the rise of the chart-topping country band.
"One of our first-ever sold-out shows was in College Station," he said in a recent phone interview. "So College Station has always been one of those places that we consider pivotal to us, back in the day when we were first growing this whole EYB thing. So it means a lot."
The four members of the band -- Eli, guitarist James Young, bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson -- started playing together while attending the University of North Texas in 2000. The band rose through the country ranks, including a national breakthrough in 2011, when Crazy Girl hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The band reached the top spot again with the Grammy-nominated Even If It Breaks Your Heart and Drunk Last Night. And the band has played stadiums across the country as an opening act for Kenny Chesney.
Fifteen years later, it's still the same four guys from UNT. Eli chalks up the band's stability to making priorities early in their careers.
"We've always put our friendship first," he says. "The four of us genuinely care about each other. We made decisions in the beginning that kept those money arguments out of the picture. Because we did that, we don't have those bitter ideas in our heads that sometimes can split a band up."
The band's latest release is an EP called Turn It On. The four-song effort came out of some studio time in January, which Eli describes as being free of label influences or outside distractions. Though they intended to just get some demos down, the band and its label, Republic Records, put the songs on a fast track to the public.
"We really dug what we were doing," Eli says. "When we finished these four songs, the label fell in love with them and wanted to get them out as soon as possible, which was great for us. As a fan of music, I feel like I want it and I want it quick. We just recorded it in January and then it was out in March. That's a really quick turnaround for any small piece of music."
Eli says the band reached back for some older sounds on the EP, including guitar tones employed on earlier albums that haven't been as prominent of late.
"Sometimes you can go in the studio and overanalyze every little piece of what you do," he says. "The cool thing about this stuff is I recorded some of these vocals on the tour bus, with a generator sound in the background. I recorded some of the vocals at home. We kind of tried not to overanalyze everything, and have it be more about the special moment that the vocals were having, versus going back in and trying to re-create it so that everything was perfect."
The EP's lead single is its title track, and the band recently shot a video for it at Dallas' Kessler Theater, inviting some diehard fans to take part in the fun. Another new song, Plastic, is an ode to a woman's natural beauty over artificial efforts. Eli says he was careful in writing the lyrics to avoid offending anyone, and that his goal as a songwriter is to escape the "fluff" that is "everywhere you go."
"I've had that idea in my brain, sitting there, for three years," he says of Plastic. "It was nothing to say anything negative about surgery or anything like that. This was about falling in love with a girl for who she is, no matter who it is. ... Telling her she doesn't have to try to be someone else or something else."
The band last played Chilifest in 2010, and Eli notes the band members were able to get out, try some of the chili and enjoy the scene. The Tomball native says he may have some family in attendance as well, so he's excited to return.
"To those of us who started in Texas -- and our goal was always to take over the world -- Chilifest is a huge deal, one of the biggest festivals to try to get in Texas," he says. "Being able to come back and headline Chilifest means a lot to us, that the fans and the folks out there still believe in us that much."