Since Texas is home for the Eli Young Band, Oklahoma is sort of like your favorite neighbor's house.
“It's just right next door,” said guitarist and co-founder James Young in a recent phone interview. “Oklahoma's always been great to us.”
The Texas country-rockers are returning Friday to the Oklahoma State Fair as part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Xtreme Bulls Tour at Jim Norick State Fair Arena.
Since they last played the fair in 2011, the Lone Star State quartet is enjoying a new level of success thanks to its double-platinum ballad “Crazy Girl,” which became the group's first No. 1 hit, Billboard's most-played country song of 2011 and the Academy of Country Music's 2012 song of the year. The inspirational follow-up single “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” also reached No. 1 and went platinum.
“I remember being blown away by the crowd the last time we were there, so I can only imagine what it will be like this time,” Young said. “We've always had an amazing fan base in Oklahoma and Texas, 'cause, I mean, heck, we've been playing there for so many years. I think what we're finding now is (with) the crowd, really you have people who might just know us from ‘Crazy Girl' and ‘Breaks Your Heart.' But it's great to see those fans that were kind of there in the beginning and those fans that know like the earlier stuff off ‘Level' and some of our early records before, you know, we were doing what we're doing now.”
Rewards of success
With the mainstream popularity of 2011's “Life at Best,” the album that featured “Crazy Girl” and “Even if It Breaks Your Heart,” the Texans — singer/guitarist Mike Eli, bassist Jon Jones, drummer Chris Thompson and Young — have been able to play late-night talk shows, cut a track for the tribute album “Alabama & Friends,” tour across the country with Kenny Chesney and Dierks Bentley and even take their music international with a jaunt to Australia.
The success has given the band members opportunities to spend more time with their growing families: Young got married about a year and a half ago; Eli's daughter just turned 1; and Jones welcomed a baby about 6 months ago.
“Just getting to visit the world and play music, that's all we ever could ask for,” Young said. “It's been nice with Chesney, you know, we get to go home a little more often. Back in our road dog days, we'd stay out a month at a time or longer, and that just can't happen anymore. So, we get to go home and see the family, and our success has allowed us to do that, which has been great and couldn't come at a better time.”
“I think that's the biggest thing that we've learned in this business, is timing is everything,” he added. “We're going on 14 years now, and we just kind of kept plugging away.”
The band is working on a new album for Universal Republic, so Young said the time has come for crowds to expect a few new songs on the set list. They released “Drunk Last Night,” the leadoff single from their upcoming project, over the summer, and it notched their highest debut on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, bowing at No. 23.
“It's not our second record, but it kind of feels like all eyes are on us right now,” Young said.
The band, which made its major-label debut with 2008's “Jet Black & Jealous,” is continuing to let its music evolve naturally, he said, while taking advantage of recent changes at country radio, including the resurgence of bands and duos and the popularity of country-rock.
“When we first started recording major-label records, they tried to tone down the rock 'n' roll a little bit, and now that's all you hear on country radio is loud guitars. I definitely think it's more conducive to what we've always done,” Young said.
“We've kind of always been a little left of center of the songs we choose to put on our records. We don't necessarily go with the status quo sometimes. So we've held on to that, and I think we'll always hold on to that. ... We kind of switched up producers, but we're kind of doing the same thing as far as us going in and playing on the record, just us four rocking out. It'll be exciting to get new music out.”