116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Eli Young Band had big plans for 2020, only to see almost everything torpedoed by the pandemic.
'We had a busy year planned,” said Mike Eli, the group's singer/guitarist in a mid-February phone interview. 'We were doing our first European tour. We also had our first full Canadian tour where we were going to go all the way across Canada. We had played a lot of shows there and we had played a lot of shows in Europe, but we had never gone to either place and done a full-fledged tour, a shore to shore kind of thing. So we had both of things planned in 2020, and obviously, those did not work out.”
For Eli, however, the major disruption that was COVID-19 came with a significant silver lining - time with family and time to write songs.
'I've written 70 songs since March (2020). I've never really written that much music in such a short amount of time - ever,” Eli said. 'So I think the creative side of me was really tapped during this time and that was kind of the blessing that came out of this thing for me personally - not only spending this much time (writing) - I've got a young 2-year-old and an 8-year-old, and being able to spend this time non-stop with them has been priceless.”
Young also relished the freedom he felt with his songwriting in 2020.
'It was really nice to not be under the pressure of writing for an album or under the pressure of traveling while trying to find time to write,” he said. 'Just being able to sit up in my studio office and be creative with none of those pressures has, I think, opened the doors up to the possibilities of writing so many things differently
'I think I've written the best songs of my life in the last year,” Eli said. 'Even though it's 70 songs and that's a lot of songs, I do feel that it was still quality over quantity. Even though there are 70 songs, there's just so much I'm proud of when it comes to the songs that I've written.”
The first batch of Eli's new songs figures to emerge on the next album from the Eli Young Band, which also includes guitarist James Young, drummer Chris Thompson and bassist Jon Jones. Eli said the group is scouting for a producer, or producers, for the project and hopes to get into the studio this year.
For now, the group has a few limited-attendance, socially distanced concerts set for March, followed by more touring in April and beyond. The March 24 show at Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids is one of those socially distanced shows. The band played a handful of these sort of shows last year, and Eli found them to be a different kind of experience from 'normal” concerts.
'They are very different, but I think being a band as long as we have, we've played every situation you can think of. So I think it was, in a way, fun,” he said. 'You know, you find new ways to connect with the audience. It's been interesting in some of those shows. I feel like at some point some of the socially distanced shows felt more intimate and I think there's a certain point where they almost mean more to you personally and I think sometimes to the fans.”
The band's set list for the March dates will, of course, feature the band's hit singles and fan favorites, but there may be some surprises as well. Eli has performed a couple of his new songs acoustic solo, but said he wasn't sure if any of his 70 new tunes would be included.
'A lot of what we've come up with for the show has been, you know, you have your solid moments, the moments in the show that have always stayed the same, and then everything around the meat and potatoes you change up a little bit,” he said. 'But it's going to be a lot of fun. Especially when you don't play as much as you used to, you get up on stage and I think there's an appreciation for it that you just didn't have before. So I think there's going to be an energy that will be unique.”
How touring will evolve later in 2021 is an open question for now as the COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out, but Eli hopes the group will be touring without restrictions later this year. The desire to be back on the road makes sense considering the band's two decades of live shows have been a major factor in building a strong grassroots following for the group, which started up in 2000 when singer/guitarist Eli and Young were college roommates at the University of North Texas in Denton, and their next-door neighbors were bassist Jon Jones and Thompson.
'The fact that we were friends before we were a band (helped),” Thompson said in a separate phone interview. 'We just liked hanging out and talking about music and talking about life, all of these kinds of things. Then it happened over the course of maybe, I think, two semesters in college, where Mike and James were writing and playing together. Then Jon and I joined in with them. It wasn't like we were put together and just one day we started having band practice. We hung out and just jammed together and it was ‘OK, let's do this band thing.'”
The Eli Young Band made some headway with a pair of independently released albums before getting signed by Universal South Records and releasing their third album, 'Jet Black & Jealous.”
Their first taste of significant national radio success came with the tuneful midtempo single, 'Always the Love Songs,” which reached No. 11 on Billboard magazine's Hot Country Songs chart.
Then came the big breakthrough with the 2011 album, 'Life at Best,” the group's first album on Republic Nashville Records. The power ballad 'Crazy Girl” pretty much went crazy, ending 2011 as the No. 1 country song on Billboard's year-end country singles chart. A second No. 1 single, the Tom Petty-ish easygoing rocker, 'Even if it Breaks Your Heart,” followed in early 2012.
The group returned in March 2014 with a new album, '10,000 Towns,” and notched another No. 1 Country Airplay single, 'Drunk Last Night.” But the group's 2017 album, 'Fingerprints,” didn't fare as well. 'Saltwater Gospel,” the lone single from 'Fingerprints,” peaked just outside of the top 40, before the band rebounded with 'Love Ain't,” a stand-alone single that also topped the Country Airplay chart.
'Saltwater Gospel” has since gotten a second life, as the Eli Young Band released a new version featuring Jimmy Buffett on guest vocals. Working with Buffett was a thrill, Eli said. However, the new version of 'Saltwater Gospel” was another victim of sorts of the pandemic.
'We did that (song) right as COVID was happening and going down,” Eli noted. 'So obviously, starting that in January or February of last year, it was really tough to get a song like that to do big things in such a rough go of a year, but we're really proud of it. To be able to do that song with Buffett was a huge treat. We're such huge fans of what he does and who he is and what he stands for.
'That song is a big part of us and who we are.”
If you go
Eli Young Band
Alliant Energy PowerHouse, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
8 p.m. March 24