Eli Young Band on "Saltwater Gospel," the Beaches They Love, and Family

This Texas country group has been on the music scene for 16 years, but the hits just keep coming.

If you haven't heard Eli Young Band's new hit "Saltwater Gospel," we'd definitely recommend a listen. This group of friends – Mike Eli, James Young, Jon Jones, and Chris Thompson – met at the University of North Texas, and has made quite a name for themselves in the country music scene over the years. Best known for hits like "Crazy Girl" and "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," the band also has an ACM award for Song Of The Year. In honor of their newest breakthrough single, we caught up with bassist Jon Jones and guitarist Mike Eli to talk about their upcoming record.

You’ve got an awesome new single out. What was the inspiration behind Saltwater Gospel?
Jon Jones: Well, it is one of the few songs from our upcoming record that we did not write, but we’ve always tried to put the best songs out there. And these aren’t always ones that we write. We want the cream to rise to the top. It always has to be something that we believe in. And it’s very rare that we hear a song for the first time that all four of us are totally on board with it. We all agreed on “Saltwater Gospel” for the same reasons, and that’s usually a good sign for us. It’s a song that our producer was a part of writing. He sent it to us right after it was done being demoed. So we got our hands on it before anyone else did. Right away we said: “Yes! This sounds right up our alley. We should put this on the record.”

All four of us love the beach. We would tour the coast up and down our whole career if we could. We’re always just a little more relaxed, and I think we feel that spirituality of being at the ocean. It’s the way that you just feel small, and the waves reset your clock a little bit. I grew up lake fishing with my dad, so that’ll always hold a special place in my heart, but I love the mountains too. It’s more about nature in general. And it’s a lifestyle that almost everyone can really identify with.

How did you pick where to shoot the video?
JJ: Because this song is a little bit different than most of the classic beach songs – it’s not really your summer, beachy song – we didn’t want it to be the Florida Keys/Caribbean style video that you'd expect. And when we started talking with some other people, Cannon Beach in Oregon came up a few times. It’s a really cool, different type of beach place.

It wasn’t on our radar, but we were all kids of the ‘80s, and The Goonies was actually shot there so that was kind of a deciding factor. [laughs] I like that it’s not palm trees. It’s a little grittier; it has a different feeling. And, when you turn around, you can look at the ocean, which is gorgeous, and on the other side, the mountains are right there. It was surreal. It has such a beautiful feel to it.

Where’s your favorite spot to put your feet in the water?
JJ: I was married in Jamaica, and my wife and I were there twice before we got married. Our life has been busy since, and we haven’t been back, but I know I’ll get back when I can. So, Jamaica will always hold a really strong place in my heart.

Mike Eli: That’s a tough one to answer because I am a big fan of the ocean. Recently my wife and I traveled to Hawaii for the first time, and that was one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever seen. So, if I was going to pick one place, and it didn’t matter that it costs a fortune to go there, I would pick Hawaii. But this country has a million beautiful places. Like Jon said, we filmed the “Saltwater Gospel” video in Cannon Beach and I was blown away by how beautiful it is there. And, obviously, we’ve spent a lot of time in Florida. Put me anywhere on the Florida coast, and I’m a happy man.

Are you more of a sit-on-the-beach-with-a-beer kinda guy, or a surfing/water-sports kinda guy?
ME: I like it all. Mostly, I’m a sit-on-the-beach-drink-a-beer kinda guy. When it comes to the beach, I’m a fan of beers like Modelo Especial or Corona. Generally speaking, I like a wide variety when it comes to beer. I really don’t drink sodas, but I definitely enjoy beer. I am a big fan. A Corona on the beach is always a good way to unwind.

When can we expect your new album to come out?
JJ: Oh, I wish I could tell you. Breaking news! You heard it here first! Next year, at some point. It’s not yet frustrating, but the record has been done since February or March – it’s been done for quite awhile – so we’re just waiting for the label to give us a date. But you want the record to be set up correctly. There’s no sense in just throwing it out there for the world. So, that’s their specialty. Hopefully our specialty is taking the songs, writing the songs, and going to the studio to make them sound good. And, we’ll leave the rest up to them.

What are you most looking forward to with this new album?
JJ: I feel like this record, overall, is getting back to our roots a bit. We’ve been a band for right around 16 years. We started out as this college band in Texas, not exactly sure what our music was going to be or sound like, and then we realized that we couldn’t really do anything other than sound like ourselves. And, country music has embraced us in a huge way. And, over the years, we’ve tried different things. We feel really self-assured on this record. It felt like we were in a really good place going in, in terms of what kind of music we wanted to put on there, and who we really are. In some ways, we’ve grown up and figured out that who we were as kids is still who we are as adults, even though we sometimes have tried to do other things. That’s kinda what this record is about.

ME: We worked really hard on this record, and we wanted to make sure that we were really making this record 100% completely us and not really trying to push ourselves to include songs that we’d never really done before. For so many records, we’ve continued to try and expand and push the envelope. With this record, though, it was really important to make our stamp on the music and say, “Look, this is who we are, and this is what you’ve come to expect from us.” And we ended up making this really killer record that I think has some really cool moments that sound like Eli Young Band and other little moments that make you say, “I get that. I get the way that they played that and the way that they sang that or wrote that. I understand the level they’re going for.”

Back when you first started as a band in college, what was your go-to song to perform?
JJ: I always loved to play “Come Together” by The Beatles. It was always fun. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Nobody hates The Beatles. It could be covered at a cowboy bar where everyone’s wearing a cowboy hat with a dip in their mouths, and everyone would still love The Beatles.

Where’s your favorite music venue in the South?
JJ: It’s right down the road from us – Billy Bob’s in Texas. We’ll be there on New Year’s Eve. I mean, it’s the biggest honky tonk out there. It’s got bull riding inside – like, real bull riding – and it’s one of a kind. I think Billy Bob’s takes the cake.

What’s been the most memorable performance you’ve had?
JJ: I’d say when we were out with Kenny Chesney at the first stadium show we did, playing an NFL stadium in Tampa Bay. Just the size and the scope of it, the amount of trucks that he had, the buses, the size of the stage, everything – it was the grand scale. Just made you freeze for a second and take stock of your life. It was pretty surreal.

What’s your favorite song to perform?
JJ: “Saltwater Gospel” right now. It’s usually whatever the current single is. For us, performing is as much about the audience as it is about the four of us onstage. And, especially when a single is at the point where the audience is getting to know the words and really connecting with the song, that’s a really fun time to be performing it.

ME: Man, well since I can’t pick “Saltwater Gospel”... [laughs] There’s a moment in the show where the crowd sings the song louder than the PA can project. And I get giddy at those moments, every time that it happens. Songs that happens with are ones like “Crazy Girl,” “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” and “Drunk Last Night”...and “Saltwater Gospel” has started having that moment. It had this underground swell where we all have this appreciation for the water. People have such a passion for that, so it’s been really fun to witness. There are very few of us, I would think, that don’t appreciate the beach and the ocean.

What do you miss most about Texas?
JJ: Family. Especially when we’re on the road. That’s it. My wife is due next week, so we’re at the anyday point now. We have a four-year-old son too. So, more and more, that’s what it’s like on tour. When I’m home, I’m a 24/7 dad. Three of us in the band are dads, and that has taken over our world in a good way.

What do you love most about the South?
JJ: I love the people. I like how everybody’s just a little bit more laid back. I think they’ve got really great taste in music. [laughs] The South has really embraced us. Coming from Texas and us being a regional band, there were always the warmest welcomes for us.

ME: Well, the food. Mostly. I’m a big fan of food. Especially having grown up in Texas. There’s a certain thing about Southern food that gets you giddy.

If you could do a duet with any singer living or dead, who would you choose?
JJ: Man, this is way back when – but no one really picks Elvis anymore. It’s not like Elvis has been forgotten, of course, because he’s the King, but Elvis was such an interesting character. There’s no one I would rather have a cup of coffee with more than Elvis. I think it’d be a riot to do something with him.

ME: Yeah, that’s a tough one for musicians. I’m going to pick a few. I’m going to say Don Williams, Springsteen, and then, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Michael Jackson, if it was an option.

What’s your favorite Southern food?
JJ: Is chicken and dumplings a Southern food? [Laughs]

ME: You know, I have a lot of family that came from Louisiana and a lot of family that are still in Louisiana, so Cajun food is one of my favorites. But, when it comes to down-home Southern food, I would have to say chicken-fried steak. You can’t really beat it. It's one of my favorites. It’s the devil to me, honestly, because I love it so much. [Laughs]

What’s one thing we can always find on your tour bus?
JJ: The Internet card. It’s hard to beat. Sometimes we won’t have satellite and we won’t have TV, but that always gives us Netflix. And, it always allows us to connect and get on FaceTime with our families back at home. It’s our portal to the world. The Internet and staying in touch is kind of our comfort blanket when we’re out there on the road.

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