A year after releasing their last single, “Turn It On,” and changing record labels from Republic Nashville to The Valory Music Co. (both are under the Big Machine label umbrella), Eli Young Band is happier than ever and ready to make some waves this summer with their new single, “Saltwater Gospel,” from their upcoming album.
“We are very happy now with Valory—they have an impeccable reputation and we have a terrible reputation so it works out really well together,” jokes Mike Eli, the band’s lead singer.
“Saltwater Gospel,” co-written by Ross Copperman, Nicolle Gaylon and Ashley Gorley, is a faith-based summer anthem about finding peace via the ocean. “When I go down and sink my feet in the water / and I soak up that sun and I watch it set / Yeah, I can feel the power of the saltwater gospel / I’m as close to God as I can get,” croons Mike during the songs chorus.
Nash Country Daily caught up with Mike Eli, Jon Jones, Chris Thompson and James Young to talk about their new single, balancing work and home life and the person in the band most likely to fall off the stage.
Let’s talk about your new single, “Saltwater Gospel.” What drew you guys to this song?
MIKE ELI: I know with us, we always try to find something different. We’ve always wanted that beach song, but we always wanted it to say something special. I think “Saltwater Gospel” was a no-brainer when it came to the content and the lyrical delivery. It just felt so different and so much like how we would say it. This song has such a deeper meaning but also feels so good.
JON JONES: Not to get too deep about it but there is this kind of human connection we have with the ocean, with the water, with the beach, that we all feel compelled toward it. It’s just kind of captured in the song because it is something bigger than us and something that’s spiritual. It’s captured in a really neat way in the song without, in the song itself, getting too deep about it. But there is a reason that people work 50 weeks a year to have those two weeks. Where do they go? They head south and go down to the beach because they need to get that release and get back to the water. I think the song kind of puts you there for three minutes.
Do you all have to agree on a song or is it majority rules in the band?
MIKE: If we are going to put it on the record then we all have to fall in love with it. I think it’s nice because “Saltwater Gospel” is one of the songs where all four of us were like “We have to do this, this is definitely the one.” When they come together like that we always know there is something special going on.
“Saltwater Gospel” is a bit different for you guys. We’re used to relationship songs [“Crazy Girl,” “Drunk Last Night,” “Dust,” “Say Goodnight”] from you. It’s more faith-based. Is that an intentional direction you want to take your music?
JAMES YOUNG : We’ve always flirted with faith and spirituality a little bit, starting out. A lot of our songs, starting out in college, we would kind of skirt with that idea of spiritually. This song just felt like a no-brainer in regards to being one with the ocean. You feel small against a big ocean and it makes you feel like maybe there is something bigger going on out there.
What’s the message you want people to take away from “Saltwater Gospel”?
MIKE: I don’t necessarily think it’s based on any specific faith. It’s just built around—this is a big world and there are some beautiful moments you can have no matter if you are skiing on top of a mountain or if you’re down in the Keys in Florida enjoying crystal water. There is some beauty in this world that we are all able to enjoy and whether it’s faith based for you or just the idea that we live in a beautiful place—wherever you want to take it.
Are you spiritual guys?
MIKE: We are. If you listen to some of our records there is always a spiritual element. I grew up Catholic and I’m still very much a Christian. You find a lot of that in a lot of what I say in the show and a lot of what I write on our records. You’ve always been able to find that on our records. This is just the first time it’s actually finding it’s way into one of our songs on the radio.
Are you still working on the album?
MIKE: We finished the record a few months ago. Actually back in February or March.
JON: Yeah, so it’s all just been positioning and timing of making sure we were picking the right first single and then time to set it up. Just making sure that everything was right and we were happy with the songs and the way they all turned out and fit together. And so now we’re ready to be moving forward with everything.
You guys have been together for about 16 years. What’s the dynamic in the band like after all these years?
JON: It’s strange, for the most part our roles have stayed consistent. Really, it is like a family and if you talked to a family and sat a family down, with four siblings, we’ll probably fit each of those roles in some way. But we also have to be the parents sometimes. Mike is the lead singer in more ways than one because he’s always been the business person who knows how to steer the ship, not only from his background in college, but his personality that naturally he is the leader in that way. We’ve learned to follow and learned that he is usually making the right choices. We’ve also learned that we all need to move in the same direction, we can’t be jutting out too far or it just doesn’t work. That’s one of the big things that’s kept us all together.
MIKE: We’ve all done a really good job of being listeners and leaders. That’s what’s kept us together. We all know when to concede and we all know when to take control and say “Hey, look no, I really feel strongly about this,” and we listen. I always make the joke of being a band for 16 years, we’ve stayed together because we drink a lot and we’re crazy. But I really do think it’s because we actually genuinely like each other and care about each other and we put being the four of us as a family first and the business side second. Because we do that, I think that we’re successful on both fronts.
Do all four of you have to agree on everything?
MIKE: I think that somewhere down the line we realized that if one of us says “I’m strongly against something,” we find a way to go another direction because it’s just not going to work if one of us feels strongly about not going down a certain road. But you also have to be—if you’re that guy—open to where the compromise is. I think we found that happy medium between all of it. It’s never gotten to the point where we’ve had to throw up our hands.
Let’s delve into the personal lives of EYB. James, Jon and Mike are married with kids. Chris, you are not married. How do you balance your work life with family life?
JON: You don’t [laughs].
MIKE: I don’t think there is ever a way to balance the road life with your home life. This job on the road is very demanding on your time. But you can work really hard at trying to find a balance. The great thing is that when you’re home you have an opportunity to be home. You don’t have to leave, you’re there all day, you can be there all day if need be.
JON: What I’ve found is the best way to balance it is just to commit to being an engaged father when you are home. We get quite a bit of time at home if you put the hours together. When we’re home we get to be full-time dads. But commit to being a full-time dad and don’t make any other plans. If you have some time to do something else go do that something else but that’s priority number one when you’re home. It’s a strain for everybody else in the family but just commit to constantly work on it.
Do the wives and kids come out on the road with you?
MIKE: They come on the road sometimes. My daughter, she could be on the bus all the time. She loves it, that’s her thing. I don’t think she’ll ever get sick of it. My wife on the other hand, you get about two and a half days out of her before she’s like “Alright, find me the nearest airport and send it towards Dallas because I’m going home.” Because it’s hard, even though the bus is very big and you’ve got a lot of room, not so much when the girls are out and the kids are out, it becomes a really small space real quick. We’re great with it and the kids are great with it but I think the wives sometimes are like “I need a bigger shower where I can keep the water on all the time,” not an RV shower.
Chris, seeing these guys with kids and wives, any plans of your own?
CHRIS: None whatsoever. More power to them.
You guys have had your highs and lows in your career. What kept you going through the low points when things weren’t really happening?
MIKE: Well we’ve never really had a choice. The ups and the downs in this industry can be extreme at times. But we have been very lucky and we’ve never really lived outside of who we are. Most of us have lived in the same houses we’ve lived in for years and years. We’ve kind of kept ourselves at the same personal level for all these years. The ups and downs, as extreme as they can feel within the industry and within our actual career, they don’t feel as extreme to us because we get out on the road and we try to really be consistent on that plane.
JON: We’ve always stayed really busy touring and that’s never changed even when we started. There was nothing going on. We were making some beer money. It was always just about the live show and driving that forward. I feel like that hasn’t changed and I feel like any ups and downs that we’ve had have driven us further.
CHRIS: Really, God bless our fans because when we go down we still hit the road. Career-wise if we don’t have a song on the radio, we can still hit the road and people are still showing up to shows and lifting us up in that way. It’s amazing that after this many years folks have stayed with us and I know we all really appreciate it.
Do you have any regrets as you look back over your career?
EYB SUPERLATIVES: MOST LIKELY TO . . .
“Superlatives is where we get in trouble.” – Mike Eli
1. Most likely to fall off the stage: MIKE
Mike: I’ll take that one. It’s not because of drinking, it’s because the lights are very bright and they put those holes between the subs and the stage in the most obscure places. It really is easy to walk off the front of the stage. Just ask Luke Bryan.
2. Most likely to break the rules: JAMES
James: A fan brought us fireworks for Fourth of July one year, and here’s the thing, if you light off fireworks in a shower on the tour bus there is nowhere for the smoke to go.
3. Most likely to crash on your couch: JAMES
Jon: We have a rule on our tour bus after all these years that we will not draw on each other if you fall asleep after too many drinks—if you can make it back to your bunk. If you can make it out of the front lounge you are safe. So nobody really falls asleep on the couch anymore because it’s fair game.
Mike: But if we were going to pick someone, it would be James.
4. Most likely to binge-watch House of Cards: MIKE
Mike: I’ve binge-watched House of Cards. I think I finished all four seasons.
Jon: Mike’s most likely to binge-watch TV in general.
Mike: I had to go three years without watching any television because my daughter is very active and when you’re at home she needs all of your attention. So we missed almost like a whole era of television. Now I’m waiting to start this Game of Thrones things. I’ve got several years of Game of Thrones to finish in one night [laughs].
5. Most likely to be a politician: NONE OF US
Chris: Too much dirt on us.
6. Most likely to win an Olympic gold medal: JON
7. Most likely to cheer you up: ALL OF US
James: That’s the great thing about being in a band and having your friends on the road with you, there’s always somebody there to cheer you up when you’re having a bad day. Sometimes you get lonely and frustrated out on the road and having your best buds there and going through the same thing you’re going through—going back to what’s kept us around for so long is that we have that connection.
Mike: We are a band of uppers and downers man.
Jon: We keep each other from getting big egos, so we’ll bring you back to earth if need be but we’ll also lift you up if need be.
8. Most likely to have their own reality show: CHRIS
Chris: Depends on what channel it’s going to be on.
9. Most Likely to sleep through an earthquake: CHRIS
Chris: I enjoy sleep, it’s a good place to be.
10. Most likely to appear on Dancing With the Stars: NONE
James: That’s why we picked up instruments.
MIKE: I think going down the road of regret is a dangerous road to go down. I think we figured that out a long time ago. We’ve always said that we try to look at and look forward to that big thing that’s right around the corner no matter how big it is or how small it is just shoot for that whatever is right around the corner. The mistakes you make in the past you got to leave them there because obviously you can’t change that. I think we made a choice a long time ago to not regret.
You guys did a collaboration with Andy Grammer…
MIKE: Oh, well, we regret that, that was a terrible decision [laughs]. Just kidding.
Will we see more collaborations in the future for the EYB?
JON: Doing the “Honey I’m Good” with Andy Grammer was a really great experience for us to work on something that was kind of out of our genre, even though that song has such a country feel to it more than some of the stuff on country radio. It’s fun to work with other artists to get to know them because we’ll work with a few other musicians in the studio, but we are so our own entity that we kind of create this bubble and it’s nice to pop that bubble a little bit. We are always open to anybody who would want to work with us. I don’t know why anybody would want to work with us [laughs]. It’s a really fun experience.
Who would be your dream collaborations that you’d like to explore?
JAMES: Bono or the Edge or U2.
JON: Paul Simon
MIKE: [Bruce] Springsteen
CHRIS: I would want us to do a record with Tom Petty. Not just a song, but do a whole project. I don’t know if we’d be backing him or writing, whatever it is. Just let me call him real quick [laughs].
“Saltwater Gospel” is available on iTunes now and the new album will be available later this year. Eli Young Band will be out this summer playing fairs and festivals and you can find their tour dates here.
Listen to “Saltwater Gospel” below.