Since they got their start at the University of North Texas 16 years ago, the Eli Young Band have become one of Texas’ biggest bands.
Five albums, countless tour dates and a few awards later, the group is working hard on a sixth album due sometime next year. And they’re touring, as usual, with a stop this Friday night at Nutty Brown Cafe.
The new, currently untitled album will feature “Saltwater Gospel,” an ode to a more coastal mode of Sunday worship.
“It just has that feeling of standing out there on the shore and realizing there’s more to life than you- we can all relate to that one,” the band’s rummer Chris Thompson told me in a phone interview last week. “We were really drawn to the song, and we had always been pushed to record those types of beach party songs, but we never found one we liked. Then we were presented with ‘Saltwater Gospel’ and it felt right. That’s our version of a beach song, like ‘Drunk Last Night’ was our version of a drinking song.”
Thompson said the next album showcases a lot of the changes he and the other members of band (Mike Eli, Jon Jones and James Young) have experienced as they’ve grown up together.
“Our songwriting always goes back to relationships- there’s been lots of stuff we’ve dealt with as a band in the last few years- marriages, babies, all that stuff,” Thompson said. “There’s been lots of emotions, ups and downs in the business. We’ve put out projects that weren’t as well received as we’d like them to be, and other personal stuff has happened, but that’s what life is. All in all it’s been real positive, so you can’t dwell on the negatives.
“The songwriting and musicianship, I think, is way better than anything we’ve ever done before.”
Thompson hopes the more restrained approach on the new album will resonate with fans.
“I just hope the fans hear the honesty in it, and also our conscious decision to keep it as simple as possible. I think in our old albums you’d hear a lot of us trying to push our musical boundaries as far as we could, and now we don’t.”
The band first broke through to the mainstream with their 2011 No. 1 “Crazy Girl,” from their “Life At Best” album. Thompson says that although the band was formed in Texas, it wasn’t until the national recognition from that song put them in the spotlight that music journalists and record labels started categorizing them as “Texas country.”
“We’ve never really been about anything but being a really big band, that was always our goal,” Thompson explained. “We weren’t even really aware of the Texas scene when we started, and then when we started to get big, like right before ‘Crazy Girl,’ people were saying, ‘Oh, y’all are a TEXAS country band,’ and we were like, ‘Nobody’s said that before.’ But it’s a blessing to start in Texas, just because there’s so many places to play.”
Thompson and the rest of the band will be out at the Nutty Brown Cafe in full force Friday night along with William Clark Green, whose latest album, “Live At Gruene Hall,” was just released in September.
“The Nutty Brown show is gonna be a dandy,” Thompson said. “I think last time we played there was supposed to be the last time we ever played there, but they’ve kept it alive. We’re going to play brand new, unheard stuff, plus a lot of the old hits for the Texas crowds. People have been requesting stuff on Facebook and Twitter, so we’ll play a lot of that.”
Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday night. Tickets can be bought here.