North Texas Daily

Eli Young Band looks back at time in Denton

Eli Young Band looks back at time in Denton

Eli Young Band looks back at time in Denton
March 28
21:53 2017

Nikki Lyssy | Staff Writer

The crowd roars and the energy builds as Apogee Stadium bursts to life. Standing on a stage positioned in the end zone of a space normally inhabited by UNT’s football players, Mike Eli, James Young, Chris Thompson and Jon Jones, better known to millions as the Eli Young Band, get the party started for a crowd composed of alumni, current students and faculty.

It’s a night highlighted by references to the campus that brought the four musicians together in the first place. With a former professor of Eli’s introducing the band and an ode to “Life at Best,” a tune whose music video was filmed all over campus, the band was ready to come back and perform at UNT.

Before the concert, however, the band was able to soak up UNT in their own, personal ways.

“Chris and James and myself started here in 1998 and then Mike came to school in the fall of 1999,” Jones said. “It’s really special to be back on campus [for this show].”

The friends took different music classes throughout college but graduated with a variety of degrees. Eli obtained a business degree, Young received a degree in liberal arts, Thompson pursued a philosophy and religious studies degree and Jones studied psychology. For the four friends, the only true option was music.

It began with Young, Jones and Thompson before Eli arrived and was pure circumstance that the pieces clicked into place.

“The three of us all played in bands before college and music was something we really missed,” Jones said. “We didn’t know how we were going to make music work in our lives. It was pretty fortunate that we had a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist, and it was really fortunate when a singer, [Eli], came along the next year.”

The four friends noted the changes that have come to UNT since their tenure as students.

“We were here well before the stadium we’re playing tonight was here,” Young noted. “We remember the campus a little bit differently than it is now.”

“I think back then [and] it was just a hotel and a golf course [where Apogee is],” Thompson added. “We actually had a band house we rented in this part of town where we would go and rehearse and write songs.”

Young expounded on the circumstances that united the band as one, which included their time as roommates in Kerr and West Halls, respectively, as well as the fact that they were pledge brothers in the Sigma Nu fraternity.

He said their common thread of music was a uniting factor.

“We all just loved music and we came to North Texas to do music, and so it was very fortunate that we all met each other and became friends,” Young said. “It was something we just started doing in garages and on campus. And finally, I think when we started writing songs and playing in bars, we thought, ‘Hey, maybe we could do this as a band.’ We dedicated each other to each other and said, ‘We’re going to go ahead and do this, full-steam ahead.’ There was no Plan B, and so we just kept trucking.”

As the Eli Young Band continued playing around Denton, the crowds began to morph from people they knew to fans they didn’t, fueling their confidence in their dream.

“The crowds became more than our fraternity brothers and friends and family, and there were actually people into our music and into the band,” Thompson said. “We started getting pretty excited about the potential of the whole thing.”

Eli said the gratification that came with knowing they had made their dreams into reality was something that he would never forget.

Being in college isn’t always easy mentally or financially, but the band was determined to make it big.

“It wasn’t until we reached a point where we were actually making money and were able to survive and pay our bills by being in the band where you realize, ‘we could keep doing this,'” Eli said. “We were always pretty determined to keep writing and keep playing.”

Although their rise to fame was coming up upon them, there was something that had to be done.

Not graduating was never an option for the determined foursome.

“We owed it to our families to at least finish,” Eli said. “None of us grew up having a ton of money. We really had to work hard while we were in school and work our way through college. It wasn’t until we were getting close to graduating that we were making a little money playing in the band. At that point, we had worked so hard for our degrees that I don’t think we would have accepted it, and I don’t think our parents would have, either. Not graduating wasn’t an option.”

Four albums later, the Eli Young Band are moving full-steam ahead with the release of their latest single, “Skin and Bones.” Their set was highlighted by No. 1 songs “Crazy Girl” (2011) and “Even if it Breaks your Heart” (2012), as well as covers of the Beatles “Come Together” and David Murphy’s “A Little Dust on the Bottle.”

Jones credits Denton’s unique vibe with the honing of their sound.

“We’ve had a lot of great experiences both in college here and since then being able to travel the world and [represent] the Unviersity of North Texas and our brand of music that I think we could only create because we came to school here,” Jones said. “[We] weren’t tied to different music scenes. Denton was just kind of, ‘do your own thing’, which was always so great about it.”

The university has changed since the guys graduated, and to them, it’s interesting to come back and see the next new building or expansion to the university.

“It’s been really fun to see campus grow,” Jones said. “Not just expanding with the stadium but also internally in campus, with all the bigger buildings coming and how fresh and great the university looks. It’s fun to go look at the way Fry Street looks now and to just walk around campus.”

Looking back on their college memories revealed that the band enjoyed many of the hangouts students today enjoy, including taverns on Fry Street, which “looks a lot different now compared to what it was,” Jones said. They spent time in bars that “smelled like fried food and cheap drinks” and particularly noted the now-defunct The Tomato and Cool Beans, a dive bar that’s still open today, as favorite hangouts.

While there are not a plethora of options for musicians looking for listening ears specific to campus nowadays, but Jones said he would never forget their favorite venue in the area to play all those years ago.

“Our mainstay was a place called the R Bar, which was a hole-in-the-wall with no real stage,” Jones said. “We kind of had to set up our own stage. That was where Mike and James started playing acoustic, and that’s where the name Eli Young came from. That was the spot where the group went, all our friends went, and it was a no brainer to play there.”

After witnessing the show and the power of the band who followed their dreams, students left feeling confident that they could do the same.

Mechanical engineering junior Alberto Nolasco, 21, said he left the show energized after watching alumni of the school he currently attends obtain what they set out to accomplish.

“It’s inspiring,” Nolasco said. “When you’re out here alone, you don’t know what you’re going to do and who you’re going to influence in the next few years, and it’s great that these guys started out like us and ended up influencing us in a way.”

Accounting senior Flor Castro, 21, was grateful for the band’s contribution to campus. Castro said the band sparked a bit of hope in the audience.

“I think it’s really nice of them to come back to where they started, and it makes me feel like we can all do that in the future,” Castro said.

Although Eli Young Band is big in the music industry, they said they’ll always look to Denton as their beginning.

Going from playing the R-Bar to Apogee Stadium took years of hard work. The music industry is tough, but they were determined to stick to their roots.

“It’s a really huge honor for us,” Jones said. “To me, this is an accomplishment, being able to come back and play the stadium here, that rivals some of our other really big milestones as a band. It’s a show that’s been on our calendar and on our radar for awhile.”

Featured Image: The Eli Your Band performed at Apogee Stadium Saturday night. The band met while attending UNT. Zachary Langley

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