Though the news of their CMA Awards nomination was delivered rather unceremoniously this morning — via an email forwarded by their manager — the thrill is not lost on Eli Young Band.
“We’ve been at this for a long time,” says singer Mike Eli of the band’s third consecutive year in a row as nominees in the Vocal Group of the Year category. “It’s really nice to know that everything we have built is continuing. We’ve worked really hard to get here.”
Though the Denton, Texas, band is now an omnipresent force in country music, it actually took them 10 years to land on the radar of CMA voters. Their self-titled debut album was released in 2002, but the first nomination didn’t come until 2012. It took a lot of trudging — and a little tune called “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” — to really break through to the mainstream.
“For so long we were that regional band down in Texas,” Eli tells Rolling Stone Country. “We were all kind of lumped together. I think a lot of times maybe we were misunderstood, or discounted. It took some time to convince everyone that we had something to offer nationally and commercially.”
Eli also hopes it gives a little validation to other Texas-bred artists looking to gain recognition on Music Row. “Hopefully what we’re doing will open some doors for them,” Eli says.
Eli’s knows it’s a tough category — Little Big Town snagged the coveted title last year, joining past winners like Alabama, the Judds and Rascal Flatts — though he’s keeping his fingers crossed just in case. As well as a list of who to thank nearby.
“It’s a pretty high bar,” he says of his competition, which includes the Band Perry, Lady Antebellum, Zac Brown Band and, once again, LBT. “All four of the other groups are huge artists. We’re huge Little Big Town Fans, and they have been great friends to us. They have taught us a lot of life and career lessons.”
Another category has really gotten Eli’s attention: New Artist of the Year. “That’s really cool that Brandy Clark got in there. I’m a huge Brandy Clark fan,” he says of the “Get High” singer-songwriter, the sole female in the male-heavy New Artist race. Next year, he’s hoping to see Texas acts like Lubbock troubadours Josh Abbott Band and traditional honky-tonker Cody Johnson crack the list, though he’s well aware of the award show’s limitations. “I know there are independent artists who are worthy that don’t get on the radio or the CMA nod.”
Eli Young Band will take both Josh Abbott Band and Johnson on the road as part of their House Party series this fall, as well as another new artist who has sparked quite a bit of conversation of late: bro-country skewering Maddie & Tae. The young duo jab at the continual stream of dudes singing about trucks and the ladies who love ’em. (For the record, Eli Young Band has been known to sing about both on occasion).
“They took that and ran with it, didn’t they,” Eli laughs. “And more power to them. I think it was a great statement to make, and the great thing about being an artist is you need to go out there and say something that matters. But, I don’t think that will end the kind of music that guys write and record. We can’t deny who we are: guys will be guys.”
The 48th annual CMA Awards will be broadcast live on November 5th at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.