Love and Theft Interview: New Album Delivers Live Vibe
Love and Theft‘s Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles take fan feedback to heart. When touring in support of their debut album, 2009’s World Wide Open, the guys — then a trio, before the departure of Brian Bandas — would often hear something not a whole lot of recording artists do: that their live show is sonically better than their recorded music. Fast forward through Brian’s departure, the closing of the band’s label home, Lyric Street Records, and subsequent signing with powerhouse label Sony Music Nashville, and the band has now made the organic record with the live show sound that their audience adores.
Love and Theft’s self-titled sophomore release (but debut album as a duo) hit stores this week, reintroducing Eric and Stephen as more harmony-driven, self-sufficient musicians. The Boot sat down with the duo to talk about some standout tracks on the project, their continued relationship with Brian and how they deal with all those lovestruck female fans.
When we interviewed you guys for the first album, you were staunchly defending your place in country music and negating critics who said you were rockers trying to be country. Are you finding that you have to defend yourselves a lot less these days?
Stephen: Definitely, a whole lot less!
Eric: There are some people who haven’t heard our new sound and still go back to that first album, saying we’re not country. I will challenge anyone who listens to this new record: tell me this isn’t country. But we didn’t go into this saying we need to make it country; we went into this record saying we need to make songs that reflect ourselves. But if you don’t think it’s country, who cares? There’s all kinds of different country … and all kinds of different rock. We think we fit perfectly in the country music format. We don’t sound like Waylon or Hank, but we’re not trying to! We’re not trying to do what anyone else has done.
We just wanted a record that reflected our live show. I feel like we nailed that. There’s not a single part that we played on the record that we can’t play live. Nothing that we sing is too difficult for our live shows. We tried to hone in on that Crosby, Stills and Nash and Eagles vibe.
How did you decide to make this new album self-titled?
Stephen: We’re not embarrassed by the first album, but we are excited about the future and what we are now. A lot of people will be hearing us for the first time. So this is Love and Theft and is what we’re going to be like from now on … not like the old stuff. This music breathes a lot more; it’s more focused on the vocals.
That is very apparent in “Angel Eyes,” the album’s first single. Do a lot of girls back home assume that song is about them?
Stephen: Every girl! [laughs] Every girl wants that song to be about them. We’ll get tweets: “I know you guys wrote this about me.”
Watch Love & Theft’s ‘Angel Eyes’ Video
On a more serious note, “Town Drunk” really does reflect someone close to you, Stephen.
Stephen: I’ve never had a relationship with my grandparents, because they’ve always been like that girl’s dad in the song. My mom’s dad never had a relationship with us. He died an alcoholic, drank himself to death. My mom wouldn’t let us see him the last five years of his life. So that song is really special to me because she got out of that situation and raised me in a Christian home. The baby in the end, that’s me. The first time I heard this song, I started crying in the middle of it. That’s what music is all about, it touches your heart.
You’re on Brad Paisley‘s tour right now and are sticking around after every show until the last autograph has been signed. Any of those signatures turned into tattoos?
Stephen: I signed some girl’s hip the other day and she said she was going to get it tattooed. But I don’t know if she was legit!
Eric: We’ve seen a lot of people who get lyrics to our songs tattooed, which is really an honor to see someone affected enough by your music and the words that you’ve written that they’d want it tattooed on their body.
And your own latest tattoos?
Stephen: My family crest (points to his chest). It means dignity and honesty. I looked up my lineage online and found out the history.
Eric: I want to get another one, just not sure what yet.
How has married life affected your career — Eric being a newlywed and Stephen being the only single guy now?
Eric: It’s awesome. My wife is very patient and supportive. She was my girlfriend from the beginning (of Love and Theft) and has watched us grow and grown with us. She knew exactly what she was getting into when we got married, so nothing has really changed. We’re trying to have kids now, so we’ll see what happens there! I couldn’t ask for a better wife … I’d be like a lost puppy without her.
Stephen: It doesn’t suck! [laughs] Some girls won’t take a picture with Eric, because he’s married. They’re like (to me), “No, I only want a picture with you.” But most chicks … it’s really sad, they don’t care that he’s married. We get a lot of really forward girls, and it’s uncomfortable. That’s when you have to put distance in between certain people … especially at the end of the night when everyone’s hammered. We always try to keep our guard up.
Eric: We were looking at some website the other night and there was a picture of me and it said, “Eric Gunderson, I could care less that you’re married.”
Your old bandmate, Brian, is also married now and has started a rock band, Mockingbyrd. Do you guys keep in touch with him?
Eric: We do. He’s doing his thing … married, has a baby now and is really happy.
Stephen: We have a relationship with him that’s still so close. I don’t miss him that much, because we’re still friends with him. But Eric and I were always more on the same page musically. But we go to his shows and support him. This wasn’t like a Sugarland thing.
Eric: He wasn’t happy; he wasn’t doing what he loved to do. So it wouldn’t have been doing any of us a favor to keep him around. It ended up being a huge blessing and worked out for all of us.
You certainly landed on your feet after Lyric Street’s closing. What kind of fear did you have to overcome in between label deals?
Eric: At the time, we were working on our second single [which was] in the 20s on the charts. We didn’t realize that if the label shut down, the single was going to go away completely. They put so much money and time into it. We just thought, “We’ll go to another label. Who wouldn’t want a song that’s already in the 20s on the charts?” Needless to say, that didn’t happen. But then a year and a half later, we still didn’t have another deal and were starting to panic. Luckily, Sony had already tried to sign us before we signed with Lyric Street and we kept that relationship going … We’re so grateful to get a second shot, because so many talented people don’t even get a first shot, much less a second.