Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson of Love and Theft have been through a lot of changes over the last year. After parting ways with their record label last year, they made the decision to release their newest album, Whiskey On My Breath, on their own. The creative freedom allowed them to craft a mostly acoustic album that highlights what the guys are best at – songwriting and those killer harmonies. Lead single, Whiskey On My Breath, is a heartbreaking exploration of addiction that speaks to the heart of many that have experienced the tragic affect of alcoholism or drug addiction in their lives. The poignant song is incredibly honest, reflecting a different side of the band than those that might only be familiar with their radio singles have seen.
As they navigate away from the full-throttle pop country of their past, they’re moving into a more adult world that is both exciting and thought provoking. With Bobby Bones playing their new single on heavy rotation, and a fanbase that is dedicated to growing with the band as they mature and experiment with their new-found freedom, it’s safe to say that Love and Theft are on a musical adventure we’re all going to want to keep watching.
I had the chance to sit down with the guys during CRS week. Check out the interview below.
In the last year a lot of things have changed for you, you’re no longer with a label and are out there basically as independent artists. What has that experience been like for you?
EG: It’s been an eye-opening experience for us, we’ve been on a major label for the first 8 years of our careers. To do it independently now is completely different. The major label experiences we had before prepared us for knowing what we wanted to do creatively and how to maintain control of that. We got to release music we wanted to release, that was key for us. But it’s very involved job when you’re doing it yourself, you’ve got a lot of bases to cover, and there are many different aspects to the business and maintain composure as artists. It’s been good, but it’s more of a hustle and a grind than before.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve come up against?
SB: Definitely getting songs played on the radio, it’s really hard. We’re fighting for ourselves a lot of the time. When you’re on a label a lot of times they can leverage the bigger artists to get some attention on the smaller artists. Technically we’re still a pretty new artists, just because of the way our story has gone, and with the label. We still believe in the song and a lot of people have stuck their neck out there for us to get it played. We have a great team around us, so we’re going to keep pushing it.
Tell me a little bit about why Whiskey On My Breath was such an important song for you to release?
SB: We’ve put a lot of songs out that are fun and people can party to them. At the end of the day you want to leave a lasting impression somewhere in music history. And we wanted to do a song that could change someones life. If a song saves one persons life that’s really something. Some of the things we’re hearing out on the internet and twitter, it’s really helped people, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to put it out there.
Even just the title, people thought it was a typical drinking song, but it’s really the opposite. Eric’s over 300 days sober so that’s a huge part of the story, too. That’s really hard to do in this business, especially with the level we’re at, we don’t get to control the atmosphere around us when we’re playing amphitheaters or arenas. Playing at a lot of bars, just thrown into where fans can just reach up and give you a shot that they probably paid good money for, it’s hard to ignore that. I’m really proud of Eric for how far he’s come. This song is about real addiction for us, my grandfather drank a handle in the morning and finished it, and was passed out by the end of the day. Then he woke up the next day and did it again. I know Eric has dealt with addiction in his family life as well. It’s something we can relate to and we felt like a lot of people would.
What are you most proud of on this record?
EG: We loved the last two records we made. Our first record came out a little bit before it’s time, it was very pop-rock country before that started to become a big thing. Sort of the same with the second. This one we didn’t feel like we had anyone telling us “hey, you need to fit into this niche” or “the bro-country thing is really big, you should capitalize on that.” We got to maintain our creative integrity and recorded a record that we felt could stand alone and still sound like it could be played on the radio. Even without all the polished electric solos and programmings it still does a great job representing who we are. I think that’s why “Whiskey On My Breath” stands out on the radio as well, it doesn’t sound like everything else out there.
SBL: We self produced this whole record with our friend Josh Leo (Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Restless Heart), and we didn’t put any electrics on it, and worked to make it as authentic as possible. We wanted to show our passion for harmonies and organic music.
When you go into write songs, what are some of the things you tend to gravitate towards as far as inspiration?
SBL: I think what it is now, is that we’re writing songs for ourselves. Sometimes we would settle for a lyric because we thought someone else would possibly cut it. Now I second guess lyrics like, would Merle Haggard say that? Is it too kiddie? Now that we’re older, our song content and lyrical content, and fans growing up… we’re going to be more adult. We’re in our 30’s now, so we want to write about stuff that makes sense to us but also write a hit record. Writing together is really fun now because we’re writing the best stuff we ever have.
How have your fans reacted to this stripped down sound?
EG: I think 98% of fans really love this record. There are a few that missed the pop sound
SBL: They’re a little disappointed because we played some songs we recorded for Sony while out on the road, and they’re stuck with Sony, we weren’t able to put them on this record.
EG: They were expecting a certain album and they didn’t get it. But for the most part, it’s a small piece of the Thefthead pie. I think they’ve been so supportive, we have some of the best fans, and they’re die hards. If someone says a single bad thing about us online, they go at them.
What’s up for you guys in 2016?
EG: Playing shows, booking shows, even just from the boost we got from Bobby Bones playing the song a few weeks ago we got a lot of shows booked. It’s selling a lot better than it was before. For us, we’re looking forward to working hard, meeting fans, and making new fans. Obviously, we hope the song starts climbing up the charts in 2016 as well.
SBL: Please, lord! (laughs)
Thanks again to Stephen and Eric for sitting down with me. Be sure to pick up their brand new album, Whiskey On My Breath, on iTunes now!