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Love and Theft Return for Act Two


Love and Theft Return for Act Two

By Sarah Skates

© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service
/ Country Music Association®, Inc.

Love and Theft has made its big debut — for the second time.

The band’s self-titled album, released July 24, is a showcase of its evolution
in recent years. Members Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles approached their
latest effort very differently from their first album, with a new team of players boosting their careers.

The band has experienced a reincarnation of sorts since its first album, World
Wide Open
, was released in 2009 by Lyric Street’s Carolwood Records. Member
Brian Bandas exited the group and Lyric Street shuttered, but Liles and Gunderson rallied.

The duo signed to Sony’s RCA Records Nashville and entered agreements with
Vector Management and EMI Music Publishing. They teamed with producer Josh Leo
and recorded songs by writers other than themselves for the first time. And today,
Love and Theft is ready to be reintroduced to Country Music fans.

Just
like any other rising artist, the band recently took to the road to share its
new music. They gladly spent 12 weeks visiting radio stations to promote the lead
single, “Angel Eyes” (written by Jeff Coplan, Gunderson and Eric Paslay).
But unlike most new acts, Love and Theft is already familiar with this routine.

“We’ve been on radio tour for six years,” Liles said, with a laugh. He
and Gunderson were casual and unpretentious on this morning at the Sony Music
Nashville offices, swapping stories as easily as they trade lead vocals. Liles
is extra cozy, taking meetings in a pair of fuzzy house slippers. They get along
well and seem to have a blast everywhere they go. Both laughed hysterically while
watching a cell phone video of one of their favorite recent adventures — a trip
to the Caribbean, where they discovered a herd of beer-drinking hogs.

They’ve
grown close since being introduced several years ago by a mutual friend who is
also an up-and-coming artist, Mercury Nashville’s Canaan Smith. Liles and Smith
met while competing in the Colgate Country Showdown in their home state, Florida.
They ended up in Nashville, where Smith eventually introduced Liles and Gunderson.
The future members of Love and Theft bonded over their similar backgrounds.

“We have a lot of things in common,” Liles explained. “We were born the
same year, 1984. Our mothers were born on the same day and year within 200 miles
of each other. We both went to private schools and are both preachers’ kids.
We grew up singing harmonies in church.”

With the cell phone videos put
away, Gunderson and Liles grew more serious when discussing their new music. Platinum
plaques line the Sony walls, and the duo was in awe while checking out those commemorating
Josh Leo’s work. His hit track record includes 21 No. 1 albums, with clients
including Alabama, Emerson Drive, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Restless Heart.

“Working
with him, we got to make a record like we always wanted to make,” Liles said.
“A classic producer like that, he does it the old-school way, playing live with
the band in the studio and not adding a bunch of tracks later on.”

Gunderson
and Liles joked that they met Leo through Match.com, but it was
actually Jim Catino, VP, A&R, Sony Music Nashville, who paired them with the
producer. “I suggested Josh because he has a good track record with groups,”
Catino said. “So I thought he’d be a great match. Josh and I had been on the
lookout for a project to work on together. We’ve been friends for a long time
and I’m a big fan of his work. I introduced Josh and the band, and they hit
it off creatively and personally. It ended up being a perfect match.”

Leo
and Catino helped guide the band through the recording process, following a very
different blueprint than that of its debut release. On World Wide Open,
Love and Theft was a trio that wrote or co-wrote every song. The group turned
the finished project in to Lyric Street, which then released it. Its debut single,
“Runaway” (Liles, Canaan Smith and Rob Blackledge) went on to become a Top
10 hit as well topping the Billboard Heatseekers chart.

A longtime
fan of Love and Theft, Catino enjoyed following the band’s success with Lyric
Street. “I’ve been aware of them for several years,” he noted. “We tried
to sign them the first go-round. I’ve always loved their music and dug the guys
from the first time I met them. When we finally had the opportunity to work together,
Gary Overton (Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Nashville) and I looked at the roster.
We didn’t have a duo, so we had room for Love and Theft. The timing was good
for us as a company, plus I had a good gut feeling.”

Equipped with more
music business experience, stronger songwriting skills and a new label and producer,
Gunderson and Liles recognized the importance of cutting the best available songs
for the new album. “For the first time in our career, we did song pitch meetings,”
Liles said. “It was really fun because we got to hear hundreds of songs from
all across Music Row. There are so many good songs out there, and I can’t believe we got to record some of them.”

“For whatever reason, we didn’t even give other people’s songs a shot
back when we made our first album,” Gunderson added. “We knew the caliber
of songs that were out there, but we just didn’t know how to get our hands on
them. We’ve made so many friends over the years here that are incredible writers,
so to embrace that this time around was really amazing.”

“It was a
little perplexing that they’d never recorded outside songs,” Catino said.
“They are great writers, but when we started working together, they were very
excited to hear what the town had to offer. They just wanted to cut great songs,
which is always a smart move on an artist’s part, as long as they creatively
fit what their brand is and what they are trying to accomplish with their music.
We found some great things for the project that fit their sound and the direction
we were going for. They also wrote about half the record, so it all married up great.”

In fact, Gunderson and Liles are focused on songwriting like never before. They
say they are devoting more time to it and taking greater pride in the craft. The
results speak for themselves: Between the two of them, they have scored cuts by
Bucky Covington (“Baby Run,” written by Gunderson, Liles, Bandas and John
Kennedy), Martina McBride’s “Wrong Baby Wrong” and Sawyer Brown’s “Ain’t
Goin’ Out That Way” (both by Liles, Robert Ellis Orrall, Brad Warren and Brett
Warren) and Canaan Smith’s “We Got Us” (Liles, Smith and Tommy Lee James).

In addition to the focus on quality songs, Love and Theft wanted to create a
new sound for themselves. “We are older and more mature now,” Gunderson pointed
out. “We wanted to get away from that slick, polished sound of the first record.
I wouldn’t say our sound was ever really what was portrayed on our first record.
People would come to our live show or see us when we were on tour with Tim McGraw,
and they’d say we were way better live than on our record.”

“We had
a lot of creative talks shortly after signing them, talking about what direction
we wanted to take this album,” Catino added. “They wanted to go back to the
sound they had early in their career, when they were playing clubs. They wanted
to go back to an organic feel, which was more about their vocals and harmonies.”

The production on “Amen” (Derek George, Neil Thrasher and Bryan White) embodies
the sound Love and Theft wanted to capture. Actually, it set the tone for the
entire album. “It was one of the songs we cut early on,” Catino said. “The
rest of the project filled in around that track. There are some really fun songs
on the record, but there are some pretty deep lyrics too. We covered all the bases.”

One of the serious tracks, “Town Drunk” (Natalie Hemby and Daniel Tashian),
is a standout. The story of an alcoholic father and his neglected daughter is
one of the outside songs that caught the band’s attention and helped add dimension to the album.

“When we were looking for a song to round out the record, something with a
cool, almost artistic feel, that’s when we found ‘Town Drunk,’” Catino
recalled. “When the album was finished, it turned out to be everyone at the label’s favorite song.”

“I expected it to be a drinking song,” said Liles, remembering the pitch
meeting. “But halfway through the demo, I started crying. I’ve never had a
relationship with my mom’s dad because he was an alcoholic. At the end of the
song, when the little girl is grown up and happily married and has a baby, it’s like that baby is me.”

This summer, the band is meeting plenty of new fans and reconnecting with old
ones on Brad Paisley’s Virtual Reality tour, which continues into the fall.
Throughout their journey, Love and Theft are savoring the opportunity to reclaim
their position in the Country Music spotlight.

“We feel very confident
and passionate about the team of people we have around us,” Gunderson reflected.
“It’s a well-oiled machine. Everybody knows their job and does it really well.
It allows us to focus on what’s important: performance, songwriting — the music.”

On the Web: www.LoveandTheft.com

Stephen Barker Liles
and Eric Gunderson of Love and Theft.

Photo credit: Jeff Lipsky

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