The story of Love and Theft has been a steady stream of magic moments:
— Developing a distinct sound with three equally and uniquely talented singers, where each member shares lead vocal duties and join together for harmonies that explode on the chorus;
— Their three-song showcase for representatives of the performing rights organization ASCAP ended with many in the room pulling out cell phones to tell friends at record labels, “You’ve got to hear this band before someone signs them!”
— After making the rounds with a few labels in Nashville, the band performed a 3-song showcase in the offices of Lyric Street/Carolwood Records for A&R chief Doug Howard who immediately declared, “You should have never made it to my office…you should have already been signed! Please don’t play for anyone else,” and the label quickly moved to sign the band
— After Taylor Swift heard the trio’s music, she brought them on board as an opening act for her headlining concerts in ’08
— Audiences at those and other shows have been swept away at first listen by the trio’s soaring harmonies and on-stage charisma, standing in line for up to three hours after the show for a chance at an autograph and to meet the band.
The magic behind those episodes has been apparent since Stephen Barker Liles, Eric Gunderson and Brian Bandas first sang together. During an early rehearsal, they worked up the harmonies for “Drowning,” a poignant song about loss and hope.
“When all three of our voices came in together on the chorus,” says Stephen, “I got chills.”
“There was obvious chemistry from the beginning,” adds Brian, “personality-wise and musically. The harmonies blended effortlessly and immediately. That was when we were like, ‘OK. We’ve got something here. We need to stick with this and make it a priority.”
Others quickly came on board–seldom does a new act find people both inside and outside the industry signing on so quickly and eagerly as fans and supporters. The secret, if there was one, was the patience with which Stephen, Brian and Eric developed their sound.
“We rehearsed for six months before we ever felt like we wanted to take our music out in front of people,” says Stephen.
“We wanted to spend time writing music,” adds Eric, “and making sure we had the right songs to showcase our vocals and make our harmonies stand out.”
That approach and their undeniable talent — all three are also strong songwriters who wrote or co-wrote every song on their debut album –threw open doors that normally give way slowly in Nashville, launching the young trio toward the national spotlight.
Stephen, Eric and Brian met not long after each arrived in Nashville, and their backgrounds bonded them as strongly as their love of music. Each was born in 1984, first sang in church and developed an affinity for harmonies at a young age.
Stephen grew up in Palm Harbor, Florida, exposed to a great deal of early gospel and contemporary Christian music. He was a fan of Michael W. Smith and Elvis early on. As a teenager, he expanded his tastes to include everything from Johnny Cash to MxPx and has always loved the music of Tim McGraw and George Strait. He was on scholarship as the Head Student Assistant for the University of South Florida Men’s Basketball team and intended to coach college ball after graduation. While traveling with the team he would bring his guitar and write songs, but it wasn’t until reaching the state finals of the Colgate Country Showdown in his third year of college that he realized “music was where I was supposed to be.” With his decision made, Stephen left college to pursue his dreams in Nashville.
Eric, raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, picked up an appreciation for Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison from his grandfather, who played banjo in bluegrass bands, and for the Eagles and Beatles from his father. He went on yearly mission trips to Romania throughout his childhood and realized early on “I didn’t really want to grow up and have a normal job.” He began writing songs and played in bands while at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. In Nashville, Eric got a job playing bass on a six-week college tour. When the singer dropped out at the last minute, Eric was forced to fulfill the dates, so he hired a percussionist and toured singing his own songs. That went so well he realized his days as a sideman were over.
Brian was surrounded by music from birth and comes from a long line of accomplished musicians, including a grandfather and uncle who were noted jazz players. Growing up in Austin, Texas, he started playing piano after listening to Michael W. Smith then later began playing acoustic music, writing music and eventually started his own band after hearing the Goo Goo Dolls. Both an athlete and a musician, he showed up at Tuesday night open mic nights with his basketball warm-ups on after high school games. When his parents talked to him about his options in life after his second year of college, he jumped at their mention of Nashville and took off on what he viewed as “both an adventure and a life calling.”
Their obvious chemistry enabled them to forge a distinctive three-way sound.
“We consciously decided not any one of us would be the lead singer,” says Eric. “We all rotate singing lead, and see where the harmonies fall most naturally. In most songs, each of us will sing a different verse or the bridge. Then, our signature is that big three-part harmony on the chorus. It doesn’t really matter who’s singing lead or who’s singing harmony. Somehow it just works.”
“Love and Theft,” adds Brian, “is in this really comfortable place that lands right in the middle of all three of us and makes us all really satisfied with what we’re doing.”
Once they had their label deal, they signed with O-Seven Artist Management and began working with producers Robert Ellis Orral and Jeff Coplan on their debut album. In capturing the energy and incredible harmonies they bring to their live performances, the project introduces country fans to one of the freshest new acts to emerge in years. Underpinning it all is an authenticity that resonates with audiences everywhere.
“We believe,” says Brian, “that the most impactful music is written from a personal place, which is the way we approach it. The priority for us is to write something people are really going to connect with. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“Lyrically,” adds Eric, “we feel like rawness and authenticity is a real driving force behind this band.”
“Nothing beats country songwriting,” says Stephen, summing it up for his brothers-in-song. “That’s as real as it gets and that’s why we’re here. We love what it represents and we want to carry it forward.”