Country duo Love and Theft is back with new music, releasing a full-length project for the first time in nearly seven years. Known for hits like “Angel Eyes” and “Runaway,” the duo’s Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles talked to Country Now about changes in their career during the last several years, the story behind the title track of their new six-song EP Better Off, and the secret to their longevity.
Liles shared that when they left their last record label, Curb Records, they weren’t sure what was going to happen next. “After we finally got off Curb, we left an album just sitting over there. We didn’t know what we were gonna do.” They agreed that they knew the one thing they could do – start making new music. “We made most of it at Eric’s house and wrote the songs there in his studio,” said Liles. Once they had a product, their booking agent, Matt McGuire at Reliant Talent, suggested that they play it for the folks at ONErpm. “They listen to it and they’re like, wow, we love this.”
During the time between their label deals, the duo experienced several personal milestones that impacted the music they created. “We’ve had multiple kids, we’ve had a pandemic, we’ve had some other crazy life stuff happen,” said Gunderson. “We were fortunate enough to have our home studio where we could do most of this record and have been collecting gear over the years and collecting instruments.” By having their own space, they didn’t feel the pressure of being rushed in someone else’s space and had more creative freedom.
“The easygoingness of the music kind of reflects that and the chillness with which the whole thing was made,” said Gunderson. He also revealed that they have even more music in the pipeline and that also reflects the relaxed environment. “We’re just excited to try something different and do something a little out of our comfort zone, which ended up actually being more comfortable… we found kind of a new comfort zone.”
As they began to choose songs for the EP, they had already decided on four songs, but the challenge was picking the fifth and sixth tracks.”We’re like, well, what kind of fits the vibe? What do we wanna save that we already have?” said Liles. Gunderson added, “We have a few songs we’ve written over the last few years that are a little deeper. They have a little bit different vibe to them and I think we just wanted to stick with a sound that kind of has some more of the 80s and 90s influences musically and then obviously still the 70s and 90s rock as far as the vocal treatments go.”
Love and Theft released two of the songs ahead of the EP, “Mirror Mirror” and “Accidentally on Purpose,” but they felt that the title track “Better Off” was the perfect bridge from their past to their future. “We felt like ‘Better Off’ is a joining place of our old stuff with our new stuff,” said Liles. “We’re definitely better off owning our own masters. We’re definitely better off where we’re at in life as far as with our families and our career and where we are musically and where we’re trying to go.”
Liles and Gunderson wrote “Better Off” with Jared Mullins and Chris Stevens at Stevens’ studio. As one of the songs they wrote early in the process of creating the EP, it helped set the overall vibe. “We just kind of want it to be more of like a tongue in cheek feel good, happy song,” said Gunderson. “We wanted to have a positive, uplifting message around something that was easy listening and easy going.”
For the “Better Off” music video (premiering on August 25), they stuck closely to the lyrics. “It’s kind of like a golden hour,” shared Liles. “A couple that’s all dressed up, ready to go out and have this conversation like, man, we should not go out and drink here at the house, hang out together, light some candles, take off that dress, get comfortable. Let’s just hang out together, listen to some good music.” He added, “It’s the first music video I’ve ever done that I’m wearing a ball cap and Eric and I are both wearing ball caps.”
The duo recently performed on the Grand Ole Opry for the 65th time and have dreams of becoming Opry members. “It’s one of our favorite stages, if not the favorite stage in the world for us to play,” said Gunderson. “We value the history of the Opry and what it stands for in our music community. That would probably be one of the coolest things and probably one of our biggest goals to one day, be members of the Opry.”
Liles added that another professional goal would be to be nominated for and win a GRAMMY, but that they already feel incredibly successful. “For us, just getting to make music for a living and put out music that’s where we’re at, that’s probably the most rewarding thing that we can possibly get to do on a daily basis. So I feel like we are very successful in that sense. A great fan base and families that are supportive of us make achieving those goals a lot easier.”
The duo has worked together for 15 years and attributes their longevity to finding personal harmony and shared interests. “We both know each other enough to know when to leave the other one alone kind of thing,” says Gunderson. “Learning people and learning how to coexist with someone else on the road has been huge for us. And I think we’ve both done a good job of that. And obviously we’re both best friends also. So that helps to be with someone whose company you enjoy and you have some of the same interests.”
“We just agree on so many things naturally,” says Liles. “That’s probably why we’ve been together for so long… We both love golf. We both love Jesus and we both agree politically on the same things and those three things right there are good.”