Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles are the country music duo Love and Theft, one of Nashville's hottest acts. They'll perform at Darton State College in Albany on Nov. 14, 2012.
ALBANY, Ga. — When founding partner Brian Bandas left country band Love and Theft last year, he bluntly told his now former bandmates Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson their days as a band were numbered.
"He just didn't want to do it anymore," Liles said of Bandas. "When he left, he told Eric and me, 'I give you guys a year.'"
If Bandas' ominous words were meant as discouragemnet, they didn't take. It took Liles and Gunderson less than a year to climb to the top of the country music charts with their hit "Angel Eyes," and now the duo is one of Nashville's hottest acts.
Love and Theft, named for the 2001 Bob Dylan album, will take a break from their tour with Jake Owen Nov. 14 to perform at Darton State College's Student Center. Cole Taylor will open the show at 7 p.m.
Liles said he and Gunderson, who founded Love and Theft with Bandas in 2006 and got their first taste of chart success with the 2009 Top 10 hit "Runaway," were energized by the success of "Angel Eyes."
"Having a No. 1 song was one of the biggest goals we set for ourselves," he said. "Then having a gold record ... man, that just shows that God is good."
After the trio became a duo, the pair signed with RCA Nashville and chart-topping success soon followed. They've been compared favorably to one of their major influences, the Eagles, and that's a comparison Liles finds flattering.
"The Eagles are one of our biggest musical influences," he said. "We both listened to them growing up, and I heard a lot of the older rock and roll like Three Dog Night and Elvis. I loved Elvis, man, listened to all his records and saw all his movies.
"I think country music today is the best because it's open to so many aspects. You've got the traditional country of stars like George Strait, the harmony-based country of Lady A and us, and the pop country of people like Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift. There's something for everyone."
Swift, perhaps the current poster child for a pop/country blend that has propelled her to superstardom, has a special place in Liles' heart. She should: The country/pop princess wrote a song about him.
"We were opening for her a couple of years ago, and she and I hit it off," Liles said. "She kinda had a little crush on me, and one day she told me she'd written a song ('Hey Stephen') about me. It ended up on her album. It's a nice song, and that was a nice thing for her to do."
Liles laughs and adds, "I'm just glad I didn't do anything to make her mad. I'd hate to end up the subject of one of her songs if she was mad at me."
Informed that Bryan, "American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips as well as other musical greats, are from the Albany area, which Love and Theft will be visiting for the first time, Liles said he and Gunderson look forward to playing here.
"That tells me the music fans there probably know their country music," he said. "It's always good to come to a new place and play for those kinds of fans."
Tickets, which are available at www.etix.com (search Darton), are $5 for currently enrolled Darton students, $12 for the public with military ID, $10 for Darton faculty and staff, and $12 in advance for the general public. Tickets will be $15 at the door.
"We have a limited number of tickets, and we're expecting our student body to buy a lot of them," Darton Director of Campus Life Eric O'Cain said. "We do want to offer tickets to the public because this is a show we believe many in the community will want to see."
Doors open at 6 p.m., and Love and Theft will follow Taylor's performance at 8 p.m.