Love and Theft rock the Oreo

Kristian Stefanides


Love and Theft may have gained a couple of new “theftheads” over the weekend. The band’s dynamic duo, Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles, impressed the University’s student body with their hit single, “Angel Eyes,” at one of the first outdoor spring concerts on campus in a very long time just outside of Café Nova.

According to Love and Theft, playing at colleges can be a hit or miss, depending on a number of factors. However, the pair felt the energy was apparent on Friday night at The Ellipse.

“Tonight was great,” Liles said. “We had a great time tonight. The crowd was into it. It was fun.”

Liles’ bandmate, Gunderson, added that he was impressed by how many students were into their music and even knew the lyrics to the songs.

“Even tonight was awesome just to see all the kids that actually came out and seemed to know all of the words to the songs,” Gunderson said. “It was definitely refreshing to see that. A lot of time you play at colleges and nobody has a clue who you are.”

For country bands like Love and Theft, it’s important that they invest themselves in spreading their music further than the deep roots of the south. Luckily for Gunderson and Liles, they’ve been able to have success all across the country, not only in the south but beyond.

“The Pacific-Northwest, northern California, has always been really good for us,” Gunderson said. “But then this year, we’ve also played a lot in the northeast and it’s been really good for us. We kind of over-saturated the market I guess in the south with our music for the past couple of years so we’re booking shows further away from Nashville and the response has been really great.”

Despite the band’s successes, the journey hasn’t been easy. According to the duo, the music business is a lot like politics, and the fame and glory that the public sees is only half of it.

“The music industry is crazy,” Liles said. “It’s a very selfish industry and it comes in waves. It’s very political, too. Early on we were a trio and that old guy quit because he couldn’t handle the politics of it all. He thought he was getting into it to just play music and it’s way more than that, especially in the country music world. 

Getting your song played on the radio is really, really, political.”

Gunderson added that music really is like a political venture and that being a musician is a lot like being a politician in a way.

“[Music is] probably one of the closest business ventures you could be involved in to actually being in politics,” Gunderson said. “You almost have to lobby for yourself in a way to get stuff done, a lot like politicians. A lot of businesses are very political but the music industry is a lot of “good ole boys” and handshake deals and stuff like that. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of the right people in the past ten years.” 

Along with their talent and passion for creating country music for their fans, meeting the right people helped them notch their song “Angel Eyes” as a number one hit on Billboard’s Country Songs chart in August of 2012. But even with the success they’ve had, they’re looking to go even further in the future.

“I think we’ve always dreamed as kids playing music, as teenagers, as college [kids], being on this level and having record deals and releasing music and having stuff on iTunes and on the radio,” Gunderson said. “We’re lucky enough to have a top ten song and another top 30, top 40. We definitely are thrilled and don’t take any of that for granted but we also want to go to the next level.”

But something deep inside keeps them going. Even though they’ve experienced the lows of being in the music business, they’re also living out the dreams that they’ve had ever since they were just young kids playing music. The music business isn’t all successes and one country band has been the music duo’s biggest motivation.

“Little Big Town didn’t even really hit it big or win an award or anything until their 13th year,” Liles said. “Not that we’re trying to wait five more years. But, it also shows perseverance. They got teenagers and stuff and they’re just now hitting the peak of their career is happening now. And that’s encouraging because we’re just slow and steady wins the race and we’re still just making the music we want to make and hopefully it’ll just keep on resonating and we’re making new fans all the time and that’s kind of what you want to do.” 

Love and Theft’s fan base, like any band, is very important to them. Gunderson and Liles value the fans enjoyment of the group’s music, and also hope to form a connection with them.

“We’re very active with our fans and that’s something that I think we both grew up in church and that kind of comes from that,” Liles said. “I’m a preacher’s kid, Eric’s dad was a minister. So I think that mentality of how we’re all from the same place and going to the same place is kind of why we relate to people better.”

But from where the two are now, it seems like they will experience success in the future.

“I think where we are at, career-wise and music-wise right now, seems like everything’s falling into place and the timing seems perfect,” Gunderson said. “For once, everything seems to be lining up.”

However, throwing such a large event on campus would not have been possible without CAT. This year’s CAT Music Co-Directors, Brian Omastiak and Kaltra Aliaj, spearheaded this year’s concert, specifically rallying for an outdoor, country concert, because the co-directors felt the student body especially desired this type of spring event.

“An outdoor country concert has specifically been a reoccurring theme in our survey for years,” Omastiak said. “We were trying to do something pretty different and so we went for that outdoor country thing that everybody’s been asking for. We just really wanted to start something new and hopefully kind of build on this to have it outside every year, if possible.”

An outdoor concert was something that CAT was willing to risk despite the possibility of rain. “Once we knew that country was one of the leading genres we thought that was our best bet was to try to have something outdoors,” Aliaj said. “We just wanted to do something different from the past years. So that motivated us to push for the outdoor concert.”

“We knew there needed to be change in the spring concert, something new needed to be done,” Omastiak said. “It needed a new flavor to it. This was kind of the way to do it.”

Students like Meghan Miller, a junior biology major, were thrilled to hear that the concert would be outdoors this year with a country band. 

“I was so excited when I heard that the concert would be outside this year and a country concert,” Miller said. There’s such a draw for that at this time of year and it was a great way to end the semester with such a fun concert!”

With the idea to have an outdoor country concert, the group sought out their leaders who were nothing but supportive throughout the lengthy, trying process. 

“Nikki Hornsberry and J.J. Brown, who both work in the student development office, were both big components of having the outdoor concert so they helped us get through a lot of administration,” Dave Krause, the president of CAT, said. “They were really behind the idea so they helped us out a lot,” Omastiak said. “None of this could have happened without Nikki or J.J.” 

But a lot more goes into planning a spring concert than most students know. It’s nearly a year-long process that starts out with a simple survey during the fall semester to see what type of genres and artists the student body is most interested in.

“Basically every year at the beginning of the year we send out this huge survey to a sample of the student population,” Aliaj said. “We ask them what genres do you want to see most, what genres do you not want to see.”

CAT then survey replies to choose a genre and artist. The comments portion at the end of the survey is especially valuable to the team. Aliaj stated that in the comments section, many students wrote that they’d like to see a country artist for this year’s concert and that they’d like to stray away from the typical rap, hip-hop and EDM genres and do something different. For CAT, it’s all about giving the students what they want in the best way that they can.

“There’s a huge fan base of country at Villanova so that was basically the biggest reason,” Aliaj said. “When I realized how many people were asking for [country], I was like ‘I guess we got to try and do what they want.’”

Pop is also another popular genre that many students point to in the survey. But CAT must keep in mind the budget for the concert, which is one of the biggest steering factors in choosing an artist and location. 

“The survey every year is very torn,” Omastiak said. “Every year consistently the top result is pop. But realistically with the budget we have, we can’t get the people that everyone is expecting when they answer, ‘We want pop.’”

With multiple genres and artists being thrown around, the group meets to form a proposal.

“The way it really works is that we come up with a genre and we say we have 10 names that we think would work,” Krause said. “We go down the list and sometimes we reach out to every one of them and see the offers we get back.”  

Even though CAT endures long months of planning and preparing for an event, the group gains invaluable experiences while apart of the team. Once it all comes together in the end, it is all worth it.

“We got pictures with Kevin Spacey, Alesso,” Omastiak said. “We get to meet all of these people and that’s probably the coolest part. And really, seeing the end product. At one point, I was so overwhelmed. Kaltra and I have worked so hard on this all year and in a couple of hours it’s all over.”

Krause has even gotten a $2 bill signed by every act that they’ve had, from spring concerts to Parents Weekend acts. 

Krause said that people of his age don’t normally get to plan and be a part of such a high volume event and that this has impacted him in a positive way.

“You don’t get to see or be a part of many events where we go from the very beginning when there is nothing to seeing a huge event come together,” Krause said. “So I think for me, it’s seeing the end product and seeing all of your hard work. And then also, seeing all of the Villanova students enjoy it.”

CAT concert planning has even given the members skills for the future.

“I’m a business student and some of the big things I’ve learned have come from being a part of CAT and doing this music stuff,” Omastiak said.

CAT sees bright success in the future of the organization. Specifically, they hope to see a stronger connection between campus organizations to work together and put on even better events.

“There could be a lot more collaboration between organizations and you know as you can see between spring out and the concert when you collaborate, you know really good things can happen,” Krause said.

Additionally, they’d like a stronger connection between the students and CAT so that they can better serve the Villanova community. 

“CAT is composed of students,” Krause said. “We are students. We are for the students. We plan events specifically for them. We want them to have as much fun as possible.”

But CAT needs the student body just as much as the student body needs CAT. 

“If the students support Campus Activities Team and come out to the concert year-round, we’ll have the funds to keep going and keep going larger and larger each year,” Evan McIntyre, a CAT senior, said. 

CAT very much encourages students who want to voice their opinions to reach out to them to tell it what events they’d like to see. Its hope is that students will understand that the process in planning a concert is difficult, but that they always try to give the students the best possible events.

“We just want people to be sort of more aware of the process and all the little factors that go into what is ultimately the concert,” Aliaj said. “It’s so much more than, ‘Let’s call up an act and see if we can get them.’ It’s a lot of jumping through barriers and jumping through hoops and sometimes it doesn’t always work out for the best but we try to do what the student body wants as much as possible.”