‘Runaway’ from Tampa to Nashville

Stephen Barker Liles, a member of the rising country band Love and Theft, was a USF junior when he decided to chase his dreams, leaving Tampa for the bright lights of Nashville to become a music star.

Now, the band has a hit song, “Runaway”, has opened for Taylor Swift and had their music used in TV promos for ABC. In light of his recent success, Liles talked with the Oracle about leaving college and braving the world of country music.

The Oracle:
You took a chance to get where you are now, and you’ve been really successful. How does it feel?
Stephen Barker Liles: I was really committed to the USF basketball program – I was a student assistant. When I started writing (songs) more on the road as we would travel and play different teams … I would bring my guitar and I would practice and write songs, and I remember just somewhere after that third season I was there, I was like, “Man, I think I should do this, pursue this harder” and I got the advice from Brett Warren actually, who’s a Tampa native, and he told me if I wanted to be in country music and be a song writer I needed to move to Nashville. So, I just took a risk.

O: Nashville is known for being full of aspiring country stars. What did the band do to stand out?
SBL: Well we wrote a whole lot of songs … And we rehearsed for six months before we ever even went and started playing out, because you never know who’s going to see you and if someone sees you one time, and you’re not where you need to be or sound the way you should sound or just not ready they might rule you out all together.

The biggest thing we did was just got ready and once we were, we went to the right places. But we had a lot of people that started spreading the word as soon as we started playing out, which was really a blessing.

O: How did the band originally meet?
SBL: We met in Nashville through one of our co-producers, Robert Ellis Orrall. And then my friend Canaan Smith, who I met in Orlando actually, he ended up moving up there and so I met some of my other buddies – I met Eric Gunderson through him. Canaan actually wrote “Runaway” with me.

O: Where did the name Love and Theft come from?
SBL: The name Love and Theft is from a Bob Dylan album. It’s actually named after a book. When we were going through discographies, that name kind of stuck out, and we’re big Bob Dylan fans. He’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

Does Bob Dylan or any other bands influence your music?
SBL: Yeah, Bob Dylan is a huge influence to me, and I think the other guys in the band also. He’s such a great song writer and song writing’s a big deal to us. The Eagles are a big influence of ours, Crosby, Stills and Nash. We have a lot of classic rock influences. We’re all huge Beatles fans.

What was it like opening for Taylor Swift?
SBL: It was really fun. She was really sweet to us, and we had a really good time … We’ve made a lot of fans – she has really, really good fans and it was nice of her to introduce us all, because it gave us a really good kick-start to this 2009 year we’re having.

O: What was it like playing at the Grand Ole Opry?
SBL: Oh my god – that was insane. I’ve never been that nervous in my whole life, and I really don’t get very nervous before shows. Little Jimmy Dickens was there (and) Ronnie Milsap.

Little Jimmy Dickens came into our dressing room … he came in and we’re like, “Oh my god.” He said, “Hey, hey just treat it like any other show,” and we were like, “Well you don’t really show up in our dressing room before every other show.”

Playing the Grand Ole Opry is such an honor and we were all a little nervous, but I think we did all right.

O: Was there specific inspiration for your hit song “Runaway,” which you co-wrote?
SBL: There’s always some sort of inspiration behind certain parts of songs. This song is about that breaking point where you’re like, “All right, today’s the day – I’ve been talking about it forever, today’s the day I’m actually going to do it.”

For me, I became a runaway because I just dropped out of college, and I was making pretty decent grades. I was working with the USF basketball team and all that – but I took a risk and becam a runaway … I think all of us just kind of picked up and left our hometowns and became runaways, so I think that’s one of the reasons we wanted to put that out as our first song.

Love and Theft’s first album, World Wide Open, was released Tuesday and they have plans to tour this fall. For more information, visit their MySpace page at myspace.com/loveandtheftmusic.