Clearwater native Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson, who is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, make up Love and Theft. The two signed a new record deal with Curb Records in Nashville, Tennessee earlier this month, which is a fresh breath of life into their musical career.
After a little more than a year without a label, their latest independently recorded hit, “Whiskey On My Breath,” started receiving radio airplay from Sirius XM Satellite’s The Highway, nationally syndicated radio host Bobby Bones and regional radio stations, which helped the song climb the iTunes charts. Within weeks of that climb, the deal with Curb was inked.
“I’m so pumped to be celebrating this milestone of an amazing year with my hometown crowd,” said Liles.
Liles was born in downtown Clearwater at Morton Plant and grew up in the Tampa Bay area, attending Oldsmar Christian, Dunedin High School and later the University of South Florida. His dad was the head pastor at a church in Safety Harbor after serving as an associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater.
While Liles was attending USF, he decided to pursue his dream of making music and made the move to Nashville. That’s where he met Gunderson, and Love and Theft was formed. Before long, the country music duo had recorded several top-40 songs and the platinum-selling, number one single, “Angel Eyes.”
They have toured with major artists including Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley. Swift even wrote a song about Liles, called “Hey Stephen.”
“Besides the record deal and this homecoming concert, we’re also really proud to celebrate Eric’s one year of sobriety,” Liles said.
Much like the character in their song, “Whiskey On My Breath,” Love and Theft’s Gunderson found himself struggling with alcohol and needed to make a change.
“Being a musician and being on the road, it’s certainly easy to find yourself hitting the bottle entirely way too much,” Gunderson said. “I was making poor decisions, it was affecting my family, and being a type 1 diabetic, it was affecting my health.”
That’s when Gunderson decided to give up alcohol. This Sunday will mark his one year of sobriety.
“I can’t think of a better place to celebrate it than out by Tampa Bay’s beautiful waters in Safety Harbor,” Gunderson Said. “With Stephen being from here, this place has also become like a second home for me, and it will be good to be around so many people we know and love.”
While they now reside with their families in Nashville, where the duo has been nominated multiple times for CMA, ACM and CMT awards, Liles’s Tampa Bay area roots still shine through.
On his right arm he has a tattoo of Florida and on his bicep, he has a tattoo of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers old mascot Bucco Bruce, who is wearing the signature pirate hat and feather. But as an added flare of Tampa love, Liles made sure the tattoo artist placed a TB in the center of the hat for the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I absolutely love my hometown and every time we come back, it’s just great to be home and to be able to spend time with friends and family,” Liles said. “This Sunday’s SongFest is going to be a great opportunity to do just that, so make sure you head on out, we’d love to see you.”