The duo's song about addiction hits close to home

By Eileen Finan
May 28, 2015 11:35 AM

Love and Theft’s video for their new single "Whiskey on My Breath" tells the story of an alcoholic confronting his addiction – but for the duo’s Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles, it’s more than just a performance; it’s personal.

“I come from a family of alcoholics,” Gunderson, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve had grandparents and great-grandparents die from alcoholism, and Stephen’s grandfather pretty much drank himself to death. He had a case of Crown sitting next to his bed, woke up every day and drank until he passed out.”

The message behind the tune was inspired by a wake-up call of sorts. Four months ago, Gunderson decided to quit drinking altogether.

“In the industry we’re in, it’s pretty easy to find yourself drinking every night,” he says. “It’s easy to fall into that hole and hard to get out of it. I am also type 1 diabetic, so drinking too much could be dangerous, and I decided to be sober. It’s been a life-changing decision.”

The singer says he made the call because he was having health issues “and it was suggested to me that I make some sort of change.” His wife of five years, Emily, and their 2-year-old son, Camden, were also a big influence.

“My inspiration is to stay healthy so I can be a part of Camden’s life, and for my wife as well,” he says. “I owe it to my family to take care of my health. It’s selfish not to do that.”

Giving up alcohol has already led to profound changes, the singer says. “It makes family life better, and the quality of my life is completely different,” he says. “You don’t wake up hungover, you don’t make bad decisions as often, and you have a level of clarity. Everything seems to come easier – songwriting has improved and our musical performances have gotten better. It’s created a different kind of productivity in my life.”

The duo wanted to convey that same message in their video, which follows the story of a man crippled by his addiction who finds the strength to give up the bottle and reconnect with his family.

“As much as it scares you to death that, as the song says, you could ‘meet Jesus with whiskey on your breath,’ it gives people hope,” Gunderson says. “God is a loving God, and if you commit your life to him, you’ll still get into heaven. I think a lot of people can relate to that.”

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