To say the past 20+ years have been ‘Good’ for New Orleans-based rock band Better Than Ezra would be an understatement. The band had been selling out venues across the country since forming at Louisiana State University in 1988 where the band started touring on the Southern college circuit. So unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard of and are quite possibly a die hard fan of this 3 piece led by Kevin Griffin.
Better Than Ezra is rolling through the tri state area this week with a show tonight at Irving Plaza in NYC and The TLA in Philly on April 28th among others in Boston & Washington DC. The band’s new single, “Crazy Lucky,” was released on March 25th. The new album will be released this summer. We had a chance to chat with Kevin Griffin before they pop through to chat about the past, present and future for the guys.
TSI: Are you crazy lucky?
KG: You know, I’ve found luck comes from working hard. That’s when I’m luckiest, when I’m working. I know there’s such happenstance, serendipitous moments that you could never predict, but I think luck really comes from doing what you love to do.
TSI: New single, new album, the tour, a new record label — what are you most excited about with all of these developments?
KG: Every album – we’ve put a new album out every few years, and it’s just new people, new projects, new things we’re working on that we’re excited about, and this year is no exception. The End Records – they’re based in Brooklyn, and we’ve known them for a while. It just seemed like the right thing to do, to go with them. I think that the biggest thing with a new label is that you want excitement and focus and you need the means to get your record out to people. New songs are a shot in the arm for the band and fans…it forces us to keep it fresh.
It’s fun to get out on the road. I think the reason we’ve stuck around is that we’ve never gotten to the point where we burned out, on the music or each other. So it’s exciting, and it’s challenging to learn the new songs – you have to figure out how to recreate the sound you loved in the studio out on the road.
TSI: Is there anything you miss about the van days?
KG: Oh, touring in the van? Those were such crazy good times! Van days were a sense of adventure – you were in your late teens, early 20s, and you were just kind of a swashbuckler. It was a great adventure. You were out there, not making much money, but there was a promise in the early 90s of untold riches. We got to go through the major label times before the landscape changed. You know, it’s different now, but we had an 88 Dodge Ram that was just scary – it was a death trap, but it managed to get us around.
TSI: What do you like about the industry now?
KG: The accessibility of artists to fans is better than ever before. You can get cool music out there to fans in minutes, and start to see how people react. There are so many services for music fans to hear your stuff. And making good-sounding music is so much easier with laptop recording. So I think as far as being in a band, getting your music out there, it’s a much better time now. In the past your album sold, as opposed to singles, but the labels were the gatekeepers, holding the keys to success or failure, and it’s just not that way anymore. I think that’s really refreshing. If I had to choose, I would choose now.
TSI: Do you still think about the album as a whole? Do you feel you’ve become more single-driven, writing for other artists and working in the post-90s industry?
KG: You know, you have to go for the great song, maybe not thinking about singles, but just writing great songs, but as you get into the meat of the album, you think about songs that might be great live or might make us a more well-rounded Better Than Ezra. Does it have some oddball rocker that’s a little out there, or a good ballad? Part of what we’re doing now is rounding out the record beyond just the good singles. Now is when we’re doing songs that maybe a lot of Better Than Ezra fans will find to be their favorite songs. Something that’s not intended to be a single, but just comes out as a great song. So yeah, I do still think about the album as a whole experience.
TSI: You haven’t started the new tour yet, but I wanted to ask about Better Than Ezra fans, and who you expect to come out to the shows. Do you have a sense of how your audience has evolved?
KG: We’ve been around a long time, so we have a wide demographic. I expect to see people in their 30s and 40s, but the great thing is that in the past years we’ve been seeing a lot of college kids again, and they know all the words to all the songs. It’s kind of a surprise, but people are able to find music that speaks to them, whether or not happens to be on the radio at the time. It’s nice to see your work appeal to a younger generation. So I expect to see the old Better Than Ezra fans and new ones as well.\
[WATCH] Better Than Ezra – New Album Behind The Scenes 2014
TSI: I remember listening to “Good” over and over on the Y100 compilation CD when I was in college.
KG: Y100 was good to us. No pun intended.
TSI: Okay, let me try to pin you down on the name, because I know you haven’t ever answered that. Is it an A Moveable Feast reference?
KG: You know what, a lot of people ask that, but it’s not. We’re just not going to… Our thing is, when we’re inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, maybe. Which means we’re never, ever gonna divulge the source for the name. Thank you for giving a damn, though.
TSI: Of course, I have to ask. I also want to ask you about the Better Than Ezra Foundation and your ties to your hometown, New Orleans. You’ve contributed to so many different charities.
KG: The mission of our foundation is to benefit the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area and rebuild infrastructure physically and with education. We’ve rebuilt homes with the Make it Right Foundation and donated to the fire department and police department and coastal restoration initiatives. We’ve done a lot within the purview of the foundation, but one of the things we’re proudest of is adopting the Bethune Elementary School and building a playground and doing storage cubbies and supplies for the kids. We’re working on an afterschool program now, which we’re really excited about, and this Saturday is the 12th Annual Ezra Open casino night. At some point in your life you want to do something outside of yourself to give back. It sounds like a cliché, but you get to the point where you want to do what you can to affect people’s lives, and if you’re lucky you’ve had someone in your life who’s done that for you. How can we take the years we’ve put into the band and the name and use that to give back to the area? The foundation is much bigger than the band – we have a full-time employee and a board of directors, and it’s really cool.
TSI: Last thing, continuing the discussion about influences. Whose careers do you admire in the music industry, and how do you hope Better Than Ezra will influence bands coming up? I just saw an article where you talked about Nirvana’s influence on you.
KG: I admire guys who just continue doing what they love, whether it’s somebody like Tom Petty, or somebody like Rodney Crowell, who is a great country artist that just did an album with Emmylou Harris. He just continues to make great music and tour, and he writes — he’s written memoirs. If you’re in the industry you might know his work, but he’s not a household name. And maybe Better Than Ezra is not a household name, Kevin Griffin’s not a household name, but in lieu of being a Tom Petty, what will be my role as I get older? You have people like Rodney who have aged gracefully in a youth-driven industry and continued to be relevant and not sell out, so those are the people I look to. And I just hope that as far as Better Than Ezra goes, that we have a legacy of great songs and timeless production. Great music and great lyrics are timeless.
TSI: Looking forward to seeing you at the TLA on the 28th.
KG: Yeah, we love that venue. See you out there!
Irving Plaza 4/23/14 – TICKETS HERE
The TLA – 4/28/14 – TICKETS HERE