Better Than Ezra,
The TVD Interview

When you’re as “Good” as Better Than Ezra, producing hits and selling out shows comes pretty naturally, really.

Shortly after 1988, the year BTE took root on Louisiana State University’s campus, the band went from college circuit stardom to national fame with their platinum-selling single “Good,” almost overnight. And with later smashing successes “Desperately Wanting” and “Juicy,” among other radio-ready anthems, the New Orleans-based outfit has since become a staple in the early millennium pop rock scene.

The band was among countless similarly styled acts to rise to popularity in the late ‘90s—Semisonic, Third Eye Blind, Matchbox Twenty, to name a few. But twenty-five years, seven albums, and several chart-toppers later, Better Than Ezra has continued to maintain a lively presence in the music community and a large base of loyal fans, outlasting many if not all of their contemporaries.

After recently debuting “Crazy Lucky,” their first single since 2009’s Paper Empire, the trio announced the impending release of a new album and tour. In this TVD Interview, founding member, lead vocalist, and guitarist Kevin Griffin tells us about the story behind BTE’s new single, the band’s decision to return to recording, and their commitment to evolving—to becoming a better than ever Better Than Ezra, and keeping fans smitten.

You released your new single, “Crazy Lucky,” last month. What’s the story behind the song?

I was writing it with [producer and composer] Nolan Sipe, and he came in with the idea of a song called “Crazy Lucky.” At first I was like, that sounds a little too kind of “generic pop” of a title to me. But I was like, it rolls off the tongue well, so what if we use the title to talk about this serendipitous nature of love and life. For this song it would be about love, about how random the things that bring you together are.

I went online and Googled how many people there are in the world; it’s 6.78 billion people. So suddenly we made our first line of the song: “There six and three-quarter billion people in this world.” Really we were just sort of Googling different questions and trying to illustrate how random life is, and how happenstance it is, the things that bring you together. Once you’re together it feels like you’re meant to be, but in reality it was just pure luck, or serendipity as they say. But yeah, I knew if I had a title like that, I wanted to have some clever lyric in the song, and I love the way it came out.

This is your first single in five years. Why now?

The worldwide demand for a new single was so great, we felt like we had to. There was no other choice… I’m jesting. I don’t know, I think that there was a time when all that the guys and I did was Better Than Ezra, 24/7, but then you get older and there are other things you’re doing, whether it’s other business pursuits or family things, so there was more time in between our albums.

Also, when you’ve had a band for a while, you’ve made a lot of albums and you want the albums you make to be great. Otherwise what’s the point in doing it? You don’t want to make an album that’s going to be put against your other output that isn’t good. So it takes us awhile to put together an album we think stands next to what we’ve done in the past, but is also inspired and different.

So, really it has just taken us this long, really that’s kind of it. And also fans wanting new music, us being on the road and being like fuck, we need to put something new out. Recording an album, and recording it well and having different layers, like we like our albums to have, is very labor-intensive and time-consuming. And it can be expensive if you want to work with certain people. So I think all those things conspired for it to take a while, but better late than never.

You guys collaborated with Grammy-nominated producer Tony Hoffer for this record. What was it like working with him?

Tony is a pleasure to work with. He has a great studio in Highland Park, L.A., and you know he’s kind of a green producer. He’s done many of my favorite albums, whether it was Beck’s Midnite Vultures, or Guero, or Belle & Sebastian albums or Kooks albums, the Fratellis’ album, Fitz and Tantrums’ stuff, the M83 record, he makes cool records and I love his personal taste.

If it was left to our own devices, if I’m producing it like we’ve done the last album and pretty much the one before that, it’s just going to sound like me. As much I don’t want to say it would, it would sound like our other stuff. We just want it to sound fresh and new, and relevant. You need new influences when you’re creating stuff, otherwise you just get stale, like wow, you sound like you did in 1998. We don’t want that. So, Tony was the perfect guy.

This will be your eighth album. The record is set to release this summer, right?

Yes it is. We want the single to get to a certain spot to where there’s some visibility. The record is almost finished. We’re just mixing the last two songs. Then we’ll be putting it out and touring this fall.

You said you wanted to produce an album that’s new and fresh, so how is this album different from previous albums?

I think that the songs have new influences. Every band is a sum of their influences, and hopefully the things that inspired you, you take and present in new ways so you have your own sound. That’s definitely the way it was for us when we started, and it’s no different now that we’ve been doing this for so long.

I’m a voracious listener of music, and always getting inspired by new bands and going back and finding stuff that’s old to listen to. I’m always like I want this to sound like this part or that to sound like that part. So I think that just influence-wise, the album is fresh in that respect, and also production-wise, it’s about using less instruments to do more. In the past maybe it’s been super guitar-heavy, and that’s not the way it is with this album. The guitar is there, but it’s not the thing that’s going to make up the chorus. We’re using different instrumentation for a more modern approach than what you’re hearing these days.

Do you do all the songwriting?

I do. Tom [Drummond] has collaborated with me on one of the songs, and there’s a group of guys I work with on different stuff beside Better Than Ezra and who have worked with me on this record too.

You also write for many other bands and artists as well. Is songwriting still an active pursuit for you?

Yeah, it’s what I do on a daily basis. It keeps me inspired and keeps things fresh.

You mentioned the challenge of keeping up with times. Better Than Ezra has been together for more than 25 years now, so how does the band stay relevant in the music industry’s ever-changing landscape?

For me, you know, the well you draw from for creativity is a finite well, and you’ve got to keep being inspired to stay creative, to stay relevant. Otherwise you stagnate, you start making music that sounds dated. That’s just not my M.O. I like to always evolve and grow musically. It’s kind of always a journey for me. And I think that’s why people still love our music, and why this new song is getting at it all over the country. We want to work with people who are cool, who have a fresh approach to our music, who may not like our old albums because of the production, who would do something different. That’s what we got with Tony.

Better Than Ezra is known for its loyal fan base of “Ezralites.” How have you maintained contact with your fans since your last record?

We’ve been in the public eye through our events and our charity that we do, and really that’s how we’ve stayed in touch with our fans. Keeping our fan base interested is key, and it’s worked for us over the past few years.

You guys have experienced many changes over the years. So what does Better Than Ezra look like moving forward?

Keeping our nose to the grindstone and continuing to do what we do, but trying to do it better. We love playing music together, and that will never end. Better Than Ezra will always be around, as long as we’re kicking I guess. I’m 45, so we’ve still got a ways [laughs]. Just continuing to make good music, hopefully fresh music that’s interesting to our fans, and continuing to find new ways to connect with people and do what we love to do—and make a difference while we’re doing it.

Better Than Ezra will be on tour this spring and fall. Their long-awaited eighth studio album, featuring “Crazy Lucky” is slated for release this summer 2014.

Better Than Ezra Official | Facebook | Twitter
PHOTO: GREG MILES

Better Than Ezra Spring 2014 Tour Dates
4/23 – New York, NY, Irving Plaza 

4/24 – Boston, MA, Paradise Rock Club

4/26 – Westbury NY, The Space at Westbury

4/27 – Washington, DC, 9:30 Club 

4/28 – Philadelphia, PA, Theatre of the Living Arts

4/30 – Atlanta, GA, Variety Playhouse

5/3 – New Orleans, LA, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
6/7 – Biloxi, MS, Golden Nugget 

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