Alt-rockers Better Than Ezra became radio icons with ‘90s hits like “Good” and “Desperately Wanting”– and that was only the beginning. Since then, the band has continued to write, record, and tour while lead singer and founding member Kevin Griffin has lent his pen to a whole host of artists. Sugarland, James Blunt, Meat Loaf, Blondie, and fellow ‘90s stalwarts the Bare Naked Ladies are just a few of the artists Griffin has written or co-written for. On July 3rd, Better Than Ezra is coming to help Central Georgia rock n’ roll with the 37th Annual Independence Day Celebration Concert & Fireworks Show at McConnell-Talbert Stadium in Warner Robins. David Higdon from 100.5 The X sat down with Kevin to get his thoughts on the resurgence of ‘90s music and culture– and find out just what fans can expect from BTE in 2019!
DH- While Better Than Ezra might be from New Orleans, I have to point out that you guys have picked a hot time to come tour Georgia.
KG- While the band is from New Orleans, I am actually a native of Georgia. I was born in Atlanta, and I have a lot of roots in Georgia. I am rather aware that it is going to be a sultry evening when we play. Look, man, it doesn’t get any hotter, more humid, and teaming with mosquitoes than New Orleans– so Georgia will be brisk compared to that.
As a touring and radio staple of the ‘90s, Better Than Ezra has seen so much change in the industry… And probably the biggest changes being downloads vs. CDs, singles vs. albums, and the takeover of reality shows. How have you noticed the changes over the decades from an insider’s perspective?
It has really been cool to witness. Better Than Ezra had our start in the ‘90s– and arguably our heyday with radio and record sales– in the salad days of the old model of the record business when it was CDs and cassettes… And even albums to a lesser extent before streaming. It was great. Then we got to see the implosion of that model when Shawn Fanning and Napster came along. Then it was all the stealing of music through the bit torrents. In addition to doing Better Than Ezra, I write for a lot of people. I not only get to see this from the band’s perspective, but also through a lot of artists– from Howie Day to Train to Taylor Swift– and I see it from the trenches as it has gone from mechanical sales to streaming and Spotify and stuff. It has finally turned a corner to where people are doing the subscription services, and the record industry is making a lot of money again. Which is good for everybody because it means the songwriters get paid, the bands get paid, and you can afford to do what you love to do. It is still the Wild West out there. It has just been a fascinating ride to see how it changes and to also see how music changes. I have been working with a few younger bands, and I am getting some of the writing sessions because they want a ‘90s sound– which is crazy! I dig it. When I was making the music in the ‘90s, I was like, “This music will never sound like any time!” But now, I am like, “Yeah, it sounds like the ‘90s.” Which is cool.
(Laughs) Yeah, we see it here at 100.5 The X. It is like a second wave of listeners being exposed to the music from their parents or an older sibling. And we are seeing the surprising return of the style and the look from the ‘90s too.
Hopefully, wallet chains and mutton chops won’t come back– like I was kicking in the ‘90s. I had some bad shirt, shiny shirt choices. What is really interesting is baggy clothes… My 20-year-old wants all of my old clothes, and I am like, “Really? You want these clothes?” It is cyclical. People want what they don’t hear. Suddenly, that ‘90s sound– which was really just the sound of a stripped down band– is back. It is kind of refreshing, and it is a nice antidote to the over-produced music– which is still going on. In the alternative world, that ‘90s sound is definitely coming back.
One of the musical phenomenons of the ‘90s was the soundtrack… Every movie that came out had a soundtrack to it. Better Than Ezra was featured on Empire Records, An American Werewolf in Paris, and Dirty Work. It was this musical addition that really helped drive the movies’ success.
It was great because, with Empire Records, we used a B-side– a song called “Circle of Friends”. So it was a great way, if you were a hot band, to pull songs that didn’t make your album– and suddenly they had a new life, a life they would have never had. Also, you could get a Platinum record from a big soundtrack. I have an Empire Records plaque somewhere.
My buddy and I were talking about that soundtrack before this interview and just how well it holds up.
It does, and I really like to hear that. There are some current exceptions like the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.
That was big when it came out. But it is interesting… Just the concept of albums. Maybe it will come back with the return of vinyl, but it is just such a single-driven market now. You put the song that you want to hear– whether that is on Spotify… Well, you listen to radio, and of course, it is a single you are going to hear, but even at home, people stream a single that they want to hear. It changes and you just have to roll with it, and adapt with it, and find the good with whatever happens to be in fashion musically– and continue making music. There is always something cool in every new change, I found. I just love doing what we do. Better Than Ezra has changed, for better or for worse, and reflects our influences and what we are listening to musically.
Was there ever a Plan B for you guys should the band never have worked out? You guys are still releasing music, and in 2018 you released “Grateful.” Was there ever an alternative career path?
Yeah. You know I graduated from LSU, and I was gonna go to law school. I wanted to be in entertainment– but I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted security. At least I thought I did, but I didn’t know what that meant. I would be an entertainment lawyer or work in the movie industry. I was living in L.A. working for a big entertainment agency– CAA– while doing Better Than Ezra, and Better Than Ezra took off! After a while, I said, “Well, I guess I’m a musician. This is my career.” I think that we all do that. After a while, you just say, “Well, this is it. This is my career. I’m stuck!” Within this industry, I have continued to change and do new things, and it has been a blast.
I know that you have to run, but I have to ask– what is one of the strangest bills or festivals that you have ever found Better Than Ezra on?
Oh, I got you. There are a couple, and they are equally bizarre. One, we played a radio festival in Indianapolis, and we co-headlined with Rammstein.
(Laughs) It was crazy! But the more bizarre one…
Wait, more bizarre?
Yep, more bizarre. It was us and the Insane Clown Posse.
Geez. Yeah, that is more bizarre… I will give you that, Kevin.
It was in Albuquerque, and Albuquerque is bizarre. While it is a beautiful place full of hot air balloons, it is a bizarre live music town. We opened for them. It was just a crowd full of Juggalos, as their fans are known. I was playing– and in the ‘90s, I don’t know if you recall, but if you loved the band, people threw things at them. “I love this band! I am going to throw this water bottle at them!” I got hit in the face at that show with a full, wet roll of toilet paper. I mean, it hit me in the side of the face– and I was usually pretty good about dodging things. I have been hit by a Birkenstock, a Granny Smith apple… But all back then, it was just a way of saying, “I love you.” If you were headlining, you had better watch out. That is my memory. Just bizarre. ICP and Rammstein.
Those would be hard to top.
Those two? I would dare anybody to top those.
We are really excited to have you guys coming to Middle Georgia for the Warner Robins Independence Day Concert. What can someone new to seeing you guys live expect from a Better Than Ezra show?
You know, we cut our teeth performing in the Southeast. We had to put on a great show because that is how we supported ourselves before we had a record deal. It is just a fun show. It [will be] Better Than Ezra hits… We pull out new covers– whether those are new covers or a classic cover– lots of crowd participation, getting people to come up on stage and play with us, and we just have a blast. That is why we are still playing, and why we are still around. It is always changing, and it is always fun. You see people walk away having had fun, and saying, “Wow, I can’t believe that they did that… That was awesome!” July 3rd will be no exception.
Well, Kevin, we are excited that Better Than Ezra is coming to town, and I wanted to ask if there was a song that is in your catalog that you have ever wanted to showcase or had wished had been a single.
Oh, dude, a great song is “One Heart Beating” off of our 2014 record, All Together Now. “One Heart Beating” is a great song!