The mid-’90s were filled with amazing music. Sandwiched between grunge and nu-metal, the music of this time period was filled with unforgettable tracks that had huge hooks, tasty licks, and unforgettable lyrics. One of the biggest anthems of this era was “Good” by Better than Ezra. One of the all-time great earworms, “Good” is undeniably infectious, and if you don’t find yourself singing along to it when it’s on the radio you may need to reevaluate your life. (Okay, that might be harsh, but come on, “Good” is an amazing song).
While “Good” may be their calling card, Kevin Griffin and Better Than Ezra are no one-hit wonder. The band has successfully toured the roads maintaining a rabid fan base, and releasing a well-received new record All Together Now in 2014. Griffin has gone on to become an in-demand songwriter — writing for such acts as: Howie Day, Sugarland, Christina Perri, Barenaked Ladies, and others. The band is also curating their first festival, The Pilgrimage Festival this fall in Tennessee. Now the band is on the road with the 90s-fueled nostalgia tour, Under the Sun,
We recently caught up with Kevin Griffin, as the band preps for their show at The Stone Pony Summer Stage tonight to talk about Pigrimage, new BTE music, and that much talked-about supergroup he formed with Mark McGrath and Uncle Kracker.
I know you guys are busy touring right now, but instead of the Under the Sun tour, it should really be called ‘The Nostalgia Tour.’
Well you know, I think that’s there no way you can’t have an element of nostalgia to a tour. Back in our hay day, in the mid and late nineties, we’ve been more active than others and putting out albums so fans perceive that as fans do. We’ve been doing this a long time, and that’s just how music is. It brings back memories.
Since you brought up the ’90s, I feel that alternative rock is not necessarily similar but I feel it was less collective as it is now back then. Do you think that this generation of listeners will have that same feeling of nostalgia for the music of today as they do for the nineties music?
It’s funny, when you’re in something as I was, making music back then, you think, “Wow, there are so many sub genres” and how could that ever see nostalgia. But now, when I listen to music like that it really does have a specific sound. Whether you are listening to a Bjork song, a Marcy Playground song, or a Chemical brothers song — those were considered sub genres in the alternative music for bands that were more collective. I think that you will for sure hear that type of nostalgia in songs today, whether you are listening to Twenty One Pilots song or Cage the Elephant song, 20 years from now it will have the nostalgic feel as Better than Ezra has now. That said, I actually think a group of bands now are trying to have a nineties sound, or that collective thing going for them, like Twenty One Pilots, Cage the Elephant, or Band of Horses. They kind of have a more stripped down thing, kind of like a band playing. But you know with a different production style and approach.
It’s interesting how you put it, I never really thought of it like that. I’m part of the generation that both listens to ’90s music, like Better Than Ezra, and music today. I’m not at the stage yet where I only listen to music that came out in the ’90s. So I’m somewhere in the middle.
I’m actually the same. Maybe its because its my job, cause most of what I do these days is write and produce for younger artists. Its kind of to a fault, (laughs). But the only reason I listen to Lithium [on SiriusXM] is because my sons love listening to Lithium. They are into Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Cake. I’m always like, “Really, you guys listen to this?”
I feel like you are in a position though to say, “Hey I lived this, you have to listen to this.”
(Laughs) I’m more like, if I hear him listening to Weezer or Radiohead. I’m like, “If you dig this, listen to The Pixies, that’s where Weezer go their sound.” You, that kind of the stuff I will do that to him.
That’s great! I never really had that because I don’t really have musician parents, so they kind of just listened to music and weren’t like you have to listen to this, but were like, “Well I’m listening to this and so are you because you are also in the car.” It was stuff like Frank Sinatra and I loved that.
I don’t push music on my kids because I really want them to like it, and I feel the more you want them to do something they kind of rebel. They give me an opening to have them check out songs.
This is the 25th anniversary of your debut album. What inspires you guys to keep creating new music? How do you keep it fresh and still experiment?
You have to be inspired by what is influencing you to influence others. I haven’t lost my excitement and enthusiasm for new music and hopefully it wont ever get old to me. This last album, stuff we’ve written in the past few years, has all these influences of stuff I’m listening to. Like, Band of Horses and Dawes, all that stuff, there’s so much cool music. I produce a lot of stuff, but we brought in Tony Hoffer to help produce the record. He’s done bands like Beck, Goldfrapp, The Kooks, The Killers. This guy just makes bad ass cool music, and we needed someone who would have a different approach and bring a fresh aspect to the music. We were lucky, because we had a friend of a friend who happened to know Tony, actually managed him, and went up to LA one day, talked to him and he loved it. We all do different things in music, its not only Better Than Ezra anymore, and as long as people and musicians still want to listen to our songs and have me write than we will still do it, because at the end of the day we are just a band, we love it and you do what you love. This new album is great and our new single, “Crazy Lucky,” is our highest streamed Spotify song and is selling more right now. Those are great things and getting new fans and seeing new faces, and having fans that want to hear new songs, so that’s interesting and fun. You have to make songs that are important to you, and you learn that this is what Better Than Ezra looks like 25 years along.
You nailed so many of my questions, which is great! (Laughs) Especially about Dawes, I love those guys and could talk to you about them all day.
Check this out, two of my partners and I are doing the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival, which you can check out over at Pilgrimagefestival.com, and its on September 26 and 27. The lineup is Wilco, Willie Nelson, Weezer, Decembrists, Dawes, Dr. John, Cage the Elephant, Lucius, and a lot more.
That’s a sick lineup.
That’s for sure the best lineup you will ever see. We took what we loved about the New Orleans Jazz Festival and transported it to Franklin, Tennessee, with a beautiful walking horse farm right on the street.
You just named my iPod, so that’s pretty cool (Laughs).
I know right (Laughs).
You’re getting a lot of shit for it, the collaboration between you, Sugar Ray, and Uncle Cracker [Uncle Ezra Ray]…How did that come about?
Actually, we are getting a lot of shit for it from music blogs, but some people in magazines, like Entertainment Weekly or USA Today, and other outlets that love it. The thing is, I actually wrote the song for Florida Georgia Line but I missed the cut off for that. It was just going to lay around on a hard drive. Then when we heard about the tour and we booked it, I was like, “Let’s do something that no other band has done before and all get together, and record vocals for this thing” and make just a big stupid summer, country/pop, thing with no subtly to it at all. It’s hilarious cause of all the response we’ve gotten for it. We knew, however, that it would be a lay up for some people to diss it when we made it, its an easy target. To us, its music and it’s its own animal. It would have been a good title on our blog to name it, “It Came from the Nineties.”
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We finish this tour on August 29th, then I spend September putting the finishing touches on this music festival, The Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival, which again you can check out on Pilgrimagemusicfestival.com, and that’s what we are doing.
Last year I did a Christmas song to emulate the hey day Christmas rock groups of the ’80s like Band-Aid and stuff like that. So we got together and put together what we called The Band of Merry Makers, with other bands like Lady Antebellum, Neon Trees, Fitz and the Tantrums, and all these bands and we put it out on an indie record label in Brooklyn called The End Records. Long story short, it did really well and got really good press and then Sony Records signed us to an album deal and we just finished that. So look out this coming November/ December because I’ll be doing press for The Band of Merry Makers, a whole album from Sony and all proceeds go to the charitable arm of the Grammys.
Better Than Ezra performs on The Under the Sun Tour with Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker, and Eve 6 today at The Stone Pony Summer Stage. Click here for tickets.
Al Mannarino is the managing editor for Pop-Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History and is currently a Promotions Assistant for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino