On Sunday, Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. PT/1 a.m. ET, Yahoo Live will live stream Better Than Ezra's concert from the House of Blues in Anaheim. Tune in HERE to watch!
New Orleans-spawned trio Better Than Ezra may be best known for its 1995 modern rock chart-topper "Good," but in the nearly two decades since then, the band has remained active and is now on the road supporting its recently released eighth album, All Together Now.
While you might have missed some releases between now and then, a fan named Taylor Swift has not. She covered the band's 2005 track "Breathless" in 2010 at the Hope for Haiti Benefit concert, while other performers opted for such classics as Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
"That was really cool," says Better Than Ezra singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin. Even before Swift's big performance, Griffin caught wind through message boards that the country-pop star was covering "Our Last Night," which, like "Breathless," is from the band's 2005 album Before the Robots. "She was already big, but she wasn't like a worldwide megastar like she is now," Griffin says. "I heard she was performing it and then I saw her at the BMI Awards and came up and said hello. We had a rapport going and she told me she was really into that record. It's always flattering when someone covers your music, especially when it's a megastar like Taylor. We stay in touch. I'd love to write with her sometime, but we've just never gotten around to it."
Meanwhile, Swift and Better Than Ezra seem to be doing quite well on their own. While All Together Now might not be getting the attention of Swift's "Shake It Off," the former is chock-full of catchy, smart pop songs. Still, Griffin is well aware that for a good part of the public, Better Than Ezra — which also includes original bassist Tom Drummond and a 2009 recruit, drummer Michael Jerome — is seen as a nostalgia act.
"There's going to be a nostalgia aspect, obviously," Griffin admits. "There are a few bands that are so big they transcend the decade they're from, like Coldplay or Radiohead, but for most of us, we're pegged to the time we had our big hits, so we'll always be a '90s band. But that's cool. I don't have a problem with that. Maybe I did for a little while, but still I want to be fresh and relevant and have some connection to what's happening now. I'm not ready to do [the '90s-themed] Summerland Tour. I love those guys in Everclear, but I'd rather do our own show."
As Griffin points out, Better Than Ezra's influences have changed over the years. "For better or worse, our records have always reflected who we were listening to at the time," he says. "In the beginning we were listening to R.E.M. and the Pixies, and you can hear that." Now, Griffin says he's listening to such newer acts as the War on Drugs, Dawes, and White Denim, as well as such classic favorites as Talking Heads, Roxy Music, Television, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
And true to Griffin's words, the influence of some of those acts can be heard on All Together Now. "If you listen to a song like 'The Great Unknown' off the new record, there's a five-part harmony happening in the chorus, which I never would have done had I not been listening to [CSN&Y's] Deja Vu." Griffin also notes that "I Fly Away," also from the new album, was influenced by the big production of the band fun. "I've always kind of regurgitated what I'm into in our band's songs," he says.
"Crazy Lucky," the album's catchy, opening track, is currently getting airplay on top 40/Hot AC charts. Producer Tony Hoffer, known for his work with Beck, M83, the Kooks, and Belle & Sebastian, also had a huge role in shaping the sound of All Together Now, Griffin says. "Working with a new producer and giving him the reins also keeps it fresh for me, relevant and exciting," he says. "If I had produced the record, it's going to sound like old Better Than Ezra. I'm just not interested in doing that again. We've done that."
Aside from the production, All Together Now also features Griffin's brilliant storytelling, which includes the couplets, "Now daddy's girl is crying in an elegant wedding dress/'Cause she's starting to show but the baby ain't his" in "Insane," to the vivid tale of a trip to Burning Man in "The Great Unknown." Of the latter song, Griffin says he's never been to the giant desert party, but he knows so folks who have. "When I lived in L.A., I lived in Silver Lake, and several months before all my neighbors would start building stuff," he says. "One neighbor had this crazy '70s van that had this scaffolding around it. They built this amazing thing. They were selling some type of edibles."
Elsewhere, the band recreates a snippet of Redbone's '70s hit "Come and Get Your Love" on "Dollar Sign," which was written more than a year ago. "It's such a great song and a great hook," Griffin says of the Redbone hit. "Nobody had played it much at all, and of course now it's in Guardians of the Galaxy and it starts the f---ing movie. I was like, 'F--!'"
While not working with the band, Griffin works as a songwriter who's written for other acts ranging from Sugarland and Howie Day to Missy Higgins and David Cook, but he still loves to tour with Better Than Ezra.
"I love getting on the road with Erza," he says. "We're going to go out and get old-school with this record and get into the bus and tour all over the place, especially next summer. But rather than be a road dog at 45 years old, mostly what I prefer to do these days is to be home with my three boys
and my wife in Franklin, Tennessee, and be writing 10-to-3. That's really satisfying."