Better Than Ezra discusses perserverance, Cheap Trick and OTW

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11236943379473.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of’, ‘Rockers Better Than Ezra take the Waterfront stage at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 4.’);

Group’s lead singer discusses his band’s journey and invites Cheap Trick to join them on stage

Kevin Griffin, lead singer of rockers Better Than Ezra, could easily be mistaken for a Rockford resident. He’s an avid fan of Cheap Trick, and his never-say-die attitude is remarkably similar to the Forest City’s blue collar mentality.

Though Griffin calls New Orleans home, you might not guess that from the conversation he had with The Rock River Times last week. He reveals his secrets to musical longevity, talks about life in The Big Easy and even invites some hometown heroes to party—On The Waterfront style.

The Rock River Times (TRRT): You guys are coming to Rockford for our On The Waterfront Festival. It’s a big annual thing we do…

KG: Oh, cool. Is it a one-day or is it a series?

TRRT: It’s a three-day over Labor Day weekend.

KG: Oh, fun!

TRRT: And you guys are one of the big bands this year. What do you know or what have you heard about Rockford, Ill.?

KG: One thing I know is that Rockford is where Brad Wood is from—he’s a producer (who) produced with Liz Phair and Smashing Pumpkins, and produced our 2001 album. So that’s one thing I know. Cheap Trick is from there, right?

TRRT: That’s correct. And they’re playing that same festival with you guys actually.

KG: So that’s all you need to know!

TRRT: You’re from New Orleans, but I know that for a while, you also called Los Angeles home. Which city has been more influential?

KG: We were only in L.A. maybe three years, but it was a great learning experience. I’d say what influenced us the most is New Orleans, without a doubt. But L.A. did make us grow up much faster. We were just kind of naïve and green …. And we quickly learned what people expect of bands and what level of performance you need to be at to be taken seriously.

TRRT: You guys were a band before, during and after the “alternative movement.” Why do you think you guys have been able to keep going when a lot of other bands have given up?

KG: It really comes down to that we just didn’t quit. It sounds like a cliché, but to persevere in this business is key. Nothing has ever come easy to our band, really. It took us seven years before we got signed. And it was really because, like you said, we were there before commercial alternative rock became big and the Q101s of the world sprung up. We finally got signed when that was really big. I think it’s just that we’ve stuck around, and we continue to make good music. We did a show two years ago with Aerosmith and the interviewer talking to Steven Tyler said, “What do you attribute your success over all these years to?” And (Tyler) said: “We didn’t quit. We just kept playing.” And there’s so much truth to that. A lot of other bands that were as talented as or more talented than this band just quit playing or quit caring, or they got bitter or cynical—and that’s the kiss of death in this business, when you start becoming jaded.

TRRT: Your original guitarist, Joel, committed suicide early on with the band, in 1990. How did that impact you then, and how has it affected you in the years since then?

KG: It affected me more on a personal level than a band level. It made me grow up a lot more and realize how fragile life is. It was actually kind of the reason I got out of town and went to L.A. I don’t think about it on a daily basis, but it certainly made me value my friends and appreciate the precarious nature of life. But I’ve had my time of mourning over that, so it’s better.

TRRT: Your band, and you specifically, have been through a lot. When you talk about losing Joel or later on, troubles with Elektra (Records)…

KG: We’ve had deaths, we’ve been dropped, we’ve had lawsuits—it’s crazy! All the clichéd things of a rock band, and you’re like, “Wow!” You think that nothing’s going to happen to us, then you start to reflect, and you realize we’ve pretty much been through all the things that are not supposed to happen to a band. People can tell you things like that are going to happen. But it’s just like having a little brother or a child: No matter how much you tell them these things are going to happen, they have to figure them out for themselves. And, hopefully, we’ve gained some perspective and character out of the whole thing and learned from them and not make the same mistakes.

TRRT: How do you keep your motivation high, though? Knowing all the turmoil you’ve dealt with, clichéd or not—bands have broken up over less. …What’s your motivation after 18 years?

KG: One thing you realize is that you’re a musician and you’re not doing it just to get signed, you’re not doing it for platinum albums, and you’re not doing it to be rich. Hopefully, you attain those things, but when those things are taken away, you realize “I’m a musician; I’m going to do this regardless.” And that’s the motivation.

TRRT: On The Waterfront is coming up in a few weeks. Why should people come out and check out your live show?

KG: Honestly, we put on a great live show. We’re not a band that just plays their hits and stands there. There’s banter and shtick and it’s a show. It’s not just a band playing. I think people that have seen us before can attest to that. I think it’s the reason why we’re still around. People may not buy our new album, but they come because they know they’re going to be entertained, and the Waterfront show will be no exception.

TRRT: Is there anything that you wanted to add or anything I left out that you wanted to talk about?

KG: (long pause) We’ve shared the stage with them before, but an open invite to any of the guys in Cheap Trick, if they want to come hang and jam with us on stage, they’re invited. That’s an example of a band—they are career artists. They’re just a great band. They’re entertainers.

Better Than Ezra plays the Great Lawn Stage at this year’s On The Waterfront Festival at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 4. Tickets are $24.50 in advance, or $31.50 at the gate. More info, visit or

From the Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue

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