Better than Ezra performs at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Better than Ezra performs at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Amy Harris

Better than Ezra will join an all star cast of musicians as The Rock Boat XVII sets sail Feb. 10-15, 2017 from Tampa to Mexico and Belize.  Better than Ezra has been on the alternative rock scene since the 90’s when they released their albums Deluxe and Friction Baby. AXS caught up with lead singer Kevin Griffin to discuss new music, what to expect onboard the ship and what is next for the band in 2017. There is still time to get onboard the boat so don’t miss this opportunity to join the party with some of your favorite bands on the high seas.

AXS: What are you most excited about as you join the lineup on the Rock Boat?

Kevin Griffin: It will be great to see all the bands. I am also looking forward to seeing a lot of the same faces that run the Rock Boat and do the production because I work with a lot of them throughout the year on dry land. You get to spend quality time with those people you normally don’t see throughout the year. I am looking forward to escaping winter and having a week’s respite away from February and be on a new cruise ship. It will be a lot of fun.

AXS: Are you planning any big collaboration onboard?

KG: Better than Ezra is famous for getting other bands on stage. I’m sure we will do something with Sister Hazel and other bands onboard. You never know what may happen.

AXS: You are currently living in Nashville. I am sure you moved to Nashville for the songwriting opportunities. Tell me a little bit day to day about being a songwriter in Nashville right now.

KG: The cool thing is I moved here six years ago from L.A. I left New Orleans after Katrina because I was already writing a lot in L.A. and Katrina hit. Then about six years ago, the writing was on the wall, that my business, the music industry was moving to Nashville and it wasn’t just Country anymore. It was Pop and Rock writers, and publishing people. The labels were all setting up non-Country entities in Nashville. Fast forward six years, the last couple years you have seen the tipping point where Nashville is the place to be for songwriting. There is always something going on, always a show or showcase or some type of event in Nashville. It is beyond anywhere on the planet. The amount of amazing songs that get written here on a daily basis is pretty staggering and also intimidating because there are so many great writers here and you have to bring you’re A game.

AXS: I see Better than Ezra at New Orleans Jazz Fest every year. Why is that a special event for you to play year after year?

KG: It is the marquee event of the year. You want to represent your city and your region by playing Jazz Fest. We still play small venues, we never played big arenas; it was always theaters and bars. There are a lot of fans of Better Than Ezra in New Orleans and south Louisiana who don’t get to see us because we play in bars. Jazz Fest is an opportunity for us to play to an all ages’ audience. A lot of people tell us they come to Jazz Fest to see us. It is just a tradition for us. I love the festival. It is the reason why I started Pilgrimage Festival in Nashville.

AXS: I attended the first Pilgrimage Festival. It is a beautiful atmosphere in middle Tennessee. It felt like you brought New Orleans to Nashville with Dr. John and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Why did you start the festival when there are so many music festivals now? What sets it apart?

KG: I founded it because I took a run from my house and found myself out in Harlinsdale Farm a mile from my house and found one of the coolest, most beautiful settings for a festival, rolling hills, natural amphitheaters, 15 miles from downtown, and a mile and a half from I-65 in Music City. It is funny that we are having this conversation. I grew up going to Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and there was not a festival in Nashville like Jazz Fest, this multi-genre that celebrates all the music of southern Louisiana, the best cuisines, the best merchants, the best artisans, super specific about the area. That wasn’t being done in Nashville, in a Music City, there was a need for this more boutique festival. That was the idea.

Otherwise, why do it in a super saturated market? That instinct was right and people embraced the festival. People couldn’t believe we were able to do it. The only competition we have around here is Bonnaroo. Bonnaroo is a totally amazing, but it is a totally different in a different time of year. Ours is more curated and a more refined music experience. We have this amazing children’s area that is mind blowing. It is just great what we do for kids. What we are showing people is a cool, edgy music festivals that is family friendly. They can co-exist in the same setting and that is where we are at.

AXS: How do you choose whom you are going to write with in Nashville?

KG: You usually have a couple writers in mind. I’ll write with an artist and will be writing for them. Today we are writing with a few songwriters and we will write for whoever is cutting. This will be a Country write and we will see what happens. These writers will get a lot of Tim McGraw cuts or we will do a Tim McGraw pitch.

AXS: I know you love Neil Young. Have you ever played with him?

KG: No I haven’t. I am a massive Neil Young fan and I would love to. I would love the opportunity to meet him but it just hasn’t happened. One day it will. I have come close a couple times and the routing hasn’t worked.

AXS: What else do you have in store for 2017?

KG: I have a solo record that will be coming out in the Fall 2017 and Pilgrimage Festival 2017 will happen again. I play with The Band of Merrymakers. We just did the Today Show and the Christmas tree lighting in New York. It is a band I put together with another songwriter, Sam Hollander who has written a lot of hits. He has “Hand Clap” on the charts right now. He and I got members of Fitz and the Tantrums and Lady Antebellum and a few others to do this big collaborative so that is something that continues. We will be very busy in 2017.

For full coverage of The Rock Boat, click here.