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Q&A: Better Than Ezra

Better Than Ezra, which quickly became a staple in the ’90s alt-rock scene following their debut album "Deluxe" in 1995, is still “GRATEFUL” to be touring and staying in touch with industry trends.

G.K. Hizer
January 28, 2019

With the latest updates to Osage Casino Hotel near downtown Tulsa, the opening of the Skyline Event Center called for a special show to celebrate. With a little ingenuity and creative thinking, organizers were able to pair up a couple of the ‘90s biggest hit-makers for a double bill that will not only showcase the new venue, but Osage’s bid to raise the bar once again in the entertainment field. By pairing up Goo Goo Dolls and Better Than Ezra, the night’s bill will feature nearly 20 Top 10 hits on the United States charts and four No. 1 singles, representing a nice cross-section of alt-rock and pop hits.

Perhaps one of the best examples of the ‘90s alt-rock scene is Better Than Ezra, the indie-rock band from Louisiana that finally got signed to a major label in 1995 and immediately had one of the biggest hits of the year with “Good.” The band ran with that success, releasing six more studio albums and touring tirelessly ever since. And although there have been a couple of member changes, the band has never stopped playing and enjoying the ride.

We were able to catch up with founding member and bassist Tom Drummond to get a glimpse of what’s kept Better Than Ezra running hot for three decades.

Q. It’s hard to keep a band together, yet the core of Better Than Ezra, you and Kevin Griffin, have been together over 25 years. How do you keep that going?
A. Actually, it’s been 25 years since Elektra released Deluxe. We’ve been a band for over 30 years now. I always say it took us seven years to get signed and seven weeks to go No. 1 — that’s one of my favorite quotes. Honestly, it’s a lot like a marriage — there’s a lot of give and take. But seriously, how hard is it to do anything for 25 years? I think, first of all, you have to enjoy what you’re doing — and we love playing.

We feel like we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, and it’s kind of taken care of itself. We just had one of our most successful tours with Barenaked Ladies this past summer. We played to more people and bigger crowds than we ever have and now we’re seeing a new generation of fans showing up.

Q. Along those lines, how do you keep up that relationship with your audience for such a long career?
A. I think that with the public, it really boils down to our live shows. We’ve always been a touring band, so you have to put on a show that people want to see over and over. You’ve got to play the hits and give the people what they want. Sure, you need to mix it up and make it fun, but some bands only want to play the new stuff that the fans may not know yet and not play the hits. I’ve been to those shows, and if people go home disappointed because they didn’t hear their favorite songs, what’s the point?

For me, it’s about going out there and giving your best, because people want to see you and hear the songs that mean something to them. You need to make it fun and a good experience for your fans.

Q. How do you approach your growth and evolution, musically?
A. We’ve had a lot of fans say Friction, Baby (1996) was the best rock album of the ‘90s. I think the big difference is it took us seven years to get to the point where Deluxe (1993) could come out. We recorded that album for $5,000, which is crazy to think about now. With Friction, it was really our first time to go into the studio with a real budget, a real producer, proper mixing and everything, so it was a real learning experience and a chance to try new things. It was also a chance to try and capture what the band really sounded and felt like live, which was our goal. The producer understood that and I think we did a good job at capturing that energy.

I think that with Deluxe, a lot of people love the songs and the time and place that it all captures for them, plus there’s a new band quotient and a certain excitement and newness that you can’t really recapture. For us, it felt like more of what the band truly was live. Part of that was because we tracked everything live in the studio.

We just released a 25th anniversary, vinyl edition of Deluxe, which is really cool for us. It’s also crazy to think that it’s been 25 years.

Q. Although the band has always evolved sonically from album to album, it’s still all deniably Better Than Ezra. What, in your mind, defines the BTE sound?
A. Part of it is Kevin’s voice, because he’s got a distinct sound, but I think the other part is the selection of songs and material. Typically, Kevin brings some ideas and melodies and we work through those to see what works. No matter how you dress it up, it comes down to, “Is this a good song?”

We listen to our contemporaries and what’s current, then take from what we like and think fits what we do. In that way, we try to stay current and keep evolving as we go. Then, of course, Kevin’s voice always ties it all together.

Q. Last year, you released the single “GRATEFUL.” Is that a signal of where the band is currently at musically? And does that signal more music in the pipeline?
A. Yes, that’s pretty much representative of where we’re at right now and there is more music in the pipeline, but we’re not ready to release it yet. We’re trying to decide how to release it. Do we want to release it as a single every six months or release an album? An album makes more sense creatively, but doesn’t really make sense economically, because it’s cycling back to being a singles-driven music industry. The old-school guys don’t get it, which is why the big labels are struggling, but it makes the most sense to release singles right now. That’s what people are listening to right now, so why not give people the best of the best every few months?

Q. How has digital distribution and sales changed how you approach the industry and releasing your music?
A. It’s really just a different set of problems. Back when Elektra put out Deluxe, the concern was that it was selling so fast they couldn’t keep it in stock. If someone goes to buy your album and it’s not there, what are the chances they’ll come back to get your record later? Probably not too good. To that extent, it’s solved that problem and made it easy to get your music right away. The flip side of that is that now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has an album out, so there’s way more competition. You need a way to get people’s attention and to get your music to them. You really need a publicist, which is kind of what the label has become at this point. In the end, though, a hit song is what gets people’s attention, so it still all goes back to writing great songs.

Goo Goo Dolls and Better Than Ezra
Skyline Event Center | Osage Casino Hotel
951 W. 36th St. N. | Tulsa
Feb. 16: 8 p.m.
Must be 18 or older to attend