Better Than Ezra is an American alternative rock trio based in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In addition to vocalist, chief songwriter and guitarist Kevin Griffin from Monroe, Louisiana, the other current members of Better Than Ezra as of February 2009 are bassist and background vocalist Tom Drummond and drummer Michael Jerome, who joined the band in 2009. In addition, James Arthur Payne accompanies the band on tour, singing background vocals and playing supplemental guitar and keyboard accompaniment.
Formation and early success
Better Than Ezra was formed in 1988 by its four original members - vocalist and guitarist Kevin Griffin; Joel Rundell, the lead guitarist; bassist Tom Drummond; and drummer, Cary Bonnecaze. All four members were attending Louisiana State University at the time of Better Than Ezra's formation. Their first practice also took place in 1988, shortly after the band's formation. Better Than Ezra's first public performance was in a bar in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, also in 1988. Though many theories abound, the band refuses to disclose the origin of its name. Fans of the group often refer to themselves as Ezralites.
Better Than Ezra circulated a demo cassette tape later in 1988, the Chimes Street Demo. While not an official release, this demo is sought-after by the band's fans, and traded by collectors. In 1989 the band released a cassette-only album, Surprise.
Joel Rundell, the band's lead guitarist died of a suicide on August 8, 1990. The remaining three members of the band took some time off to reassess its future following Rundell's death. However, Griffin, Drummond and Bonnecaze reunited Better Than Ezra as a trio by the end of 1990. The trio continued playing house parties and fraternity shows across The South during the early 1990s.
The band released its first nationally-distributed album Deluxe in 1993 on its own indie label, Swell Records, which caught the attention of major record labels and radio. Better Than Ezra signed with Elektra Records in 1995. Elektra Records rereleased Deluxe in 1995 and the single, "Good", reached the #1 position on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart which helped push the album to platinum record status by the end of 1995. Deluxe ultimately became a multi-platinum album, which denotes sales of two million or more units.
Success came quickly to Better Than Ezra. Tom Drummond commented later in a 1998 interview with CNN, "It took us seven years to get signed, and then seven weeks to get to No. 1." when describing the overnight success of Deluxe and its single "Good".
1996 - 2000
After Deluxe's major label release, original drummer Cary Bonnecaze left the band in 1996. He was replaced by drummer Travis McNabb, formerly of the band Vigilantes of Love, who was tapped to play on the band's upcoming album, Friction Baby. Bonnecaze's departure set off a series of law suits and counter-suits between Bonnecaze and Better Than Ezra. Bonnecaze, who brought his suit to the United States District Court in New Orleans, argued that the band owed him money "based on his role in fortifying the band's reputation," according to Rolling Stone. He asked for approximately $1 million dollars in damages. A settlement was reached between the band and Bonnecaze on August 5, 1999, while a jury was simultaneously deliberating on the lawsuit. The exact terms of the settlement were not released at the time, though Better Than Ezra's manager, John Isbell, was quoted as saying that Bonnecaze received "way less" than the one million dollars he had originally requested.
Better Than Ezra released their second major label album, Friction, Baby, in 1996 through Elektra Records. Friction, Baby produced the hit Desperately Wanting and King of New Orleans. Their sophomore release was not as commercially successful as Deluxe, but was certified as a gold album by the RIAA for sales of more than 500,000 units.
The trio began work on their third major release, How Does Your Garden Grow?, soon after the end of touring for Friction, Baby. The album was recorded between mid-January and late-April at a studio in New Orleans. The album was produced by record producer Malcolm Burn and released on August 25, 1998. The sound of album was described "experimental" and a significant departure from their previous two albums. Griffin described the album in 1998 as "guitar driven ... rhythmic." Likewise, Tom Drummond described the band's thinking on its third major album, "We thought the third album was a very important record, because generally a band either makes or breaks on the third record. We wanted it to be a record that didn't necessarily sound like what people expected." Despite the emphasis on guitar experimentation, two tracks, "One More Murder" and "Je ne m'en souviens pas" contain no guitars.
The single At the Stars debuted, and peaked, at number 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band was dropped by Elektra Records following the release of How Does Your Garden Grow? in 1999.
Subsequent album releases from Better Than Ezra include Closer, (Beyond Records, 2001), Before the Robots, (Artemis Records, 2005) and Paper Empire.
2000 - 2008
The band released the B-Sides and rarities collection Artifakt on its own "Ezra Dry Goods/Fudge" label in 2000. Artifakt was only sold online. Tom Drummond, the band's bassist, noted in 2002, "It's basically an album full of rarities."
Better Than Ezra, now no longer with Elektra Records, signed with the Beyond Records label and began work on new material. Drummond explained the reasoning for choosing a smaller label, "We decided we wanted to be big fish in a small pond instead of a little fish in a big pond. We just wanted to be with a label who wanted success as much as we did."
Griffin, Drummond and McNabb spent 18 months working on Closer, their follow-up album to 1998's How Does Your Garden Grow? and their first new material since being dropped by Elektra Records. The album was recorded in New Orleans in the band's own studio, which allowed the members to focus on creating music rather than rental costs per day. Closer was mixed in Los Angeles by Better Than Ezra and the album's producer, Brad Wood. However, the band felt that some tracks needed scratching. Producer Brad Wood's management company reccommended DJ Swamp, who had previously worked with Beck, to mix several tracks. The use of a DJ for two of the album's tracks, the first single "Extra Ordinary" and "Recognize," marked a departure for the band, who hadn't previously employed a DJ before.
Closer was released on August 7, 2001. Better Than Ezra launched a tour in support of the album on July 26, 2001. The first single off the album, "Extra Ordinary," which had been mixed by DJ Swamp, was inspired by an AC/DC song which Griffin heard on the radio. The album's promotion hit a snag after its record label, Beyond Records, went out of business in 2002 shortly after Closer's release. Beyond Record's bankruptcy left Closer out of print for several years. In June 2009, Better Than Ezra announced that it had acquired the rights to Closer and would re-release it in the Fall of 2009 with two new previously unreleased tracks, "Simple Song" and "Screwed Up and Beautiful."
In June 2001, Better Than Ezra filmed a series of promo commercials for ESPN's College GameDay. The promo features the band while sports analyst Lee Corso crowd surfs to the stage, where he continues his sports reporting.
On September 28, 2004, the band simultaneously released their first live concert DVD, as well as an official live album, both entitled Live at the House of Blues New Orleans through Sanctuary Records. The DVD and album were filmed and recorded at two separate shows at the House of Blues in New Orleans during the summer of 2004.
A Greatest Hits collection was released on March 15, 2005, through Rhino Entertainment, a division of the Warner Music Group.
Better Than Ezra's sixth studio album entitled Before the Robots (Artemis Records), was released on , 2005. In 2005, Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry used the band's song "Juicy" as the background music for the second season of the show's promotional advertisements, which Grffin credited with bringing attention to the album. The song "Juicy" has also been heard in the background in commercials for Applebee's restaurants.
At some point in this period, the track "Us Me", from Artifakt, was played in pick-up truck commercials.
Longtime drummer Travis McNabb left Better Than Ezra in February 2009, and their last performance together was Family Gras in Metairie, Louisiana. The primary reason given for his departure was the demand on his time by country and bluegrass group, Sugarland, with whom McNabb had previously been touring for some time. The split was amicable, with bassist Tom Drummond saying, "It's bittersweet. He's fantastic. We're still good friends, and there are no hard feelings. We'll miss him. But this is an opportunity he needed to take." Following his departure, McNabb remained on the board of the band's charity, The Better Than Ezra Foundation.
Announced at the same time was McNabb's replacement, New Orleans-based drummer Michael Jerome, formerly of the band Pleasure Club. In addition, Better Than Ezra announced the May 12, 2009 release date for their seventh studio album, entitled Paper Empire, which is produced by Warren Huart and singer Kevin Griffin. The first single, "Absolutely Still" was released for iTunes purchase on March 17.