Better than Ezra are one of the hardest-working bands around.
Now in their 31st year (!), Better Than Ezra released seven albums and toured endlessly since their inception. Their first two albums, Deluxe (1993) and Friction, Baby (1996) featured three popular hits: “Good,” “Desperately Wanting,” and “King of New Orleans” (a big rocker that is a personal favorite).
They’ve continued releasing albums of quality pop and rock, most recently 2014’s All Together Now. The full power of the band is only on display in their entertaining live shows, however, so be sure to check them out for free at Mystic Lake’s Great Midwest Ribfest on July 27th.
Tom Drummond, bassist for the band, was kind enough to talk with Music in Minnesota.
Tell us a little bit about your early days in Louisiana and the beginnings of Better Than Ezra.
The band met at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, that’s where we cut our teeth. In the early days we played half covers, half originals.
We’d play Echo and the Bunnymen, R.E.M., the Smiths, the Pixies, what was called alternative/indie/college rock. But we found that people were getting into the originals more than the covers, which was cool. I guess that’s the objective.
We played anywhere and everywhere for quite a few years. We were in a van, a trailer, we did what it took, which is sometimes missing from bands today.
We’d drive to St. Louis for $50, pizza, and beer. We were willing to do what we had to do, we made the effort. Then we’d go back to St. Louis and there’d be twice as many people. We grew things organically like that.
Having good songs, a good live show, and acting like you care, those are the three elements you need to get where you want to be.
After recording Deluxe in LA we recorded Friction, Baby in New Orleans, so it has a bit more of the influence of that city. You can definitely hear that influence more on Friction, Baby moving forward.
Sounds like you did a lot of work yourselves to get where you wanted to be.
We’ve always been a do–it–yourself mentality. Even when we signed our first deal with Elektra. Before that, we were literally hand-delivering records to record stores.
If we played a show in Dallas, we’d go to the record stores there and make sure that they were stocked up. That registered at Soundscan and that’s when people started noticing the band.
Then we played SXSW and a lot of A and R people were there. It was packed because we had put the effort together. We spent a year negotiating with Elektra Records.
They did a great job, but we weren’t going to just sign a crap deal, we had put too much work in to do that. In the end we got a three–record deal, which was unheard of. Most bands got seven-album deals with only one guaranteed.
As far as being on the road, we’d drive all night, then do morning radio. We worked our ass off in our 20s and early 30.
What are some memorable bands that you’ve played with?
Last summer we played with the Barenaked ladies, and that was really fun. We’re kindred spirits, everybody’s pretty funny, it’s like a comedy troupe. Plus they’re super talented.
The band has this joke: do you want to be famous? Then open for us! Matchbox 20, Maroon 5, and Train all opened for us before they made it big.
What is your favorite Better Than Ezra album?
It changes sometimes. They all are very good in different ways. Friction, Baby was great at capturing the band live. How Does Your Garden Grow? is the most artistic and left of center.
Closer might be best as far as all–around songwriting goes. The new album (2014’s All Together Now) is a combination of all those things. I wish it would have gotten more play.
It makes me happy in a way that we can still put out music that is relevant, I just wish that more people would have heard it.
It’s tough to stay relevant, though. I’m glad that Beck and Spoon are touring together, that looks like a cool tour.
Of the bands from our era, Weezer is probably the one that has been able to stay in the public eye the best.
What are a few of the best Better Than Ezra deep cuts?
It’s interesting, we were rehearsing before this tour and looking at Spotify’s top 10 songs of ours. Four are from Before the Robots: “Breathless,” “Our Last Night,” “Lifetime,” and “Juicy.” Taylor Swift actually covered the first two of those.
I was surprised to see that those songs were up there so high. “Grateful,” a single from last year, is #7. We’re close to 50,000,000 streams.
You must actually make a little money from streaming then!
Not as much as we should (laughs). We made our money in the early 90s and we still make money, but it‘s mostly from live shows.
Our first album did really well for us, and even the second one. But the business plan has changed.
One reason we’re in our 31st year is that our live show is good. We try to be engaging, we’re entertainers.
We never take ourselves too seriously, I think bands sometimes run into that problem, and then they’re never heard from again.
Thanks for your time, Tom, this has been great.
Sincerely, thank you.
Be sure to catch Better Than Ezra play a FREE SHOW at The Great Midwest Ribfest at Mystic Lake on July 27.