Written by Danielle Boise; Photo by Piper Ferguson
Singer/songwriter Kevin Griffin, best known as the front man of the 90s alt-rock New Orleans based band Better Than Ezra, landed on the scene in 1995 when Deluxe went double platinum and launched the band into a whole new stratosphere. Since then, Griffin has been bringing music to the masses, collaborating on producing and writing albums and individual songs for artists like Taylor Swift, Train, Christina Perri and James Blunt (all told, reaching in excess of over 30 million copies). Not only is Griffin a talented musician in his own right, he is spreading his wealth of knowledge through creative lectures and a partnership with Pilgrimage Music & Culture Festival (takes place in Franklin, TN on September 24 and 25).
I had the great privilege to sit down with Griffin and discuss his journey into music, his favorite collaborators and what acts he’s looking forward to for the second annual Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival.
For over 20 years, you have informed and impacted the landscape of music, both as part of the super successful chart-topping band Better Than Ezra, but also as a solo artist. What made you want to pursue a life of art through music and how has it altered since you first stepped onto stage?
I think from an early age I was always drawn to music and to the arts, it just hooked me as a child. The first music I heard coming from my parents’ stereo was Elvis, Janis Joplin, Joe Cochran and The Beatles. On a physical level, I felt moved by the music and arts. When I got on stage for the first time in second grade, just to feel that jolt of adrenaline and getting that feedback and that attention from people is something you get hooked on at an early age. Even to this day, when I get out on stage, it’s kind of electric for me.
You are currently in the midst of both a solo and Amphitheatre tour with Better Than Ezra. Your solo stop will be hitting Atlanta on Friday, July 15 at City Winery at 8p. How is it different touring as a solo artist versus being part of the band? And how do you balance out the aspect of your solo career from Better Than Ezra, as you are in the middle of your Summer Amphitheatre tour with the band?
It is different playing solo versus playing with Better Than Ezra. Better Than Ezra is what I am known for and while the Better Than Ezra show is kind of loose – we don’t follow a set list – it still has a structure. You can’t go off on tangents when you have four other people playing with you. The great thing about the solo shows is that I can go on a journey musically or comedically. So I think it’s a lot more irreverent, more free-form and I really like that. A lot more crowd participation in the solo shows, more dance moves and a lot more ill-advised covers.
In this moment, what is the one song you get super excited to sing every night out on tour?
It’s a song called Closer off a Better Than Ezra album from 2001. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written and it’s a fan favorite. I didn’t sing it for years because it is so high to sing, but my range has gotten better so I feel comfortable and confident singing it. I love singing it and I love hearing people’s reaction when I go into the first few lines. Also a new song I started playing called If You Don’t Know By Now has got this really cool tuning that I’m really into.
Who have you not worked with that you are dying to do a collaboration with?
I love working with people who have huge voices that inspire you to write a great song. I would love to work with Jessie J. She has this massive voice that is capable of so much. When I work with someone with that kind of voice it inspires me to write great music.
And finally, can you discuss what made you become involved with the Pilgrimage Music & Culture Festival and what you are most looking forward to the most at this year’s festivities?
I am most excited to see Beck and Hall & Oates. Better Than Ezra played with Beck years ago and since then he has blossomed as a musician with Sea Change and with Dreams. He is a great live musician. Hall & Oates have a parade of hits and I am a massive fan. I have written over the last few years with John Oates and I can’t wait to see him perform and get to hang. I am excited for young bands like The Struts, The Arcs and City and Colour as well. Can’t wait to see everybody at the festival this year!