Better Than Ezra

Better Than Ezra

Scars On 45

Friday, September 19, 2014

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm


Tickets at the Door

This event is 21 and over


Better Than Ezra
Better Than Ezra
Before their omnipresent 1995 single “Good” hit No. 1, before their debut album Deluxe went double-platinum, before popular shows such as Desperate Housewives licensed their song “Juicy,” before Taylor Swift attested to their timeless appeal by covering their track “Breathless” — New Orleans’ Better Than Ezra was a pop-rock act paying its dues, traveling from town to town in a ramshackle van. Over two decades after the band formed, that vigilance still resonates strongly with the trio, who were finally rewarded after seven years of stubbornly chasing their dreams. “This band,” notes bassist Tom Drummond, “has never been handed anything.”

“I remember when we drove to St. Louis just for $50 and pizza,” says frontman-songwriter Kevin Griffin. “Then in the middle of the show, we’d start to drop the hint: ‘Hey! Anybody got a place for us to crash?’” Though they were told countless times by managers and A&R reps to throw in the towel, “Good” — a joyous anthem about pulling the plug on a relationship — silenced skeptics.

Better Than Ezra has always possessed an uncanny ability to deliver a sticky melody. It just took time for the world to figure this out. As testament to Griffin’s pop prowess, he’s now become an in-demand songwriter and producer across an array of genres (from Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue” to Howie Day’s “Collide”) in the five years since the band’s last album, Paper Empire. While penning tracks for other artists, Griffin found himself squirreling away compositions he felt best belonged to the Better Than Ezra canon. He coaxed the band back together (which includes drummer Michael Jerome) to record in L.A. for six weeks with Beck and Phoenix producer Tony Hoffer. As testament to their inner-band harmony, ex-drummer Travis McNabb, still tight with the band, filled in on percussion in the studio while Jerome was on tour.

When talking about breaking out of the 90s bubble, Drummond says, “We’ve been asked to join nostalgia tours. But we always say ‘no,’ because the music we’re making is still relevant. We don’t feel like we have to make the same albums we did in the ’90s. Our music changes.”

Proving just that point, the group recently dropped an effulgent new single, “Crazy Lucky,” in advance of their eighth full length, All Together Now (out September 9, 2014). The single is currently in the Top 40 Hot AC Charts and continuing to climb.

All Together Now, a collection of crisp, electro-pop inspired songs. Themed around chance, the album spins out from the serendipity-marveling “Crazy Lucky” into reflective, if relatable, fare such as the vibratory, folk-inflected “Insane,” the falsetto-kissed “One Heart Beating,” and the more sprawling “The Great Unknown.” Griffin reflects fondly on Better Than Ezra’s fateful formation and lasting appeal: “I’m more and more fascinated by how so many things we consider bedrock in our lives —certainties, immutable things, everything we love and cherish — are in fact held together by these invisible, gossamer strings.”

And they don’t take their good fortune for granted. Though the group recorded 18 tracks, they only deemed 11 of those worthy enough for All Together Now. “We made an album that was poppier and more concise songwriting,” Griffin says. “We wanted to give our old fans something familiar, but we wanted to attract new fans. There’s going to be a nostalgic element to our band now, but how can we transcend that?” The philosophy driving their compositions, says Griffin, is pretty simple: “Whether realistic or folly, we still believe there’s some plateau of success we haven’t reached, that’s within our grasp.”

Despite having written solo for so long, Griffin’s recent success as a musical hired gun has inspired him to change his ways. This time around, most of the album was co-written with his extracurricular friends. Nolan Sipe lent his sound to “Crazy Lucky,” while Tony Hoffer lent orchestration and a gently echoing beat to “Gonna Get Better” — a wake-up call about a friend’s addiction. (Of the latter’s optimistic tone, Griffin notes: “There’s a great saying I love: It came to pass, it didn’t come to stay. When you’re in a hole, you can’t see that sometimes….”) Says Drummond, “For us, it’s always been, ‘Is it a good melody you can sing with meaningful lyrics?’” On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s “Dollar $ign,” a jaunty sing-along about materialism with carnivalesque synths — Griffin’s joyous, satirical collaboration with Shy Carter and Zac Malloy.

Part of this sonic switch-up can also be attributed to adding Hoffer to the mix. “He likes to use guitars, but he also likes to use synthesizers in a tasteful way,” says Drummond. “We really wanted the best of both worlds. But it still feels like a band played it. Most of it is live, three of use playing in the same room at once.”

Letting go of control was a work in progress, admits Griffin, who adds, “Left to our own devices, everything would sound like something we’ve done before.” By Griffin’s estimation, it took him 10 days to stop second-guessing Hoffer’s direction. He laughs when thinking about his initial anxiety. “In the perfect collaboration each person is a foil and sounding board to the other. When it’s a true collaboration, you really listen to that person,” he says. “There’s a respect for what they do. That’s the way the songwriting went for this record, and we just hit our stride.” The ethos underlying All Together Now? “Rebirth,” says Drummond.

Griffin has a theory as to why resilience is wired into his band’s DNA. “We’ve always just been able to communicate,” he says, adding, “and Better Than Ezra is bigger than just a band now.” He’s not exaggerating: With the Better Than Ezra Foundation (, the band give back to their native New Orleans with charity ventures to benefit everything from coastal restoration to after school programs for underprivileged kids.

“The band has become a way of life for us,” Griffin says. “There’s more to us than meets the eye. All of that plays into us getting along and keeping this thing going. But it’s more than just guys getting together and playing. People have come to depend on the band.”
Scars On 45
Scars On 45
Making music was the furthest thing from Scars on 45 co-founder Danny Bemrose's mind until the professional soccer player for England's Huddersfield Town F.C. broke his foot at 21 and his world came crashing down. "I was in limbo, without knowing what to do with myself," he says. It wasn't the first time that fate would intervene in the band's formation.

Danny put down the soccer ball and picked up for his father's guitar. "I'm quite an obsessive person. I became kind of addicted," he says. "I used to lock myself away to write songs and record on four-track recorder."

Those early years led to creation of Scars on 45, a quintet from Leeds, England, that combines the gentle melodic intensity of Snow Patrol or Keane with the added allure of co-ed vocals. Tension, often propelled by drummer Chris Durling's insistent beat, builds throughout the songs as the emotional ante rises. Hearts are broken and seldom rendered whole again before new wounds pierce through.

Highlights on the group's self-titled, 10-song debut include the gracefully propulsive "Heart on Fire," on which Danny and fellow lead vocalist Aimee Driver play out a couple's anguished conversation. "That song came out of nothing," Danny says. "It just seemed to pour straight out. I must have sung it 4,000 times and it feels fresh every time I sing it. I'm sure one day, I'll fully understand it."

On the lilting, yet melancholic, "Give Me Something," Danny, his voice vulnerable and aching, searches for some sign -- any sign -- that there's a reason to believe in a lasting love. "Everyone's been in that situation of wanting someone and it not being reciprocated," he says. "It just rules your entire life."

On album opener, the piano-driven, pulsing "Warning Sign," Danny and Aimee's voices weave around each other to create a spellbinding story about trying to fix "the hole inside they will never see." Crunchy guitar riffs lure the listener into "Don't Say," as Danny pleads with a lover not to say "it won't get better." On the stripped bare "Change My Needs," Aimee quietly, but with heartbreaking resignation, wishes she could ask for less, but simply can't.

But all of that's getting ahead of the story. After teaching himself guitar, Danny and one of his football buddies, bassist Stu Nichols, began playing together in various bands. "We were awful," Danny laughs, but "we were always passionate about it and had this belief that we'd probably make it some day."

Soon keyboardist David "Nova" Nowakowski joined the pair and the trio began recording demos and playing live around Leeds. This is where Oasis' Noel Gallagher and country legend Emmylou Harris come in. "A friend of ours who was drumming for Noel asked us if we wanted to meet him," Danny recalls. "He said, 'This is Danny and Stu -- they're in a band.' Noel said, 'What's your band's name?' and we said, 'We don't really have one.' Noel said, 'A band without a name? What kind of fucking band is that?' and walked off."

Indeed. On search for a name, the nascent group ultimately picked Scars on 45, taken from a radio interview that Danny heard with Harris, in which she recalled her father telling her as a young girl that she better not get any "scars on his 45s" as she played them.

The trio became the axis of the band, with other members coming and going. "We must have been through at least 500 members," Danny says. And then, amid the revolving door, the second serendipitous event occurred that firmly set Scars on 45 on its path. Danny wrote a song that required a female voice. Out of the blue, Nova heard his friend Aimee singing along with the radio to The Cure's "Friday I'm in Love." Although she wasn't a performer and had never sung in public, he was struck by her innocent, sweet voice. She ultimately, joined the band, ditching plans for a two-year trip around the world.

"I just started singing along when Nova rushed in seeming really shocked," Aimee recalls. "I thought his dad had a heart attack or something! He made me stand there in his living room and sing another song to him -- which was the scariest thing ever at the time. At first I wouldn't do it, but he wouldn't shut up so I just put my tea down, shut my eyes and sang 'Rhiannon' by Fleetwood Mac just to stop him pestering me. Danny recorded me on one of the songs and it just seemed to work. The next thing I knew I was in the band. When I told my family and friends they were saying, 'but you can't sing, can you?'"

Then began a series of joys, heartbreaks and near misses. The band, now expanded to a quintet with the addition of Chris on drums, placed songs on A&E's since-cancelled series, "The Cleaner," and came close to signing a record deal only to see it fall apart at the last moment. Then came the moment they had been waiting for: "CSI: New York" selected the group's song, "Beauty's Running Wild," for an extended closing scene. The music caught the attention of noted music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, who signed the band to her Atlantic Records-distributed label, Chop Shop Records.

The band recorded the self-produced "Scars on 45" on their own, first starting in "Fawlty Towers," as Danny and Stu called their crumbling apartment, and then moving to the basement of a church that a friend has purchased to convert into apartments. "He let the congregation live there for awhile, so there was this little rock and roll band recording in the basement and we had a lot of praying going on next door," Danny recalls. "They were lovely people."

Although enjoyable, the studio is "the work part," Danny says whereas the real fun comes in playing live. "Just to be able to put yourself out there and let people know who you are is wonderful," he continues. "What I write about is who I am really. When people listen and react to one of your songs, there's no better feeling."
Venue Information:
Bimbo's 365 Club
1025 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA, 94133