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Behind the Music

For over 35 years, alt-rock icons Better Than Ezra have maintained a direct line to the unbridled joy of making music, endlessly dreaming up songs with an uncanny power to linger forever in the listener’s heart. Since the arrival of their breakthrough album Deluxe—a platinum-selling LP featuring their era-defining smash hit “Good”—the New Orleans-bred band’s bittersweet but quick-witted songwriting and supremely catchy sound have led to triumphs like landing on Billboard’s “100 Greatest Alternative Artists of All Time” and “100 Greatest Alternative Songs of All Time” lists, building an adoring following who call themselves Ezralites, and achieving major pop-culture milestones like getting name-checked in a classic skit on Saturday Night Live. Their first album in a decade, Super Magick ultimately sets Better Than Ezra apart from legions of legacy acts and reveals a band more enchanted than ever with the sublime alchemy of truly heartfelt rock-and-roll.


“In many ways music is one of the closest things to magic, in terms of how it can affect and transport you,” says singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin. “Now more than ever, we’re aware that we’re creating songs that could become part of the fabric of other people’s lives, and it’s something we appreciate in a much deeper way than we first started out.” “Because we’ve been together for so long, we know what needs to be done from a songwriting and production standpoint,” adds bassist Tom Drummond. “But at the end of the day, what matters most is those moments when the melody and music combine in a way that gives you goosebumps. It’s something you can’t plan for or even explain, but it’s the main thing we reach for in everything we do.”


The tenth studio album from Better Than Ezra, Super Magick arrives as a prime showcase for the distinct collision of elements that have made them so beloved over the years: the eternally sticky melodies, heart-on-sleeve storytelling and wildly clever turns of phrase, potent yet finely composed soundscapes embedded with so much ear candy. But in a creative leap typical of the sonically adventurous band—whose lineup also includes guitarist/keyboardist James Arthur Payne Jr. and drummer Michael Jerome Moore—the album finds Better Than Ezra’s exploring influences from an eclectic mix of genres (country, Britpop, dub, new-wave-leaning arena rock, to name just a few). Mainly produced by Griffin and Emery Dobyns (a producer/songwriter/engineer known for his work with Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Antony and the Johnsons), Super Magick once again proves their passionate commitment to constant evolution in their artistry. “This album took a while, but we wanted to put the right energy into it,” says Griffin. “There’s this idea that most people who go to see veteran bands are there for the old songs, but for us putting out a new record is about adding to our canon of work and creating music that we’re excited to play.”    


Recorded at Griffin’s own Pink Deer Studio in Tennessee, Super Magick opens on its lead single “Mystified”—a character-driven portrait of what Griffin refers to as “the American dream gone wrong.” In penning the brightly textured but incisive track, he worked with co-writer Henry Brill (Old Sea Brigade, Phantogram) and tapped into his memories of the lost souls he encountered in San Francisco’s Tenderloin back in Better Than Ezra’s early days. “I wrote that song imagining someone growing up in the Midwest and getting seduced by a certain kind of lifestyle, and everything going awry,” he says. “In the lyrics you don’t really know what happens to them: maybe they flirt with that life and everything ends up okay, or maybe it’s something darker.”


A voracious songwriter with a knack for chasing inspiration into unexpected places, Griffin came up with a freewheeling track called “Contact High” by turning his attention to a highly specific subculture. “I wanted to write about a 30- or 40-something person who went to a really great East Coast school, and now they’re living on a commune in Marfa and microdosing all day—the kind of person who gives you a contact high just from being around them,” he says. Graced with twangy guitar tones, hip-shaking psych-rock grooves, and a bit of tongue-in-cheek spoken word from Griffin’s wife Erica Krusen, the result is an exquisitely loopy expression of misguided lust.


Elsewhere on Super Magick, Better Than Ezra imbue their songs with a bit of wisdom on the infinitely strange journey of being alive. A supercharged pop anthem powered by frenetic guitar work and pummeling basslines, “Live A Little” perfectly encapsulates the band’s one-of-a-kind narrative voice, balancing its full-hearted philosophizing with fun-loving humor. “It’s one of those rare songs where the music and the melody definitely match the message, which is essentially ‘carpe diem,’” says Griffin, who co-wrote “Live A Little” with Steve Aiello of 30 Seconds to Mars and singer/songwriter Chaz McKinney (aka Chaz Cardigan). “The longer you live, the more you realize how fragile life is—nothing is a given, and every day is a gift.”


Continuing Better Than Ezra’s tradition of crafting unforgettably candid love songs, “This Time” takes the form of a tender piano ballad capturing the aching confusion of a budding romance. Adding to its intense emotional weight, the track emerged from a session with singer/songwriter Michelle Lewis and Michael Busbee, a Grammy-nominated songwriter/producer and longtime Better Than Ezra collaborator who passed away in 2019. “That song is so special to us and I’ve always felt like we needed to include it on an album someday,” says Griffin. “I remember writing it with Busbee with just the vocal and piano, and it turned into a song about the uncertainty of entering a relationship and trying to stay open to the possibility of true love.”


By the time Super Magick closes out with “Killing It” (a track that recounts the band’s history in three-and-a-half glorious minutes), Better Than Ezra have cycled through everything from the horn-fueled bombast of “Sensation” to the moody reverie of the dub-inspired “Omens.” Co-founded by Griffin and Drummond—who bonded over their love for seminal college-rock acts like R.E.M., jangle-pop legends Let’s Active, and Southern rock heroes Drivin N Cryin—the band has embodied that free-spirited complexity since playing house parties at Louisiana State University in 1988. “At our very first rehearsal, I knew there was something special in this band that I’d never seen before,” says Drummond. “It was enough for me to take a leap of faith, get in the van and forgo a college education.” As they built up a regional following, Better Than Ezra delivered their debut album in 1990 and struck gold with 1993’s Deluxe. Thanks to the massive success of the multi-platinum “Good” (a #1 hit on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart), the band became an MTV staple and soon deepened their catalog with timeless hits like “Desperately Wanting” (from 1996’s Friction, Baby). Through the years, they’ve continued to sell out amphitheaters and arenas worldwide while turning out acclaimed albums like 2014’s All Together Now, featuring the hit single “Crazy Lucky.” An in-demand songwriter who’s penned #1 hits for Howie Day and Sugarland and written with bands like The Struts and Moon Taxi, Griffin co-founded the annual Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival—a Franklin, Tennessee-based event whose past lineups have included Beck, Brandi Carlile, Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Kacey Musgraves, and many more. With their legacy including superstar Taylor Swift’s cover of their classic song “Breathless,” the band have also launched the Better Than Ezra Foundation to support their hometown through such endeavors as coastal restoration projects and after-school programs for underprivileged kids.


In choosing a title for Super Magick, Better Than Ezra looked to a track that speaks to the mystical nature of connection—an element that could explain the rarefied camaraderie that’s kept them going for so many years. For the entire band, one of the most rewarding outcomes of that longevity is an extraordinary close relationship with their community of fans. “At this point we’re on a first-name basis with a lot of our fans,” says Drummond. “We go into every show knowing that for some people in the audience, we’re their favorite band of all time—which makes us work that much harder to make it meaningful for them.” “After the shows we always go hang out with everyone, and a lot of the time they’ll tell us about a song of ours that brings them back to a certain time,” Griffin continues. “They’ll say something like, ‘This might sound stupid, but this song reminds me of a road trip my fiancé and I went on years ago.’ And I always tell them, ‘It’s not stupid, it’s the greatest thing you could ever tell me. You allowed our band to be a part of your life.’”  

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