It’s been nearly a decade since '90s alt rockers Better than Ezra dropped “Desperately Wanting” from their third studio album “Friction Baby.” There’s a catalog of karaokes-worthy hits (“Good,” “At the Stars,” “A Lifetime”) that comes between then and the band’s 2014 release, “All Together Now,” but lead singer Kevin Griffin has lent a hand more than a few quotable tracks that aren’t his own.
The 47-year-old New Orleans native will play a montage of these hits — like Howie Day’s “Collide,” James Blunt’s “I’ll Be Your Man,” Tristan Prettyman’s “Madly” — when he hits the road a solo act this spring. And while Griffin keeps Ezra going, the singer-songwriter, who now lives in Nashville, likes the juxtaposition of crowds, big and small.
“The solo shows are appealing because they’re newer to me,” he tells us as he drives down Music Row. “Like on Sunday, I’ll be with Ezra playing Jazz Fest, and we go on right before the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a crowd off 80 to 100,000 people. I’ll have my crew and all that, but truth be told, I’m more excited to be playing Allston. I just dig it.”
We chat with Griffin about touring solo, crafting the perfect Christmas album and his embracing his new home in Nashville.
They call it 'Music City'
Griffin relocated to Nasvhille five years ago, following a stint in L.A. and leaving behind the band’s hometown of New Orleans.
“It’s the best place in this country to be a musician,” Griffin says. “In Los Angeles, you’re hopelessly lost [as a musician], but in Nashville, everyone is a musician — your gardner, your plumber, your neighbor. Everyone here gets the musician’s life and more specially the bizarre income streams that come with it. The infrastructure of banks are equipped to work with loans for musicians and songwriters. They really do bill up to being called Music City.”
On going solo
Between covers of the songs he’s helped write and a bunch of his own, Griffin says his solo show is more than just a one-man show.
“I’m generally not a fan of ’a guy and his guitar’, unless it’s Neil Young,” he admits. “I have a percussionist who makes my job easier and then there are stories and ill-advised covers. And some dancing, classic Bob Fosse moves. I’m not a trendy guy.”
Griffin travels light — gear, guitars — and sets up and breaks down himself after each gig and literally hits the road. “Some musicians might be turned off at the idea of packing their own guitars and getting the rental car at age 47, but I really like it,” he says. “I’m still in wonder that I can go somewhere and be by myself for some show, and people show up. It’s a blessing that I can do it and I like the independence that comes with it.”
Seeking Christmas gold
Between Ezra and solo gigs, Griffin is still hard at work. When he’s not preparing for the second annual Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival in Franklin, Tennessee in September — yes, he founded a festival — he’s with he and producer Sam Hollander’s holiday supergroup, the Band of Merrymakers, as they prepare for their next album. In fact, even in April they’ve already got next season’s tour dates locked down.
“You write Christmas songs in January and February, which is hard to do because you’re done with the Christmas spirit by then,” he explains. “You have this viral reaction against talking about the holidays, but you already have to be thinking about booking. Those performance arts centers, around the holidays, they get booked up fast.”
The Band of Merrymakers’ roster is deep — notably including Natasha Bedingfield, Fitz from Fitz and the Tantrums, Christina Perri and Andrew McMahon — and Griffin hopes they’ll provide some stiff competition in the holiday market in the coming months.
“We’re like the East Village answer to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra,” he laughs. “We’ll be the more human, less hair band Christmas entertainment choice.”