Damn it, we love the '90s. The only thing better than reminiscing about the awesome music produced in the flannel era is to relive it completely. Thankfully, some of the most quintessential '90s rulers haven't slowed down, among them, Better Than Ezra.
Known for the smash hit "Good," the band has kept the songwriting strong and the tunes coming, even releasing a new one, "Gonna Get Better," on Nylon today. On the verge of releasing All Together Now, its first album since 2011, Better Than Ezra is in the perfect position to combine its alternative sound with today's mainstream formulas. No band stays together for two decades unless it's doing something people love. These three have watched the music industry morph, and instead if cursing it, they embraced the changes.
And you can catch the trio live, bringing power pop to the buzzed masses at this Saturday's Palm Beach Summer Beer Fest. Before the beer-guzzling commences, we talked to Better Than Ezra's bassist Tom Drummond about what's kept the band together, how the guys have helped out their hometown New Orleans, and the beer that was most likely in his hand while we chatted.
New Times: So many bands don't make it to even a second album. But Better Than Ezra has been around for almost 20 years. What do you think is the secret for a band to have longevity?
Tom Drummond: I think there are a few ingredients. One, you have to have good songs. Memorable lyrics and strong melodies. You just have to have that as a foundation. Two, we were never too gimmicky. We didn't ever have a crazy, drug-addled member or wear crazy costumes. And three, I think we have a good time live.
We have a fun live show; people like to come back and see us again. I think it also shows that we get along, that we enjoy what we do. So take all of those things combined together and it makes for a good career. And we always had very long-term goals since the beginning.
What is it like meeting a fan who has been following the band since the beginning?
It's awesome! Now they're starting to bring their kids. We know a lot of fans by name. We've always gone that extra step, since day one. Meet-and-greets planned every year and special events for fans only.
We have people who love the band so much that they are willing to help us with street teams and that sort of thing. They're glad we're around, and we're glad that they're around. I feel very close with our fans; we are not standoff-ish. That's just who we are as people.
Speaking of who you are as people, you have really deep New Orleans roots. Can you tell me a little about how you like to give back?
We have a had a foundation for a while, but after Hurricane Katrina, we took it a little more seriously. We thought that if the band could help that it was our responsibility to do that. Post-Katrina, we formed a 501c3 and did all the official stuff with the IRS. Kevin and I, the foundation is our name [Better Than Ezra Foundation], and we are founding members, but we are not majority members. It is a real foundation with a full-time director, and we have raised over $1 million to give back.
The big thing we are funding right now is we are running an after-school program. It's been very cool to see. We plan on continuing to do that, and if the funds are there, we might start expanding. We feel like it's important to get kids on the right path early, and giving them after-school opportunities instead of having them roam the streets just makes a lot of sense.
You have been back in the studio lately. What kind of differences have you seen in the recording process from your first album to now?
It's crazy, right? Our first album only came out on a cassette. I don't know if you know what that is. A lot of good things have happened since then. Digital music has changed a lot of things. Obviously digital distribution has changed the ability to deliver albums, at any time. That's a big change. And the recording itself, most of it is done using ProTools these days. ProTools is a great tool, but it isn't going to write the songs for you. You still have to have the basis of a song there.
There is a big discussion these days of if DJs are musicians. Is the spacebar an instrument? But the reality is, a hit song is a hit song, and if people like it, people like it. It comes down to the songs. That's what's important to be, and the other stuff is window dressing.
You have a new album coming out in September. What can we expect?
Well, we definitely took our time making it. We weren't feeling the pressure to put one out until it was ready. We decided we weren't going to go into production until we had enough songs that were undeniable. And so before we even started, we probably spent more time with the songs than we had on the last album.
Then once we had the songs down, we decided to find a producer that would be right. Then we found out Tony Hoffer was into the songs. And he is one of our favorite producers of all time, and we were like, "Oh my God. Match made in heaven." We got to work with a guy whose work we loved.
There are some new and fresh sounds on it; it sort of brings us up to a contemporary sound, but it's still classic Better Than Ezra. Right songs, right producer, right timing. That's why we named the album All Together Now. It feels like the dominoes are all set up in the right order to fall one by one into place.
You are playing a beerfest, after all, so are you beer drinkers? Do you have a favorite type of beer?
Oh, of course! I love craft beers too. I don't know if you have it, but Left Hand is my favorite craft beer.
The Milk Stout?
The Milk Stout!
Better Than Ezra, 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday, August 9, at the Palm Beach Summer Beer Fest at the South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach. Advance tickets cost $35 for general admission and $75 for VIP. Prices go up at the door, $55 for general admission and $100 for VIP. Tickets come with unlimited craft beer samplings. Buy tickets at palmbeachsummerbeerfest.com.