Sometimes the simplest sentiments weigh heaviest on the heart. Just ask Better Than Ezra singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin, who only had to look around for the ways to express his feelings for the one he loves.
"['Extra Ordinary'] is about trying to tell somebody through everyday references about how you feel about them," he said of the band's latest single. "I had just seen 'Searching for Bobby Fischer' and I was listening to the radio and an AC/DC song was on. I just wanted to take things that you take for granted in your day-to-day life and use those to tell somebody, maybe in a profound way, how much you care about them. A lot of times as a songwriter you try to get some type of lyrical epiphany and I just wanted to cut to the chase and use these barebones references for how I feel."
"Extra Ordinary," whose lyrics feature such everyday similes as "smart as Bobby Fischer" and "just like that AC/DC song/ come on, baby, shake me all night long," is the first single off the New Orleans power-pop trio's fourth album, Closer, due for release August 7, according to their publicist. The band Griffin, bassist Tom Drummond and drummer Travis McNabb took 18 months to complete the follow-up to 1998's How Does Your Garden Grow, and the relaxed pace made for a solid album that might surprise some of the 10-year-old band's longtime fans.
"This is probably our strongest album," Griffin said. "It's our most focused effort we've had to date. How Does Your Garden Grow had a lot more experimentation than we'd ever done previously. And this album incorporates a lot of the sounds we discovered with [that album], but it also brings in what we do best as a band.
"We also had an amazing time [recording it]," he continued. "When you have your own studio which is every band's dream and we were lucky enough to be able to fulfill that you get to work on so many things and explore any tangent that arises. When you're paying $2000 or $1500 and those are cheap prices a day for a studio, it becomes a very cut and dry situation, where you can't explore."
The most striking foray on the 11-track Closer is the band's use of subtle DJ wizardry on "Extra Ordinary" and "Recognize," courtesy of Beck's longtime turntablist, DJ Swamp. While mixing the album in Los Angeles after recording in the Crescent City, the band felt the songs needed somebody scratching on them. So producer Brad Wood (Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair) asked his management company for a recommendation and was met with the reply, "DJ Swamp. He's the only person to get."
"He showed up in this beat-up Chrysler New Yorker," Griffin recalled. "I thought he was going to be this hip-hop kid, but he [actually] looks like a Goth rocker long black hair, black fingernails, wearing an 'Exorcist' T-shirt. And he came into the studio, hooked his stuff up, and we went through the song like eight times, and he would do take after take [perfectly]. I have a profound respect for great DJs now, because before I had not been in the presence of someone so amazing. There were a couple of times where I almost lost my cool and stood up and clapped because we were just so blown away by what he was doing."
Better Than Ezra kick off a U.S. tour in support of Closer Thursday (July 26), but if you don't catch them on the road, they'll be playing in a living room near you come football season. The band filmed a series of promo spots in June for ESPN's "College GameDay," which feature the trio performing while on-air analyst Lee Corso crowd-surfs his way to the stage, where he continues his commentary on the game. Fans shouldn't expect to hear anything from Closer, How Does Your Garden Grow, 1996's Friction, Baby or 1995's Deluxe.
"We were a bit iffy about part of the script, so I thought, 'What can we do to make this fun for ourselves and our fans?' " Griffin said. "So we switched instruments: I'm playing drums, Travis is on bass and Tom is on guitar. So now we really do sound like some awful college band."
Better Than Ezra tour dates, according to the band's publicist:
- 7/26 - Nashville, TN @ Dancin' in the District
- 7/28 - Omaha, NE @ McCormack's Sports Complex
- 7/29 - Noblesville, IN @ Verizon Wireless Music Center
- 8/3 - Scottsdale, AZ @ Cajun House
- 8/4 - Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up Tavern
- 8/7 - West Hollywood, CA @ Roxy Theatre
- 8/8 - West Hollywood, CA @ Roxy Theatre
- 8/10 - San Francisco, CA @ Slim's
- 8/15 - Santa Ana, CA @ Galaxy Theatre
- 8/16 - Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues
- 8/25 - Greeley, CO @ University of Northern Colorado
- 8/26 - Salem, OR @ Oregon State Fair
- 8/29 - Chicago, IL @ Park West
- 8/30 - Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
- 9/3 - Virginia Beach, VA @ American Music Festival
- 9/22 - Boston, MA @ MixFest
- 10/26 - Birmingham, AL @ Samford University
- 10/27 - New Orleans, LA @ Voodoo Fest