Better Than Ezra’s music doesn’t sound like Carnival, but Carnival is a big part of the band’s life.
Bassist Tom Drummond has long been a member of Hermes, but he’s had to temper his day so that he could play that night. This year, the band plays the House of Blues on Saturday night, so he can enjoy the whole experience, from pre-ride festivities to the parade.
He’s a float captain, so he invited bandmate Kevin Griffin to join him on his float this year.
Griffin has his own Mardi Gras stories. In 2004, the band had its own float in the Krewe of Orpheus parade and played the Orpheuscapade when the parade ended.
“I stayed up all night, then rolled into the R Bar around 7 a.m. for a little hair of the dog, and it’s packed,” he said. “I waited for the St. Anne’s marching parade. I had changed into a black tutu, and I was painted green with little hand-painted flowers and a gold mask. Then I walked through the Quarter all day. I think I lost a few years of my life in that 48-hour span.”
In 2011, Better Than Ezra also started its own Krewe of Rocckus — an effort to give the band’s fans a unique Mardi Gras experience including special shows, dinners and parade viewing stands.
But the band has Rocckus on hiatus for a year. It’s finishing the first new album since “Paper Empire” was released four years ago, and chose to stay focused on that instead of organizing a multi-night party.
Rocckus will return in 2015, Griffin says, but the band wants to keep it from becoming stale since a number of fans have joined it each year. “We love this, but let’s not burn out the fans who come,” he said. “Let’s try to do this again when we can take it to another level.”
The currently untitled album is scheduled for a summer release, with the first single due out during Jazz Fest. Tony Hoffer, who also produced Beck, Fitz and the Tantrums, M83, and Silversun Pickups, is producing the album, which is in its final stages.
“It was very cool working with him,” Drummond said. “I’m very excited by the sound and how it’s all coming together. It’s still us, but there are some new elements in it. It sounds cool.”
He sees connections between the upcoming album and “Deluxe,” the band’s 1993 debut. In recent years, songs were completed and sorted out in the studio, but Griffin, Drummond and drummer Michael Jerome got together to work out the songs before they went into the studio, just as the band did in the early days.
“I insisted on it,” Drummond said, then they went to Los Angeles and did it again with Hoffer. “We did another two weeks of pre-production with him, finding the right keys for songs. ‘Would the vocals sound better in this key or that key?’ Adjusting tempos. All these things we’d normally sort out in the studio.’”
That time made the writing more collaborative and, and Drummond thinks it led to four of the band’s best songs. It also reminded him and Griffin of the connection they have after playing together for more than 20 years. “We already know what each other’s thinking,” Drummond said.
The album takes them full circle in other ways as it will be released by The End Records, the label associated with ADA, the distributor that handled young bands for Elektra when Better Than Ezra was on the label.
“We were their first platinum record,” Drummond said. Griffin’s happy with The End’s efforts so far, most of which have focused on marketing and plans to get the music in front of people. “These days, it’s about who’s most enthusiastic about putting out an Ezra record, and who has the resources,” he said. “They’re stepping up.”
A lot has changed since the band formed and first experienced success, and 20 years of history affect how the band is perceived. “We’re a known quantity,” Drummond said. “The label knows we’re going to put out a solid album. We’re not a gimmicky band, and the potential is there that a song could blow up and be hugely successful. The flip side of that is we’re a known quantity and don’t have that new band coolness. New, cool bands — people want to be the first to share them with their friends. I hope the strength of the album counteracts that.”
“As much as you try not to, you’re always going to lose old fans who think you were never as good as your first album,” Griffin said. “Then you get new fans who don’t even know those first albums.”