The Mainstreaming of Better Than Ezra
It’s a sweltering summer afternoon when Better Than Ezra’s Cary Bonnecaze shows up late from soundcheck 24 floors above the impending clamour of the MTV Music Awards. The band is in New York City to kick of the CMJ New Music Festival with a show at The Academy, collect their gold record and, apparently, shop.
Things are moving quickly around the Louisiana trio since the February release of their Elektra debut, Deluxe. Three hit singles later, including the infectious power-pop anthem, “Good,” Bonnecaze and his band mates (scattered around midtown doing interviews themselves) are working a little too hard to notice.
Bonnecaze’s stubby fingers — which he picks at throughout the interview — are calloused and ring-covered. His blue nail polish is significantly chipped. He apologizes for being late (blaming ubiquitous monitor problems) and dives into questioning with a warm, smile-raising southern drawl.
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Rolling Stone: Has life changed since the mainstreaming of Better Than Ezra?
Cary Bonnecaze: We’re getting mobbed now. People are stopping their cars and taking pictures and stuff. Yesterday Kevin and I went shopping and we were signing people’s arms and stuff in Urban Outfitters. It was really funny. Just now we were walking by the MTV Awards next door, yunno’, with Tabitha Sorin and Kurt, ah…
CB: Yeah. And we had our guitars and stuff and tamborines. We were trying to make a b-line. And all of a sudden we start to see people start to nudge each other. They were coming up and taking pictures and we were signing stuff. It’s real nice, but strange in New York City. Maybe in Louisiana…
RS: Have you hit the town at all ?
CB: When we got in yesterday, Tom [Drummond, bassist] went right to sleep — we had partied so heavily in Toronto. Kevin [Griffin, singer/ guitarist] and I went power shopping. I bought this [tugs at his new striped orange sweater], but it’s way too hot to be wearing. Last night Tom and Kevin went out and saw some bands, but I stayed in the room. I’d rather blow it out tonight. Today we woke up, played a satellite radio show in L.A. Then we were awarded out gold album.
RS: How did that feel?
CB: It was kind of like, eh [shrugs]. It’s nice and really cool. We never ever thought that we would sell that much. It’s really neat but it hasn’t even phased us. I was telling someone earlier that signing the deal took months to soak in because you work your whole career for that five seconds. It’s a much bigger deal up here [taps his head] than it is actually doing it — Like your first sex or something like that. You think about it your whole life and then it happens and your like [shrugs] o.k., good…
RS: What do you guys do with time off?
CB: Our normal day off we’ll do laundry. Or we’ll get a big group together and go to the mall.
RS: To spectate or to actually consume?
CB: Oh man, we buy. Yunno’, things you’ve been needing, like shoes, t-shirts, the drug store. Because you don’t pull a bus up to the Circle K if you need toothpaste, that just doesn’t happen. Every now and then we like to take in a movie. As a band — because we do everything together — we’ve seen maybe five movies this year. I rent movies. When we used to be in New Orleans I would just rent movies and lay around. Anything you can do to have, like, a normal way of life. Playing in a band is so funky, such a weird schedule.
RS: What’s a typical day?
CB: We’ll wake up on the bus, check into our day room — one for the band and one for the crew. Tom and Kevin will go up to the band room, pull the drapes and make it real cold and go to sleep. But I don’t like being awoken, so I’ll usually stay on the bus. Then we get up around noon, eat, soundcheck around 4:00, do some radio. We love to see the other bands so we’ll have a couple of beers and watch them. Lately the shows have been going on much earlier. We’re used to going on at 11:30 or midnight, but lately we’ve been playing at like 9:00. Afterwords we’ll party for a while and then get back on the bus and do the same thing.
RS: What bands have you been playing with?
CB: The Dambuilders have been the middle support. Poster Children are great, we played with them in Chicago and then tonight. Menthol’s amazing, they’re probably our favorites right now. Enormous is great. Ben Foltz Five, Dish — Big up and coming bands that have a great buzz about ’em.
RS: Have you run into musicians you hold in high esteem?
CB: We were just at the Filmore in San Fransisco — it was the day Jerry Garcia died — it was really strange there. Ian McCullough and Will Sargent from Echo and the Bunnymen showed up to see our show. During the encore they were backstage and we were like, ‘Hey, we used to play “Do It Clean,” do you guys want to hop up and play it?’ We used to end all our sets with it. It was a blast, such a thrill, to be onstage with them and to have Ian turn around and wink. He said we played it better than they ever did, that’s a quote! But I was nervous. We all had grins from cheek to cheek.
RS: Has your audience changed much?
CB: We’re seeing a lot of 15, 16, 17- year-olds, which is good. But I’m starting to wonder if we shouldn’t break it down and have two shows. Some people won’t go to all ages show. And I’m starting to wonder if I was home and Pavement came, I’d love to go see ’em at a bar, but not if a bunch of 15-year-olds are there.
RS: How have you guys approached the image-driven video age?
CB: The most important thing is the song. It just so happens that now you’re forced to go to another format. I think as far as the band is concerned, we’re always going to cater to radio — it’s the most important thing anyway. We’ve been really lucky that MTV’s been playing the videos, but as long as we do well on radio, that’s the most important thing. It’s all about the song in the ears. And most of the time it’s the interpretation of the director. You can work on the song with your eyes closed and conjur up an vision or a feeling, and as far as I’m concerned, a lot of times videos destroy that feeling. But I don’t want to knock MTV. Who am I kidding? I watch it all the time!
RS: Is a new record in the works?
CB: When we signed the deal we took some time off and worked on songs. We have 20 or 25 songs that are as good or better than everything on Deluxe. Because there are no filler tracks with us; we’d rather have an album with nine songs. The next album we’re going to have a chance to sit back and work on what we want to do and how we want things to sound. There’ll be no sophomore jinx here. We’ll be smiling — not to be cocky — we just know it’s going to be a good album. It looks like we’ll be recording in the spring for release some time early in the fall. RS: How is ‘Deluxe’ holding up in the band’s ears?
CB: It was a pretty fair representation of the band, but not what we can do. I mean, recording and pressing our first 2000 CDs was under $6000. That’s unheard of. In fact we were recording this thing and we were like, ‘Should we fix that?’ Yunno’, drums and bass were done and even some of the guitar parts in, like, nine hours. Because we were sure that if we got picked up by a major record label we would go back in and re-record it. But we didn’t. There’s a lot of screw ups on our album, which is pretty funny. But we wouldn’t change a thing.
This interview first appeared on Rolling Stone Online