A Raisin in the Sun
Nashville Repertory Theatre's production of A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Live onstage at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's (TPAC) Johnson Theater, March
In the 90s, Kevin Griffin was a king of the alt-rock scene, heading up the platinum-selling band Better Than Ezra. Today, he’s a bit of a renaissance music man: singer, songwriter, producer, artist manager, and fresh off a summer tour with his band that concluded at the riverfront amphitheater. The married father of three settled in Franklin in 2011, after bouncing around between his native New Orleans and Los Angeles. Wanting to make a mark on his new community, Griffin organized this month’s Pilgrimage Festival. We seized one of his rare mornings off and asked him about his busy life back in the South.
Branching out: “When you’re a musician, it’s all about you and your band,” Griffin says. “I had this famous manager tell me, ‘Kevin, you’ve got this one thing: Better Than Ezra. You need to diversify.’ And I really took it to heart.” So about ten years ago, he started cowriting and penning songs for a motley crew of fellow artists—from singer-songwriters like Howie Day and Jeremy Lister to monomial icons like Blondie and Meat Loaf. “There’s a whole other article about my time with Meat Loaf,” Griffin notes.
Write on track: Griffin admits that writing a tune for someone else is not only easier—it’s actually freeing. “When you write for yourself,” he explains, “you have all these considerations that often harm the song: Have I done this already? Have I said this before, lyrically? Is this cool enough? Is this a logical evolution of what our music is? But when you write for other people, those blinders come off.” Among his most notable cowrites are Howie Day’s “Collide” and Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue.”
“The craft of songwriting in Nashville is above everywhere else. It is a high art. The practitioners of that art—the songwriters—are unparalleled. Coming here has taken my lyric game to a whole new level.”
See change: On his frequent visits before moving to Middle Tennessee, Griffin watched as the city evolved into the all-encompassing music mecca it is today. “I realized that Nashville wasn’t just country anymore; it was rock and pop and it was great writers and great producers,” he recalls. “I really saw that a healthy music infrastructure was alive and kicking in Nashville, from the ground level of backline, buses, staging, and sound reinforcement up to publishing studios, labels—it’s all here.”
Solid foundation: For the past two years, Griffin has been actively involved in MusiCares, the charitable arm of the Grammys. His band’s Better Than Ezra Foundation gives support through events like an annual tailgate, and 25 cents of every Pilgrimage ticket goes directly to the nonprofit. “MusiCares provides a safety net for musicians in need, whether they’ve lost their gig or their instruments were stolen or they’re struggling with drug and alcohol issues,” Griffin says. “If you’re a musician in need, MusiCares is there for you.”