You’ve likely heard Kevin Griffin’s work, either through his work as frontman for the ’90s alt rockers Better Than Ezra, or through other artists such as Sugarland, Train, and Taylor Swift. Griffin’s résumé continues to overflow with high points, but at his career’s lowest moment, if he had not accepted the need for change, the music could have stopped permanently.
More than three decades since the New Orleans-based band’s seminal album, “Deluxe,” with Kevin Griffin’s easily identifiable voice belting out notable selections such as “Good,” “Rosealia,” and the band’s biggest hit, the 1996 classic “Desperately Wanting,” the 54-year-old has spread his entertainment expertise even wider than his vocal range. Griffin has evolved into becoming a prolific songwriter, writing hit tunes including Sugarland’s biggest hit, “Stuck Like Glue,” and Train’s “I Got You.” He has also co-founded an annual music festival in Tennessee, the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, which is heading toward its ninth season in September. In addition, the band’s hits have been re-recorded by countless artists including the 2010 rendition of “Breathless” by superstar Taylor Swift.
He has also become a highly in-demand public speaker, sharing his stories of struggle and success with Fortune 500 companies such as Live Nation, Disney, and Nike. His message is one of evolution as a path towards career longevity, a theme he says is worth sharing with similar artists who have struggled to move on from a momentary taste of glory. The only problem is locating them.”I don’t see them anymore because they’re not doing music anymore,” Griffin says. “Most of them have quit. But I would say it’s not too late to take advantage of the legacy you have. You just have to get out there now. Look at my career as an example if you’re a musician or someone my age.”
Kevin Griffin isn’t boasting about his current success; instead, he’s fortunate that his career trajectory wasn’t heading toward becoming just another “Whatever happened to” rock’n’roll story, especially after the band was dropped by Elektra Records in 2001.
So, in order to progress professionally, it meant that Griffin’s lifestyle had to be changed drastically. “He gave up alcohol, started using the Peloton, and surrounded himself with the people necessary to take his music career in a new direction.
“My entire career has been a journey to evolve, and that all happened after we were dropped,” Griffin says. “I was thinking about leaving music as a career. But I realized, no, this is what I love to do, but I have to do something different now. So I began studying producers and songwriters.”
Griffin’s professional path has led him to becoming an author. An English major at LSU in the past, Kevin Griffin just released “The Greatest Song: Spark Creativity, Ignite Your Career, and Transform Your Life,” a loosely based self-help fiction that revolves around a Nashville-based singer—similar to him—struggling to write the perfect song until he is taught “the method.” Griffin says his style was inspired by the works of Bob Dylan and Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie. The transition from songwriter to book author was a longer version of the routine he had been performing since the ’90s.
“A book is a lot more work—it’s an extended song that I just had to get up and do every day,” Griffin says of the process. “It was about getting my ass up and becoming very regimented—the goal was to write at least 500 words a day. Most of the time I did it, but there would be mornings I wouldn’t touch it. But being a songwriter prepared me for what the book would be about—it’s just a longer song.”
Better than Ezra is now back on tour, embarking on a U.S. tour with Train that should have Kevin Griffin and company performing throughout the summer months. He is certainly up for it. Having been sober for more than a decade, his regimen, whether on the road or in his Franklin, TN, kitchen includes a daily smoothie consisting of greens, apples, avocado, banana and a scoop of Bulletproof chocolate collagen protein.
Before hitting the weights and getting in some cardio work, the consistent lifestyle pattern has paid off in all areas of his life. “When I’m living a certain way, taking care of myself physically and mentally, I attract other people in my life who are also that way,” Kevin Griffin explains. “When I was living another way—staying up partying or whatever—I would attract those types of people in my life. So, changing that part of my life has brought me new opportunities.”
In addition to having a Winning Strategy that includes losing the ego and staying fit, it is also important to continue to learn and evolve. One example Kevin Griffin gives is his close friend, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who wrote the testimonial banner for Griffin’s book. He says the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback’s transition from the field to a host of other opportunities is the blueprint for anyone looking to succeed in the next chapter of their life.
“We have both taught each other the same thing: it’s about hard work and evolving. Look at how Peyton has gone from being a football player to a spokesperson to a TV host. I have gone from being in a rock band in the 90s to starting a music festival, publishing people, and being an author. It’s about realizing that you have the skill set already within you; you just have to use it.”
Kevin Griffin’s Winning Strategy
1. Kevin Griffin Dropped His Ego at the Door
A lot of my book has this constant refrain: In order to be successful and get better and more creative, you’ve got to check your ego at the door. It’s the root of all the bad s*** that holds us back.
There’s a line in the book that I was told years ago, and it’s great: My ego is not my amigo. Ego is the thing that says, I’m good enough, I’m better than them—whatever they’re doing sucks. But, when you check your ego, that’s when you say, “Wait a second: That’s an awesome song, an awesome idea. How can I learn from that to help continue my career.”
For me, this wasn’t an overnight process—I fought it. It was the early 2000s Again, I had gotten to a certain point where it was it was just me, and I realized if I wanted to go any further I had to get some humility. I fought collaborating with other people. I definitely wasn’t a person who said, “I need to do this!” and just switch. Eventually, my first collaboration was with Meat Loaf. It was at a studio, he heard a song as he was walking, and his manager came and asked if I wanted to write a song. We collaborated [2003’ “Testify”], but I had to first fight to let go of my ego in business and in life.
That’s kind of why I wrote the book. It’s like, Hey, here’s this book on these different tools you can use to stay successful in business and in life—I think everything’s connected. Now I’m at a point in my life at age 54 in which I want to mentor younger artists. I like sharing my life story about things that worked for me—and what hasn’t worked for me. And then when I went through the process of doing this, realized I really wasn’t reinventing the wheel: The things I’m talking about are truths, whether you’re studying businesspeople, successful songwriters, philosophies, you’re going to hear the same mantra over and over again: Leave your ego at the door.
2. Collaborate in Order to Facilitate Success
Collaborate and work with other people because they’re gonna bring ideas and fresh energy into that session. Work with somebody you dig– that’ll help you get out your ideas.
When I’m trying to write a song that isn’t happening, and I can’t write a melody to save my life. I now have the presence of mind to say, take a break, go listen to some music. Remember what you love about music—so I’m always listening to new music as well.
If I’m hitting my head against a wall, I’ll approach the song a different way. Normally, I’ll write a song on guitar, but sometimes it’s just not happening. So I’ll start with a lyric. If that’s not working I’ll do a beat or I’ll listen to a song I love and be like, “Well, what are the chords to that song?” then I’ll reverse engineer the idea. So I really have an arsenal of things to help me finish the song.
But keep in mind: That idea you’re looking for is always in the room. So what are the ways you can give yourself a better chance at being able to capture it? For me, it’s like running around a room with a butterfly net—that song or life changing idea is there. You just have to get it.
I was in the songwriting session in 2012. I was working with Shy Carter, a songwriter who worked on a lot of Nelly songs. I started playing guitar. At the time, Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” Jason Mraz’ “I’m Yours” were really big. I was like, well, let’s do something like that. And I started playing a guitar part—it had kind of a breezy, summer feel. Three hours later, we had nothing.
We took a break, and Shy said, let’s put some Auto Tune on this. That was the thing that changed our attitude and from we approached the song from a different way. By using this technology, within 30 minutes, we had a hit record.
I was like, “This is a f***ing hit song.” I sent it over to Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland. About five days later, they cut it. It’s their biggest song—“Stuck Like Glue.” And that was a song I was ready to quit on that day. But we just kept at it, and we kept trying different approaches to finishing the song.
I typed up this little phrase that says “The song is always there.” It’s the idea that in that room, the song is always there. You just have to you persevere at it and use different tools to get that inspiration.
3. Kevin Griffin Knew When to Say When
I don’t drink anymore. I never was a heavy drinker, but now I don’t drink at all. Now it’s just about treating my body better.
I’ve always stayed in shape. But now, I’m an everyday guy. At 54 I am not having the ailments a lot of my peers are having. So I think kind of my mantra has kind of always been consistency, not duration.
I’m 6’4’’ and my metabolism has always been if I’m not working out, I’m losing weight. When I drank I would lose weight—most people I think gain weight. So I have to eat and work out a lot, otherwise I kind of waste away.
When I was younger I was more resilient, but as I got older the alcohol stopped working. I was in my early 40s, and I’d be hung over and having to do a show that night. Finally I got to the point in which this was no longer sexy or cool. This has become lame. So I just stopped.
Now, what I love most is that every day I’m at 100 percent. I never have days in which I’m hung over. I never have days where I may be there physically, but somewhere else mentally or spiritually. Then I think, look at all of the days I get back. So when it comes to alcohol and partying, I’ve checked those boxes. I’ve realized there were too many cautionary tales in music, and nobody is immune. And I was no exception.
4. Kevin Griffin Stays Fit to Be a Rockstar
I think consistency is the main thing. I work out all the time. My workouts aren’t all that long, but I do them every day. This may be right or wrong, but it’s what works for me.
My routine is that I’ll run two miles or go for 30 minutes on the Peloton— I’ll do Peloton for my legs or I’ll do the arms intervals with Tunde [Oyeneyin]—she’s a beast.. Then I’ll go to my gym, where I’ll do a couple rounds of incline bench presses, some Arnold presses, pullups, and some battle ropes.
Pullups for me has been the key because I think most tall guys most people in general are really, really weak backs. Most adults can’t do pullups for that matter. I’ve always done pullups and I work on them. I’ll do three or four rounds of that circuit. And that’s it.
Then I just hydrate. I’ll also make a great smoothie every day, and that’s my consistency.
What I found is that when I wasn’t consistent with exercise, it was because I dreaded it. There was a time when I was doing Iron Tribe or CrossFit, I’d be like, it’s gonna kick my ass, and then I would stop doing it. But if I know it’s not that much, but because I’m doing it every day, it all just ads up
The ultimate way to stay in shape for musicians is rest, hydrate consistently, and do something every day. I learned from writing this book every day, that if you just do al ittle bit every day, a week later, a month later, six months, a year, suddenly you’ve done a s*** ton of work, you know? So whether it’s your body or a book you’re writing, I’m all about just a little bit every day.
5. Keep Learning and Will Never Give Up
Educate yourself about the music business. There are so many books, like Donald Passman’s “It’s the business of music.” Listen to podcasts, and know the business of your business. Know it.
So many musicians go into the business, and they wonder why they’re not having success. It’s because they don’t know what’s happening in their business. They don’t know who to get the song to.
Do, however, write all the time and do record yourself.
These days, your laptop computer is a million-dollar recording studio. Using Pro Tools or Pro Logic or Ableton, you can have a song that sounds every bit as good as Billy Eilish and Finneas. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you. And don’t just sit around.
Do, go out and don’t quit. Just don’t quit.
At the end of the day, the people who have success in the music industry are the people who didn’t quit. They’re not always the most talented. They’re not always the smartest. They’re the ones who had a little bit of both, and the didn’t quit. They learned about the business, they hustled every day and they stayed savvy. And they were able to know music and also the business. They realized those are not mutually exclusive. If you want one, the other comes with it. it’s the music business.