Music industry veteran Kevin Griffin is known for being a founding member of rock band Better Than Ezra and now, he’s sharing the lessons learned from his decades-long career in his book The Greatest Song: Spark Creativity, Ignite Your Career, and Transform Your Life. The business parable tells the story of fictional songwriter Jake Stark navigating the highs and lows of his career, redefining success, and paving a new path to happiness.
Music Mayhem chatted with Griffin about how the book came to life, the real people who inspired the characters, and what’s on the horizon for the author, songwriter, artist, and entrepreneur.
About four years ago, Griffin started writing this book after the idea had lived in his mind for quite some time, originating from speeches he had been giving to businesses. During a jog one day, Griffin had the idea for a title – “The Greatest Song.” The writing process would happen in spurts. “I would be really diligent and do every day for three weeks in a row. Then I would go for three months without writing any. But as I got closer and closer and I could see the end in sight, that’s when I sped up.”
This wasn’t Griffin’s first attempt at releasing a book. Back in 2000, he’d finished a book and began editing it with an award-winning fiction writer, Amanda Boyden. “Then I just got distracted and I let it go,” he admits. The novel had a similar premise to The Hangover, so once the movie came out, he felt it was a much funnier version of what he’d written. But he learned that he enjoyed writing.
The former English major learned several lessons throughout the process of writing this book, including a new perspective on himself. Griffin discovered that he enjoyed writing once he sits down and is doing it, that he has stories he wants to tell, and that he likes the escapism of diving into different worlds. He also learned that creating a book is a long process.
“My God, there’s so many different rewrites and stuff,” he laughs. Although the work is fictional, Griffin found pieces of himself in the main character, Jake Stark. “There’s the saying, write what you know. And even when you don’t know what you’re writing, write what you know. In this instance, I was writing about myself in a lot of the instances. I learned that as much as I didn’t want to say I’ve had ups and downs in my career, by writing about Jake Stark, I kind of realized it.”
He compared the experience to a psychologist asking a patient to use a sock puppet to describe something traumatic that happened in their life. ”Somebody can say something traumatic or something in their life a lot easier if it’s not them, but it is them talking, right? So maybe through the voice of Jake Stark, I learned more about myself.”
Griffin drew from his personal experiences to create several characters in the novel, including the name of the main character. “Jake is the name of my nephew, and I just think Jake’s a solid name,” he laughs. “And then there’s a guy named Joe Stark who is this amazing musician who lives down in New Orleans. He’s this incredible guitarist and he’s a good dude. And I’ve always liked the name Joe Stark, so I combined Jake Griffin and Joe Stark and came up with that name.”
While writing the book, Griffin was putting the names of his friends in the story and realized he needed to make some changes before it was released. “I was like, holy s**t, this is coming out [and] I need to change these names!” He wanted the narrative to be authentic, so many of the characters were amalgamations of people he’s met over the years. “I wanted it to be pulling the curtain back on kind of what we do as songwriters and the insecurities we feel, the challenges, the rewards in this town.” Griffin also wanted it to showcase a day in the life, or in this instance, it describes the modern songwriting community in Nashville over a two-week period.
Griffin revealed some of the real people behind the characters, including Dan and Tom Walker (Brad and Brett Warren of the Warren Brothers), the Colton Brothers (Brothers Osborne), and Shane Sawyer (songwriter Tom Douglas). “If Tom Douglas was a real tall, sexy Sam Elliott,” he laughed. “When you write with Tom, he has this stool that rolls, at least he did. And it’s a saddle. He sits on this saddle, it’s a stool and rolls around, and he comes with these most amazing lyrics.”
The character Kate Boom was inspired by songwriter Sam Hollander, who has written hits for Panic! At the Disco and Fitz and the Tantrums.
“He’s somebody who is a great example of knowing the business of your business. Sometimes with songwriters, it does have to be about the song. And you get a great song. But then once you have a great song, there’s a lot of great songs. There’s a really depressing amount of amazing songs written every day in Nashville that will never get heard. So then it really becomes incumbent on you to know how to get your song to the finish line. And one of the things I talk about is you gotta know the business of your business.”
Kevin Griffin continued, “Too many writers don’t know anything that’s happening in their business. They don’t know who’s happening on the charts right now. They don’t know who are the writers and the producers on those songs that are at the top right now, they don’t know who the A&R guy is or who are running the different labels, or the senior VP of a label where they want to get a song to an artist. But all that information is available. And Sam Hollander does that better than anybody.”
The Greatest Song: Spark Creativity, Ignite Your Career, and Transform Your Life is structured into five practices that Jake Stark learns, which align with the five traditional parts of a song. While a song is characterized by an intro, verse, chorus, bridge, and coda, the five practices are categorized by the following: creative collaboration, filling the well, leaving your comfort zone, change your attitude, and dare to be stupid.
Griffin says that if people want to compete at any level of their career, especially as they age, they have to keep evolving. “It has to be with intention. And you’ve gotta do things that keep you successful and nimble, and that’s what this book is about.”
After discovering these practices, what does Griffin think Jake Stark would be doing today? “I think he’s in this groove where his family comes first and he realizes, that’s the real key.” He added, “I like to think that Jake is still doing the method. If not every day, he’s doing it a lot of the time. You know, there’s that saying, progress, not perfection. So he’s still trying to get it right, still writing, still looking for that next big hit, but most importantly, happy with his family.”
Griffin commented that it’s easy to get in the trap of always saying, what’s next? “You get to one peak you think you wanted to climb, and then you see the next peak in the distance that you want to get to. So it’s really about enjoying the moment and being grateful for it.”
Better Than Ezra
Outside of his new book, the Better Than Ezra frontman is balancing several aspects of his own career. He’s writing songs four to five times a week and recently had a song he co-wrote that was most added at country radio, “Shoot Tequila” by Tigirlily Gold.
Additionally, Kevin Griffin shared that Better Than Ezra will have a new album coming out this fall and a single that coincides with their summer tour with Train. The tour kicks off July 19 in Paso Robles, CA and runs through August 19 in Uncasville, CT.