Counting Crows

Adam Duritz Talks About His ‘Alien’ Experiences With Counting Crows, Summer Touring & Plans For New Music

Counting Crows

If you happen to be planning to go see a Counting Crows concert this summer, you should know that you’ll more than likely be getting two shows for the price of one. Fans in selected markets who purchase a ticket to see a Crows show will also receive a free download of Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow, the band’s new live album.

Born out of a series of new music industry showcases, the Roadshow was last summer’s traveling modern day music carnival which featured a specially curated day of up and coming bands handpicked by Duritz and his co-conspirator, music blogger Ryan Spaulding. Duritz himself acted as the emcee, bringing each band onstage and often remaining side of stage throughout each band’s performance, taking in the musical vibes from each set. With the bill of bands rotating from day to day, it was a ticket brimming with a lot of opportunity for new music discovery and consumption, with a headlining set from Counting Crows bringing each evening to a close.

The Roadshow dates found the Counting Crows rediscovering themselves musically, performing arguably some of the best sets of their career. For Duritz, it brought the chance to recapture some much needed positive mojo both with the band and personally. The previous years had been a struggle for the Crows wordsmith as he battled through hard times mentally and wrestled with the related ill effects of the prescription medications which he had been given to help weather the storm. Although those meds kept him safe, as he details to us during our conversation, they left him feeling isolated from reality, as if he’d been encased “in amber.”

A summer out on the road with the Crows and their fellow Roadshow bands brought about better times for Duritz and for the first time in a long while, a desire to create new music. Duritz shares some information with us regarding the band’s plans for recording a new album and it’s clear that he’s excited about everything that is ahead for the group.

On deck first will be a series of summer tour dates with longtime comrades the Wallflowers in tow. Jeff and I recently had the chance to speak with Adam about that upcoming tour, the new live album and a number of other subjects. The conversation which was originally intended for our podcast The Matt ‘N’ Jeff Radio Hour had some severe audio issues which thankfully didn’t keep us from rescuing the actual interview to share with you here.

Enjoy!

Matt: First of all, let’s talk about this new live album, Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow. It’s a timepiece that documents a particular tour that I think you really enjoyed curating and being a part of.

Yeah, I mean the whole year was really great. Something about making the Underwater Sunshine record really woke the band up. We played the best live shows of our career last year and it just seems to be getting better and better. The tour we just got back from in Australia and the UK was even better. I don’t know what happened exactly, but things have been really cool.

Matt: During that tour, it seems like you guys were rediscovering the This Desert Life album. There were quite a few songs from that album that made their way back into the setlist.

Yeah, you know, we basically played that entire record. The only song we didn’t get to was “Amy Hit The Atmosphere” and that’s just me being too lazy to learn the piano part. Other than that, we really got through the entire record. The songs from that record, I don’t want to say that they dominated the setlist, but they were very present in every setlist every night. “I Wish I Was A Girl” and “High Life” became staples in the set and you know, “Colorblind” always was. “Speedway” made its way back in and we’ve always played “St. Robinson” and we continue to do that, but also songs like “Four Days” got back in the set and it just became the album everybody [in the band] wanted to play.

Matt: All of the Counting Crows albums have been interesting, but that one in particular seems like it might have been a confusing record for the label to figure out what they were going to do with it.

Well basically as cooperative as Geffen always was about letting us have our creative freedom, they seemed to fall apart [with] every record [that was released]. Our A&R guy left before we started mixing August, I think. And then the president of the label left right before we released Recovering The Satellites and the biggest toss was before This Desert Life when we suddenly found ourselves really on Interscope, because Geffen got swallowed up and there wasn’t even anybody there that we knew anymore. We were on a completely different label and we arrived with this bizarre quirky album.

We were really into listening to early Radiohead and Sparklehorse and Built to Spill and we were just going off to make some noises in the studio. We did it with Dennis Herring and David Lowery, who had produced Sparklehorse and Cracker albums together and we were just into making a lot of weird sounds — singing songs upside down and just a lot of weird shit.I think we showed up to Interscope and they were like, “Oh, Counting Crows is here, great — they have a lot of hits!” and [then], “What the fuck is this?” Personally, it might be my favorite of our records in some ways. The songs are great and they’re really heartfelt. It’s really interesting musically. It’s got this natural Americana thing we’ve always had, but it’s mixed in with some really loopy shit. It’s kind of a twisted record, but I really love it.

Matt: It’s interesting to hear you say that. I think that album for me as well as Hard Candy, which came after it, those were two albums that I didn’t get right away the first time that I listened to them, but I really grew to love them over time as I continued to listen to them. Now, I would say that those two records are indeed two of my favorite records from the catalog.

Yeah, me too. Song for song, they really do kind of kill it. Each of the records is dear to me in its own way. Maybe I like those two so much because I don’t think they were that appreciated at the time. We were just all talking about it, [how] we were on a strange and bizarrely different label. We’d been on this like indie rock label [prior to that], DGC and that part of Geffen was the Sundays, the Posies, us and Nirvana, but you’ve got to remember that us and Nirvana, however big they ended up, we were like college radio bands at the time.

Nobody was expecting either of us to be the biggest thing in the world. There was a lot of indie rock on that label and then all of the sudden we were on Interscope and Universal. Although the people there were nice and everything, I think we landed like aliens there and they didn’t know what the fuck to do with us, because we certainly weren’t the same band that had made August & Everything After. We were into all kinds of different shit at that point. I thought we were making great records, but I don’t think they knew what to do with us. I think they were just kind of disappointed, like, “what happened to you guys while we weren’t looking?” But I don’t know — you know, we’re musicians — we’re weird. To me, creatively, it’s a great time for the band.

Jeff: I want to go back a little bit to the whole thing about making live documents, because I think the live album has become something of a lost art over the last 20 years and you guys seem to approach it with a little bit more enthusiasm and deliberateness than a lot of bands do. It’s become a contract filler for a lot of acts.

It’s a weird thing. We were talking about this the other day with some of the guys in the band. We’ve recorded everything all along, so we’ve always had the ability to make an album like this one, but strangely, we never have. We’ve got a lot of live records, but we’ve always concentrated on a particular evening. Across A Wire was made up of two distinct electric shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom and one acoustic show when we played Storytellers, but they were shows. They weren’t drawn from multiple dates.

Even the Heineken Hall one I think was almost all from one gig, really. And then we did the August and Everything After thing, which was again, played one time. When we started talking about doing something to document last year, it just seemed like it had been such a good year for playing gigs and there were probably some great single gigs, but there were also great tracks from all different places. The way we did it is that I just said to each of the guys in the band, “go back and look and tell me two shows that you loved and then get those two shows from our sound guy, take them home and listen to them and get me a review, song by song.” Tell me what’s good, is there anything worth keeping, [whether it’s] the whole show or whatever you want.

Everyone did that and that took us a few months. People doing two or three shows each, that got us through about 20 shows, which you know, is plenty. When someone would come back to me with a review of a show that said something was really good, I would pass it onto someone else in the band and then go “okay, what do you think of this one?” We kind of had people double cover everything and narrowed it down to the best material at that point, which saved me from listening to 20 shows — although I probably ended up listening to almost all of them anyways. We just sort of narrowed it down to way too much material and then somehow we chopped it into an album. There were lots of great versions of songs — it was hard to decide.

Jeff: One of the things that I really dig about this record is that even though the performances are really tight, there’s still an appealing roughness about it. It seems obvious that there hasn’t been any studio sweetening added to it after the fact, and that’s another thing that seems to be commonplace with live records.

Yeah, we mixed it, but I don’t know if we did anything else to it. We did it really quickly. We were soundchecking everyday for the past year and we’ve been using soundchecks as rehearsal, so whenever anybody wanted to do a different song, we would just soundcheck it. When it was ready, which often just meant “can we fucking play it without fucking up?,” we’d throw it in the show. So they do have this like “this is the first time we did this feeling” I think on a lot of stuff, because that happened sometimes. We just hadn’t played a song in years, learned it at soundcheck and put it in the show and something came alive that night. That version of “Rain King,” that’s the first time I ever did that “Lippy Kids” thing, the Elbow song.

None of the other guys even knew that song except for Immy [Crows multi-instrumentalist David Immergluck]. I played him a video that I had of it of them performing it in some studio in London months and months ago. We were at this show and I don’t know why, but all of the sudden in the middle of “Rain King,” I just dropped in “Lippy Kids” and I’m just doing it. I’d never done it before and I wasn’t even sure I knew the words, I just started doing it and it was cool. It’s funny, because later on after the show, I said to Charlie, “it was really cool what you did, you kind of picked up on the ‘build a rocket, boys’ thing,” and he was like doing all of this really spacey organ stuff. But then when I went back and listened to it later, I realized that he was [already] doing that at the beginning of the song.

So now I wonder if subconsciously his little spacey organ shit didn’t get me to go do “Lippy Kids” and kick into the “build a rocket, boys” thing. It’s funny, when you’re in a band and you really are listening to each other, things inspire things. I thought I’d inspired him to start playing it and then I realized that earlier he was already playing it and maybe he inspired me to start singing it. I don’t know, but it’s cool. That was the last show of that leg and it was the only time we’d done that. We’ve done it since then but that was the first time we ever did it and we just put it on the record anyways. That was the last show we played before we compiled the record and we just put that “Lippy Kids” thing on it and I’m sure we’ve done it better since then but there was something really exciting about it that night.

Matt: What did you come away from this experience of that tour? Because you were the guy who was out onstage the most each night because as the emcee. It seems like you were out there for nearly every minute of every band, plus your own set with the Counting Crows to close out each night.

I’m sure there was something that called me offstage at some point during some set, but for the most part, I think I was onstage for almost every set of every band all summer. It was really fun. You know, this grew out of the Outlaw Roadshow [industry showcase gigs] that Ryan Spaulding and I have been putting on for years now and it’s something that we take a lot of pride in. It’s a labor of love. There was something about being at the shows that it was just like the Roadshow.

I mean, we were calling it the Roadshow, but these were all of the bands that we’d been showcasing and it just seemed like the place to be was onstage. That was where I wanted to be and that was where it was all happening. It was cool. There were just these great bands discovering how to play in these kind of venues [and] how to open a show, be the first band onstage and still get the audience going. They were learning how to play before the main act, how to carry it through the middle and [with] all of the things that they were doing, it was cool.

It was a hot summer too, it was over a hundred degrees [some nights] and with all of those lights onstage, I’d get onstage with the Counting Crows set and go “whoa, I’m a little out of it now.” But there was something really great about it too. It was one of the most enjoyable summers I’ve ever had.

Matt: This summer, you’ll be out on the road with the Wallflowers and it seems like that at least on paper, you’re getting back to a more traditional type of tour with this scheduled run.

Oh definitely. You know, what we’ve been doing for the last few years is taking around a lot of the indie bands that we really love, [the] up and coming bands [and as a result] the Counting Crows tours have kind of been a traveling music festival in some ways. It’s more expensive and it takes a lot of work and concentration and promotion trying to bring all of the attention that the bands need.

It’s kind of a lot of stuff and right now I’m [also] writing. We just went around the world and we got back and I just wanted to go on a short tour this summer, because we want to go in and record in the fall. After going around the world to Australia and England, it was a really, really busy time and it just didn’t seem like the right summer to do the Outlaw Roadshow thing. Somebody called and said “the Wallflowers want to go on the road, do you want to take them out” and I thought “yeah, that’s easy.”

It’s sort of a no-brainer. If you like the bands, the show sort of sells itself. It’s just going to be opening and closing — they’re going to open and we’re going to close and it’s not the same thing as what we’ve been doing [with the Outlaw Roadshow] at all — it’s just a regular tour, but that’s kind of the point of this. Because this time, I want to concentrate on [having] some time off [by] writing songs right now, working on songs during the tour, soundchecking and working on stuff and then getting ready to record in the fall.

So I really wanted less distraction this time — I’ll have stuff coming up with the Outlaw Roadshow at CMJ in the fall anyway and Ryan and I will have to start working on that soon. But I just wanted to clear my mind and get ready to make a record. So really, you’re absolutely right. It’s much simpler and it’s a more straightforward thing on purpose.

Jeff: I’m glad to hear you say you’re writing again, because I just read an interview from last month in which you seemed like you might be getting ready to pull a Billy Joel and give it up. You said you were “shared out.”

I think I was talking to the guy about something that I have felt recently…..the funny thing is that he must have taken it out of context. But certainly after we made Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, I felt a bit shared out. At some point, is there anything else that you have left to share with people at a certain point? I mean, that album was such a gut-emptying thing that afterwards I was like “geez, I don’t know what to say now.”

But then also, because I went and worked on a play, which I thought would be really hard to write from a different perspective, because I’d never done that for other characters than myself, writing for different voices [and] women. But I really took to it and I loved it. It was hard to drag myself back to writing about myself. There was a part of me that sort of felt like “I have shared enough — I don’t want to write about me anymore.” I was really being me writing about these other characters plugging in the way that I feel, but the knowledge that I wasn’t going to sing it was great. I tried to explain it like that as something that was in the past tense, but it’s probably a much more interesting piece if you write it as if I’ve decided not to care anymore. That’s probably what he did — I don’t know. But even then, I was already working on all of these songs.

Jeff: I’m glad that you brought up Black Sun, because we’ve spoken with a few artists who have tried to put together plays and we know that it can be a much longer and more frustrating process than putting together a record.

Oh, you can’t even compare them. For one thing, you’re collaborating with a kind of writer you’ve never collaborated with before. Words kind of go together with the plot — and also, you have multiple people. The band, we’re all in a band together, so even though we have other things going on, the band is our priority. For a playwright like Steven Belber, my co-writer, he’s a playwright. He’s got to be putting plays up, which he has; right now, as we’ve been working, he’s directing his second movie since we started on the play.He’s put up like three plays and two movies since we started this play. That interrupts things and I’ve gone away on tour and made a record, so that all kind of gets in the way. And especially if you time it wrong, where right when I get done working on a record and I have a break before touring, he’s putting a play up onstage, and right when he’s done with the play, I’m getting out on tour and then I get back and he’s directing a movie. So aside from all of the difficulties of really putting a show together, which we haven’t even gotten into, it’s a lot of work and it’s not as synchronized as the band is. But it’s understandable. I hope I finish it eventually, because I think it’s really cool and Stephen’s a great guy.

Matt: How has all of this stuff been contributing to your ideas for a Counting Crows record?

Well I don’t know if they contribute to each other. They’re very different. I’ve got about eight pieces of music with partial lyrics that I’m working on right now. I don’t have eight finished songs, but I have about eight pieces that are in the mix that I really like. Maybe when it’s done, I can look back on it and say “well, that was kind of influenced by this,” but there’s just no way to see it ahead of time. I have no idea. I’m excited to make the record, though.

It’s been a long time since I’ve started a record and didn’t think I was fucking dying. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, it started out as just Saturday Nights and when we started to make that record, I didn’t know if I was going to make any other records after that. That was me losing my mind and as I sort of got better during the making of it, sort of, a little….I was able to turn things around a little bit….it’s not better, but it’s not going down a hole anymore. So we ended up with the Sunday Mornings part as well but I went into that [whole] record feeling doomed. So it’s been a while since I really felt like writing songs about stuff and [also] going and making a record. Then I’m [also] actually excited about going and touring it and doing all kinds of things next year. I’ve finally been excited about all of this, especially with the way we’re playing lately. It’s just crazy good.

Matt: How did you work past all of that and get back into the frame of mind where you wanted to make new music again?

I spent a lot of time last year weaning myself off of all of these medications that I was on that were prescribed to me but it was probably way too much. I think it was probably because I was at a time where I was really having a hard time, so the medications were prescribed to keep me safe, but they were also like keeping me inside amber. I spent eight or nine months coming off all of those drugs. And then I really do think that making Underwater Sunshine has changed the band in a lot of ways. It opened up everyone’s perspective, because for some reason, like two shows into that tour, we just started playing really well and it just got better and better and better and better.

It’s some combination of…the band is just spectacular right now and I’ve spent two or three years, thanks to Ryan in large part, surrounded by all of these other bands and for the first time in a long time, I feel like I have a peer group. You know, when you start off in Berkeley or San Francisco or wherever you’re from, all of your friends play music too, or at least a lot of them do. You have a whole group of friends who play in bands and it really is nice.Then all of your friends either quit the band eventually or you just sort of don’t have peers anymore — unless you’re going to go to the Grammys and hang out with that crowd. That’s just never been my thing, really. But the last three years with the Outlaw Roadshow and all of this stuff, it’s been kind of great. I wouldn’t say I’m fully healthy — my brain is still a mess, but I don’t feel like I’m dying and I feel like I’m doing really well and playing and that’s kind of nice. It’s full of possibilities.