It’s been a long career for Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz
Throughout rock music’s magnetic, and often mystical hold on listeners, there have been artists who transcend the here and now, and find themselves a part of the musical zeitgeist. You’d be hard pressed to find someone, regardless of cultural background, and general taste, to not recognize certain musical artists. Play “Across the Universe” and they’ll tell you it’s The Beatles. Play “Satisfaction” and they’ll tell you it’s The Rolling Stones. It’s no different for Counting Crows, who’ve been around since the early 1990s, and first came onto the scene with the hit “Mr. Jones,” which, ironically, was a song about the desire to make it big, from their first album August and Everything After. But speaking with Counting Crows’ front-man, Adam Duritz, the band is continuing to expand their creative selves as they embark on their Somewhere Under Wonderland Tour across America in promotion of their latest album of the same name.
Somewhere Under Wonderland is Counting Crows first original album in seven years.
“I was busy writing a [play] with a friend of mine, titled Black Sun, and it ended up having a huge influence on this album”, Duritz shared. “It was the first time I had ever written for characters who weren’t me. I’ve been a very autobiographical writer, and I thought I had to be an autobiographical writer to have stuff that was meaningful, but in writing the play, that wasn’t true at all. The main thing was to write about how I felt, and I realized I could write about how I felt in other people’s stories, as well. It opened up a huge expanse of choices for me to write about, both emotionally and effectively without couching them in my daily diary. That was a huge wake up call for me, and influenced the writing on this record.”
As a songwriter, Duritz would normally write a song in one sitting, regardless if it took 40 minutes, like it did for “Rain King,” or an eight-hour sitting, like “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby.” But for a few years he struggled to complete his writing. “If I didn’t finish something, it was because I didn’t think it was very good, and I would just throw it out,” he said. “But I realized I had a lot of pieces of songs in my phone, in my notes, in my computer, that weren’t finished, but I tried to document as well as I could and not just throw it out.”
It wasn’t until the fall of 2013 – the band got together once a week at Duritz’ place in New York – that he started actually playing the pieces. “We would bounce ideas off each other, and go through these ideas I had and the responses were so much more enthusiastic than I thought they were going to be, and I began to realize that I’d been cutting myself off in a lot of ways, because these [songs were different],” Duritz said. “If you always thought of blue as quality, and colors as just gradations of blue, and then you do something that’s red, you might see it as just a really bad blue.” From that revelation, he began completing the songs. Known traditionally for moody lyrics, Duritz found himself writing humor in songs, writing about other people’s lives, and expanding the content of his stories. “All my ideas were changing, but I wasn’t seeing them for what they were.”
Though his approach to song writing has expanded, California still plays a character through several of his songs. “I just think as an American, in general, California is this sort of mythological manifest destiny for all of us, like when you think of some place to go, it’s the one that’s out there,” Duritz explained. “But none of it is complete. We have places that represent hope, but nothing ever stays hope forever. It’s like they say, the ‘California dream’, but once you get there it’s just real, and it’s not the same as it is staying a dream. That dream becomes your reality, which just isn’t as cool.”
As the decades go by, and the consumer accesses music through different outlets, like Spotify and iTunes, Counting Crows continue to write their albums with the complete scope in sight. “You could go back to doing singles, and that might be smarter nowadays, but that’s just not what we do. Singles aren’t our strength. We’ve had hit singles, but we write albums and I think that’s what we do really well. For some reason every time we do a single, people want to say this is an example of how we shit the bed,” Duritz joked. “Any time you get a single, people want to make that represent where you’re at, and it’s just not true. For example, I really love ‘Accidentally in Love’ (from Shrek 2 soundtrack). It’s a timeless song, but it’s not at all reflective of our records. But people saw it as us selling out, and it’s just asinine.”
While their live shows have come to be known for surprises, often changing out lyrics in place of another artist’s, or just mixing it on stage during one of their many hits, the band continues to find ways to boost the energy amongst the members. “It occurred to me at the beginning of our career that if you don’t want to play a song, then you just don’t play it. I mean you know you’re going to go on tour, but you don’t really conceive of what it means to do something every night. If you were just wandering through a city alone, and meet someone, you may never see that person again. But in a band, you meet someone in a city, you’re going to come back and see them again.”
Duritz had noticed within the first year of touring that the band had grown bored with many of their songs on account of playing the same set every night. “Anything you do a lot, that you don’t want to do, will start to grade on you,” he commented. “I change the set list every single night, so almost nothing gets played the same every night. We did a tour across Europe and New Zealand, and we didn’t play “Mr. Jones” at any of those shows for some reason, but on our last tour we played it every night. So it just changes.”
There is one song that they have found almost always make it in the set list. “No one seems to get tired of ‘A Long December,'” Duritz confessed. “It’s not on purpose that we play it at almost every show, it just is. I don’t ever not want to play it. It’s just great, and I can’t think of any of our other songs that is that way, and I don’t know why that is, either. But if we really want to play something, we’ll play it. We rehearse every day at sound check and we work songs that we haven’t been playing in a while into the set list from there.” But with their catalogue of songs, Counting Crows are open to play it all. “About a year ago, at the end of our last summer’s tour in America we had like 80 plus songs in rotation, which is a lot.”
For the Counting Crows, their fans remain of central importance, with Duritz having managed the Counting Crows social media pages and communicating with fans long before social media was even a part of our daily lives. “I just saw it as a really good way to directly communicate with our fans.” Duritz added, “Some years radio is going to love you and you’re going to be everyone’s center of culture, and in other years no one’s going to give a fuck about you, and it might be a good idea to talk directly to people with that happens.”
Counting Crows’ Somewhere Under Wonderland Tour across America kicks off in Miami July 31 and runs until mid-October. The band crosses North Carolina this week, with shows in Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh. !
Counting Crows plays Red Hat Amphitheater on Wednesday. Tickets for the show start at $55 before online fees and the show is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.