Generally, the point of this column
is for me to talk to another artist about one song, but there were so many I
wanted to talk to Adam Duritz about, we couldn’t settle on one, so we figured
it would be much easier (“easier” being a relative term) to discuss
Counting Crows’ new covers record, Underwater Sunshine, their summer tour, and
any number of other things, with the exception of beach sports.
KA: I was going to ask, “What should
we talk about” but, I guess, your record?
Adam Duritz: Ask me about Lebanese volleyball.
KA: I feel like you’ve already
covered that in so many interviews. The last thing I want is for people to read
this and, “Oh, another interview where Duritz talks about Lebanese volleyball.”
Let’s talk about Underwater Sunshine. When I visited you guys in the
studio, the idea was that the record would sort of be endless, for lack of a
better word. That no longer appears to be the case.
AD: Yeah, we realized that it just couldn’t work that way.
iTunes couldn’t really do it. Not iTunes the store, but the program. We thought
we would just call everything we did – all the covers from here on out – a part
of this album. But they don’t want an album that is ever-expanding. It’s funny,
iTunes is so forward-thinking, but they still want it to be a store; physical
goods embodied by bits. In the long run, it would just be a lot of confusion,
so we had to back off of that idea.
KA: You make reference in the liner
notes to some tense moments in the studio yielding some of your more creative
arrangement ideas. When you go in making a record of other people’s material,
does it change the approach at all?
AD: It did something really weird for the band that we weren’t
even thinking about at the time. The band is 100 times better now than we were
before we started this record. The entire process was very liberating and now
the shows are… there’s not so much at stake with covers, so we just let go and
played. Just let go. We got looser; got less self-conscious, less worried,
which makes it easier for me to sing. I don’t feel like I have to put on a show
every night, I can just sing, and that comes from the entire process of
recording and playing these songs. The looseness that came from this record
kinda transformed the band. I didn’t expect it.
KA: A hundred times better? You were
a pretty fucking good band before you started this record.
AD: Yeah, whatever we were doing before was working pretty
well, but this is different. It certainly has affected the shows. It changed
the way I was singing everything. It changed the way we were playing things. This tour
started off with me being intensely uncomfortable on stage. Stuck.
Self-conscious. So because of that – or maybe in spite of that – I just started
closing my eyes and singing. There’s a way in which I was just working really
hard in the past to express everything in the show, everything in the songs,
but now the music’s expressing those things. What happened was the music picked
right up. I just noticed it when I stopped moving around and became more
internal. The shows just got really, really good, and I didn’t have to work at
it. I’ve been standing at the center a lot, just standing at the mic stand, and
letting the songs do the rest.
KA: To dart back to the idea of an
endless record really quickly – I just remembered I wanted to ask you about how
you decided what to cut. There was a ton of material for this record.
[Stereophonics’] “Local Boy In the Photograph,” for instance, is one I loved.
AD: It got obvious to us, what belonged and what didn’t.
“Local Boy” was not finished. I wanted to go back and try some dissonant string
parts, and we just didn’t have time, so it didn’t make the cut. We tried that
Joe Jackson song, “It’s Different for Girls,” but I took the wrong track
KA: In what way?
AD: I had a great time singing it. You’re not supposed to have
a great time singing that song.
There were some songs that would surprise people that I
was close to leaving off. “Ooh La La” just wasn’t quite working for me. Immy
thought it was arrangement, I wasn’t sure. When Brian [Deck] mixed it, he fixed
that problem. Same thing with “Four White Stallions.” The first mix that Ian
Shaw and I did, I didn’t think it was gonna make it. It sounded too modern country,
but Brian figured it out.
KA: Brian Deck is really great. He
produced Joe Pug’s new record.
AD: He got these songs to do things we were trying to do when
we recorded them. He figured out where everything belonged.
KA: You guys do a fair amount of that
on your own, though. Watching you all track together, I couldn’t believe how
well everyone stayed out of one another’s way.
AD: The band made a huge leap forward on this record. Egos got
out of the way and communication got better in a way I’ve never seen before.
Maybe it was my being less uptight, maybe the fact that they weren’t our songs.
“All My Failures” might be the best recording of our band as a band; as an
example of everyone reacting to one another. That’s the closest we ever came to
jazz. It’s insanely communicative. The stuff between Immy and Dan is unreal. It
floors me. Charlie and Dave are playing pad instruments… and even with all the
sensitivity that went into playing it on the record, way more sensitivity goes
into playing it live. You figure out that some of the things we did on that
recording, you can’t do it live, so you might have to just get the fuck out of
the way. You have to know when it’s your moment.
KA: The other thing you did last year
was write the better part of a musical, with Stephen Belber. [Interviewer’s
note: the unfinished work, Black Sun, debuted at the Ojai Playwright’s
Conference, where it was performed by a cast including Rob Morrow and Evan
Rachel Wood.] But there, instead of you singing someone else’s songs, you’re
handing your songs off to other people, which is the first time you’ve ever
done that, right?
AD: There’s liberation in writing for not me; I’m not gonna
have to sing it. At first it was hard to let go, to get around the idea
that someone else’s voice was going to sing my words but, yeah, it’s been
really liberating. The more I learn about the characters, the more I’ll be able
to really figure out which songs work and which songs don’t; what’s needed and
KA: I really enjoyed Morrow’s
performance at Ojai. He doesn’t have what you’d call a “classic” singing voice
but there’s so much personality there.
AD: Yeah, I think you can get to a point where it’s almost an
artistic choice you’re making…
KA: That’s exactly what I tell myself
about my voice.
AD: Hey, Jeff Tweedy, Wayne Coyne. Those guys don’t have what
you’d call “classic” singing voices.
KA: Yes. I am exactly like Jeff
Tweedy and Wayne Coyne. I’m glad you touched on that. Getting back to the
record, this is your first release on your own label. How has it been so far?
AD: It’s been interesting, but everything is so different now.
There’s a lot of beneficial work that can be done right from home, and the work
we’ve been doing with Ryan [Spaulding, of the music blog Ryan’s Smashing Life],
the Outlaw Roadshow stuff, is clearly making a difference. With the tours this
summer, that’s really where you see what worked. Touring should be where
everything you do pays off, but it can be a grind if you haven’t done your due
KA: Which, at least in my opinion, is
figuring out a way to engage people, be it via Twitter and Facebook, or
whatever. That’s something you’ve definitely got a knack for.
AD: I think I do well with social media because it is social.
When I’m having a hard time socially, I have a hard time writing on Twitter. It
goes hand-in-hand; you know how my head gets weird sometimes.
KA: Yeah, I took two months off
recently for a whole slew of reasons. You start feeling like you have to
say something each day or people are going to forget you exist. At least that’s
how I get.
AD: It lowers your quality of life when you’re not
communicating with people. It’s something I really enjoy, it has just been hard
at times during the last year or so.
KA: Of course, for the majority of
the next few months, you’ll be communicating with thousands of people every
night. How have the shows been so far?
AD: They’ve been great. The first one was shaky because I was
so nervous and uncomfortable but I’m taking a lot better care of my voice
because I’m not trying to win the whole show so I’m saving those moments. I’m
not worrying so much about forcing this melody or that melody, I’m just letting
the music do its work and singing. There’s no melody that matters so much I
need to blow out my voice trying to hammer it home. I mean, no melody can
matter that much because I’ve been fucking them up for years and it seems to
KA: Your fans are the kind – at least
in my experience – that get very attached to certain material. With each new
record, less room gets left in the set for the older songs. How do you decide
what stays and what goes?
AD: Well, you want to play all of those songs, and you have
trouble taking them out. One thing I realized a long time ago was someone is
gonna be disappointed every night. It’s really whatever we feel like playing.
Right now I like playing “Like Teenage Gravity” — it gets better every
night. Some nights I even remember all the words.
KA: Well, you’re a step ahead of me,
then, and I wrote the fucking thing. Any calamitous injuries so far? You have a
history of finding new and inventive ways to destroy your body via on-stage
AD: No! But I do keep biting my tongue and lip.
KA: See. That’s a sign of maturation,
finding smaller and less debilitating ways to sabotage yourself.
AD: Yeah, it used to be I snap my leg in two, now I bite my
KA: Please call your next record Bite