Last week we had the chance to participate in a round-table talk with Adam Duritz, front man for Counting Crows, about their newest album ‘Underwater Sunshine’. The band, which was considered alternative with the release of their freshman effort ‘August and Everything After’ two decades ago, (which included the massive hit single Mr. Jones) has become an influential force in the evolution of contemporary rock.
Duritz discussed the motivation behind Sunshine, their sixth album and first independent release, which infuses their trademark style into a compilation of career influencing cover songs. The singer and pianist was not afraid to open up about the band, his personal journey, and the up and downs of the creative process.
There’s a really broad sloth of music on the new album from Dylan to Pure Prairie League. Is this an accurate distillation of the DNA at the heart of Counting Crows? If we were to toss all these songs in a blender, would we get an album of original Counting Crows music?
Adam Duritz: No, I don’t think so. I think an accurate distillation is a bunch of songs we like. I think that’s what it is; just songs we like that we felt like playing. That said, I think that it probably sounds a lot like a Counting Crows album, because when you make a record, songwriting isn’t the main thing you do. I think, I hate to say that, being that I do most of that, but I come in with some skeletons of songs; it’s just some chords and some words and that’s a long way from what you guys listen to on a record. The work that goes into an album, what makes us a band, if that what all it took, I’d be making solo records, but I’m not really interested in doing that. Most of the work that goes into making a record is turning that sort of skeleton of chords of music into a song, into, in our case, a Counting Crows song, and that’s something we all do together, and that takes most of the work, and that’s really no different on this album than any Counting Crows album, because that’s still what we did. The only difference is we didn’t limit ourselves to one writer. And it’s weird, when we were making this record, it never really occurred to me before this way, but being that that is the lion’s share of the work you do, it’s a little bit of a weird thing to limit yourself to one writer. When we were making this record, it was really occurring to me how much sense it made all those years when people made records with lots of songs recorded by lots of different people, not necessarily even written by themselves, and they made great records for years and years. I mean, and they don’t sound the same. I think that Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra sound completely different doing the same songs, as do the Beatles. I mean, all three of them recorded Beatles songs and they all sound really different, too. The Beatles recorded Chuck Berry songs. I mean, it was a weird thing. It was such a great liberating thing to get to work with so many other songwriters, in a way. I mean, it was like collaborating with people without them being there; although, sometimes they were there. I know Kasey Anderson was around when we were recording and so were the guys in the Romany Rye at one point. It’s just, it did a great thing for the band, too. It really, we didn’t even notice it at times. I noticed afterwards how much better I thought we played on this album; how the guitars were so much more aggressive and expansive and expressive, but when we got on the road on this last tour, it was like we were a different band. I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to run around; I felt like I could just stand there and barely move a muscle if I wanted to, and there was so much music that less was more. I didn’t have to overdo anything or over emote or even gesture if I didn’t want to, because the band had made a huge leap forward playing on this record and it had something to do with, like, I mean, I can only assume it had something to do with working with songs that weren’t mine. I don’t know why that should be better, but it was. I mean, it’s not what we’re going to at all, but, like, we could go through the rest of our career and never reckon the rig or the song and there would be so much good stuff to do, which is, of course, not what we’re going to do. I didn’t even really take last year off writing. I wrote plenty of songs last year; I just put them all into play, just working on a different thing with that part of the sort of skill set. I don’t know if that really answers your question, but –
Well, bouncing off that, having seen what happens to the band working with a bunch of different writers, do you foresee what Counting Crows do and record next as bringing more of the guys, forcing them to do more writing, either with you or on their own? Or some change in the way you make original Counting Crows music?
Adam Duritz: I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought of it. I don’t imagine I’ll start letting other people write the lyrics, but, and that’s what I think makes it the sort of, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know why it was different; maybe we were just at a time when we were going to make some changes, but there was something really great about it, really easy, really low pressure about the attitude we took into it; not about the way we played, because I still beat everybody up around the studio. But I don’t know; I get asked a lot of questions about what I think this or that means about the future and I have no idea what’s going on later today. I never know what songs are playing until sometime after sound check that evening, so the future is generally not something I think a lot about. That’s a crappy answer to your question; sorry,Gary.
What have all these past few years has not allowed you to put an original album out? I mean, why haven’t you pulled together enough songs to put out an original album?
Adam Duritz: I don’t know; didn’t think about doing it really. I mean, I was working on songs, but I put them into play. It wasn’t that we couldn’t as much as I didn’t really want to do that right then. It’s hard to do two things at once and it’s hard to write for two different things at once. I found that I really didn’t even want to. And also we really wanted to make this record. It’s kind of as simple as that. We actually really wanted to do it, which is a pretty good reason for us for doing it. It’s like, you get really caught up on working on other people’s schedule of expectations of what they think makes up a record or what they think you’re supposed to, but it’s not a schedule of expectations; it’s just our lives. And you’ve just kind of got to do what you want to do and not waste time trying to fulfill other people’s expectations, because, I mean, why should there be any. I mean, I kind of can’t really care. I can see why people have them, but I don’t see why I should care about fulfilling them because it’s just not, I don’t know; I suppose if I wanted to write songs, I would. I just didn’t really want to write songs for Counting Crows that I was going to have to sing. I mean, the nice thing with the play was I wasn’t playing them; I wasn’t singing them, so I felt really a different kind of liberation about expressing myself there. I don’t know. Sometimes you just don’t feel like being everybody’s confessor. I don’t know. I just didn’t want to really, I didn’t really want to talk about my life right then to everybody. I don’t know why.
In the Minor Note, you said that you guys picked these 15 songs because you think they’re all great songs and you’ve written so many great songs yourself. Can you talk a little bit about what you think makes a song powerful.
Adam Duritz: I don’t know. I mean, thankfully it’s a big, largely unquantifiable thing, because I have no idea what makes a song powerful. I don’t even know what makes a song something I like, because I like lots of different songs. I like, I got in a big argument with our fans at one point because I pointed out that I thought that Justin Timberlake’s first album was genius and that the production was brilliant, the songs were great; that it was just a fantastic album, and our fans, of course, that was all just wrong in that mindset. So, for whatever reason I got off on it and they didn’t. I don’t know why that is, but I don’t know. You know, some of the songs just, there’s a lot of good songs out there and these are just ones we like. If it was easy to break it down, I think more people would probably write them.
You’ve been alluding to the upcoming readings for the new musical, Black Sun, that you composed the music for and I was just wondering if you could give some details about the play and what the songwriting experience was like, and what ultimately the plans are, if you’d like to see it on Broadway one day.
Adam Duritz: Yeah, I think we all like to do that. People are doing other things right now. I mean, Caramel Jean’s been putting together some other stuff on her own. She was musical directing with me. And Steven Belberg; I mean, Steven’s always writing something else. We haven’t really done anything since last summer when we did it. I’ve just been busy with stuff for my band since then. I did it right in the middle of work on the record and it was really cool. I really enjoyed it. We had a great cast. We had Evan Rachel Wood was in it and Gina Loring, who’s Def Poetry, and it was just really kind of great. I really enjoyed doing it. It was interesting because I’ve never in my life; I wasn’t sure how it would go because I’ve never written any songs for anybody else. I wasn’t even sure if my songs were good if I wasn’t singing them. I mean, because I can kind of sing a songbook. So, I mean, I was wondering, like, have I been carrying my songs or are they okay without me singing and I really didn’t know because I’ve never seen anybody else play them. I’ve also never taught anyone to sing any of my songs. That’s always been something I did myself, so I wasn’t sure how that was going to be. I’ve never written for women’s voices and I did that on this one, too. I’ve never written for a voice from inside, not a musical voice, that wasn’t my own. And doing all those things was, like, I really wasn’t sure how any of it was going to go and we were Oh High with a lot of great playwrights. The playwright conference at Ojai is pretty high level playwriting. We were the only musical there and we were very unformed, but I found that I really loved it. I really loved doing it. There was something so great about writing and not singing, about just like the liberation of getting for one second enjoying. I’ve never seen a Counting Crows concert, not really. I mean, I’ve seen them on film, but I don’t know what that’s like. I’ve never been at one the same way as everyone else is without, like, being in the middle of emoting my ass off But in Ojai it was great. I was very nervous the day it went up, but also just had the best time watching it. And everybody wants to come back and do it more. It’s just a matter of getting me some time free to do it, and the plans for everybody to finish it and it’s just a matter of; I mean, the other thing I really learned when I was there is that writing a play and the collaboration that goes on is really hard. It’s the reason not a lot of great plays get written like that because the people who write them are very, very talented, and putting together, collaborating with book writers and making scripts and songs and making it all go together and figuring out what is it that makes people start to sing in the middle of a conversation, because I doesn’t occur in the rest of our lives. All those things are really complicated and it’s a big endeavor, so, I mean, I’d love to say it’ll be there for sure, but I think that would be disrespectful to the process because I think there’s a reason these things take time, because they’re just really hard to do. I have a lot of respect for that now after the work we put in, because we put a lot of work in. We put out about half a play and we really loved it and the audience kind of went crazy. It got quite a response, but it’s a long way from being done. Would I love to see it on Broadway? Sure. I mean, I’d love to see it. I want to go to the moon, too. I’d be happy with seeing it pop that way; really, that would be just, really. I mean, if it got to Broadway, that would be the greatest thing ever. It would be really cool. I’d really love to see that take place, but I don’t know.
Of all of the material you could have done, how did you cut out the ones you didn’t want on the recording?
Adam Duritz: Well, we had some ideas and we started playing them and, I mean, I kind of wanted it to be a 20 plus song album at one point. I just wanted to give the fans on our first independent release a wealth of music for a good price, but we just didn’t end up with 20 songs that worked. Because sometimes not every cover; we’re really trying to come up with our own versions of these things and that means that sometimes you just take the wrong take on the song. Like, we did some truly horrible work. I mean, some of them were just terrible; it was very easy to leave them off the record. As far as which ones just not recording, I think we just got to work and started doing stuff and we finished what we finished. I mean, it was always planned to be, like, a MS record, too. For the rest of our career, we can be recording covers whenever we wanted to for B sides. There’s so much to do with giving away downloads and everything nowadays, so that you’re never going to have too much material. So, I’d always planned to make kind of endless records. I wasn’t really worried about things we didn’t finish. There was a version of “Local Boy in the Photograph” by Stereophonics that I thought was going to be quite good, but we just hadn’t quite ironed out how to do it yet. I think that was going to be really good and we just plain forgot to record, “Blues Run the Game,” the Jackson Frank song, which I think would have been pretty easy because we’d done it before. And then there was just ones, like, we recorded a version of, I did this record last year for fun over Valentine’s week, just to, I mean, I learned a new song every day and recorded them and put them up on the Internet. We ended up giving it away to fans on vinyl and I did a version of the Cars song, “You Might Think,” on that and it was such a cool take on that song that it’s probably the best thing on that record and I thought we should try that same take, the melodies I was working with, and put it to make a full Counting Crows song and see how that goes, and we played it for a little while and we went into the control room to listen to it and, I mean, I don’t think we were even through the first chorus and I started laughing because it was so horrible. It was so bad that I didn’t want to hear it anymore. I was, like, “Guys, let’s do something else. This is terrible.” We had a version of, “It’s Different For Girls,” by Joe Jackson that we were working on that we had kind of based off this bootleg live version we found and that seemed to be great when we played it. Everybody flipped out over it. Everybody loved it and I went home that day, I couldn’t wait to put it in the car and listen to it as I was driving home and I was driving through the valley and I pulled over after about five minutes, because the song just didn’t sound very good to me. I mean, it sounded great, but it was boring me. I just didn’t get anything off it. I couldn’t figure out what it was and that went all the way through the rest of the recording, because I went the next day and everybody else loved it. They didn’t really agree, and we got into mixing and I kind of forgot about it and then Brian Deck was mixing it and I’d forgotten to tell him that I didn’t really want to put it on the record because he didn’t know that and he mixed it. It was a problem because I’d been sitting with this song for months now, for like four months, and everybody like it and I like it’s great, too, except that I don’t want to put it on the record because I’m getting nothing of it. I don’t get what the problem is but something’s wrong with it. And Brian said, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about. I know exactly what that is.” And I’m like, “What is it?” “It just sounds like a cover song. It’s the one song on the album that sounds like a cover; it doesn’t sound like you guys made it. It jut sounds like you guys are playing someone else’s song.” And, I mean, that’s what it was; it’s just, I think I took the wrong tack singing it. I was having such a good time singing it, because it used to be one of my favorite songs when I was a kid, that I didn’t really grasp the notion that it’s not a happy song and what was powerful about it was this sadness inside it, and I was having such a great time playing it, and the band, who’s very sensitive to how I sing, followed me right down that road and we ended up coming up with this, like, really enjoyable version of a song that’s just not supposed to be all that much fun. And so it didn’t move me at all and that’s kind of a sin. I mean, it’s one thing for “Amy” to be like that, because “Amy’s” just kind of a fun song that way. I mean, I like singing it because I like singing it; pure and simple. It’s not supposed to move you like that, but it’s different for “Girls Is,” and once I realized what the problem was, I just told Brian to forget it and leave it off the record. And some of the guys weren’t happy with that at first. A lot of people really loved that song, but I think that we have to be pretty strict about things like that. You want to follow my gut most of the time on decisions like that and I think it’s served us pretty well. But that’s how things got left on and off the record really. It wasn’t really so much like strategy sessions; we just got started working and we kept what we loved and left off what we didn’t think was any good.
You’re really involved in finding the music, whether it’s by taking, like you said new bands on tour or being involved in showcases, like at CMJ or South by Southwest, so I was just wondering: How important it is to you to find and promote new acts?
Adam Duritz: Well, I think we were really lucky early in our career to have some bands, like Suede and Cracker, who took us out and really were supportive of us. There are big moments in our career. I really honestly think we got the gig on Saturday Night Live because David Lowery shoved us back on stage to play an encore when we were just an opening band atIrvingPlaza. I mean, we were, I don’t know, we got really, we played the show of our lives, but we weren’t even top 200 and, when we came off stage, it had nothing to do with Marcy Kline being there, but David was just like, “Get the fuck back on stage; that was great.” And we went back on and played and we got an offer that Monday morning. I feel like we just got some really good treatment early in our career by people who were really cool to us about that first step. But also it’s not a big act of magnanimity, you know what I mean? We’d come from Indie Rocks inSan Francisco. We were in college radio bands and this was a college radio band at one point and we played in scenes with lots of other cool songwriters and singers, just like the Tender Mercy songs that are on our record are songs that Dan and Charlie played when they were back in that band before they were in Counting Crows. I mean, I used to go see them play. I just, for me, music isn’t about really how many records you’ve sold. It’s just about whether it’s cool music. I mean, being a music fan has a big thing to do with it, too, because there’s always been a lot of music I’ve loved to listen to and it’s harder to find nowadays, like I don’t listen to the radio much and it doesn’t play as much, but that said, there’s still a tone of great music out there. I mean, the ease of recording with your computers and also the proliferation on the Internet of a lot of bloggers and a lot of websites that are doing good music, like Daytrotter, bloggers like Ryan Smashing Life or Kaydar Recommends or websites, like absolutepunk.net, where people are really, people are really, there’s a school of, people learn the absolute worse lesson from Lester Banks, who fucking loved music, but wrote with a lot of attitude. And all the people seemed to have gotten from that in the years that followed was, “It would be cool to have a lot of attitude,” and there’s a lot of people in print and on the radio talking and writing about what sucks, but there’s a lot of people online, blogging, writing, and recording music they love. And because of that, it’s a lot easier nowadays to be a band and thrive and survive multiple albums in without necessarily having a major label deal, or any deal at all. I mean, you might not become rich rock stars, but you can survive. I mean, Kasey Anderson’s on his fourth record now, I think. Filager’s made three or four; the bands who are coming on tour with us have made multiple records and they’re not falling apart. The scene out there exits and, for a guy who likes music, like I do and I’m sure all of you do or you wouldn’t be in your jobs, I find that there’s, like, a wealth of it out there and it’s fun to be around it. And I don’t want to see it fall apart. I don’t want to see the bands cease to exist, so I don’t know, the showcases are fun to do, too. It’s not like it’s, I mean, it’s a lot of work, but I enjoy that time with Ryan and I like being a part of it. I don’t know; it’s kind of like when you’re starting off in a band, you’re hanging out someplace you like to be. I mean, you’re going out every night.San Francisco had so many bands when we were coming up and you’re going out to the clubs every night, either to play or to rehearse or see somebody play or see your friends play, and that’s a kind of great place to be. it was a lot of fun when I was younger. I mean, it was scary not to have much of a future, but it was fun being around all that music, and I’m finding my time lately is a lot like that. The friends I’ve made, strangely enough mostly on tour and through social networking, I mean, I’ve made so many friends and bands and it’s, like, a year before we actually meet each other in person. But, man, it’s like, it’s kind of a great world. I mean, you kind of want to live your life someplace where you can enjoy being, and sometimes it’s like the music scene and being in a rock band, you just end up in a lot of places you don’t really want to be; you end up kissing babies and shaking hands and talking to a lot of people because you’re supposed to or you’re told to. I mean, and trying to live up to other people’s expectations of how your life should be led, it’s kind of like, I don’t know, after awhile it gets really distasteful. I know I got really burned out on the whole deal, but I kind of like where I’m hanging out these days. I mean, that time at South by Southwest, seeing all that music played, that was a blast. People were really cool; I was with my peers. It’s just like me; I mean, I don’t see much of a difference. I know that everybody else sees it as different because they’re going to make those, people want to make those lines between cool bans, uncool bands, big bands, small bands, whatever they’re doing, but for musicians mostly, it’s just music and it’s kind of a pleasure to be around. I mean, it’s not so much a mission; it’s like I just want to live my life someplace where it’s pleasant to be and I like being there among that group of people. I have a lot in common with them; nice to be in common with people.
You mentioned earlier about how much you love collaborating with other artists. I know you collaborated a lot in Underwater Sunshine and, in the past, you’ve collaborated with artists, like the Wallflowers, Ryan Adams; the list just kind of goes on and on. What has it been like collaborating with these artists? And do you have anyone you always wanted to collaborate with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Adam Duritz: No. I mean, I don’t think I said I loved collaborating with artists. I said it was probably like collaborating with a lot of artists, because, I mean, we weren’t actually working with anybody, but, I mean, playing their songs was a lot like working with different songwriters as opposed to, like, me and me and me and me all the time. And I do like collaborating, but it almost always just happens because a friend of mine asked me to do something. I don’t really seek it out much. Very few times in my career have I been set up to work on a song with someone. The only time I can actually think of was when Nancy Griffith asked me to work on that song, “Going Back to Georgia” with her, because she was looking for someone to do it with and her and our guy was a friend of mine and so he suggested me and she was a fan and I was a fan, so that was great. I mean, we might never have met Nancy Griffith other than. But, you know, Ryan and I met getting drunk in a bar one night. We met at the Viper Room, getting drunk on stage, and we were singing together and he said, “Yeah, you should come play my record tomorrow,” so we spent the next few months working on each other’s records. A lot of those ones; the Wallflower thing, I’d known Jake for a long time. He used to hang out when I was bartending at the Viper Room and we had talked a lot about how his second record should go and I suggested T-Bone and they just called me. I was at home one night and they called me up and said, “Hey, we’ve got this song and it’s not really working and can you just come down and sing on it?” I didn’t know the song, but I said, “Sure.” And I drove down the hill, but it was really just like spur of the moment and most of them have been that way or else it’s just friends who’s making records and working on them. I do like doing it, but only because I kind of like hanging out with my friends and it’s fun to do stuff like that. But I don’t really think about it much, which is probably why I don’t do as many, sort of, high profile ones. The ones that have turned out have almost been accidental, like when I worked with the Wallflowers. They had made their first album and it was such, a lack of excitement, they got dropped off that label. So, I mean, it wasn’t like they, they weren’t a very well-known band and, although Ryan was, I mean, I knew who Ryan was at that point. He had only really put out one record in the Whiskey Count stuff, so it wasn’t like, they weren’t really big high profile things. They sort of became more high profile after that, but, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really think about it much, because I really do love playing with my band. And because I never know what I would do with someone else; although, it generally turns out pretty well. The Dashboard Confessional came about also because I know Chris and he called me up and said, “I’ve got this song. How do you feel about,” and sent it to me. And, honestly at the time, I didn’t think it needed me. I thought his back and lows were great. But it ended up being really cool what we did together. But, yeah, I tend to not, like, the future’s something I don’t plan out a lot and I tend to not think about that stuff. Maybe I should; I don’t know, but it’s like [Inaudible 00:29:54] knows so many more people than I do. He’s much more social. That’s a vague answer. I have no, go ahead, sorry.
Reading an interview that you had done last month, when you were talking about Underwater Sunshine, you said it was a very liberating experience for you, but the interviewer did not really, kind of, delve further into that. So, I was wondering if you could elaborate on that for me.
Adam Duritz: Well, it’s kind of what I was saying earlier. Something happened when we made that record. I mean, we just played differently and I’m not sure why but it affected everybody afterwards, too. Like, we went out on the road and, I mean, the band was so good. The rest of the guys were playing so much better. It’s like, I mean, I hate to think I was doing this, but it’s almost like there was something sort of confining about having to work on my songs in our band, not that it was screwing up our band all these years, but there was something, I guess less that that was confining than that there was something that was completely liberating about not doing my songs, about just like the fact that the guy that wrote them wasn’t necessarily standing in the room with you and wasn’t necessarily a guy you’d known for all these years, but so you owed less to them, in a way. I don’t know what happened with everybody, but everybody loosened up in some way. It was really creative, including me. Like, I love the singing on this record; I love the vocals on this record. I just sort of let go in a lot of ways. I mean, I wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to express the exact feelings I knew I was feeling when I wrote the song. For whatever reason, I just let go and sang. And I’m not sure that technique works for everything, but it sounds great to me on this record, and it affected everything live, including our older songs, which now have a whole other sort of, like, intensity to them, a looseness that’s sort of playing out, an intensity. I don’t know. It just feels really; it was a great experience. I can’t tell exactly why it was liberating because I didn’t think about it being that way at the time we were doing it. I only noticed it afterwards and I was listening to, like, what we’d all produced and, I mean, a lot of my friends had told me they really enjoyed this record and they keep using that word, “enjoy,” as if there was less fun to be had on the other records, which I think is quite possible. But I think there’s something about this record that, I mean, it might be the most enjoyable listen of all of our records. And I don’t know; I really like that about it. I find myself still listening to it. I find myself enjoying listening to it, too. Like, I feel like putting it on sometimes, walk around the city listening to it. I dig it. It just keeps surprising me. I don’t know why it is; I can’t explain this to you exactly. I’m just sort of drifting off the top of my head, but it definitely made a difference. If you see the band live now, I think you’ll see, like I don’t feel like I even have to move around. I could stand in one place without moving a muscle for the entire show. I mean, I don’t, but I could. It feels like the slightest gestures are reflected in everything the band’s doing, so overdoing it feels like I’ll be covering up stuff the other guys are doing. It feels like I can be very economical now because there’s so much happening and I think it’s making me a better singer.
I believe this is your first independent release. I was just curious how that process, how that was different, and how that reflected your creative flexibility during that process while you were recording.
Adam Duritz: None at all. I mean, it didn’t affect anything during recording. We’ve always had creative control over our records. It was part of, and there was a huge bidding war for our band in the beginning. Pretty much every label offered us a contract. The only ones that didn’t were the ones that were part of the same label as another label, like Epic andColumbia, because they are both Sony. So,Columbia made the offer. But other than that, pretty much every label offered us. And so we were able to pick and choose and we gave up a lot of the money early on. We gave up almost all the money. The advance was very small. I think we got a few thousand dollars maybe, like $2,000, $2500, maybe, was what I got, but we gave all that up for better royalties and for complete creative control. So, we had creative control recording before August and everything after, and we had it when we made that record, which I think was really good for us. It always has been. It allowed us to do whatever we wanted to do from Day One. So, on that sense, it didn’t change anything at all. Where it did change was what we did afterwards and what we did during recording. Like, what we’re able to do as far as giving downloads, doing the same with Bit Torrent, all the social media stuff. We wanted to do, putting songs up on the Internet to steam while we had the contest for getting people to design the covers or, and I think in that sense, because I knew that we weren’t going to be confined to just, like, marketing this record by bribing radio stations or record stores to put it in front, I think that it probably did affect everything else because they are more excited about making it in that sense, because it wasn’t going to be the same grind that we were all sick of to promote it. We could do whatever we wanted to do for as long as we wanted to do it. There’s no record cycle anymore, there’s none of that stuff, doesn’t matter when it came out because we could; someone asked me why we’d waited until several months after the release to do the thing with Bit Torrent because wouldn’t it have been smarter to do it right when we put the record out. But my feeling was, like, no, we have all that attention around the release right then. The thing about the digital age no is that there is no cycle. You can o stuff whenever you want because you can put stuff out whenever you want. So, I mean, it never has to end and, in that sense, I think the knowledge of how much more free you are going to be had to do with marketing and a lot of the other aspects of our job that go into doing our job, but not the recording part of it. That part was much the same; although, we did make this record very quickly, much quicker than in the past. We only spent, what, 16 days recording, I think, maybe. No, it can’t even be that many; less than 14, and we had bad days, so five, maybe eight, 12 days, something like that.
Over the last year you’ve been very vocal via Facebook and Twitter about your struggle with breaking your dependency on psychological medication. Has this experience affected you and/or the band creatively or musically?
Adam Duritz: Well, it wasn’t about breaking the dependency; it was just that I’d been on some medications for years that I think were probably really necessary to keep me safe at the time, because I was really losing it. And but they were meds for people that were bipolar and I’ve never been diagnosed with bipolar. I think the reason they put me on them was because people who are bipolar need to be kept away from the high’s and low’s, so they keep you in a middle area, and I think with what was going on in my head, as scary as it was, those were just drugs to keep me safe and sane, but they weren’t going to allow me to get better and they also made it very hard to be, like, creative because they affect cognitive stuff, so I was having huge memory problems, memory gaps, and the inability to remember things. And also they really stifle creativity, and so the doctors really felt like I should, it was time to not take those anymore and to, like, take another look at what I should be on, and so we just started coming off them one by one, but they’re very, very powerful drugs and they’re very addictive; not addictive in the sense like you want to take more and more of them, but just in the coming off of them, one there’s a lot of physical repercussions to coming off because you feel in those ways and also they are huge changes in your brain chemistry, so that’s pretty hard, too. See, you get hit hard by emotional, psychological, and physical side effects at the same time and it took, like, seven or eight months, and even then I just came off another one because they put me on a drug after that that they thought would be good for me, but I didn’t really like it. So, I just came off that. So, it wasn’t really like breaking a dependency as much as, like, changing, off those drugs, it’s a bitch. That said, it was going on right when we recorded this record and right when I was doing the, I mean, I started in April or May coming off the drugs and the two recording sessions and it went until the end of the year, and the two recording sessions for this were in April and in June and then I did the thing with the play at the end of July and August. So, I mean, I was in the worst parts of coming off the meds when we were making this record. I was visibly shaken during the second recording session. I could not stop shaking, which is, like, some very colorful performances of songs, depending on what we were doing then. It would have been “Hospitals” and “Untitled Love Song,” “All My Failures.” I can’t remember what else we recorded right then; three or four of the songs were recorded during that session, though. So, I mean, it affected me and then I was going through it at the time. I don’t know how it affected me other than that. It was a really weird time, but I think the record turned out well. I mean, when you’re going through something really scary and sort of hallucinogenic like that, it really helps to have something to focus on, so having the work was good for me. It would have been worse just sitting at home. That said, my friends tell me, I mean, I’m living now basically without anything for the most part, just Adderall, because the ADD is something, I think, that I do have and should be on that med, but other than that, I’m not on anything really, so it’s a pretty raw life right now. It’s very unprotected. But I don’t find it particularly pleasant, but my friends and people tell me I seem much more clear these days than in the past and I’ll buy that, so maybe that has something to do with my, how I’m playing; I don’t really know. It’s hard to say. I’m sure it’s different than it was, but that was a lot of stuff I was going through during only, well, I mean, I was going through a lot, this particular drug that I came off of were affecting me a lot when I was doing “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings,” but the other records were different kinds of medications. I mean, the problem has been going on my whole life. But the problem hasn’t gone away really. It’s just, maybe I’ve got a better grip on things so I can survive it without any of the meds right now. It’s not particularly pleasant, but I do think it’s probably better for me than being so swathed in, like, gauze as I was protected on all those meds. I mean, I think they really kept me alive and I’m grateful for that, but I don’t think that’s the best way to live. I don’t think this is the best way to live, either. There’s something better; we just haven’t figured out what it is yet. There’s probably some medication I should be on, because I’m not, I mean, it doesn’t work as well as it should in my brain. It’s got issues, so but right now, there’s just nothing. It’s just me and, like I said, it’s a very raw world. I described to someone, the difference being on all those meds and not is like the difference between being, like, unable to hear anything and having everyone in the world talk to you at once. I mean, you can’t make out anything anybody is fucking saying in either case, but it’s probably better to be able to hear than not and right now it’s a little bit like the whole world screaming all the time. But I think that’s better than being deaf; I just have to figure out how to sort it out, I guess. Anyway, the only way to live maybe is to actually take part, so I look at it as an improvement.
Which of these bands that you are bringing out this summer were exposed to you for the very first time in a live situation versus being introduced to you via some sort of a recording and how important is that visual aspect to the live presentation of a band when you’re thinking about bringing them to open for you versus the way they sound on a demo or recording.
Adam Duritz: Which of these bands did I first see live? Or which ones of them first saw us live?
Which of these bands did you experience first live versus through a demo or a recording?
Adam Duritz: I don’t think any of them. Because, I mean, a lot of these bands, some of the bands we’ve had on the road show, the other versions of it, the showcase versions we’ve done; South by Southwest or, but I think in order to book them on the show, we had checked out their music beforehand or Ryan had turned me onto their music; Ryan Spalding from Ryan Smashing Life in this case. I’m trying to think through the bands right now. Good Old War I’ve still never seen live: I’ve only heard their music. Foreign Fields and Filigar, I had the records first. Well, I don’t know, maybe I saw Filigar first; I’m not sure, it’s been awhile, so, I’m not sure whether I’ve seen them a bunch of times. And then the latter part of the tour, the third leg is Mean Creek coming out with us again and the Romany Rye. I may have been the Romany Rye play live before I heard their music, but I kind of think I’d already heard it. I think I’d already heard their Daytrotter session before I saw them last year at South by Southwest. But, I mean, I had their “We Are Odysseus” record; loved it before I saw them. I didn’t see them until this time, South by Southwest. Mean Creek, maybe; actually maybe Mean Creek, because they played at our CMJ show last year and that may have been the first time I actually heard them play. I’m not sure. I’ve seen them so many times since then; I have all their records and we’re such good friends that I’m not sure, but that may have been the first time I ever saw them play. Yeah, I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve been pretty involved with all these bands, except for Good Old War, who someone recommended to me just a few months ago and I just loved it, so I put them on it. Except for them, I’ve been really involved with all these bands for awhile now; although, I hadn’t always met them yet. I just met Billy and the guys from We Are Odysseus at South by Southwest this year at their show. Yeah, Foreign Fields, this latest album, Sean Moeller from Daytrotter, called me and said, “You’ve got to check out this record,” and I heard it and immediately called Ryan and told them to check it out and then we booked them for our show in South by Southwest and they had never played live before. When they came down to South by Southwest, they were playing a Daytrotter session, because Sean gave them a Daytrotter session and I’d been corresponding with them since I heard the record and I went to see them play when they did the Daytrotter thing and we all hung out and then they played the first song and I went to Brian Hall after the first song was over and I said, “Oh my God, that was fucking amazing. That was gorgeous. That was an incredible song.” And he looked at me and he said, “Oh, thank God, because we’ve never played live before. This is our first real public performance and we were kind of, we weren’t sure how it was going to go.” I said, “Wait a minute. What do you mean? You never played that song live?” “No,” he said, “we never played live.” “And so that song was your first live performance ever really?” And he said, “Yeah.” “And so our show on Saturday, that’ll be your second?” He said, “Yeah.” “Okay. Well, you’re off to a good start, a pretty good start.” So, I’d never seen them play nor had anybody else, and they turned out to be fucking amazing live. So, I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s really important to be able to play live. That said, there are bands that never do it and are great. I don’t think any of this is, I think it can really help you to be a great live band because you can go out and expose yourself to people that way and it really brings it home. But there’s no rules to any of this stuff. You know what I mean? If you couldn’t play live at all because you couldn’t really play your instruments well at all, would that make you not as cool as the people who are able to play better? I mean, it’s not like you really are required to. All you’re required to do is create great stuff. However you do it; I mean, if you can barely play a note, but you put it together in the studio and the record’s still amazing, is that any better than being the best musicians in the world and being able to go out on stage every night and play? I don’t know. I mean, to me, it’s just like however you get there. I mean, you don’t have to be a trained painter to be a painter. I think, Picasso, he said that he could tell people who were trained and who weren’t trained and he thought it was really important to have that background, but just because it helps you doesn’t mean it’s necessary. So, I don’t really know. I mean, it’s art. So, anything you can do that brings something from inside you outside into a form that other people can appreciate, I mean, that’s art. That’s all it really takes and I don’t think there is nor should there be a lot of rules that people put on, like what makes it good or not, especially rules that have to do with, like, judging people’s skill sets as opposed to whether, like, just the thing is good. So, there I am with another incredibly vague answer. Honestly, I don’t know. I hadn’t seen these bands before. I heard them live for the most part, but I’ve now since then pretty much bodes for all of them, I think, I mean, part of them being here, for me, is a very vibrant scene of underground music and these blogs that write about us also write about these other bands and what’s going to make it worthwhile for us is that scene becomes more vibrant and people who. not just the people who are real music fans who go to the blogs, but it’s just the normal people. People who have just in the past only read the newspapers and only read, only listened to the radio to find music, realize that it’s not that hard to go on Daytrotter and check out; I mean, there’s fucking 2,000 sessions on there, something like that, and they were free for the longest time. Now, it’s, what $2 a month? It’s nothing. I mean, it’s an incredible wealth of music, but it doesn’t occur to people because it seems like something on the Internet must be hard, must be complicated, must be difficult, whatever; it’s not. And I think what’s going to change this for all of us is if the normal guy who isn’t like a music geek or music fanatic, like we are, but somebody who just likes music begins to turn to these things as well to supplement. You can never have too much because there’s no way for everybody to cover all of it. So, anything anybody does to look at these other things are going to make it better for everyone. So, I’m hoping you’ll come out to these shows early enough. We’re going to rotate the bands. You’re going to play first one night, second the next night, third the next night, and then back to first and we’ll headline every night, because I don’t really think that we have to delineate who’s the bigger band than anybody else, except for us, because we are definitely bigger. But, I mean, I kind of just want everyone to feel good about it all summer long; no one to think, like, they’re an opening band. No one to have to, like, be the band that no one sees every night or the band that everyone sees every night. And these bands were all really cool about agreeing to it. Like, nobody batted an eye, which was kind of great. I didn’t think they would, but they were all very great about it; everyone was just into doing it. Because also it helps to have a really good experienced band play first sometimes, because it starts the show off really well. I think that people in an effort to always sort of, like, stratify everything; forget about that. Like, having a good show, it helps a lot to put a band upfront that can really kill it. When we do the road shows, we don’t always put, like, the biggest bands last or in the middle. We don’t do it in that order because we want to make sure we start off the shows really well. So, like at CMJ show, Filigar played, like, second to last, last year, but when we went to South by Southwest, we needed a really good band to open the main street of the three stages in our venue and we asked Filigar to open the main stage and they were cool with it. And the great thing was that they could get on stage at noon and blow the fucking roof off the place. I will never forget standing watching; they finished their first song and my friend, Frank, who designs all the posters for the road show, turned to me and said, “Wow! That’s lot of fucking rock and roll for noon.” And it was awesome. I mean, and they were happy to do it. And Hey Marseilles played near the close of the outdoor stage this year, but they opened our show at CMJ and they were great about that. So, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just going to go back; ask a question, sorry.
You’ve been doing this for 20 plus years now. What do you feel contributes to the band’s longevity?
Adam Duritz: I think it still feels very fresh to us. I think that getting that creative control right at the beginning and taking that attitude into everything we did made all the difference in the world, because it never became a repetition of something. It never felt like we were doing something for the hundredth time and, if it did, we just didn’t do it. Like, we made the records we wanted to make, exactly how we wanted to make them. I think they’re really different from each other and they always felt like we were never forcing ourselves to do anything we didn’t want to do. We just recorded, just followed our muse wherever it took us, wherever that was, and it seemed very different to me. It may seem the same to somebody else, but whatever it was, it still feels fresh to do it. And the same thing really applied to our live shows. Someone asked me a question awhile ago about, like, playing “Mr. Jones,” which I actually love playing, and I can’t remember how it came up, because we didn’t play it in some show. Oh, I know what it was. Somebody was commenting on it and they were complaining about it on our Facebook page and they said that you should remember what got you here. But the thing is “Mr. Jones” didn’t get us here. “Mr. Jones” got us on the radio in 1993. “Around Here” here on Saturday Night Live got us from 215, wherever we were, to number two, because that was the song we played there on Letterman was “Around Here.” But neither of them is really the thing, because what really got us to where we wanted to go was playing shows of songs we wanted to play, so whatever that was. And that mostly has “Mr. Jones: in it a lot of times, because quite honestly, I love that song, and it has “Around Here” a lot of the time. But it doesn’t have either of them every night, because what we really do is we make our set with stuff after sound check or after dinner every night and I walk around to the guys or to the crew or opening bands and ask if there’s something somebody wants to play or wants to hear and I get a list and I don’t always follow it, but it gives me something to start with, and then me and Emmy put together a set list of songs that we want to play. Because the thing I think is really important is that one thing you need to do stage every night is want to be there and you should play your ass off every night and you should put everything you can into it. And I doubt we’re perfect about that, but I think it helps a lot that we don’t plan set lists of songs we don’t want to play. So, if I’m tired of playing something, I’m not going to play it, because I think that’s going to make a bad show. It’s going to ruin three, four minutes of the show and it’s going to ruin everything around it, because it’s a bad experience when you don’t feel like expressing something and you go express it anyway, because then it just feels like this is a job and it’s supposed to be a job, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do it poorly and I just think that regardless of what anyone may think, we’ve always played great live shows. I mean, we’ve done it because we wanted to play the songs we were playing. And the mistake would have been trying to satisfy everybody every night, because we have too many songs today anyway, and we would have gotten bored and the audience would have gotten bored, too, because if we’re not into it, it’s not going to be a good show. I know, because I’ve seen bands play shows like that and they suck and we don’t and I think the reason is because what really got us here was making sure we were very committed to doing everything we were doing every night, on the records and in the shows, and to me, that’s about – the third to last show on this tour, I remember we were playing in Miami, like a few weeks ago, and I just in the middle of “Mr. Jones,” I realized I was drifting. I don’t know, because, I mean, I don’t think we played it every night, but we’d been playing it a lot right then because I really do like playing it. It’s a fucking great song. But I was drifting and I realized, “You know what? This feels like work right now on this song. It just feels like a chore and I don’t want” – so I didn’t do it the next couple of nights and we played two of the best shows of our career in Atlanta and in Nashville and neither show contained “Mr. Jones,” but they were two of the best shows we’ve ever played. They were both two and a half plus hours long and we played our asses off. I think that’s what keeps us here 20 years later is that regardless of what everybody else may want to tell you here got you here, keeps you here, or what everybody wants, what I think they really want is for you to be good. And you owe them that, because they paid for their tickets. You don’t owe them songs, but you do owe them a quality performance and I think the best way to do that is to, like, make sure that you’re fully invested in everything you’re doing. And it’s art, so you can’t necessarily guarantee you’re going to be fully invested in somebody else’s suggestions, but you can pretty much guarantee you’ll be invested in yours. And I think we’ve stuck by that fairly religiously over the year and I think it’s really paid off for us, because I still like playing “Mr. Jones” as opposed to a lot of people I know who have that kind of song in their catalog who just don’t want to play. I mean, I don’t always want to play it and I don’t want somebody to tell me I have to play it necessarily, but I like playing it and you can tell by the set list on the last tour because it was on almost all of them. And as near as I can tell, that’s what’s kept us working for 20 years is that we still give a shit. We’re not bored up there and we’re not phoning it in. We’re really gone when we’re on stage and it’s a good thing. Nobody gets ripped off at one of our concerts.
Can you talk a little bit more about your relationship with Alex Chilton and the decision to put the “Ballad of El Goodo” on the record. Did you feel like you really needed to put a Big Star song on there after Alex’s passing?
Adam Duritz: Well, it’s hard to differentiate feeling like I needed to from just the fact that we really like playing that song, and it was probably always going to get on the record. So, I don’t know. There was never any doubt in my mind that we were recording it for the record, so I couldn’t tell you whether I felt like I needed to that way, because it was never really a question. Actually, that’s not true, because I could not find a place to put it in the sequence and where sequencing was – I could not determine to end the record with “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” and I could not find a good place for “Ballad of El Goodo.” And that was really bugging me and I could not believe I was even considering; I mean, I didn’t think about it very much, but to even consider not putting it on the record, because I really do believe that you’ve got to be able to go from A to Z in your sequence. I know people don’t listen to whole records nowadays, but when we make records, I want you to be able to listen to it all through it, and so sequencing is really important to me. And “El Goodo” kept not working places; something about it. I think it’s because it’s so emotional and so, like, and finally I kind of got over, like, why I thought “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” has to be at the end of the record. It doesn’t, in fact, I’m going to put “El Good” there and, when I put it there, it worked, and that made a big difference. I think maybe actually Dan said something to me, like, “Why are you so sure it can’t be at the end? Why do you have to put “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” there?” And I think I thought, “Well, I don’t know, kind of had it stuck in my head that I have to, but maybe I don’t,” and I tried it. As far as Alex, “Big Star” was a really big deal to me when I was a kid. I discovered it through reading about them a lot, but at the time, you couldn’t find “Big Star” records; they weren’t available in America. There wasn’t CD’s and the records were long, long out of print. I mean, I think Number One record was out of print before Radio City was released. If you listen to that, there’s a thing on Big Star Live where he’s talking about, I think, they had just made the second record and he’s talking about the fact that you can’t find the first record anymore. I think he says that in one of the patters on that record. So, it doesn’t surprise me they weren’t available, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I think I mentioned this in the liner notes to you, I had a list of records and most of my friends that were music guys had a list. They were the records that you had been wanting for years that you could never find and they were mostly stuff like that that you’d read about, like Fairport Convention Records, the Modern Lovers first album; that was unavailable at the time. Billy Brad records weren’t available in America back then. Thunderclap Newman, Fairport, which was under Thompson, Thunderclap Newman, the Big Star records; I can’t remember what else, but I have a list of stuff and, when my parents took my grandmother to Europe at one point and we all went on this trip to England, and I just went into every record store I could find, every record store in every town, I went and just went through every bin and that stuff was still overseas. I mean, there were copies of it overseas, so I found everything. The only record I hadn’t found in the last day was the Thunderclap Newman record and I found that in the last store I went to before I went to the airport and I came home with, like, 30, I don’t remember, 30 plus albums, including the whole Big Star catalog and a lot of Alex’s solo records. Did not get the Chris Bell record; that wasn’t available on vinyl. I mean, I didn’t find that. I didn’t even know about that until, like, Orion put it out years ago. But I went and got those records, and it’s funny because I’d been wanting all those records for years and I was carrying them around with me, but it was vinyl so I couldn’t listen to them on this trip, but I had them in my hands and you know how it was with records. You’d open them up and look at them and you’d read the liner notes and it was all big, so by the time I got home, they had just reached this mythic status with me, as if they hadn’t already done that, like, the fact that I had a list of records for my childhood that I was trying to find and I found almost all of them. Pet Sounds would have been another record on that list, but I found that before I went, I think. And, anyway, so I got back and I started to listening to Big Star records, they just blew my mind. It was this clear link between the Beatles and Dylan and their songwriting styles and the melodies that went on in the Beatles records and then those records that came years, hadn’t even had money yet; the replacements that came after that that was this real vulnerability. I think “Young Man” was a real open vulnerability, but still playing rock and roll. It wasn’t like just soft folk music; it was big guitar rock and roll, but it had, like, this very honest confessional vulnerability that Dylan didn’t really even write about, because Dylan’s writing is much more obscure than that. It’s not as straightforward as something like “13” or, I don’t know, ‘Bacacarra” or “Ballad of El Goodo.” There’s a different kind of writing that Alex did that you can see why that was so influential for everyone that made college radio music in the ’80’s, that started off the first, sort of, Indie music phase in America. And it just changed everything for me. Hearing him play, hearing those songs, hearing him and Chris Bell sing, it was just like, it blew my mind, and it had a huge effect on me when I started writing soon after that or right then; it might have been the same time I started writing. Just it made a difference for me, and then the first time we went to Memphis, we went running right over to Ardent to see what was going on at Ardent, and it turned out Jody Stevens was running the studio. I mean, I don’t know if we knew that before we got there. I remember going in there and seeing him and I can’t remember if we knew already, and we hung out and talked for awhile; me and Dan and him, and he was really nice to us. And then they played that Columbia show and they made the record off it and then Big Star hadn’t played in years, and then they decided to do, like, two other concerts. I don’t know where they were. I know one was San Francisco at the Fillmore, and I can’t remember where the others were, like, maybe New York; I don’t know. And Jody called up and asked if we would open the show. I mean, so at that point we were blowing up. We were huge. And so I insisted that we go under an assumed name, as the Shatner’s, because in San Francisco, I felt like I didn’t want the whole audience to, the Counting Crows buying up all those tickets, because right then we were blowing up in the spring of ’94. And so we went under an assumed name and the Gigolo Aunts played on it, too, and it was a big night for me because I because
friends with the guys in Gigolo Aunts then and met Alex and that summer we did our first big headline tour and we took out, like, this whole world, all kinds of different bands from all over the – Soul Rebels Brass Band from New Orleans, the Cox Family Bluegrass Band from Louisiana, Buffalo Tom, the Indie rock band from Boston, I can’t remember who else came out with us – Lori Carson, folksinger, from New York. It was a really cool tour and it was really cool for us, but although, the fans didn’t really get it. That was a point in our career when everyone just wanted to hear “Mr. Jones.” But we asked Alex to come out, too, and he came out on the road and it was tough because I’ve always been really shy around; I’m not good at talking to my idols and I was really shy around Alex. And Alex also went on stage every night and antagonized the fuck out of the crowd. He just, like, loved getting on stage and pissing off the crowd. He just did it every night. It just drove me crazy because, I mean, I idolized him and the audiences were so rude to him that I went on stage every night hating everyone in the audience because they’d been heckling my idol and this was my hero, and Alex made it happen, but it was driving me crazy that summer. But thenNew Orleans became my home away from home during most of the ’90’s and I told everyone I knew that had moved out toL.A. and lived with me. But Alex was always down there; Alex lived there at that point, too, and I saw a lot of him. He dated a friend of mine, and he was always really, really nice to me and I never stopped being shy around him. I just could not fucking figure out how to talk around him. It’s always been that way with me with people, but it was just worse with Alex because I saw him in so many non-working environments and I still had so much trouble talking to him; I just couldn’t think of the words. I guess the thing I wrote about him on the album is you always think you have more time, and then your time just runs out and it just happens in every aspect of your life and you theoretically learn a lesson every time not do it. It’s like you have to get off your ass and seize these moments, but it doesn’t mean you actually do it; only in the movies do people really learn lessons. You try, but I’ve always been kind of a shy person that way, especially around people like Alex. And I guess it bothers more because Alex was always so nice to me that I could have had a different kind of friendship and I had a friendship with him, but not the kind I would have like to have had. It would have been easy because he was so nice to me. And it was in New Orleans, so everyone was up all night listening to music, so it was really easy to hang out with people, but I never really did it to the extent I would have wished, which is not why the songs on the record. It really, like all the songs on the record, it’s just a great song. And like all the other Big Star songs, it’s a great song. I just happen to love it and I love singing it and I love our version of it. I think it turned out really well. I wish I’d taken it now to some of those Big Star tributes, but everybody wanted us to play. I just didn’t want to go to them. They kind of bum me out. I’m glad people celebrate Big Star, because they should. It’s a great band.
Another great band that you guys cover something on and talk a little bit about in the liner notes is Fairport Convention and, I guess, my first question is: If I read them correctly, you had played “Matty Groves” for a number of years. I’m wondering how you came to do that. The other thing is I’m wondering if you kept up with band. They obviously have different songwriters, a little different type of slant on their music, and wondering if you’ve kept up with it.
Adam Duritz: Oh, yeah, I love that song. “Meet on the Ledge” is great. I mean, we covered “Matty Groves” in that band because, I don’t know; I mean, that was one of the bands whose records, Richard Thompson, Richard and Linda Thompson records, and the Fairport record, I got on that trip as well and I love them. I mean, we always get into these arguments because Matt Malley, I know Matt back; the Mattster was, his favorite record was “What We Did on our Holidays.” My favorite record was always “Unhalf Bricking,” and Emmy’s favorite record was always “Legion Leaf.” And for some reason, we only played songs off the other two. Like “Matty Groves” came up because my first band, we just did a lot of stuff like that and we played this endless version of “Matty Groves,” and I always liked playing it. I don’t think I was very good at singing it, in that respect. I don’t have a real good take on singing folk music like that with really repeated melodic; a song like that or Percy’s song would be, it’s kind of Dylan-esque songs where it’s just one thing repeated over and over. I don’t think I really had a grasp on how to sign that with the gravity and the humor that someone like Richard Thompson had then or Fanny Benny, but it was my first band, so I wasn’t expected to be good at everything really, and I wasn’t. So, I always loved playing it and Emmy would come sit with us and play with us, too. This song, I don’t know, I mean, I love bands for years without ever thinking of once covering one of their songs. I think of covering songs when I can see myself singing it and I have an idea how to approach it, but it’s not like I often, like, I mean, I really want to sing “Borderline” by Madonna because I have this idea of how to do it. And one of the things that sucks about covering one of your first bands is you don’t really have any idea of what to do with them, so you just do them and that’s why you end up not being very good. But with “Meet on the Ledge,” I don’t know; one day it just occurred to me this would be a really good song to sing. This would be a great song to play in this band. Now once Emmy was in the band, it seemed like a really good song to do together. It just has a great chorus. It’s great verses to sing. It’s got all the great dynamic to it. It’s both beautiful and fragile and it also completely kicks ass. I mean, the latter part of the song is just, well, at least in our version, it just tears up and I really dig it. So, it has a lot of dynamic to it, but the long and short of it is it just happened because one day you can see yourself doing it and so you try it and it works or it doesn’t work. I mean, I think that. like I said before, with “Amy,” I didn’t think much imagination. For some reason, with “Amy,” I’m okay; I don’t know if it’s very different from Pure Prairie League’s or not, I haven’t checked it out in a long time, but it’s just really fun to sing “Amy,” so I don’t really think about it too much, because I really just get off on it. It’s so fun to harmonize and do those vocals; I’m probably aping him more than I should on that, but some songs you really feel creative and do something different. Some songs you just get a feel for what it is. And with “Borderline,” I knew I wanted to try a Madonna song and make it sound like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and just as different as it could possibly be. With “Amy,” I didn’t care about it being any different at all, but I think it is. And with “Meet on the Ledge,” I just had a feeling for it. I thought it would work and I thought we could really get off on it. Sometimes it’s not clear or strategically well thought out so it makes it hard to explain to people, but you just kind of want to have a take on it that works and doesn’t feel like it’s pointless to be playing it. Like, sometimes you feel like it’s pointless to play covers. Either you’re playing it and you’ve got nothing really to give to it and so it doesn’t feel like it’s worth doing or else where you try to take it to isn’t a very good idea, or else a lot of my favorite bands and my favorite songs, it’s never even occurred to me to cover it, just don’t know why I’d want to or what. I just don’t think I’d have anything to offer sometimes. I’m trying to think who it was came up a little while, someone brought up to me, you should do this band, you would be so good covering their songs and I just couldn’t think of a single one I wanted to cover, and I love the band. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like, well, they’re doing it really well; they don’t need us to do a over of it. It’s great the way it is and I don’t know what more I would add to it. It’s especially hard on really sparse songs. You get yourself in trouble thinking a song is so good and it would be great to do it, but then you have nowhere to go on it. Like, when we tried to do “Teenage Gravity, the Kasey Anderson song, we really struggled with that at first, because his version is so sparse and so beautiful. It’s just acoustic guitar and some very sparse piano chords and it works really well, but you try and put a band on that and it sounds like you’re stepping over the song until we found our own way of approaching it, but it really sucked for awhile there because it seemed like a great song to do. It seemed like it would be really easy to do, but then you forget that everything you love about it gets violated the moment you put your whole band on it and I’m so glad we came up with version we came up with, because I love that song, but it really sucked for awhile when we were trying to cover it. And then it turned out, we came up with a very original take on it, I think, that caused Kasey to then cover us for his next album. He did another version of the song where it’s more full band because he liked our version, which that’s kind of cool.
In regards to the cover contest you have for your fans, what was it like hearing your fans cover your songs? And where there any, like, recurring or common styles or arrangements that surprised you?
Adam Duritz: Not that surprised me. There was a lot of acoustic, just plain old covers, which there was an unbelievable, I’d say a quarter of the covers were those two songs. It was crazy how many people did those two songs and that’ll drive you insane, by the way, because they both start with a repeated figure, dah, dah, dah, dah; that’s how “Color” starts and dah, dah, dah, dah, so you get this repeated phrase that goes on for awhile before you can figure if their cover is original at all or if it’s got anything to offer at all, and you get about eight of those in a row and you really want to shoot yourself. I mean, there were a lot of songs. I can’t think how many there were. There were several hundred songs, like 300 plus songs, 400. It’s a lot of songs and, I mean, the amount of time it took to listen to all of them. I went through all of them pretty much twice, probably went through all of them about two and a half times because I repeated 100 accidentally the first time through because we changed some of the date markings. So, I mean, I don’t know how many hours of time that is, but several hundred times four minutes; that’s like a full day’s worth of time. I mean, it’s a lot. And there’s always a lot ofAmericana with us, with people’s interpretation of us. It happened in the art for the cover contest, too. It’s like there are no Counting Crows covers that have any sort ofAmericana in them, I don’t think, and there’s no covers with pictures of the band, but somehow a lot of people made covers that were sort of, like, retroAmericana and pictures of the band, which really is their take on it. I think their take on us is very different from our take on us, which I don’t mean their take is wrong, because, I mean, they probably have pictures of ourselves that are distorted. But in going through the covers, there were an awful lot of those two songs and a lot of just kind of acoustic covers and pretty voices that were caught up in being pretty and I really, what really knocked me after awhile, though, is like once I went through them, and that’s just to be expected because not everyone is going to make a great recording and so you can get kind of caught up in not liking stuff, but what you really find after awhile is that there were about 25 that absolutely knocked me out where I thought they were just great. And 25 is a lot of versions that were good. I mean, it may not be a lot compared to the whole, but it’s not supposed to be. I mean, the whole is people who have enthusiasm and want to try something and that’s great. The amount of them that are supposed to be good is not supposed to be a huge percentage. It never is going to be, but it shocked me how much people did, like, I got down to about 25 and then it was murder getting it down from there, because you start to feel really attached to them. Like, I’m not a big fan of judging other people’s artwork. I kind of like to go along and appreciating other people’s artwork. I feel like, I really do, I say this sincerely, but I really feel like if you can bring something out of yourself and put it out there in a form that other people can see, that’s all there is to making art. Everything after that is just subjective judgment, and I don’t really want to be the one making subjective judgments on people’s very heartfelt creativity because, a simple way to say this, is no one in their lifetime, no one ever bought a painting by Cerah or Van Gogh. I mean, no one; their entire career, no one liked it. So, I mean, these guys spent their entire lives being told they weren’t any good and that means that it’s not just like dumb people; everybody, nobody liked it. So, you can be wrong about a lot and I don’t want to be the guy who says something that discourages the guy who turns out to be Van Gogh, because it’s not my place to do that. So, I’m very hesitant usually to judge anything like this. I like encouraging people, but I really don’t like telling one person they’re better than another person. That’s what I don’t like about this kind of contest because someone’s supposed to win. And once I found 25 things that were good, I really hated cutting it down from there. I mean, I got it to 18 at one point and I just felt like I could not get it past that, so I went online and I wrote my impressions about all 18 of those versions and then I had them put all of those up and l said, I’ll come back to you and try and get it narrowed down.” It’s supposed to be three. But honestly, once I had the 25, especially once I had it to 18, everything after that was just kind of like it’s not even like better; it’s like do you like apples or do you like oranges, because they all had value and they were all very heartfelt, and that’s sort of an infinite value to someone meaningfully expressing themselves, and I don’t think you can really judge whether that’s six or seven or 10. I found myself just giving people points for actually having applied, put drum machines on it; something that was different from Counting Crows. And that didn’t seem very fair because people put a lot of heart into playing stuff just on a guitar and a vocal or just on a piano and vocal, and I do that, so who am I to say that, like, you have to put a drum machine and put a little more creativity into the production, because, I mean, I like stripped down stuff, too. And I just felt like I was just really full of shit trying to differentiate at that point. I finally, I got it down to six, but honestly, between 18 and six, it was just the same shit; I don’t think there’s any difference in those songs, and I told them I just wanted to have six winners instead of three and they kind of put it out wrong. I think they’ve since corrected that, because they made it three winners and three sort of runners-up and it’s funny, two of the runners-up were ones that actually were my two favorites. So, I mean, I kind of went back to them and asked them to fix it, and I think they went and did that. But I don’t know. What I discovered was that I got really annoyed with the songs at first and then I got really protective of them, which I didn’t expect. I thought it was going to be exhausting going through that many songs and listening, because I really did want to pay attention to all of them and it took me a lot of time and that kind of stuff drives me insane sometimes, but then after I got done with it, I really found myself being very, very protective of these individual songs that people had put together, and they weren’t my songs anymore. Like, they were their songs at that point and I really appreciated what they had done with them. I didn’t feel like it was, like, I don’t know; I don’t actually know how to explain it past that. I’m not cut out to be doing that sort of thing. I get a little too caught up in it and I’m really too caught up in not wanting to do anything or say anything to anyone that would discourage them from doing it anyway. You know what the weird thing about it was, thought? I will say this. They had, the fans voted on the site their favorites as well, so they had everything listed from first place to, like, 200 and something place, and when I averaged out where my 18 had come in, either the 18 or 25, I can’t remember, like, it averaged out to about 120th place. Like, I completely did not see the same ones as our fans did as being, like, the ones that I liked the most. Although, one of them was number two or three, but other than that, I seemed to have missed by several hundred of having the same taste as a lot of our fans do. I don’t know. It surprised me, sort of.
Let’s jump to the tour for a second. You talked a little about the format and such, but are you hoping for a lot of onstage collaboration with these other bands and Counting Crows?
Adam Duritz: I don’t know. You know, I mean, it’s not the Traveling Circus, which was built around everybody playing together all night long. I mean, this is really built around, these are a lot of very unique bands that are very different from Counting Crows. My first choice of what would happen on this tour would not be to collaborate. It would be that people came out early enough to, like, really get into how great these bands are, because they are fucking great. I mean, there’s so much good music to be seen on this tour this summer. The six bands that have been announced; three or four more that are coming to the third leg, are so good. I mean, if you had asked me this during the Traveling Circus, I would have said, “The best thing that could happen this summer is that we could all end up playing each other’s songs together. I mean, it’s like a fun all-night four-hour concert like that.” But in this case, I think the best thing that could happen is people could get out there early enough and see what these bands can do, because they’re playing short sets every night, but they’re only playing half hour sets and, like, 10 minutes between bands, so it’ll be really quick. But these bands have so much to offer. I’ve seen them all play live and they’ve knocked me out and it’s the music I listen to. What it also did for me is it gave me a whole jukebox full of music to listen to for the last few years, so what I’ve been listening to is these bands and I think that same reward is out there for everybody else. If they come early and see these bands play, they’ll go get the records and they’ll love them, because, and then they’ll have more music in their lives, which is usually a good thing. So, I guess, if collaboration and stuff start, I suppose that’s great. I mean, I’d love to do it, but if I had my first choice, it would be that you see these bands do what they do because it’s worth listening to and they’re very unique. They’re all great songwriters. They all play their asses off in completely unique ways and they’re all really worth seeing, because these guys are, like, this is the real future of it, to me. They’re great, and I’d say with all these bands having seen them play live, except for Good Old War, I haven’t seen yet, but I’ve watched videos of Good old War, like YouTube, but these bands, they put it all on stage, too. Like, I love the “We are Odysseus” record, but when I saw them play live, I saw why a bunch of people have commented to me that they remind them of us, because there’s a lot at stake. When Billy starts singing, there’s just a lot at stake on stage. It really matters. It matters a lot to him. These songs he’s written matter like so much to him and you can see that on stage, which I think is the experience that, from what I hear, people have at our concerts, that they get very emotionally involved. And like, for instance, with that band, you get that. With “Field Report,” I was astounded when my friend, Dave, sent me the record awhile ago. I think they just mastered it a couple days ago with Greg Calvey, but this record, the songwriting on the “Field Report” record is epic in scope. It’s amazing songwriting. And when I saw them live, I only listened to a little, a few songs, and I sat there just like wishing I had written every other line he wrote and just being stunned by how good they were, and after that, when I drove around with the whole record, listening to it, I mean, I can’t wait to see this band play live again, because the stories he tells, it reminds me of there’s more people in the band, they’re doing more things with harmonies, but it reminds me of the scope of the storytelling on “Blood on the Tracks.” It really does remind me of that, like, that sort of spinamatic level of storytelling in the song and the lyrics are that clever and original I mean, I could go on about all these bands that way, but I mean, the truth is, I told you guys all the story about when the first time I was “Farm Field” now play at that Daytrotter thing, but I was so flipped out. I went up to them after the first song and told them I thought it was amazing and it was the first time they’d ever played. I can only imagine what they’re like now, a few months later, because, and I think with all these bands, I’ve seen Kasey play a bunch and all those things he writes is, the band is killer. I think if I had to wish one thing, the real point of this is, like, it’s like a showcase. We’re trying to bring, we’re doing it at South by Southwest, and CMJ out on the road with Counting Crows headlining. I want you to see, what really knocked me out at South by Southwest all the years is that it’s still (a) so independent. I mean, there are big bands that play there, but you could go the entire time all day long seeing nobody you’ve ever heard of and be blown away in club after club and these people in all of them. And I was hoping that would happen on this tour. I hope people come out and figure out what I figured out, which is that, “Wow! Music is in great shape and there’s lots of great bands and there’s so music to be enjoyed. It’s a pretty rich time to be in a band and it’s a pretty rich time to be a music fan. It’s just a little harder to find than it was in the past.” But that’s okay. There’s much more to find and, I guess, I should apologize to all you for talking overly long. I tend to do that in interviews and maybe it’s not a cool thing to do when you’re asking questions one at a time, but I do go on and on. So, I’ll stop.