Adam Duritz is stoked.
Pumped. Jazzed. Whatever you want to call it. The Counting Crows singer is super excited that the release of his band's latest, Somewhere Under Wonderland, is being so well received. Yes, critically it's doing well, but Duritz is particularly stoked (pumped, jazzed, etc.) on the reception by fans on a recent trip to Europe.
"We haven't played any shows in America since the record came out, really," Adam Duritz says when we talk after his band the Counting Crows . "And that was really cool just now. We toured playing the new material, and we felt really confident about it, playing it even though people didn't know the songs. But we just came back from Europe where we played for a month to people who actually had the record, and that was really cool, too. We were playing seven or eight songs off of the record every night, and it was really cool. People were flipping out over it."
Yes, Counting Crows fans are notoriously attached to their dude Duritz, but this one is something special, he thinks. His band's annual traveling festival tour, the Outlaw Roadshow, is jumping off, too. We talk about that, his bootleg collection, independent labels, and a shared favorite band Nana Grizol in this interview before his band's show at the Egyptian Room Friday with Twin Forks.
NUVO: How does the setlist change, show to show?
Duritz: After soundcheck every night, I send a text message out to the band and the crew, the opening band if they're good friends of ours. It just says, "Anything you want to play tonight? Anything you want to hear?" Which is exactly what it says because I copy it and paste it. I get texts back from everybody and I don't have to stick to it, at all, but what better song to play than something that somebody actually wants to play? So, from your band, you get songs they want to play that night. From your crew, you get songs you haven't played in a while, because they want to hear something they haven't heard.
From the opening bands, you get something that they weren't thinking of that they really loved at some show recently. It kind of informs you of where you're at. If you haven't played something in a while, it will remind you of that. And even if you don't play it that night, you can rehearse it the next day at soundcheck and then do it. So around dinnertime, Immy [David Immergluck] and I sit down and make the setlist. We just try and play whatever we want to play. Sometimes, things will fit really well in a certain place, so we'll leave them there. There are ways to make arcs to a setlist so it has highs and lows, peaks and valleys, But generally it changes every night. The new songs kind of go wherever they go. They're sort of dispersed throughout, but we're playing for about two hours every night, so there's a lot of other songs in there. Although we do tend to make long songs, occasionally.
NUVO: I read on your Reddit AMA that you're a Nana Grizol fan. I'm a big fan — reading that sent me right back to their music to listen again.
Duritz: I think Ruth is one of the best albums anyone has made in the last decade. And there's a lot of great albums. But I think Ruth is so amazing. We had Theo [Hilton] and the girl who plays cello at the Outlaw Roadshow last year in New York. We had Theo, the singer, come down and play. They were great. I guess Theo's in college right now — I didn't realize how young he is, but he is young. I think he's at Columbia. He's really young. He kind of sounds like a kid, too. But he doesn't write like a kid. He was fantastic. I really wanted to talk to him afterwards, because I'm a huge fan. I had my managers track him down through the Outlaw Roadshow, and it was hard to find him. He said something about how the band isn't playing right now and they got a bunch of equipment stolen the last time they were in New York, so they didn't want to tour around here anymore. But he came down and played with this girl, who played in the band too. And they played, and they were brilliant.
NUVO: I know another band that you've mentioned before the you like — and that is opening for you at the Indy stop — is Chris Carraba's new band Twin Forks.
Duritz: He's a really good friend, the whole band [is] actually. I lived with them for a little while. They came through New York last year and stayed with me when they were on tour with ... I can't remember the band. I had to leave town and play a gig so they stayed here, and I missed their gig, because they played the night that I left. And then they played again. We got off tour the first week in October, they came through and stayed with me for about a week. They had a gig in New York with The Script. We had a blast. I had the whole band here. It was really fun. They're really great, I love those guys. And they're so good live. They're great. Shit, they're good.
He [Carraba] was always amazing. Dashboard was amazing, too. He's just a great performer. I think he just loves this band, and he loves the music, and it shows. It's really joyous. I don't know, man, it was really cool the show that I saw.
I think a lot of times, people just have a band that will sell tickets with them. But we pick all of our openers. We're sort of music geeky about that stuff. But I understand why bands do it the other way, too. You do need to sell tickets, and sometimes the extra thousand tickets that someone else can sell helps. Generally, we take out a lot of Outlaw Roadshow bands, the bands from the indie festival we put on. I don't know if they're selling a lot of tickets — but Chris' band probably will.
NUVO: What other music are you geeking out about right now?
Duritz: I keep listening to that Phoenix record from a couple years ago. I don't know why. I just got — I don't know why I bought these — those Dylan bootleg series thing on the Big Pink stuff. Which is stupid, because I think I have all of it already. I collected bootlegs, and I can't stop. The problem with collecting bootlegs is that you look at them as pieces rather than just the music. They're these collector's items. I have three version of the Basement Tapes. I just can't stop buying bootlegs of them. And now they've put the damn things out themselves. I mean, it's ridiculous. I have 3-, 4-, 5-CD sets from this company Scorpio, this bootleg company. Now I've got this one. And you know what, there's probably a couple songs I don't have, so I probably have to buy it again. Which is stupid. It feels ridiculous. But I got it.
I just saw there's a collection of all The Smiths records on Rhino. I want to get that and hear those again, just to get myself to listen to those again. I really loved those records growing up, and I think they're brilliant. For some reason, that's been in my head, even though I haven't been able to do it. I've been listening to a lot of Roadshow stuff, some of these more indie bands. I've been listening to this album by Maria Taylor. The same friend of mine that turned me on to Nana Grizol turned me on to Maria Taylor. She's got this album called 11:11, like the time 11:11. It's so good. I listened to it yesterday again. It's just this really beautiful sort-of electronic, sort-of folk. The songwriting is so good. It's just really good songwriting. It kind of knocked me out.
There's a band called Hollis Brown, too. They played the Roadshow this summer, and I've been listening to their record. They just sent me their new record, which I'm really excited to check out. It's not out yet, but they sent me the roughs of it. I'm excited about that.
UVO: What is the status of Tyrannosaurus Records?
Duritz: It's sort of defunct. It's so hard. Well, we've got one more record coming out, so it's not really defunct, I guess. Notar just finished a record, and we're going to put that out this year — it's really good. It's hard to be a record label. I love music, and I love bands, and I love getting involved and helping people make records. I have a lot of experience in that sort of thing. I have a lot of experience doing it and not caving in to other people's shit, so I'm probably a good advisor for bands sometimes. So it made sense to me to have a record company. But it's just so hard. The truth is, it's always been the same with records — 99 percent of them don't sell. You make great records, but it's really hard to get anyone to listen to them. And to get people to buy them, nowadays, is nearly impossible. I always wanted to do it and help out, but it's kind of a beating after a while. I think I've made so many great records over the years with different labels that I've had. But none of them sold. And then you feel responsible for that, too.
When I started doing the Roadshow, one of the reasons I loved that so much was because it's nothing but success. You put on these shows, they're free, people come see them, you promote the bands, no matter what. There's no way to fail. It's a really good bead. It's fun, it's everything I've wanted to get out of having an indie company without the repeated failure. You feel responsible for people's lives,and then you just ... With all the optimism in the world, I have failed to sell any records ever, with all my indie things. That just kinda gets you after a while. It also bankrupts you. It's hard to fail every time. I guess that's what record companies do. They mostly fail. But they have so much money and so many bands that every once in a while something sells five billion copies. But it's harder with the indie thing. There's not the same kind of scene that there used to be. I don't know what I'm saying exactly. Tyrannosaurus Records, I love it so much, but it's really hard. I'd rather do the Roadshows, and be able to help 50 bands a couple times per year a little bit. It just feels much more rewarding for me. I know that is sort of a cop-out, but it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill sometimes. Nottar is like family to me. ....
It's a better time to be a band now, independently. It's just not a great time to be a label. When I was younger and we had my first label in the late '90s. We had a lot of great bands. Gigolo Ants from up in Boston, Joe 90 out west. We made great records. But distribution was so expensive, and recording was expensive. But especially distribution. It cost so much money to make CDs and then ship them out. The most you can get a record store to carry is two or three. And the best case scenario is they tell people all about them, they sell them, and then they don't have any anymore. And then people come there, they can't find it, and they get bummed out. That's the problem with distribution. You can only really put two or three CDs anywhere as an independent label. And if a store is really into you and helping out, they're gone and people just get frustrated. But nowadays, it's really inexpensive to record, and you can just put your stuff up on Bandcamp. Bands have a chance now to make two, three, four, five records. And all these bands that aren't signed to major labels have made like four or five records, which was unheard of back then. And that means they get really good. There's great music now because of that. It's still hard to try and be a label and make money off of that. I know how to lose it. I know how to lose a lot of money off of independent labels. I've proven that to myself. I'm an absolute master at that.
NUVO: What do you think it is about your music that provokes such an emotional response? Reading through fan reviews, I come across some variation on the statement, "This record got me through a hard time," so frequently with Counting Crows releases.
Duritz: I don't know why people relate to it, honestly. When we started out, one of the things that I thought was that people weren't going to relate to our music because it was too personal. I had a lot of people at the record company tell me early on that I should break some habits. Specifically, that I should stop using so many proper names and so many place names. They said it was too specific, and that threw people off that wanted to identify with it. I don't think that's true, myself, but that's what I was told at the time and that's kind of what I bought into. So I started to feel like, well, that's okay. We're making a really good record here. Yeah, it's really personal and really emotional, but that's okay. It's just not going to be popular. I later found out, that's wrong. For whatever reason, making stuff that's really personal and true for yourself emotionally is what people relate to. Which surprised me, but it is. I don't understand that, exactly, but it's the same for me. I listen to other people's records and have an emotional response and I don't even understand it, I just do. I don't know what the deal with that is, exactly. I was surprised at first when so many people reacted to it. But, I'm glad I guess.
As far as the new record, it's been a really good response. There's something about Underwater Sunshine and this record that they're very listenable. I like listening to Underwater Sunshine, and I like this new one a lot. I don't know what that's about. I tend to like them all when I'm working on them. I noticed that over the summer when the new record wasn't out, we played a lot of songs off the new album. We were playing four, five, six new songs a night. And it wasn't out, so that was a little weird. But people really responded to the songs anyways. And ones you wouldn't think of, too. We put "Palisades Park" in the opening slot of the encore of the second show of the encore, which is, you know, stupid. It's eight and a half minutes long and no one knew it. It's a terrible thing to do to your encore. But it worked! For some reason it felt so right to us. So we left it there, and it's never moved from its spot since then. We don't usually leave things in the same place. As a result of that, the encore hasn't changed. We've been playing this one encore because of that, because nobody wants to more it.
The really wild thing was going to Europe right now, because those are the first shows we've played where people have had the record. And they were flipping out. It was like, the opening chords of "Scarecrow" would come in, and there would be a roar. I'm sitting there in Holland, looking out at 6,000 people singing along to "Earthquake Driver." And "Palisades," we're in Italy where they just don't speak English. We can struggle in the Southern European countries because we're more of a lyrical band in some ways, and the fact that they don't speak English makes it harder for us. But there's a couple thousand people there in Milan who are all singing. I can see them 30 rows back, mouthing the words to "Palisades Park," which is a lot of words! We're getting a really great response. ... I know they're emotionally attaching, because when I'm looking at their faces during "Palisades Park," it's like they're going on a trip with us. It's very emotional, for sure.