Counting Crows Talk "Underwater Sunshine", Tour, and More
Mon, 05 Nov 2012 17:45:42
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Counting Crows remain one of America's most riveting rock 'n' roll bands.
That's especially true when they hit the stage. Live, the group always manages to enthrall and entrance every crowd everywhere. Their shows fluidly ebb and flow with uncontainable energy and a veritable bevy of classic songs. The group's most recent offering, Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation), sees them tackling a myriad of covers and giving their "Counting Crows" spin to each. It's wonderful rock 'n' roll to say the least…
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz talks the group's current tour, Underwater Sunshine, and so much more.
What's the art of constructing a set list for you? Do you spend a lot of time on the sequence? Does it change nightly?
It does change every night, and we spend time on it. When you add it all up, it ends up being a lot of time. People are paying to come to these concerts, and I feel like you owe them a passionate, committed concert. You can't get up on stage and phone shit in. However, I don't think you owe them any particular set list. In fact, I think that's a mistake. Also, I don't want to turn my songs into something I do because of someone else's expectations. I want play songs that I want to play, and I'll play the hell out of them. That's going to be the best show. Every day after sound check, I'll send a text out to the band as well as to the crew, opening bands, and anybody who's stuck out on the road with us. I'll say, "Anything you want to play tonight? Anything you want to hear tonight?" I'll get lots of texts back telling me songs. I don't follow it religiously, but I'll sit there with a piece of paper and circle things. Then, we make up the set list. It's great to hear what everyone else wants to do. I'll get excited about a song someone else wants to play. What other people want to hear and play does matter to me. I think it makes for a better show. It's also helpful reminding me of songs we haven't played in a while that we may want to relearn during sound check the next day. We're constantly adding things to the set. On the last tour, we got really obsessed with the songs from This Desert Life. We could play everything except for "Amy Hit the Atmosphere", and that's just because I got lazy and didn't learn the piano part [Laughs]. We got on a whim and by the new tour we were playing everything else on that record—not every night though. It was an album that had me fascinated because of those quirky, weird songs. It was fun. We dug that.
Do you feel like the show is constantly morphing?
Yeah! Throughout the entire spring and summer, there was only one song that made it into every show. That was more because we weren't thinking about it. We were playing "Untitled (Love Song)". I realized it was so nice in the second slot that we played it second or third every date. Since there were so many people tour to get suggestions from, it was great.
Going into Underwater Sunshine, was there a theme between the songs you chose to cover?
It's funny. Like a regular record, it doesn't start off with a theme around everything, but you can certainly see one at the end. To me, it's a pretty good picture of the kind of band we've always been. It's got to be the most obscure covers album ever recorded [Laughs]. That wasn't intentional at all. There also was no intention to avoid that though. When a lot of bands make a covers album, they're trying to find the most popular songs to cover because everyone knows them and the radio will play them. We had no inclination to go in that direction.
It was just about finding solid music.
Exactly! We were just looking for great songs. There may have been an unspoken idea to introduce people to lots of great music, but it was nothing we ever talked about. I always loved that when I was growing up. Artists would cover songs, and you'd learn about another great band from that. Big Star covered Loudon Wainwright III "Motel Blues". It was great! "Motel Blues" is one of the most harrowing songs about touring ever, and it opened my eyes to Loudon. Nirvana had that great cover of The Vaselines' "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam". That was an incredible song. I bought their record after that because it blew my mind. Coming up in the college radio and indie rock traditions, that was a big thing. R.E.M. covered The Velvet Underground. They were playing "Femme Fatale" and "Pale Blue Eyes". Introducing fans to other music was a hallmark of the independent music scene of the '80s and '90s. We never talked about it. Actors will spend their lives telling you what movies and actors suck to show you how cool they are. Musicians just want to shove the latest band they've discovered down your throat. It's always about somebody else. It's never about what sucks. The music business and media can be more about talking cleverly on what you hate. Musicians really want to share music. It's an obsession. When you make a record like Underwater Sunshine, you're showing off your musical taste. We were looking for fun things to cover. That turns into Fairport Convention—one of my favorite bands ever—or Big Star. I've worked with a lot of indie in the bands in the past two years. Some of them showed up like Kasey Anderson who toured with us this summer. We did "Like Teenage Gravity" off his album Nowhere Nights. He's an independent musician, and he's thriving. He's made a bunch of records that are all really cool. We did the Romany Rye track, "Untitled (Love Song)", which ended up in every set! I told the guys in the band to bring in stuff too. I thought, "What are periods of music we're not doing? We don't have any Britpop!" I thought of all the angry young men music of the late '70s like Elvis Costello. We found everything very organically.
Do you feel like these covers became Counting Crows songs in a sense?
Sure! That's the idea behind it. In a way, it's actually better that you cover songs the general audience doesn't know because that happens more. We're still trying to do that with the more popular songs though. Our version of "Ooh La La" is very much us. You're really trying to come up with our own versions of the songs. Most are totally different from the originals. I thought, "There's something really liberating about not doing my songs!" It was really cool. It also translated live. I was shocked by how well we were playing. I was feeling uncomfortable on stage because we hadn't performed in a while. I just closed my eyes and sang though. In the past, I felt like I needed to carry shows more. I suddenly realized we were playing so well that I could just stand still and sing. That's what I started doing. We were crushing playing that way. I didn't just stand there for the rest of the tour [Laughs]. I realized I could move more. When I listen to this record though, there are some moments where I'm astounded by the band. If you listen to that Dawes song "All My Failures", the game of tag between the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, jams, and bass is amazing. Everything they do is reflected in each other. Every time someone goes for a turnaround everybody goes with them. That's what you want in a band. You don't always get it though. The interplay between the musicians knocked me out.
Was "You Ain't Going Nowhere" particularly special for you?
We're like a freight train on that song. We got going and let loose. It's big and open, but it's good dirty rock 'n' roll too. I love the vocal and the instrumentation. I was so in love with that song we almost left "The Ballad of El Goodo" because I couldn't figure out where to put it. I always had it in my head that "You Ain't Going Nowhere" would end the record. There was nowhere to put "The Ballad of El Goodo", but I thought it might work as the postscript. When I moved "You Ain't Going Nowhere" into that second to last spot it made the whole record work really well.
What was the experience like listening to Underwater Sunshine?
I really liked it. I feel like it's the most enjoyable record. I find myself going back to it more [Laughs]. Many of my friends have told me how much they enjoyed this record, and I was like, "Wow, getting me out of the picture makes sense" [Laughs]. It used to be that interpreting music like we did was a big part of the tradition of popular music. In the years post-Dylan, it became all about songwriting. I'm a songwriter, and I agree with it's position of importance. When you make a whole record like this with so many different writers, it's like collaborating with all of these unique people. You see the ways they look at life and how they translate it into music. It's different from what I do. Getting a chance to make an album like that points out how limiting it is to spend your entire career working with one writer—even though I'm the writer! It's really good to do something like this. We're not just interpreters of my life; we're musicians. It was cool to play music that way. I dug it.
Counting Crows Tour Dates
Wed, Nov 07 New Orleans, LA - Mahalia Jackson Theatre
Fri, Nov 09 Thackerville, OK - Winstar Casino
Sat, Nov 10 Austin, TX - Stubb's
Mon, Nov 12 Houston, TX - Bayou Music Center
Tue, Nov 14 Albuquerque, NM - Kiva Auditorium
Thu, Nov 16 Tucson, AZ - AVA Ampitheater
Fri, Nov 17 Temecula, CA - Pechange Resort and Casino
Tue, Nov 20 San Francisco, CA - Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium
Sat, Nov 24 Los Angeles, CA - The Wiltern
Sun, Nov 25 Anaheim, CA - Grove of Anaheim
Have you ever seen Counting Crows live?