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Adam Duritz of Counting Crows talks ‘Butter Miracle’ EP, tricky setlists & industry changes ahead of their UK tour

Counting Crows are back in the UK soon after what seems like an age – we catch up with Adam Duritz.

Adam Durtiz / Counting Crows
Credit: Mark Seliger

2023 will be the 30th anniversary of Counting Crows’ seminal debut album, ‘August and Everything After’. ‘August….’ was one of the zeitgeist albums of the 90s with songs like ‘Mr Jones’ dominating MTV and the radio airwaves. Lead by charismatic lead singer, Adam Duritz, Counting Crows cemented themselves in the cultural window of the times. Over the years, the band have released a number of albums and stayed true to their Folk/Indie/Rock roots, touring relentlessly and never resting on their laurels, continuing to produce passionate, thoughtful and uplifting music.

A break of seven years without new music was brought to an end in 2021 with the release of four track EP ‘Butter Miracle Suite One’, an ambitious project that saw Duritz and the band attempt to connect four songs together in one suite of music. It was a triumph and served to remind us all why seven years was too long to wait for new music from this wonderfully creative band still firing on all cylinders 30+ years after their formation.

Counting Crows’ European tour tours rolls into the UK on Monday October 10th with a show in Birmingham before heading out across the nation. We were thrilled to catch up with Adam Duritz to talk all about the new EP and much, much more.

Thank you for your time today, Adam. It’s great finally have you coming back to play in the UK. It feels like it’s been a while. How frustrating has it been for you as a touring musician these past couple of years?

I mean, it’s the longest I’ve gone without playing since I started playing! I don’t think I’ve gone two years without playing a gig, since I started playing music as a kid. That was very strange.

It wasn’t so much that it was strange at the time because my girlfriend and I hunkered down during the pandemic, it was scary. We were in one of the the cultural centres of the world in New York and, like everybody else, it caught us by surprise in New York because it caught us immediately, in New York. You know, there were trucks and freezer trucks parked up outside the hospitals, piling up bodies. It was kinda apocalyptic for a while and we spent a lot of time together, hunkered down.

The strangeness really didn’t come until the pandemic was coming to a close and people started to make new plans and I started to wonder if anyone would ever be there at one of our shows again. The average band survives a couple of years – either you kill each other or people just don’t give a shit anymore, you know? (laughing) We’ve lasted a really long time but you keep wondering when that candle will burn out and if the people will still be there. An enforced break, when we weren’t able to tour and reach people and you don’t have a record out, makes you wonder what things will look like when you do try and come back.

What changes have you noticed, in either the industry or the fans, now that you are back out on the road?

There’s a lot more people buying tickets at the last minute in case a show gets cancelled. This whole tour had to be postponed once, right? People have moved away from buying tickets the day they go on sale and letting Ticketmaster hold their money for the next year!

We didn’t seem to be selling any tickets in Spain and then the show sold out, it just sort of happened at the last minute. Same in Germany. Belgium. I’m noticing that a lot more over here in Europe, there’s a lot of last minute ticket buying.

We’ve also always been careful of flight times and not cutting things too close to a show in terms of flying but you absolutely can’t rely on the airline industry to get you anywhere on time right now. It feels like every other flight gets cancelled.

One of the joys of being a Counting Crows fan was always collecting your bootlegs. I’ve got 150 CDs of demos, live shows and stuff dating back to your bands that pre-dated Counting Crows. With the advent of smart phones and Youtube, has that bootleg era now passed into history?

Yeah, it’s gone. You can get stuff online now – at places that allow downloads, which are largely officially run now, but the days of unofficial bootlegs have gone. The guys, the impresarios who made their own bootlegs that we used to call a really nice ‘piece’, have all gone.

We had a really good friend who was a bootlegger, a guy called Johnny Legs. Immer (Counting Crows guitarist, David Immergluck) and I would go visit him or he would come to the gigs and set up a kind of bootleg flea market backstage! He passed away a few years ago and after that it all seemed to come to an end.

It also has to do with people not buying CDs anymore either. People don’t even have CD players anymore, so they aren’t going to be interested in searching out rare or live stuff from a band and no-one will be able to sell them a bootleg when they can’t play it.

The ‘Butter Miracle’ EP brought to an end a period of seven years where you didn’t release new music. I’d heard you say on a podcast that that was because of changes in the industry and you not really knowing how to put out new music. Have changes like streaming hurt the band or is it that people’s habits have changed?

I think the changes have hurt everybody in that none of us are getting paid for our art anymore! A lot of the changes have been good for musicians – you don’t need record companies anymore, which is certainly a good development. There’s a lot of good things that have changed but it’s never a good thing when everybody in the world decides that they don’t really need to pay for art anymore, though. Which is what everybody, for thousands of years, has always thought about art!

The fact that everything became free for everybody has been hard on artists but the thing with us and the band is that we never had two albums in a row with the same record company. By ‘Recovering the Satellites’ there was a whole bunch of new people at the label that didn’t really know what that were doing and by ‘This Desert Life’ we were really on Interscope. By ‘Hard Candy’ that had become Universal so we’ve never really had a confident record company putting out our records until we put out ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ in 2012. I felt like Capitol did an amazing job with that record, the best that any label as done with a record of ours, and yet that album still kinda made no real impression.

‘….Wonderland’ made me wonder if we were still trying to release music in some sort of out-mode fashion because the label did such a good job of trying to reach people. I didn’t want to be creating what I thought was really good work, just for it to disappear down a hole, you know? I didn’t feel like we had a good grip on how to release a record any more. Radio singles at AAA radio? I wasn’t sure that was worth it any more and I wanted us to try and figure out of there was a different way of doing what we’d always done.

And have you resolved any of those thoughts and uncertainties? Is ‘Butter Miracle Suite One’ a sign that you might stick to releasing music in short blasts going forward?

(laughing) No, not all! ‘Butter Miracle’ was me getting excited about writing a suite of music. With me, once I start writing I want to make a record and complete the creative process that has awoken. I hadn’t had the urge to write or put anything out for a while until then. ‘Butter Miracle’ kinda caught me by surprise and I was so excited about wanting to do it.

I don’t know whether we’ve figured anything out about the industry as it is right now, though. (laughing) ‘Elevator Boots’ was number one on one of the radio formats in America, it was a number one hit for us at AAA radio and I don’t think the song became a cultural phenomenon like it would have done back in the 90s, right? So that taught me that you could have a number one single and still not necessarily make much of an impression, or enough of an impression for my tastes. ‘Elevator Boots being number one on the radio in America didn’t have any influence on it in the UK, which it would have done in the past, so I’m not sure we’ve figured anything out.

Does that prey on your mind or is it creativity exciting, not having anything figured out?

No, it definitely preys on my mind. I like a lot of things about the changes in the music business: they may not be better for me but they are better for everyone. The fact that you don’t need a record company, the fact that you can make records at home by yourself, the fact that you don’t need distribution is an even bigger bonus because you don’t have to pay people to print things and ship them across the country. Just being able to upload music to Bandcamp is great for everyone as a whole but not paying for music is not great for everyone as a whole!

‘Butter Miracle’ is such a terrific piece of work. Was the germ of the idea behind it going to be a long form song reminiscent of something like ‘Pallisades Park’ from the ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ album or was it always going to be four songs linked together?

Well, I wrote ‘The Tall Grass’ first and the next day I wasn’t sure it was finished so I was messing around with the ending, extending it and changing some of the chords, you know? Then I just sang the line ‘Bobby was a kid from round the town’ and I thought, Oh, this is going to be a longer song, like ‘Pallisades Park’. But, once I had worked on it for a little while I knew it wasn’t going to be a longer song, it was a different song that turned out to be ‘Elevator Boots’.

There was a flow, though, that linked the two songs together, that was so cool to me and it got me to thinking about writing a series of songs that did that, that were linked together. I got really excited about doing that and from that point on, when I got to the end of ‘Elevator Boots’ I was looking for a way to get into the next song.

There’s something of an English influence across the EP to my ears. I can hear Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats, The Who, Bowie, the Beatles. I know people will often quote Springsteen as an influence on your work but what influence have British artists had on you?

Anyone who is a Rock and Roll fan will have had a British influence on them. There’s no way around that. When I was writing ‘Butter Miracle’ I was living in England. There’s definite Roy Harper influences on ‘The Tall Grass’, probably Nick Drake too. On ‘Elevator Boots’ I was very much thinking of Spiders From Mars and a bit of Bad Company, Mick Ronson and Mott the Hoople too.

I was living on this farm over there and one day I went down into town. I was driving back listening to the radio and BBC was playing the new single from the Bombay Bicycle Club that had a real bounce to it.There was keyboard line I really liked in it so even those influences were playing on me and not just the classic guys from the 70s. I ended up humming the melody and the keyboard line into my phone which became the basis for ‘Angel of 14th St’.

We spent a lot of time touring with The Who when we were younger and I’ve been a huge fan of The Who my whole life. I was definitely going for those power chords on ‘Bobby and the Rat Kings’ although the song does go in more of a Springsteen-type of direction at times.

Do you have plans for ‘Butter Miracle Suite Two’ in the pipeline?

I actually wrote the second suite when I was over in England after the pandemic, or rather, what we thought was after the pandemic! Whilst I was over there I sang on my friends’ record – the band Gang of Youths. They’re Australians who live in London now. We both, independently of each other, at almost the exact same time, wrote ‘Angel of 8th Ave’ (Gang of Youths) and ‘Angel of 14th St’ (Counting Crows).

After finishing their record (‘angel in realtime’), David Le’aupepe, their lead singer, sent me it to listen to and when I heard it I thought, “Oh shit, my record is not good enough!’ I threw the whole thing out. That’s the only time in my entire career that I’ve ever done something like that. ‘angel in realtime’ is the best record anyone has ever made in years and it is what my songs should be like and they’re not. So I tossed mine away.

Something I’ve loved about Counting Crows over the years and something that the band is famous for, is how you swap and change your setlist from night to night. How difficult it is now for you, with the size and depth of your back catalogue, to choose the setlist each night for each show?

It does get difficult sometimes because I really want to play stuff from every album. Some albums are harder to sing live than others too. ‘Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings’ is a really hard album to sing live, my voice gets really tired on those songs.

The added issue on this tour is that we have a twenty minute suite (‘Butter Miracle’) that has to be played each night now too. ‘Pallisades Park’ is a 10 minute song which discourages you then from playing other long songs like ‘Mrs Potter’s Lullaby’ but we’ve been enjoying playing ‘…. Lullaby’ recently though. Then you go back and find older songs that you haven’t played for a while, like ‘Butterfly in Reverse’ and they become exciting to play again.

On top of those considerations there are some songs that are really structurally part of the set, like the first album songs like ‘Round Here’, ‘Rain King’ and ‘Mr Jones’, you know? If we want to play anything else from the debut album, do you take one of those big ones out? It’s hard and the longer we go, the bigger problem that it gets!

Looking at the sets right now. Some nights you open with ‘Speedway’ or ‘Sullivan Street’ and others seem to be ‘Round Here’ or ‘Mrs Potter’s Lullaby’. Those songs all have very different vibes for the opener to a show. How do you decide which one to go with?

There’s moods and things that will and won’t work when it comes to that. ‘Round Here’ seems to work really well at the top of the set but we’ve also been playing it a lot in the encore lately too which really seems to flip people out. We hadn’t played ‘Sullivan Street’ for a long time but we’ve played it a couple of times on this tour and it seems to really set a great mood at the top of a set.

There was a sequence of ‘Speedway’, ‘Come Around’ and ‘Mr Jones’ that really worked at one of the shows recently, it was unexpected but so cool. ‘Colourblind’ tends to come in fourth, after ‘Mr Jones’ because it provides a nice drop down but then ‘Black and Blue’ can work in that slot too. We play around with stuff all the time, it’s exciting.

It’s harder for new songs to grab some of the big spaces because we just don’t have the promotional mechanism or the cultural eye on us to reach as many people right now. Ideally I’d like to open the show with the ‘Butter Miracle’ suite, that would be so cool, or maybe ‘Pallisades Park’ but I’m not as sure people are as familiar with the newer songs as they are some of the older ones.

I love it when you elongate your songs or improvise extra bits in them, something else you’ve been famous for over the years. Does that get harder to do as your catalogue expands but the time allowed for a live show doesn’t?

I’ve sort of stopped doing a lot of that lately. I love the improvising but I also find myself, right now, really just wanting to play songs and play as many songs as I can, more than playing a 10 minute ‘Round Here’. I love playing a tight ‘Round Here’ and then getting to play another song like ‘Butterfly in Reverse’.

On this tour it’s really great playing the ‘Butter Miracle’ suite and then just crashing into ‘Rain King’ followed by ‘A Long December’ meaning I haven’t really wanted to extend either of those songs. I’m feeling the pressure, I guess, of having so many songs and wanting to play them. You just can’t do the long extended versions of things all the time – I also used to feel so inspired to do all that stuff and then I feel like it kinda became a thing that everyone expected. More than that, people began to want me to improvise but make it something they already knew, right? (laughing) Which kinda defeated the object of the whole thing. It stopped feeling as creative to me in some respects, because people expected it from us. You know, when people start to say ‘Play this alt-version’ I was, like, ‘I gotta play some other stuff for a little bit!’ (laughing)

How do you feel you’ve changed and evolved as a writer over the course of your career?

One thing that really freed me up was the working on ‘Underwater Sunshine’ (The covers album Counting Crows did) and the theatre piece I was doing at the same time. Those projects got me to think about how other people write and perform their songs but it also taught me how to write for other people and people who aren’t me. It showed me how to write songs that weren’t autobiographical but told stories instead. So songs like ‘Pallisades Park’ or ‘Elevator Boots’ aren’t in the first person, they tell a story about a character instead, I hadn’t previously written in that way.

That was a big deal for me. When I started writing the songs that would become ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ I initially didn’t think they were any good because what was good to me and what I knew of, up to that point, was really just first person songs about me! (laughing) I was worried that the songs that weren’t in the first person didn’t have any emotional resonance so I played them to Immer and he was like, ‘I love these songs!’

It’s just like apples and oranges, I guess. If all that’s been good is apples then the orange might seem like it’s weird, but it’s not wrong, just different. That opened me up to the possibility of writing in a different way.

This year is the 20th anniversary of ‘Hard Candy’ and next year will be the 30th anniversary of ‘August and Everything After’. Would you ever consider touring these albums as anniversary celebrations or is playing new music still more important to you than nostalgia?

I never really think about the anniversaries. I guess we did at first, when ‘August…’ was ten years old but those type of shows don’t really interest me much. The album I would wanna play if we were doing something like that would be ‘This Desert Life’. I imagine everyone else would want to be there for ‘August…’ but I would want to play ‘…Desert Life’.

I kinda like mixing all the songs up from the different albums and playing them that way.

There are a few limited tickets left for Counting Crows’ UK tour, which begins in Birmingham on October 10th. Grab them while you can.

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