Adam Duritz has been writing songs and leading the Berkeley-formed Counting Crows for over two decades and seven albums. The band is currently touring the country and performs at the Masonic Center on Tuesday, November 20.
We spoke with Adam Duritz while in Oklahoma after driving in from a show in New Orleans the night before.
What was it like making music when you were living in the Bay Area?
Well I grew up there, I went to Cal. After we left Texas we ended up in Oakland and Berkeley. It was a great music scene to come up through because there were so many bands playing all the time.
It’s kind of reflective in our band, made up of a bunch of guys who are all friends in other bands. We all played in bands together or opened for each others bands. Pretty much even though I haven’t played with them the whole time, I’ve known everyone in this band for 20 or 25 years. We were all playing in other bands in the Bay Area at the same time.
Even Millard [Powers] who is from North Carolina, he was playing with our drummer Tim for years. We kinda all came up together in different ways, even though we didn’t all end up in Counting Crows right away, most of us were playing with it from the beginning.
When you first started Counting Crows in the late 80s did you imagine at that point that it would be your life?
I’m sure we all imagined it. We got signed and the first version of the band was in like 1989. I had known some of those guys from playing in other bands even earlier than that. I don’t know, you always imagine stuff like that but you imagine being an astronaut too, that you’re gonna end up in space. This was the kind of thing kids dream about.
Years before Counting Crows came along, when I wrote my first song, I chose who I was. I wrote a song and it was like “Ok, now I’m a songwriter.” I made a decision at that point to play music and stuck with it.
We didn’t get discovered till we were like 29. It’s the kind of decision you have to come to at some point about what you’re gonna do with your life, especially in a job like this because you might never make it in that sense of being successful. In fact, you’re probably not going to. So you have to make a decision at some point whether it’s a hobby and something you do for fun or whether it’s really your life. Not necessarily about being famous or being successful. Most of us had made that decision because we were sticking with it, before we ever joined Counting Crows.
Living in all different areas, does your songwriting change based on your location?
I’m sure, because your writing reflects your life and your life changes. Location’s a part of that but it’s more your life is changing anyway. I’m a very detail-oriented writer so location specifically shows up in songs. I include a lot of details in my songs – proper names and places.
My life changes rapidly for a number of reasons, geography’s just a part of that. Life in LA is really different from life in Berkeley and life in New York is really different than that.
Your style changes from one album to the next, specifically with your last two releases, how does that change so differently?
I don’t think it’s conscious, I just think it happens. You become interested in different things. Every record is really different. We were only sorta good at playing together when we made August and Everything After and the main thing now is we’ve learned to play together.
By the time we made Recovering the Satellites we had been on the road touring together for a year and a half, almost two years. We were an entirely different band by then, we had a whole different way of playing that we never could have done before we went on the road, we just weren’t that good. We made a record that reflects where we were coming from, it had a lot of things that August didn’t have – the louder guitars and more punk aesthetic. August we were playing a lot quieter and sitting around in a circle learning to play together. But a year and a half later we played in a way we couldn’t before then.
Each record you do you listen to new music, your tastes change. You make different kinds of music with that.
What kind of music are you listening to these days?
A lot of different stuff, a lot of instrumental stuff. Just cause I’ve been spending a lot of time in that world the last 3 or 4 years, doing a lot of showcases with Ryan Spaulding who does Ryan’s Smashing Life blog.
We’ve been putting on these sorta indie band showcases at SXSW and CMJ – about 100 different sets of music in the last 3 years. I have a lot more friends now that are bloggers. Also nowadays there’s so much more music to listen to because it’s so much easier to make music, less expensive and there’s so many more places to find it on the internet. There’s just a lot of great bands.
This is the best sort of time for music I can remember since the 80s or 90s when all the independent labels were around. You don’t have to be on a major label, you can survive without being on one right now.
Counting Crows play at the Masonic Center on Tuesday, November 20. More info.