From the archives: Counting Crows

From the archives: Counting Crows

Here’s a piece I’ve dredged up from the archives – early 2004, to be precise. At the time I was working for the BBC’s Top of the Pops website, which occasionally involved interviewing guests who had come to the studio to play on that week’s show. The highlight was when I got to have a sit down with Adam Duritz, the man behind what I would probably nominate as my favourite band, Counting Crows.

Here’s the interview, from April 2004, conducted in a dresssing room in TVC before their performance – and yes, you could see me on the broadcast, right at the front, singing along and dancing like a mad thing 🙂

Adam Duritz

How’s your new drummer Jim Bogios settling in and how has the departure of Ben Mize affected the band?

Adam: It’s worked out great. It meant we had less vacation time because we had to do all the rehearsals but Jim’s really great – great drummer, great guy. We’ve all known him for a long time too, so he fits right in. It wasn’t like he was a new guy coming in. I’ve been friends with Jim for years, Immy [David Immergluck, Counting Crows guitarist] used to play in a band with Jim, and I know him through Sheryl [Crow] too. So it’s going real well. I mean, you miss Ben because you miss Ben, because you spent nine years together and every once in a while I find myself looking for him to tell him something, but I just have to call him. I did a radio show in Dublin the other day, DJing for two hours, and I had some of Ben’s demos with me so we opened the second hour with one of Ben’s songs and it made me remember how good they are. I know one of the reasons he wanted to stop is that he wanted to go do his own thing, and he’s really good. We’ve got tapes of that show and our earlier ones too, and we’re going to put them up on our website.

‘Big Yellow Taxi’ is a cover version and is a hidden track on the album, so why did you release it as a single rather than one of your own songs from ‘Hard Candy’?

Adam: I don’t think we would have released this as a single until some time next year, probably. There were other songs we were planning on doing first. We were in the middle of releasing ‘Miami’ but this film ‘Two Week’s Notice’ came to us and said ‘we want to use this in the credits, we want to use it in the film, we want to build the ad campaign around it, we want to make a video as well and use this song to portray the film’. That was just too big a deal to pass up. It’s hidden on the record right now so if we’d had more time we would have planned ahead to it being a single, it would have been listed and now we’re dealing with the fact that a lot of people don’t even know it’s on the record. But they made a video for us, and it’s in the movie, which is a hit in America, so there’s a lot of reasons why it made sense to do this song. It’s probably about six or eight months earlier than we would have but what are you going to do… it’s turning out great.

You’re on record as being very disappointed by the reception of ‘Recovering The Satellites’ but that later you felt people came to appreciate it for being as good as it is. How do you feel about the reception of the new album, ‘Hard Candy’?

Adam: It’s good. You have to understand that at the time of ‘Satellites’ my entire experience with the record business was that when I put out a record 10 million people bought it, that was just what I assumed happened, and that everyone loved the records we put out. I don’t think we got a bad review for ‘August And Everything After’. But what you realise after you’ve been in the business for a while is that people develop opinions about you that don’t have anything to do with your music, they like or dislike you for a million reasons, they like or dislike you for your last record. You can put out a record that’s crap but if they loved your last record they’re there for you, and you can put out a great record but if they hated or came to hate your last record at some point… I think ‘Mr Jones’ got on everybody’s nerves after a while, it certainly got on mine and I love the song. So by the time ‘Satellites’ came out I think people were fed up with it, well the critics were in any case. It still sold millions of records.

It was hard because I knew they weren’t reviewing it really because they were talking about it as a folk rock record and ‘Satellites’ is a loud, heavy guitar, sometimes almost punk record in places. The last thing it is is a re-hash of ‘August And Everything After’, it’s completely different which is, I think, why a lot of people had problems with it – they weren’t ready for ‘Angels of The Silences’ to be the single that came after ‘Round Here’. They weren’t expecting that, especially because there were about seven or eight radio songs on ‘August’ that went out and up the charts on their own just from radio play without us doing anything about it. And so when you’ve heard ‘Perfect Blue Buildings’ and the next song you hear is ‘Angels of The Silences’ you wonder what the hell is going on. The first thing on that record is ‘Catapult’ which is just screaming loud guitar noises… I’m trying to remember what the first four songs are… there’s ‘Catapult’, ‘Angels of the Silences’, ‘Daylight Fading’ and ‘I’m Not Sleeping’, which is also a bunch of caterwauling noise. So three out of those four songs are really loud songs, and the fourth, ‘Daylight Fading’, is sort of a jangly guitar song, but three of those were really not what people were coming to us to hear.

I still love the record. It’s a very raw record. The vocals on ‘August’ are very, I don’t want to say slick, very well sung but on ‘Satellites’ I purposefully made them really raw, I let cracks go in my voice, I wanted to vocals to be like scraping your nails on a chalkboard sometimes. What you realise as you go on in this business is that it’s not for those people, you do it for yourself and it turns out how it turns out because you can’t bother making the music they want you to make, it’s a wasted chase.

You had a hard time dealing with the attention you got after ‘August’, but now you seem a lot more comfortable and mellow about being famous. If you could go back and give your younger self advice on how to handle what was coming what would you tell him?

Adam: I wouldn’t really give advice to me. I don’t really think I acted weird at all. I think the thing people confuse about fame is that they think fame is something you do, but it’s not, it’s something other people do to you. I have problems with massive amounts of people acting like idiots around me. I was the same guy but the world started acting like complete idiots and I’ve got no patience for it. And also I don’t really like a lot of people to be honest with you, I’m not really that kind of guy, and all of a sudden everyone was in my face and I wasn’t really into it. So I don’t know what I would have done differently. It was so new and strange. The example I’ve used over and over is that if you woke up on Mars one morning you’d have to take a while to adjust to the gravity but after a while you do. You see, there was a certain thing that was my life up to 1993 and there was a certain thing that became my life after 1993 and it was very different and very sudden. But now that is my life, and it’s been my life for ten years now, so I’m quite well adjusted, I know how to deal with people, I know how to talk to people, I don’t feel like they’re attacking me I just feel like they’re coming up to say they like the music most of the time.

On which note, you post diary entries on your website, and talk to the fans about their message board posts, and that dialogue has been a little prickly at times. Do you ever wonder about the wisdom of making yourself so accessible?

Adam: No, because I think it’s for that. These are a lot of songs about someone having troubles with the world, someone who doesn’t fit in with people, someone who doesn’t get along with people and is solitary for that reason and I don’t want people to get comfortable with them and think… I’m not your dream come true, don’t confuse me with your dream come true, because that’s not what I’m saying in those songs. The guy in those songs is not the greatest guy in the world all the time. So what I want to do on my website updates is be me. I think it’s a really cool thing to give your fans is a real… it’s really me, it’s not sanitised, I don’t agree with everything they say, I’m not their best friend all the time. Sometimes I tell them about how I feel and it’s great, sometimes I tell them about how I feel and I’m furious, and if they talk crap I’ll call them on it and I don’t have any problem with that really. And they do get really ornerry at times, but whatever. I also think that the internet makes one person seem like a thousand people and you can have three nutbags who decide that it is their duty in life to argue about everything because that’s the kind of people they are. It doesn’t mean everybody’s that way but I think I do end up in arguments with the nutbags generally.

Which of your work are you most proud of and which if any of your work would you quietly sweep under the carpet if you could?

Adam: There’s demos of ours from before ‘August’ that I don’t think are so great but I’m not really that embarrassed by them because the truth is everybody has them, you not suddenly born great as a musician. And I didn’t release a lot of indie records with bands so that people could hear my development up towards ‘August’. So there’s material out there which I don’t think is so great but which some of our fans are completely enamoured with, which makes me think they have no taste at all in music, which is borne out by some of the other bands they like other than us sometimes! But that’s life. I don’t love that material so I don’t like to hear people shouting ‘play this’ but it doesn’t really bother me that much – I’m just not going to play it.

As far as what I’m proudest of, I really love ‘Satellites’, I just think that album is incredible and it really holds up to me. On ‘August’ the songs hold up, I really love every song on that record but some of the performances are callow and sort of youthful. We’d just been together a little while when we made that record and we didn’t quite understand how to play some of those songs yet, they’re so much better live today that’s it’s hard to love them in that form. All the other records I really love but probably ‘Satellites’ the most, probably just because it was such a leap forward for us and the songs are so gut-wrenching and beautiful and it has my best song on the record – I really think ‘A Long December’ is the best thing I’ve ever written.

There’s a solo piano version of that song that you did on a Dutch TV show that I’ve seen which is quite remarkable…

Adam: That’s actually a great story. What happened that day is that this cameraman kept walking right in front of me and putting the camera between me and the audience and sticking the camera right in my face and I kept saying ‘get out of my face’ and he just wouldn’t get out of my face. So finally, after two or three songs, I said ‘you know what, I’m done’ – it was my temperamental days – and I walked. I went up to the dressing room and they came upstairs later and said ‘is there any way you can come back down and play ‘A Long December’ and I said ‘you know what I’m not going to play it, you want to hear me play it bring a camera up here and I’ll play it for you right now’. So they brought a camera up and that was like… I was angry but I knew I was screwing up. So I’d never played it like that before, it was so different, it was very anguished. It’s a great version, I love that version.

‘I’m single and miserable and I’ve got four albums of bitching about it that I would offer as proof.’ Are you ever worried that if the right woman walked in through one door that your muse would walk out the other?

Adam: No, not really, because I’ve been in relationships and written lots of songs. I’ve written some of best songs… I wrote most of ‘This Desert Life’ when I was falling in love. I read once that someone asked Van Morrison that and he said that’s crap, if you’re a crap writer then maybe, but if you’re a good writer you write. And I can write, I can write an article for a book on movies, I can write updates on our website and I can write songs. I can write songs for our records, I can write songs for ‘Josie And The Pussycats’. I really think that it’s what I do. I’m sure they would be different but there’s so much difficulty in relationships that I think there would be things about that too. It’s just so hard. But songs about falling in love are great songs, I was falling in love when I wrote ‘A Long December’ and that’s the best song I ever wrote, really.

Finally, what are you listening to right now, what are you hearing that’s turning you on?

Adam: The band that’s touring with us right now, this girl Gemma Hayes. I’ve been listening to her album all the time, especially now that she’s playing with us. I got it about a year ago over here and I’ve been trying to get her to come on tour with us forever, it’s such a beautiful record, she’s so good, she really knocks me out. I’ve listened to that a lot this week. What else… I’ve been listening to this Slade album that I got, I have to get into it more because I’ve only heard it once, but it’s so good. I had never really listened to Slade but it’s a really awesome record. There are all these songs that other people covered that you didn’t like the covers of but they were actually really great when Slade did them. The Slade version of ‘Cum On feel The Noize’ is a fantastic song and I just didn’t get the versions that much. I just heard this album ‘Fitzcarraldo’ by the Frames, they’re an Irish band. Gemma was talking about them a lot last week so I had a friend get me their record, I was just listening to them in the room and it’s really good.

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