Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Q&A: Adam Duritz

BY BRENT OWEN

LEO: This album seems very dark – even by Counting Crows standards – what happened in the last five years that made you more miserable than ever?
Adam Duritz: Oh, I lost my fuckin’ mind, that’s it…I lost my fuckin’ mind…that was a major problem in the delay. Yeah, and I apologize to my band mates daily for taking six years, but yeah that’s kinda what it was. Then we got together and do what we do…we made an album. Now we’re going to school in our underwear, it’s totally different. It’s like that bad dream where you wake up at school in your underwear, with no fuckin’ idea where all clothes are. That’s how we made this record…it’s was a lot like walking around in your underwear.

LEO: Has turning 40 affect your songwriting at all?
AD: Not really. I don’t really think about my age at all, I never really have. I think, what’s the point? I mean, you get all of your days, you have them all and you can do what you want with ‘em. Nobody takes them from you. So I find it hard to be anywhere but where I am. I don’t really feel young or old or anything. This is what 43 is [sic]. I have a friend that’s 75, I have a good friend that’s 22 – and it just seems that I have a lot in common with both of them.
So, no, not really.
I mean being 43 affects me in that I’ve lived these years. 40 through 42 were very good but 43 is no real milestone. My 40th was a blast – I wore a bunny costume. I made everyone dress up in costume in the middle New York. It was the middle of August in New York City and everyone was wearing costumes in my half-built apartment; a construction zone.
I don’t really see age landmark-wise that way. I think you are who you are; it’s all just a matter of how you approach each day. I don’t feel at all old. Me and Dave Bryson [guitarist for Counting Crows] were sitting down talking the other day…well we writing e-mails back and fourth about this. It was right before the record came out and said, “By the way, it’s been nineteen years just me and you.” That’s a hell of a long time to be doing something like this. Me and him have been playing together for nineteen years! And I’ve known Immy [David Immergluck – guitarist for Counting Crows] for twenty-three years now. Immy and I did our first recording together twenty-three years ago. I feel like a kid, I mean, I play in a rock n’ roll band, I still feel like a kid. You know, I’m a mature kid running a big corporation…but I feel like a kid. Immy and I made our first record together before some of my friends were born.
I talked to a friend of mine yesterday, he called me, he’s a student at Berkley who’s getting ready to graduate and trying to figure out what’s going on with life. He was telling me about what he was doing in school and about how his father had been lecturing him about his future. And we just talked about how he was getting ready to go out into the world, and figure out what he’s going to do with the rest of his life.
Ya’ know, he’s just a kid, not from a good part of town, he got himself into school on a full scholarship – he’s really smart and he’s going to do something amazing. But you know, I realize now, that he was born the year after Immy and I recorded the first thing we ever recorded together. But I still have a lot in common with him – because I’ve had some success but I’ve still got lots of dreams too.

LEO:
You worked with Gil Norton again to produce the Saturday Nights portion of the album. He’s done Pixies, Throwing Muses, Belly, and of course your own Recovering the Satellites. Why did now seem like the right time to work with him again?
AD: In May of 2006, my manager and I were talking and I had sorta realized that I was crazy and probably needed to go to a hospital or stay home and do work on that. But he thought we should go on tour. And I really wanted to go on the tour too, I just didn’t know if I was healthy enough.
At that time the whole record was [the song] “1492.”
Anyway, I went home after talking to him and I suddenly realized what record I wanted to make. So I called Gil up because we were going on the road in the beginning of July this was maybe the first week of May. I said, “Gil, I want this record, I know it, and I want to do it now.” There were only a couple of songs and a little piece of music I had. And I asked him, “Can you come here? Can you be here by June 1st?”
He said, “Sure.” Then he called me back and said sure he’d be here in three weeks; and we recorded for 25 straight days. I never had any doubt there was only one guy for me. I think I talked to [Steve] Lillywhite at one point about something being possible when “1492” was just getting started. But it seemed obvious this was a Gil record. We’ve never gone back and worked with a producer more than once, but Gil was the guy.

LEO: The Counting Crows have been known for so long as romantic and lovelorn, but there seems to be more than a few, subtle and less-than-subtle, references to various forms of raw sexuality. As a songwriter how can you be frank without coming off vulgar?
AD: Well, there’s been some stuff on other albums that were that way but on this album I didn’t really have a problem with being vulgar. I kinda even wanted some of it to be. But I wanted it to be sexy but I also wanted it to be ugly at times. I wasn’t really trying to avoid ugliness on this record. There were songs that people wanted me to take off of the album for that very reason. Not just in a sexual way but there are songs that are ugly personally. Like “You Can’t Count on Me” that was really calling myself to account for…I’m not really that kind of person but if you’re crazy and you hurt people with all the best of intentions; you’ve still done something kinda terrible.
I found that I had written a lot of songs, that were really sad songs about relationships and people still found that romantic. And I wanted to write that really made it clear: “Look, yeah, it’s romantic that things are over but it’s over because it’s tragic for the people involved – it’s brutal.” So I made it a lot uglier than I am…”You Can’t Count on Me. But this album I wanted parts of it to be ugly. A lot people wanted the guitars off of “You Can’t Count on Me” – and they said take the “t” off of the end of that word. They wanted “1492” and “Los Angeles” off the record…completely. They wanted “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam” off of the record because they said that was too embarrassingly raw emotionally. I said, “Fine, I’m embarrassing but I want it on there.” And “1492” is the reason for the whole record so no one could just take it off – ugly or not…that’s the point.
I didn’t really have a problem with it. I don’t know how you do it without making it vulgar because everyone hears things different. But I definitely made a consorted effort to make it not-pretty. “1492” is not a romantic song…it’s just not. And “You Can’t Count on Me” it’s supposed to be about fighting and finding a void – it’s not a party song.

LEO: So is this the most exposed portrait of Adam Duritz that fans have seen?
AD: No, not necessarily. I guess they’re all pretty bare – ever since August we’ve really been trying to make exposed records – after that I’ve really tried to open myself up. There’s stuff on all of ‘em that’s uncomfortable to sing. This album is…whatever it is…this year’s model. I don’t know, they’re all really different to me but “Miller’s Angels” is pretty raw, “I’m Not Sleeping” is pretty raw – I’m just thinking of the ones off Recovering the Satellites right now; but there’s some pretty exposed-nerve shit on those songs.

LEO: What was it about Brian Deck who worked with Modest Mouse and Iron & Wine that made him the right guy to do the Sunday Mornings portion?
AD: I didn’t really know who I wanted to do Sunday Mornings when I was developing the idea for it. I mean, we never set out to make this record – we were going to make a record based on “1492” and where my life was going from there. Later on things kind of changed and I started to come with a different mind; I tried to have this picture of like 1000 records that I would be comparing it to…that this one could segue into. I knew I wanted to make a folk record but not an unplugged record. I listen to a lot of folk music now and it’s like: “we’re just playing acoustic guitars.” That’s so uninteresting to me.
I wanted a really cool folk album, like when they were imaginative and they had electric instruments on them and they were really elaborately arranged and creative. Like Simon and Garfunkel, “Sound of Silence” is a very electric song with ornate drums; and “The Only Living Boy in New York.” Tapestry has lots of electric guitar on it, you know? And Fleetwood Mac had vicious electric guitars. I wanted to find a way to make a folk album that was really creative and had no boundaries to it. We’re a seven member band, I just wasn’t interested in stripping down to, like two people – I wanted to make a really interesting album.
So I just started listening to music. I literally got on my computer and had iTunes, Amazon, and allmusic.com, in three windows. And I would listen to something on iTunes, read about it on Allmusic, listen to it more on iTunes, and then I go back and look at who they influenced, who they were influenced by, what other records you might like if you like these guys. Then I’d read about those guys, see who produced it, listen to their records, download it from iTunes, or order it from Amazon. Then I would read what people were saying about it on Amazon, and as I was reading over all of this I started going in circles. Letting one thing lead me to another and each time I’d be like: “Who produced this?” or “Who produced that?” and “Who produced this?” As I looked around the name Brian Deck kept coming up. And then I finally went to Allmusic.com and looked up Brian Deck’s whole catalogue and just I went through it all on iTunes – everything he had done. And you know what? He really had a body of work – this really creative, indie folk music.
He didn’t do the early Iron and Wine stuff, where it was just acoustic guitar and vocals, but he did do the one where they started to branch out into non-acoustic instruments. As the music got more complex he’s the one that did that record. He took Modest Mouse from being one kind of band to being a band with a much broader scope. I just found that he had done a lot of cool stuff and it was very creative, it just seemed to me after a while that he was the guy. I already downloaded all of his stuff so I played it for the other guys; we called him, he came and hung-out with us, then we finally said, “You just gotta do it.”

LEO: That sounds like a lot of research.
AD: But all of that research was all done in like two days, three days. Then when we were in the studio [with Saturday Nights] I was all day with headphones on like crazy. We’d never done a record in such an express period of time. I mean it doesn’t seem like it but the first time I called Gil Norton in May 2006 – and we went to the studio in June for like 25 days or something like that. Then we went on tour all summer and I lost my mind. Then Gil called me up in late December and said, “I have to do the Foo Fighters [Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace] in March or late February can we finish this up?” So I called the guys and was like: everybody in New York in two weeks. So we worked from mid-January to mid-February, for like 25 more days, and we did the rest of Saturday Nights.
And while we’re doing that I’m conceiving Sunday Mornings.
Then Brian comes and visits with us for the first time in the first week of February, while we were still doing [Saturday Nights] – and we start demo-ing stuff in the lounge at Avatar [Studios]. We set up our own little quasi-studio in this little closet of a lounge room and we were working on how to do the Sunday Morning songs there.
Then we took about two or three weeks off and in mid-March to mid-April we went out to Berkley and in 28 days straight we did Sunday Mornings with Brian. I took two weeks off. And then in the end of April and the first two weeks of May – me and James Brown, our engineer, mixed Saturday Nights for like twelve straight days. We did 8 songs in 12 days.
And then Brian came to New York and we mixed 10 songs [for Sunday Mornings] in 12 days. That was only two days later. So the month of May we went something like 24 of 26 days straight, in the studio mixing.
I mean the record was almost done by the end of May. It was mastered the first week of June and that’s it – it was done. All of this time is very compressed. So the time I was looking for Brian really took place over 2 or 3 days. I was there through all of it with headphones on, searching for music and then playing it for the guys. Then Brian came out later. It was all very compact a 25 day recording stint, another 25 day recording stint, and then a 28 day recording stint. Then, like, 24 days of mixing to do…18 songs or something like that…because we took 4 songs off the record. So it was all pretty compressed. So it was done in June and hasn’t been touched since the first week of June. It was supposed to come out in November; I don’t know if I said that.

LEO: You were talking about taking 4 songs off of the album; and “Einstein on the Beach (with an Eggman)” is one of my favorite songs – can we ever expect an unreleased, outtakes, and B-sides collection?
AD: Umm, I don’t know. “Einstein” was just a b-side; “Einstein” was never intended for us to do anything with. That was just a demo from early on in the band, back before we were even signed. I never even considered recording it for August and Everything After. I think it’s a really great little pop song and I love it but it was good enough for that record. Well…it’s not that it wasn’t good enough, it’s a great little pop song but it wasn’t right for that record. If it had, it would have been on the record.
The same way that I think “Accidentally in Love” is the best song I’ve ever written, it just doesn’t belong on any Counting Crows record. And the song “1492” is the most important song on the album by far and it was begun and written while we working on Hard Candy. It was even demoed – some of the tracks that are on there, on that and “Los Angeles,” a bunch of the tracks are still there. Well, not so much on “1492” we re-recorded most of that – but “Los Angeles” is largely just a demo we recorded the day before we started Hard Candy. And I think it’s a 1 take demo of it. But neither of those songs belonged anywhere on Hard Candy, which is an album all about memory and they’re songs about the disintegration of relationships.
We touched a few things up on “Los Angeles” – I believe we changed the acoustic guitar and added background vocals. But that’s pretty much the live, 1 take demo from back then. But those songs just didn’t belong on that record; I mean, they have to fit the record they’re on. “Sundays” was begun on This Desert Life. I think this record is really a story I’ve been trying to tell for a long time but I haven’t really had it in a cohesive way.
“When I Dream of Michelangelo” was a song I began writing 20 years ago. I only had an idea of that image – and a bit of the music. Which is why that line shows up later in “Angels of the Silences” because I still didn’t understand what “When I Dream of Michelangelo” was about; but I had that image. And that was the right image for that line in “Angels of the Silences.” But it wasn’t until now that I was able to write the whole song. But that little piece of music and the sliver of lyrics that went along with it have been there for 20 years. I just hadn’t able to get the song out or understand what it was really about.
But the problem with the b-sides thing is that all the bonus tracks for this record are out, too. They’re out as bonus tracks on foreign versions or Amazon pre-release or iTunes pre-release, so they’re out there. So I’m sure at some point we’ll put out a box set that has everything we’ve ever done on it. It’ll have the song from the Mr. Deeds soundtrack, which is great, it’s the Counting Crows impersonation of The Monkees, it’s the fuckin’ greatest song ever…it’s called “Going Back to New York Town.” I mean it’s my favorite thing we’ve ever recorded, not the greatest song ever. So I’m sure something will get put out someday. The problem is that a lot of it’s out there in various forms already.
The problem with answering questions about the future is that it hasn’t happened yet, so we don’t really know.

LEO: You’ve collaborated with some of the best in the business, including T-bone Burnett, Matthew Sweet, and Ryan Adams, to name a few. Whom, outside of the band, did you enjoy working with or get the most creatively inspired by?
AD: You know, I never think about collaborating. It’s never something I want to do, I like working with my band. I don’t ever sit around thinking about who I’m going to collaborate with. It just kind of happens sometimes, especially with friends.
Like, Ryan [Adams] and I met each other drunk one night at the Viper Room. He called me up on stage, so I went up because it was benefit and we ended up singing together. Then he said, “You should come by [the studio] tomorrow, I want you to sing on the record, I’m gonna do this song...” And that’s while Ryan was doing Gold. I ended up on 5 or 6 songs - 3 or 4 of the songs that got put on the record and a couple were left off. We ended up becoming friends; he sang on “Butterfly in Reverse” which he helped me finish writing. He and I did [Dave] Gibb’s, from Gigilo Ants, new album together; we sort of wrote “Los Angeles” together. I mean, I started writing it and then they each kinda came in and inserted their parts. It’s all about the three of us moving to California and our whoring ways right about then; with us coming from Nashville, Boston, and Berkley. So it just sort of happens, you know I really don’t think about it as collaborations.
Matthew [Sweet] just happened to be stopping by one day with Gibb while we were recording Hard Candy – I can’t remember what song those guys are all on - but we were just doing some harmonies and they ended up singing on it just because they were there that day. I think it might be the song “Hard Candy” I can’t remember what Matthew sang on. Matthew lived down the block and whenever Dave went over to his house he would stop by and that’s how we met. It just kind of happens that way.
Like Leona Naess, when I was over in London and we were recording Ryan’s background vocals for “Butterfly in Reverse.” I was over there with some friends of mine, he was touring, and I was recording some back-up vocals with him, and Leona was there hanging out with us. And Dan [Vickery, guitarist for Counting Crows] was going to sing the background vocals on “Black and Blue” and I wanted to hear what it would sound like for a woman to do it; so I asked Leona if she’d just try it. But she sang it and it was really cool but I totally forgot about it. Later on we get Sheryl [Crow], she came by and helped us out with “American Girl”; but she laid down some vocals on “Black and Blue”, as well. When we were going to mix “Black and Blue” and…uh…I loved Sheryl on “American Girls” but I wasn’t crazy about how the way…she just didn’t sound right on “Black and Blue” for some reason. So we were going to use Dan’s background vocals on it. And then there was this track tuned down…and I said, “What’s on this track?” Steve said, “I don’t know, just some girl singing.” I said, “Well pull it up.” And it was Leona’s background vocals which I had totally forgotten about. I mean, we all wanted to hear a woman sounded like on it – which is what made me ask her to try it out, and why we had Sheryl sing on it in the first place. And then I decided I liked Dan’s better but then all of the sudden when I heard Leona’s vocals I thought: oh my God, these are great. So we ended up using Leona’s vocals on that song.
It just kinda happens, it’s never really intentional. Crhis Caraba called me up and asked if I would sing on a song called “So Long, So Long” for his album, and he was a friend so I just went over and did it.
I ended up on The Wallflowers record because I was at home one night and I got a phone call and he was like: “Look, we’re working on a song and we’re stuck. Can you come down and sing on it?” I said: “Which one is it?” He told me and I was like, “I don’t even know that one, T-Bone.” He goes: “I know, but the chorus is tricky – just come down.” So I drove down there, had a beer, listened to “7th Avenue Heartache” – had another beer, walked in and sang it; had another beer, walked out, and went home. It was like 2 takes – I walked in and walked out. So basically my friend T-Bone called and said: his friend Jakob was finishing his record and they were having trouble with a song – so I went and sang on it.
So I’ve done collaborations but I’m never drawn to it, I just do it with friends. Only once in my life have I really gone to collaborate with someone I didn’t know at all and it was Nancy Griffith. One of my friends was her A&R guy, and he knew I idolized her. She had that song “Going Back to Georgia” and they wanted me to do it. She sent it to me and I said can I re-write…well I didn’t ask her, actually I just re-wrote all of man’s lyric parts. And I showed up at the end and was like: “I wasn’t totally comfortable with the lyrics, I re-wrote the part, uh, I don’t know if it’s okay or not.” So she tried it and loved it; but that was terrifying. I don’t really think collaborations in any way beyond something that just happens.
I’m a little too shy to just call my up idols to play with them. Anyways, I kinda rather listen to ‘em sometimes than play with ‘em. And sometimes you just don’t fit but it’s still cool, ya’ know?
We were at the bluegrass festival, a while ago, in Telluride; and we were going to play “Return of the Grievous Angel” in our set. And Emmylou Harris was playing right before us, well I mean, she is the vocal on that song …the Gram Parson’s song, ya’ know? So we had to ask her but I was so embarrassed, I felt weird, I didn’t know if did it in her set or what. But I felt like I had to ask even though I was terrified to sing with her. I mean she’s a goddess and I’m not good…at least not like that. She’s one of my idols that keeps me tongue tied. She’s the most beautiful woman, the most beautiful singer, she’s an angel…I don’t know what else to say about her. I almost didn’t want to ask her because I was too scared; I’m not Gram Parsons.
So we went up to do the song and we rehearsed it once in her dressing room right before we went on…literally right before. Of course while we were doing it we realized: “oh, fuck – our rhythm is different from his version, my melody is different from his melody. So her harmony is different than Dan’s harmony – shit, we’re in a lot of trouble here.” We’re going to do it; and this is not the way we play it and it’s not the way she plays it. But me and her kind of adjusted on the fly as we went a long with the whole thing. It was more terrifying than fun but it was really cool that we did it. I’ll never regret for a moment of my life that I was on stage with Emmylou Harris.
I don’t know if I would jump to do it again because I was so scared about it. And then it’s worse when you realize: “Fuck – we all sing it differently; we’re really going to have to go up there and change it all up on the fly. We’re going to have to adjust to each other while we’re singing. That was scary. But I guess that’s really cool, too. A little fear never hurt anybody.
But with collaborations for me are kinda like: I don’t wanna sit around thinking about who I’m gonna play with next, as much as, I like playing with my friends. I really like playing with my friends…that I get off on.

LEO: I know this is another one of those looking to the future questions by do you think fans will have to wait another six years for a new Counting Crows album?
AD: Well, there’s always going to be 2 or 3 years between records, there’s no avoiding that one. Mostly because we tour for 2 years, so it has to be about 3 years between records because we’re not even available to do anything except to play live gigs for 2 of them. So that’s inevitable. This one took longer because I went off the deep end; I doubt it’ll be another 6 years before the record.
But you know records are hard, so I’m not on any schedule – you just do what you do. I mean other than a work schedule, which I am on – but a creativity schedule? Oh, no.
I’m not in any rush to do anything but the work when it’s time to do it. That said, we’ll work our asses off when it’s time to do it. We tour for years and years and years; I mean we toured for 5 straight years at one point, that’s part of the reason why this break was so long. We went for 5 straight years, after that, I was done for a while. I didn’t want to play anymore at all.
Ya’ know, I’m not very good at being away from home. I love the gigs – those two hours of the day; but I miss my friends, my family, and my girlfriend – I like being home. I’m not really built [for being on the road]. I really like my family, I really like my friends, I really like being at home; maybe it’s because I move around so much –I really treasure that stuff more than some people. I do, I really treasure that stuff, it’s really important to me. So spending all of those years away from it…
It kinda cracked me last time because I hadn’t seen my grandmother much for the last 5 years of her life and then she died while I was in Australia. I had not been there at all. I let myself get taken by the work and I didn’t see her at all for a lotta years of her life. It’s all well and good to work hard; and I really believe in working hard. I was brought up to believe that’s really important to work your ass off. But you have to keep in mind that it’s not the most important thing, though.
I was talking to somebody the other day about me, I was having lunch with Rolling Stone, and they brought up that I’ve always complained about touring and that I don’t like it. They don’t understand me bitching and moaning about the thing that everybody wants to do. But I’ll tell you this: I may complain about touring and I may have a hard time touring but I went out and toured. Complain or not, bitching and moaning; do you know how hard that was for me? I’ve been 12 of the past 15 years on the road. That’s 12+ years time wise that I’ve been on the road; however as hard as it was for me…I did it anyway. I do believe that if there’s work to be done then you should just get your fuckin’ ass out there and do it. And if you wanna stay – you better go play that gig. Because radio…having something of yours on the radio…it comes and it goes. You’ve got to be connected to someone; in front of them, live on one night, when it’s just you and them…and you share it…then that can last forever.
And there aren’t a lot of things that last forever; but we’re still here.
I don’t know how to put it other than: getting yourself signed is one in a million; to get your record even released is one in a hundred million, if not more; to have a hit…that’s one in a billion. To be here 15 years later – 19 years since the start-up of this band – to be in this band that is # 1 on iTunes, Amazon, and Wal-Mart right now – and honestly I don’t know how the hell that happened. But to be in our position after 15 years…the odds are so incalculable they might as well not exist. We honor that, so we put in the work.

Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Awesome interview, I always love reading Adam's interviews especially when he gets in-depth about his musical process.