Counting Crows counting the years

MORE RELAXED: "I still move around the stage but I don't feel I have to run around and gesture and point out everything that's going on in every song," says Counting Crows' Adam Duritz
MORE RELAXED: "I still move around the stage but I don't feel I have to run around and gesture and point out everything that's going on in every song," says Counting Crows' Adam Duritz

Adam Duritz, the singer and frontman of hit American band Counting Crows, has in recent years been open about wrestling with mental illness.

"There was this thing where I came off all these meds [in 2011]," he says. "I got about seven or eight medications out of my system. And that was a mess, trying to come off them. My perspective was very different because I had been very heavily medicated for a lot of years."

Last year, Counting Crows released the album Underwater Sunshine, its sixth release since its 1993 debut with August and Everything After. Duritz says he had to face the album and touring in his new post-medicated state.

"I was a lot less medicated and the world was a lot more raw. The first couple of shows – it wasn't that I had stage fright, but I was very distracted. I used to be able to get lost in the music. But here I seemed to be noticing a lot of stuff. I was having trouble getting lost for a couple of shows. It was really driving me up the wall."

Then he decided for the third show in Portland, Oregon, to simply close his eyes while performing.

"At first I was worried. I didn't have my eyes open and I have to run around the stage. I have got to be putting on a show.

"But I realised when I closed my eyes that, wow, the band has got really good. I don't have to run around and gesticulate. I don't have to jump off things any more. I don't have to go flying across the stage. I can close my eyes and sing and the band are so good. Less is more for me. I could just sit and sing.

"I didn't keep my eyes closed for too long. By the next gig I opened them again. But I just realised just how much was going on."

Duritz formed Counting Crows with guitarist David Bryson in 1991 and they performed in Berkeley and San Francisco. The band's 1993 debut, produced by rock and country veteran T-Bone Burnett, mixed traditional R&B with rock and included the hit single Mr Jones. By mid-1995 the album had sold more than 5 million copies in the United States alone. Counting Crows' second album, 1995's Recovering the Satellites, debuted at No 1 in the charts.

In 2004 the band were nominated for an Oscar for the song Accidentally in Love from Shrek 2, directed by Kiwi Andrew Adamson.

Duritz says Adamson was great to work with and open to the band making changes to the song so that it better suited what was in the film. "We used to talk on the phone. He showed me a scene of what he wanted and we talked about what he was looking for. I would call him to ask him things, especially when we were doing the actual recording."

But Duritz post meds for Underwater Sunshine wasn't the only change for the band. It was the Counting Crows' first independent recording since leaving Geffen Records in 2009. "We were always kind of an indie band," Duritz says about the band before 1993. "We had a huge bidding war for us. Pretty much every label in existence offered us a contract. We went to Geffen, which was a small boutique label, and we gave away all the money. I went home with $3000.

"We traded the money away for higher royalties and full creative control. That was the important part. We had that before we made August. We were always free to do what we wanted to do."

Duritz says the big difference since leaving Geffen is more freedom in how they can distribute the band's music, including downloads. "It's the freedom not to fight all day long to give away free downloads."

He also feels he's a better singer now. It's a dream he's always had, while also knowing the reality of making it in the music business and lasting for even as long as his band have.

"You know, when you're a kid and you're playing basketball and you're really good? You dream about being in the NBA. You don't dream about going to a city college and barely playing or sitting on the bench. You don't dream about making it to the NBA for six months, then sitting on the bench and then getting dropped.

"It's the same [in music]. Of the people that do get a record contract – if they do get released – nobody ever hears them. If they do hear them, and if it's a hit, you last a year. That's how it works. The fact that we are here 20 years later is insane.

"I got to be a much better singer because I stopped running around and jumping off things. I still move around the stage but I don't feel I have to run around and gesture and point out everything that's going on in every song. I'm a much better singer than before we made [our last] record."

Duritz says he isn't medication-free. He just uses less and they are different.

"I'm still trying not to be crazy, which can be a struggle, quite honestly, every day," he jokes.


Counting Crows play Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre on Saturday and at The Civic in Auckland on Monday.

The Dominion Post