Adam Duritz’s Ongoing Roadshow
Photo by Marc Millman
This September marks 20 years since Counting Crows released their seminal, breakthrough album August and Everything After. During that time, the Bay Area band has morphed from chart-topping, alt-rock leaning Trad Rockers to one of the hardest touring independent bands around. In recent years, the group has released an album of covers titled Underwater Sunshine, hosted the highly collaborative Traveling Circus and Medicine Show tour and championed a variety of bands through frontman Adam Duritz’s Outlaw Roadshow. This summer, the group will reconnect with their old friends The Wallflowers during an extended theater run. Duritz recently discussed his long history with The Wallflowers, creative cover choices and newfound independence with Relix and Jambands.com.
I know you have a long history with The Wallflowers. You sang on their breakthrough record Bringing Down the Horse and have toured together in the past. I was wondering if you could start by giving us a little background on when you first met those guys and how your friendship developed from there?
Well, I met Jake [Dylan] at the Viper Room through a bunch of mutual friends years ago. He had just come off making an album that hadn’t done well at Capitol. There were some good songs on the record, but it was kind of unfocused. We talked a lot about what he was looking to do. I guess I was probably bartending then because this is before [our] second record. So I suggested T-Bone [Burnett] as a producer because I felt like Jake had a lot of talent and some good songs but he sounded unfocused on that first album. One thing [T-Bone] does well, for his faults, is help bands begin their career.
[T-Bone] makes a lot of really good first albums because he’s really good at helping you find your voice and honing in on what you want to do. He was a big help to me when we made that first album. Jake was more unsure than I was about what he wanted his band to be like. I mean, there was [keyboardist] Rami [Jaffee], who he loved, but I’m not sure Jake really knew what he wanted the band to be at that point. And they didn’t end up using [only] the band on that record. I know [guitarist] Mike Campbell played on a lot of it. So T-Bone really helped Jake establish the sound that was right for him on that record. [It’s] a really nice record that I think now stands as their first album, [even though] it’s actually their second. Bringing Down the Horse was a great move forward for [Jake].
I ended up singing on [“6th Avenue Heartache”] because I used to live up in Laurel Canyon, and they were recording just over the Valley. And they had this song they were working on: They really liked it, but it was kind of sitting flat, so they called to ask if I could come down and sing on it. I said, “Well, sure, I don’t really know it.” And they were like, “Just shut up and come down the hill.”
So, I jumped in my car and I drove down the hill to the studio and had a beer and listened to the song, and then I went in the other room and sang it. It was pretty simple. Later that year, we had [The Wallflowers] open for us when we touring on Recovering the Satellites.
You’ve always championed younger acts, from running your own label to the Outlaw Roadshow showcases you curate with blogger Ryan Spaulding. In the current music industry environment, what method has been most helpful in giving new bands exposure?
You know, [the showcases] have been a really big thing for me and Ryan. I mean, it’s mostly Ryan. I tag along, but I’ve really loved [doing the showcases]. We’ve ended up taking a lot of those bands on tour. We did a great concert on the 4th of July in Maquoketa, Iowa at Codfish Hollow Barn with like four Outlaw Roadshow bands. And we did a seven- or eight-hour show, which was like four or five hours before us, and then we played a three-hour show to cap it off in, like, 130-degree temperatures. It was a great day, a lot of fun.
I think when you start off as a musician, you’re a part of a scene with bunch of other musicians. You’re all playing around San Francisco or New York or Athens, Georgia or wherever you are. Then you go see each other play, you meet other musicians. But then you get signed, and usually you’re the only band at the time who got signed. Then it’s harder because your friends are having a hard time, or they’re quitting their bands back home. That peer group doesn’t exist once you want to go hang out at the Grammys or something, which isn’t really my bag.
So I felt like I had lost out on the culture that made being a musician really cool. And the nice thing about the last few years is that I’ve gotten a lot of that back. Last year we had about 25 people staying at my house at CMJ. I had like four different bands and two or three bloggers, and we were all camped out there while we put on the Outlaw Roadshow. It was just a blast.
I got a thing on Twitter the other day from Port Francis, this great band from Chicago. They said they were coming to New York that weekend to play and wanted to know if I was going to be in town. I said I would. Then, all of a sudden, Shawn Fogel from Golden Bloom, another Outlaw Roadshow band, wrote and said, “Hey! Maybe we should have our Outlaw reunion.” The Outlaw Roadshow has become a family of people that’s just partyin’. Like, it weirdly means a lot to people. They want to remember that they were part of it. So it’s been a great thing for me. It’s made a big impact. I haven’t had as much to do with the label anymore. But the Roadshow… It’s a really big deal for all of us.
I think you’re right about that. The Roadshow has that vibe, that community feeling that’s been essential to the Counting Crows for so long. You have mentioned that one of the things you’re doing this year, in addition to championing some of these other bands, is writing. Are you writing towards another Counting Crows album? And if so, do you plan to preview those songs on tour or do you think you’ll hold them back until you can get into the studio?
Oh, I don’t know. I’m not really big on planning ahead. We don’t even make our setlists until after dinner that night, usually. I mean, I’ll send a text out to the band, the crew, the opening bands if we’re friends, that says, “Anything you want to play tonight? Anything you want to hear?” And then I’ll get texts back from everybody. I don’t follow those religiously, but it helps remind me if somebody wants to play something because I feel like the best show you’re going to play is one full of songs that people actually want to play that night. It’s pretty live up ‘til that moment. There’s nothing sacred. We play different sets every night. But we also soundcheck every day, and we use those to rehearse songs that we haven’t played in a long time or to work on new stuff.
We just got back from the UK and Australia. We were working on a couple pieces that I’ve been writing there. I don’t have the words done yet, but I have a lot of the music for two or three songs. We’ve been working on those since last tour. I would play them if they were ready to be played. It doesn’t hurt to play them in concert—sometimes it helps because you can really feel where a song works and where it doesn’t. We played a lot of songs from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings before the record was made. We played “Cowboys” as soon as I finished writing it. But there’s no way to predict if we’ll do the same thing on this tour. Like I said, I don’t even know what I’m going to play on a given night ‘til that day.
This tour is about playing and I’m trying to write because I want to make a record. It’s been hard to shift back. I was working on a play for a few years. I was writing in a style I thought I’d never be able to do, which is not writing from my own point of view—writing for other characters, writing for a women’s voice, writing for multiple groups of people. It was a different thing and I really took to it. I really liked it. It was hard to shift to doing that—I’d never done it before in my life. But it was really rewarding and I really dug it. It’s strangely been hard to shift back. I think I really liked not sharing. Sometimes rock and roll as a songwriter is a constant act of oversharing. Like, do you really want to know anything more about me? Sometimes I feel like it’s really bizarre how much we share with everybody. And I sort of liked it not being about me. And the fact that I didn’t have to sing it, that I was writing it for other people to sing. But I’ve been moving it back now. It just took me a little while to get my head around writing for me again. But it’s come along.