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Published: 2013/06/28
by Mike Greenhaus

Adam Duritz’s Ongoing Roadshow

One thing that I’ve always really admired about you guys is the way you’ve created this communal feel. I know you did a couple tours with people like Michael Franti where it wasn’t a traditional show with an opener and then a headlining act. It was very collaborative, kind of Hootenanny-style event, with musicians sitting in with each other and no defined beginning, middle or end to the show. And that created a great environment where people saw bands that maybe they wouldn’t have necessarily seen otherwise.

That was, like, the coolest thing we’ve ever done. The Traveling Circus was the greatest thing. The two years that we toured that were just incredible. I mean, it was exhausting, but by the end of it, those turned into like four-hour shows. Not even by the end. By fairly early on, they were becoming four-hour shows. Augustana, Spearhead and us—everybody on stage together, playing songs with each other. It was just crazy and great. And chaos. I mean, it was hard. We rehearsed for like three or four days before we started, and then Michael went off to Europe and we did a few shows with Augustana.

I think all of us were terrified to do the first show. Everybody backed out. Quite a few people came to me and said, “Maybe we shouldn’t do this. Maybe the first three shows we should just have an opening band and then another opening band and then Counting Crows, and we shouldn’t fuck with this because this could be just disastrous.” And I was like, “Well, we could do that.” But I was afraid if we did that, we’d never get out of it. And that we’d had an idea, and we might as well rock it and see how it works. The idea was to rehearse this stuff and get good at playing together, but also with these musicians, we’d be able to do shit. We’d be able to get out there and wing it, because everybody could play and everybody could sing and even if you didn’t know exactly what you were doing, it was doable with this amount of talent. And so I decided we should just do it even if we weren’t sure. We’d get out there and make it work because that’s what you do when you’re on stage: you make it work. And the truth was it worked from the first show. It was fine. It was great.

The problem was that Michael almost died about three days later because his appendix burst. The whole time we were in rehearsals, he was in agony and we kept saying, “Why don’t you go to the hospital? What is going on?” And they needed to go to Europe and do these gigs and then come back to start our tour, and there was all this publicity that needed to be done for him. But Jesus Christ, he must have gone on the plane to Europe with a burst appendix. I mean, can you imagine what that air pressure does? There and back? And then to come back and play these shows? He finally collapsed in pain two or three shows into the tour. And they were going to put it off even more and my tour manager was like, “You gotta go to the hospital now. Forget it. Nothing else. You’re not going off to do this radio thing. Go to the hospital.” And he finally did and it turned out he might have died: it had gone septic. It must have burst weeks before. God knows how long he was living with, like – gee I don’t know, it’s crazy. That is a strong man right there to be playing shows with that going on in his belly, I mean woah!

One of the highlights of being a career musician so many years into it is that you don’t have to do a standard set. There’s no song you have to play every night. You could do more creative, collaborative stuff, and bust out covers, and write the setlist on the fly.

We’ve always been that way, though. We’ve felt from the very beginning that we should play the stuff we wanted to play. When we were getting signed, there was a huge bidding war. Every label in the world tried to sign us at that moment. So we could have had anything we wanted. We could have had, like, castles. They were offering us so much money and so many things. We talked about it and we just really wanted to make sure that we could make our records the right way, even though we didn’t really know what that was then. We were looking for people who we thought we could work with so that we could have a career and so we signed with Geffen, but mostly because they gave us complete creative control and a higher royalty. We traded away all the money upfront, and we went home with, like, I want to say maybe $15,000? I think I got $3,000. And considering that every label in the world was trying to sign us, I mean that’s not very much money.

I took home $3,000 for the first record – that was the advance I got. But we got the higher royalty, which was a big deal, and we got complete creative control. And even though there was no way to really police that, Geffen pretty much stuck by that. Nobody came and interfered. Nobody bugged us when we were making records. Nobody was in our face – they really just let us do our own thing. And that was before our first record, so it’s not like it was because we’d sold a lot of records. It was great. We always had the ability to do things our own way, and we always did – and not just to fuck with people. It keeps things fresh for us. To do something you don’t like over and over and over again, including just playing a song you don’t want to play – why play it? We’ve always figured we should just play whatever we want to play. And as a result, we’re not bored playing gigs. We’re still getting better playing gigs.

Right, and that’s why you still tour so much, so many years into it, which is great.

Yeah, it’s been really great that way. It’s really worked out. We’ve been doing this almost 20 years now.

Looking ahead to the summer, in addition to previewing some new songs you’re working on, is there anything else we can expect from the band’s live show? New covers? Anything new in terms of presentation?

I have no idea. I mean, that sort of happens on the fly. That’s the thing: I really have no idea what’s going to go in the show. I really don’t. I don’t even think about it. I mean, until that day, unless there’s something I want to work on and I might go learn it in soundcheck.

I’ll tell you what is kind of cool that we’re doing this summer. Something happened when we made the covers album: it opened the band up in a really good way. We’ve always been a good live band but we started playing the best shows of our career last year, and they just got better. We really wanted to document them, so we recorded everything from the beginning. Like, every show, really.

But nowadays we record to Pro Tools, so we can record and mix them later. So we went back through all the shows from last year and everybody in the band listened to two or three shows that they thought were good. We found all this material, and we put it together, mixed it and made a live album called Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow. We attached it to our record in Australia and sold it separately in England. But we decided that for the tour this summer, we’re just going to give it away. So everyone who buys a ticket to this tour: when you go to the show that night, you’ll get a code and you can take that home and download the record for free. It comes with your ticket. For every ticket bought, you can go and download the record.

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