The musical landscape is littered with bands that had huge albums in the 1990s only to find themselves unable to repeat their successes.
But alt-rockers Counting Crows not only seem to maintain their popularity level since their 1993 debut “August And Everything After” gave them three Top 10 hits and sold more than 5 million copies, they’ve done it with only one disc of entirely new music in the past eight years—2002’s “Hard Candy.” (They released a live disc, “New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall,” last year.)
Crows guitarist Dan Vickrey is sheepish when asked in a recent telephone interview about the lack of output.
“Um, well, we put the record out and we toured for three years straight, nonstop, I guess, so that’s part of it,” he says. Then, after the tour ended, Vickrey says, singer/songwriter Adam Duritz “thought he needed a little breather. We were going to originally take a year off and it ended up being two years plus.”
Not to worry, though. Counting Crows has finished a new disc, “Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings,” due out in November, and are back on tour.
Vickrey says it was the band’s constant touring that helped them connect with fans in the first place.
“I think we toured pretty constantly for the first 10, 12 years as a band,” he says. “And every record the touring cycle has been two to three years. So I think part of it is getting out there and actually playing to the fans, you know? I think we all had that experience of our own people we loved seeing. When you see a band and it’s a special night, you hold that forever.”
Vickrey also says Counting Crows has avoided letting “singles define the band,” and instead has used the time to make cohesive albums.
“I think it was a good choice, and it was a conscious choice, on the very first record,” he says.
And while the band certainly has had hits, its longevity has benefitted from the space between them. “August and Everything After” had three songs on the charts in three years: “Mr. Jones” in 1993, “Round Here” in 1994 and “Rain King” in 1995. The next disc, “Recovering The Satellites,” produced “A Long December” in 1997, “This Desert Life” spawned “Hanginaround” in 1999 and from 2002’s “Hard Candy” came a remake of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Then in 2004, the band had a surprise hit from the animated movie “Shrek 2” with “Accidentially in Love,” a decidedly pop turn for the alt-rockers that was even nominated for an Academy Award.
“No, you’re correct to say it’s a pop song,” Vickrey says. “But the way it all came about was pretty natural for the band. They offered that slot to us, we had the scene that it was going over, and coincidentally, Adam had just fallen in love, marking the process right there. It was going to be an upbeat song.”
But Vickrey, who has been credited with giving the band a harder edge, says, “I like it. I like pop songs. That’s not an issue.”
He also says the band has evolved, including changing several members. “It’s a constant growing process. I would say that the band today is better, musically and as far as Adam’s vocals, his singing. I mean, we’ve gone through a lot of changes ourselves personnel-wise, but this is by far I think the best band we’ve ever had.”
On the new disc, that diversity is evident from one side to the next, Vickrey says. Just as the name “Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings” indicates, the disc has distinct sides: one harder rocking material, the other acoustic and even country-flavored songs.
“I think any of the records kind of states where you’re at at any given time,” he says. “Adam had a vision of it just being, I think it was about getting some anger out, maybe, frustration out. So Adam writes all the lyrics, and that’s just generally where it went.”
Not only that, but the sides were recorded in disparate places: in the band’s home of Berkeley, Calif., and New York City.
“And I would say that the harder part of the record is probably harder than anything we’ve put out, or as hard as anything we’ve put out. And the softer side of the record is equally probably the softest or more gentle part of any record we put out.”
Vickrey says the band early this month introduced a song from the disc, “Cowboys,” into its live show and have tried other new songs in sound checks. “It’s a blast to play,” he says. “I can’t wait to get into the whole record and play it.”
In fall, the band will re-release “August and Everything After” as a deluxe edition, with added original demos that didn’t make the record and a live show recorded in Paris in 1994.
Vickrey says the band will likely be on the road for another two years. Beyond that, he says, “Who knows?”
“I take it one day at a time—have so for 10 years. I remember thinking in the first tour—the very first tour that we did—just thinking, `Well, one day at a time. `cause it could all go tomorrow. And I think that’s probably what we’ll do now—just take it one day at a time and go out and play shows.”