Start Again: An Interview with Counting Crows' Adam Durtiz

Counting Crows have never played things by the book, which is why the Oscar-nominated group's third live release is filled with covers, and Duritz talks to PopMatters about his process, his regrets, and what fans can expect next ...

Counting Crows

Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow

US Release Date: 2013-11-12

A lot of Counting Crows fans might argue the group's best moment. Be it that four-minute stretch on disc two of their 1998 double album live set, Across a Wire: Live in New York City, when leader Adam Duritz extends "Round Here" to heights previously unexpected for the mid-'90s pop-rock band and riffs through "Have You Seen Me Lately" in a poignant, mysterious manner. Or, that quick instance on 2008's "Cowboys", from the criminally overlooked Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, when the band explodes into a fury of radio rock as the singer's voice quivers with uncertainty and sincerity. Maybe it's one of their hundreds of live shows, where the covers reign supreme and the set list is as unpredictable as the amount of musicians of who may join the group onstage for a singalong that night. 

Best moments, you see, are hard enough to define as it is, but when you throw a 22-year-old band that's sold more than 20 million records worldwide into the mix, the selection from which you can choose seems endless, an infinite collection of mainstream achievements, happy mistakes, imperfect perfections, and tiny flashes in a minuscule bottle that seemingly goes on forever. On this day, however, a chilly early November afternoon in 2013, perfection comes in the form of that one word.


It's said after a four-second pause of silence that Duritz meticulously offers after being confronted with the mere reality that he is poised to turn 50 next August. He's asked if it's true. He waits long enough to suggest that more than one thought has popped into his mind before responding. Then, in maybe the most indicative answer a single multiplatinum, sad-sounding rock star-artist could ever give a reporter in a phone conversation, he sighs quietly and offers that utterance. Theoretically. 

It's funny and self-deprecating, light-hearted and serious, suggestive yet innocent. Or, in other worse, the most perfect response for a band led by a guy who has never held secret any of his flaws. That's part of Counting Crows' appeal: you believe what they are doing because you believe him, the guy who once told a generation they don't know why they all want to be rock stars. His lyrics cut deep, his presentation deeper. Heartbroken to the core, Adam Duritz loves himself some music, yet if his own work is any indication, he also loves himself some misery. 

"Sure," he says when asked if he has any regrets about both his personal life and career in music. "You know, there's no way to know what you're doing is the right thing a lot of the time. You gotta make a lot of choices, and I made a lot of choices in my career for the way I want to do things. I pissed a lot of people off sometimes. But, you know, I feel pretty clean about things, too. I may have made the wrong decisions occasionally, but I think I made them for the right reasons.

"We've sort of run our own careers from the beginning," he continues. "And that's been kind of nice. We sat down the first album when we didn't want to put out anymore songs. I'm glad we did that because I think the backlash was bad enough as it was. I think most people would have milked every last single out of that; we put one, two videos out ... and then we shut it down and just toured. We pissed a lot of people at the record company off because we wouldn't make anymore videos for the record, but I thought we were losing control of things and that was the end of our career."

He breaks.

"I wanted to have a career and not just the biggest record ever."

More than two decades later, it appears the singer was wise beyond his theoretical years. Proof of as much can be found on Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow, the band's recently released live record chronicling their 2012 tour featuring performances from an array of stops. The set is decidedly more loose than their previous officially released live efforts, the aforementioned Across a Wire, as well as New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall and August and Everything After: Live at Town Hall. Book-ended by two songs best known from the incarnations Bob Dylan gave them, "Girl from the North Country" and "You Ain't Goin Nowhere", Echoes admittedly leans more on other people's songs than any other live record the Crows have put out. 

This, in part, is due to the release that preceded it, Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation), a 2012 cover-tunes album that borrowed from such modern-day standouts as Travis and Dawes, as well as yesteryear heroes as Gram Parsons and Big Star. In addition to the Dylan songs, Echoes offers at least four other non-originals, including three that appeared on Underwater -- "Untitled (Love Song)", "Hospital" and Norman Blake's "Start Again", a pretty, mandolin-driven vehicle for lovestruck vocal harmonies and a hook featuring quirky, off-time grooves. 

The idea for the album came as the band realized how good they were sounding on the road, Duritz said, and it wasn't long until someone suggested documenting what the singer described as "longer shows we were playing where audiences were really flipping out." The process was time consuming, he explained, because while the group usually records each show anyway, they had to go back through dozens of concerts to find standout performances good enough to make the cut. 

"It was important to get the songs we thought were really good," he noted. "I think that's the only thing we are thinking about when we make a record -- does the record hold together and is it the best collection of songs? It was natural that we made a covers record -- there are a lot more of those in our set. I mean, there are a lot of takes of 'Start Again' to choose from; we play it a lot of nights, 'Untitled (Love Song)' we play a lot of nights, and some of those versions are pretty stellar, so we wanted to find one of those and put it on the record."

But what about new material? The Baltimore native said that part of the reason why the band decided to put out this live record was because they were already planning on heading into the studio in December to work on an all-new set, their first since 2008's Saturday Nights, an album made during what Duritz openly described as a difficult period for him personally. 

"I especially love the Sunday Mornings part," he explained. "It's really sort of, beautiful, painful folk songs. But I love that record. I think it's a great record, but it was an exhausting period in our lives ... I was going crazy at the time when we made this record, so I was having a lot of trouble and that's what was hard for me about it. I don't think everyone else had that bad of a time, but they were also really supportive of me. I mean, I was like, floating in and out of consciousness at times during the Saturday Nights part."

So, will this next one go any smoother?

"Oh, I don't know," he said, a tiny bit disgusted by the question. "I don't know what tomorrow will be like. Who knows? I love the songs we've been writing. It's been a totally different process for me -- I've had a lot of doubts about these songs when I started working on them, but the guys have been flipping out. Immy (David Immerglück, Counting Crows' principal guitarist) thinks it's the best lyrics I've ever written. They're really different. There's a lot more imagery ... I didn't have a lot of faith in it at first, but as I finish them, I really love the new songs, too."

OK, but back to those regrets. Duritz, for all his doubts and self-deprecation, has been famously (and often romantically) linked to a respectable, if not explicitly enviable, group of sought-after women. Winona Ryder. Courteney Cox. Mary Louise Parker. Jennifer Aniston. Shoot, he was even reportedly involved with the much-younger Shameless star Emmy Rossum, though many reports claim that has since fizzled. 

Couple that with Anna, Elizabeth and Maria -- three women's names that often creep into a lot of the songwriter's lyrics -- and it's hard to argue he hasn't had a fruitful and successful dating life through the years. Or, well, that is unless you ask him, of course. 

"I've just done a lot of things that, like ..." he says before gathering himself and starting over. "I've known a lot of people in my life I wish I had done better by. Being crazy isn't always the best person to be as your boyfriend."


"And ... um ... I've sort of failed a lot of people along the way, that way, and I don't know what I could have done differently, but I sure as hell have a lot of regrets about it. People that I really loved and I hurt. We get along real well now, most of us. I'm close to everybody. But I hurt a lot of people and myself, you know, just being crazy. 

"I try to be better," he then offers before following that up with a fleeting, quieting tone. 

"You know," he says, this time leaving nothing up to theory, "nobody lives a perfect life."

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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