During my formative years, I lived for Friday nights. ABC aired TGIF, including my favorite show, ‘Boy Meets World.‘ I watched the show longer than the producers targeted my age demographic.
The show’s main character, Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) had a “cool kid” sidekick, Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong). In one episode, Shawn was having a heart-to-heart with neighbor/teacher/principal/professor, George Feeny (William Daniels), where it was revealed that Shawn Hunter’s favorite band was Counting Crows.
Shawn Hunter and I shared a favorite band! How cool was that? I was super giddy and jumped off my couch at the mention of Counting Crows on network television. “Long December” and “Mr. Jones” were two of my favorite songs. (STILL ARE!) I was glad they were getting recognition.
Had someone told me when I was thirteen that one day I would be on the phone with Counting Crows’ frontman Adam Duritz, I might have lasted my damn mind. I would have known that I had “made it.”
Paying compliments to interviewees comes across as insincere or patronizing, so I usually abstain or save it for the end. When Duritz and I were connected on the phone, I couldn’t help myself. I had to tell him that I was excited to speak with him.
He was gracious and seemed appreciative of the kind words when I told him how excited I am to catch Counting Crows’ upcoming show with Dashboard Confessional at MGM Northfield Park on June 29.
Without a full-length record since 2014, and their latest EP dropping back in 2021, I asked Duritz if this upcoming trek was somewhat of a greatest hits tour.
“We’re still on ‘Butter Miracle,’ he corrected me, referring to the title of the most recent EP.
With Dashboard Confessional, a potential headliner in their own right (who broke into the mainstream half-decade after Counting Crows) sharing the bill on this tour, I wanted to confirm with Duritz that his group is indeed the headliner.
“I guess we’re the headliner. I don’t know. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference. Dashboard’s going to play then we’re going to play,” he said. “I’m going to be watching Dashboard. I get a free Dashboard ticket every night. I’m a huge fan. I can take or leave Counting Crows, but I love Yeah Dashboard.”
Counting Crows’ debut single, “Mr. Jones” was released 30 years ago. It was a massive FM radio hit and the song’s motif was about how cool it would be to a famous rockstar. 30 years of making great music and countless live shows have since followed.
Anyone who has attended a Counting Crows concert can testify to how passionate these guys are. I asked Duritz what motivates him to perform with said passion night in and night out; never lacking zeal for tunes they have had to repeat night-in/night-out since 1993.
“I really love these songs and I love playing music. I was kind of hoping to spend my life playing music. It doesn’t usually work out, but it did for us. I feel really lucky in a way because I know no one dreams of being successful for a year and a half. You know, mostly, you want to do it for your whole life, but it doesn’t work out that way very often,” he responded. “It’s a job I love. I mean, it’s hard work, but I get to play music every night. I wanted to be an artist and I get to do that. I find it pretty easy to be inspired by that. And to me, the songs are alive still. It’s not about something I did 25 years ago. It’s about how I feel about that today. And the songs are filters in a way, and you just kind of pour your life through it each day. And I feel like you really can experience them differently now than you did then. But they’re available to be experienced.“
I have interviewed many artists who have voiced that they are unable to relate to older songs in their catalog. (I wonder if Dashboard Confessional frontman Chris Carrabba still feels the pains of being cheated on and unrequited love at the age of 48?) It’s part of life’s natural progression. I asked Adam which tunes he has trouble relating today dating back to when he wrote them.
“None that I can think of. I don’t feel like any of them are that locked into something, you know what I mean? Part of what you could be expressing in the song is how it feels different nowadays. I don’t feel like the songs lock you into something that you had to get locked into 25 years ago and now you’re stuck expressing it again,” Duritz said. “Even Mr. Jones, which is about dreaming about being famous, but about knowing it’s probably not going to be what you think it is. And that’s different when I was just imagining that than it is now when I’ve actually lived it. And now, I have a whole bunch of other perspectives on it. I still dream about being a rock star all the time. It’s like I’m living it, but it’s like it’s still a dream come true every day. I still have mixed feelings about it, just like I did then, but I have a different texture to that now. None of it feels false. It just feels like it’s updated.“
I didn’t go back and count the total number of songs Counting Crows has published, but they have more singles (31 total) than could ever fit on the setlist. Factor in deep cuts, artist picks, fan favorites, and potential covers, and that is one heck of a decision to make in regard to what does and does not get selected for the setlist for any given show. Duritz claims he calls an audible before the showtime each evening.
“We do it after dinner each night; usually a couple of hours before the show,” he revealed. “We do soundcheck, we eat dinner, and then we sit down and decide what to play that night. It kind of changes every night. I never really know what we’re going to play until then.”
As a confessed people watcher, one of the coolest things I’ve noted at concerts in recent years is people in my age bracket (this writer is celebrating birthday #40 in four months) now have children of the appropriate age to tag along to concerts. Last summer, I saw acts I grew up including Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R., and Goo Goo Dolls with an abundance of second-generation fans in attendance.
“I think a lot of kids grow up with their parents liking one band and it’s the only thing they play in the car and it drives the kids crazy and eventually, they want to kill their parents and the band,” Duritz joked. “I’m glad that they play it in the car, but at some point, play something else so that the kids don’t grow to hate us!”
For those reading this interview that were of music-consuming age in 1993, think back to how different things were back in the day. Dial-up internet was still a few years away, broadband was an urban legend, and streaming services only existed in science fiction novels. The game has changed. For artists that were recording and breaking into FM airwaves, it has been survival of the fittest.
‘”You don’t know whether anyone’s going to buy a record anymore. It used to be the radio that really determined everything. I’m not sure how much it matters now. I mean, it clearly matters, but I don’t know how much of it is about how things do or don’t go viral,” Duritz observes. “And there’s only so much control you can have over that. I mean, you can try to exert it, but that stuff just kind of happens. I think there were a lot of things that we tried to do back then that didn’t work very often. And now, I’m not sure anyone ever knows how to really promote a record. It’s even more in question. But the main thing is to make great records. I think that’s the thing that is really important is that you just have to make great records. People can always discover them later as long as you make great stuff.“