Released at the close of 2014, Counting Crows’ latest album, Somewhere Under Wonderland, is already proving to be a strong fan favourite, and contains some of the finest material Duritz has yet composed. God Of Ocean Tides is a particular standout, and is a song the singer suspects is “one of the most beautiful songs [he’d] ever crafted.”
“Having a good atmosphere when I’m writing is important,” he says from his home in New York. “But that said, I’ve written in hundreds of different locations. This record was written at home, but some parts of it were composed off the top of my head, walking down the street or riding the subway, falling asleep at night. I think each [song] is a story. There are a set of emotions or feelings that are stuck inside there, but the story itself can be spread in a lot of different ways, and that’s often depending on how you feel that day. For one thing, I don’t remember how I felt the day I recorded each song, so they’re usually based on how I feel each day and that’s an ever-changing thing. My feeling has always been to just let them change. You need to sing a song as though it was happening right now for the first time, and that way it doesn’t get boring for the band either.”
Beyond record sales, Counting Crows have amassed a tremendous live following, thanks primarily to the energy and spontaneity they bring to gigs. It’s one of the testaments of a band’s true endurance, and for Duritz, the allure of the stage remains as enticing as ever. This is most clearly evidenced when discussing the epic 2009 tour dubbed The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers Travelling Circus & Medicine Show, which also featured Michael Franti and Augustana. Rather than split up each act, it was a series of shows that saw each band perform together for the duration of the gig.
“That was really the most fun I’ve ever had onstage, and I think was completely groundbreaking,” Duritz says. “I don’t think anyone has ever done a concert like that. They were four hours long every night, where we were completely integrated into each other’s bands. It was like a wild weave of music that stretched on for hours. But at the time, our managers really didn’t want us to [do it], our agents weren’t happy with it. There was a lot of sabotage of the tour that went on, especially in terms of ticket sales. We don’t work with those people any more. It didn’t do well in terms of ticket sales, because nobody knew it was happening.
“We were doing a lot of tours in the years before that, these enormous co-headline tours that had made us an enormous amount of money. But I felt like the fans were getting ripped off, only seeing five minutes of the band they liked. There were so many different bands there, and if you only liked one or two, you’re paying a lot of money for not a lot of music. I felt like it was shitty, so I wanted to do a concert where bands played together, but you also got the bands you liked the whole night. I was doing up to 40 songs a night during that Travelling Circus. We’d [start] at seven and play until 11, and I’d be onstage the entire time. I thought that was the greatest thing I’d ever done. But [management] didn’t get the word out about it. People would be showing up thinking that the band they really wanted to see weren’t going to be on until eight or nine o’clock, so they missed whole hours of the concert, and I think a lot of people got really bummed out about that.”
Though many years have since passed, the bitterness of not having those shows realise their potential remains a sore point for Duritz. They do indeed sound like exceptional events, with so much talent on display in so fresh a format. Yet the chances of ever seeing a similar endeavour restaged are slim.
“It would be hard to get anyone to allow us to play the Travelling Circus again here. They did such a good job of torpedoing those shows. It was such a mess, but it might be good in a way because we got rid of those people. But I wish it had gone differently, because it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance again. We even had a hip hop act. It was different, it was fun. I fucking loved it; I’ve never had so much fun at a concert. It could have been huge.”
BY ADAM NORRIS