It’s been “A Long December,” OK, seven years since the Counting Crows released new music. “Butter Miracle, Suite One,” a four-track, 19-minute suite, dropped last week. Frontman, singer-songwriter and keyboardist Adam Duritz crafted the tracks while in lockdown in England in 2020.
The tunes range from mellow and moody to spirited rock and touch on mental illness and a familiar Counting Crows character: angels. Duritz explains why his songs are so rich in imagery and detail, what it was like spending a few nights in Coeur d’Alene and why you should look for him in the crowd when Counting Crows returns to town on Aug. 28 (location to be announced).
Why did it take so long for you to write and record a new project?
I’ve never been a guy who wrote all the time because I can’t write on the road. I play piano. I can’t bring one in my hotel room, so I’ve always gone like several years at a time without writing. I’ve always been a guy who just didn’t write reflexively all the time, and I only write when I want to make a record. I kind of didn’t want to make a record for a while.
I remember seeing you guys opening for Cracker in 1993 and recall how impressive the show was. I was even more impressed when I learned then that you passed on the big bonus in favor of higher royalties and artistic control when you signed with DGC a generation ago. That worked out well since you never allowed the record company to control the band.
If you spend a little bit of time around a record company, you realize you don’t want to put too much control in their hands. It’s not like they’re the most competent people in the world. It’s a glamour business, and you got a lot of people who are in it because they like to go to the party. It’s cool, but a lot of people don’t put the time or the work in, which is why I find the experience of making records is a lot more palatable than putting them out.
“Butter Miracle,” a collection of songs intended to be heard in one sitting, is a change for the band. Can you detail the creative spark?
It’s kind of weird since I hadn’t written in a long time. I was on my friend’s farm (In England), and I just wanted to play piano. I rented a keyboard in London and had a friend drive to the farm, and I started playing. I wasn’t playing very well at first.
I had to reteach myself to play each time, and it was a bit of a struggle. “Tall Grass” is pretty simple at first because of that. It was almost like a dirge in the very beginning. But once I got going, I wrote the second half of “Tall Grass,” and I was really excited about that.
I remember catching you guys a few years ago, and you turned “Mr. Jones” into a dirge. If you can turn that hit into a dirge, you can turn anything into a dirge.
Actually, I think “Mr. Jones” is kind of pretty in that version. I don’t like it more than the real version, but I do like coming up with drastically different acoustic versions of our songs because I think there are multiple sides to a song.
It’s fun to turn songs inside out. Bob Dylan does it all of the time. It’s got to be tough to be in his band.
I’ve had friends who played with Dylan, and they’re always like, you know, you’re just expected to know every Dylan song and know which one he’s playing right now.
You’ve led Counting Crows since the band formed. Since more than half of the band remains from the inception, is it fair to say that you’re a benevolent dictator?
I think most dictators aren’t all that benevolent, which is part of the problem. I once had an argument with one of the members of my band. We were working on something, and he had an idea for a new song, and I said that I didn’t think it worked, and he said, “Even employees at companies are allowed to have opinions.” I said, “Employees? I do all the work, and we all get paid the same. That makes me the employee.”
We all split the money equally. We’ve been friends for 30 years, and it was one moment in which he was snippy, and I said something snippy right back. There’s a reason we’ve stayed together for 30 years. I’m a pretty good bandleader, and I really do look out for the guys.
Did everyone in the band join you in the studio for “Butter Miracle”?
We tried something different this time. We went into the studio with just the five of us because three guitars gets a little chaotic at the beginning.
Your lyrics are always vivid and detailed. It’s never a simple message.
I try not to ever take a shortcut. You just can’t settle as a songwriter. That would drive me crazy. I can’t write a lyric that is just, “I met her and fell in love.” That’s not enough for me. Instead, I’ll write, “When you look across a crowded room / see the way the light attaches to a girl.”
How much of an impact have novelists had on you as a songwriter?
Yeah, I think I’ve learned from reading novelists when I was younger. When I write lyrics, it has to be rich and have depth and texture. I took a lesson from literature and from reading poetry, but I also got it from great rock writers, from Alex Chilton to Bob Dylan.
I saw you walking through the crowd, albeit hunched over, just before your set at a show at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, about 20 years ago. What were you doing in the audience?
I was trying to watch the opening act. The sound sucks on the side of the stage. You can hear how it sounds when you’re in the audience. You can also tell if your sound guy is having a problem with something, or I’m not hearing background vocals.
Didn’t you and the band stay in Coeur d’Alene years ago?
We like to stay in college towns if we can, like say Bloomington instead of Indianapolis. Yeah, we did stay in Coeur d’Alene a couple of years ago. We spent a couple of days there. I love the lake. It’s so beautiful there. It’s so much better to stay in a place like that as opposed to a hotel downtown somewhere in a city.