by Fally Afani

Photo courtesy: Counting Crows
Counting Crows have been acting a bit out of character lately. They recently left their label of 18 years, Geffen Records, in an effort to launch as an independent band. Then, the first album they put out as an “independent” band, “Underwater Sunshine,” was a covers album. Throw in a bit of a nontraditional tour, The Saturday Night Rebel Rockers Traveling Circus and Medicine Show, that featured all bands playing together onstage at once (instead of adhering to the traditional format), and one has to wonder what Counting Crows have up their sleeves, and what prompted all these changes. But after talking with the ringleader of this traveling circus, frontman Adam Duritz, we’ve discovered that even with a 20-year history, the veteran band is sometimes finding themselves in the same boat as any newer independent artist.

Gaining Control

Duritz & Co are in the middle of what he’s calling the most enjoyable tour he’s ever been on, and they’re about to head to the Starlight in Kansas City. Although he says the band always had complete creative control over what they put out, leaving Geffen was the right thing to do at this time. The band wanted to control the business side of their product. For fans, that translates to how they distribute their music (major record companies don’t take too kindly to internet downloads). “There’s no one saying ‘No, you can’t give away that album,” says Duritz, who has a long history with connecting with fans online and through social media. “I remember when I first moved to L.A., I realized AOL had a message board, like a forum you could go into for every band, and there was a Counting Crows forum. So I realized I could go in there and talk to our fans.” It’s exactly that type of connection that prompted Duritz and the band to take the plunge and leave their label. “I really just couldn’t give away stuff,” he says. “It seemed silly for a long time not to use the Internet.”

New Territory

So now that Counting Crows are going about it independently, they’re in new territory. Duritz and his bandmates are suddenly faced with the challenge of finding new ways to engage dedicated Counting Crows fans who, for nearly 20 years, never had access to free music from the band, free downloads, or even Counting Crows Daytrotter sessions. “We’re trying to build a business model for something that doesn’t exist right now,” says Duritz. “How does a big band like us work independently? We don’t know, except we can do anything we can think of, anything we want to do.”

That’s where the covers album comes in. Having an album full of covers, as opposed to a an album full of deeply emotional songs that came as a labor of love, gives them a little more courage in this new adventure. “I might have agonized over which songs to give away if they were mine,” says Duritz. “I love this record, but it’s not my guts strung out over it. So as a result, I can do whatever I want with these songs. I’m not nervous about it. I love all these songs, but I don’t have the same nervous attachment as though I wrote it.”

No More Limits

Getting their music out on their terms may have been the intended goal with the covers album, but what Duritz didn’t expect was how recording an album of covers would help him grow as a songwriter. “Most of what you do in a band isn’t writing songs,” says Duritz. “I come in with some chords and some words, it’s really just a skeleton. What makes up a song is really all the things we do as a band. So when you make a covers album, you still do all that stuff. The plus side of it is, you work with all these different writers. It’s like getting to collaborate with all these people who aren’t there.”

Duritz says now that he’s taken these covers on the road, his creative juices are taking a different direction. “After making this album, it feels limiting to work with one writer, even though that writer was me,” he says. “It’s fascinating to get in people’s heads and play their songs… Getting to do it with all types of different writers, you realize just how limiting it was working with me all these years.”

While he’s growing as a songwriter and a musician, the seasoned frontman says the payoff is interacting with new and upcoming bands on their tour of the Midwest. That kind of thrill in rediscovering the music scene tends to feed their live show and bring out the very best in their performance. “They’re killing it every night, and then we get onstage and play the best show we’ve ever played,” says Duritz. “It just keeps happening. I saw three bands be unreal good, and then we go onstage and just stun them.”

So perhaps there is a method to all their madness. We don’t usually see this type of behavior in a band as established as the Counting Crows, but this new venture of theirs, although unfamiliar and ever-evolving, seems to bring out the same type of spark and gratification that all bands experience when they’re on the verge of something new. “It’s a different thing now,” says Duritz. “I really like it, and I’m proud of the band.”

See them head into new territory at the Starlight in Kansas City on Tuesday, July 31st.

And, in the spirit of getting their music out their for free, you can stream their entire album here.



Fally Afani is an award-winning journalist with a career spanning more than 20 years in media. She has worked extensively in radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and more.

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