This story was corrected on June 21, 2013. Details of the correction follow the story.
Twenty years ago, the Counting Crows released “August and Everything After.” The album went on to be certified platinum seven times over and skyrocket lead singer and songwriter Adam Duritz to fame. Of course, dating Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston probably didn’t hurt Duritz’s rise to popularity either. The Counting Crows will be performing, along with The Wallflowers, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Wolf Trap in Vienna.
A&E recently got an opportunity to speak with Duritz about music, interacting with fans and writing deeply personal songs.
A&E: You grew up in Baltimore — how long did you live there before you moved on?
DURITZ: I was born there, I didn’t really grow up there. I was there the first three years, but it was always a town where my grandmother lived. You know that town that you go back to because family lives there? Baltimore was that for me. I went back there a lot because my grandma was there and we go and stay there during the summertime. That was where my mom was born. I went back there a lot when I was young. We moved out to Texas after awhile, then we moved out to California and I really grew up out there.
A&E: Indie music seems to have a special place in your heart — why is that?
DURITZ: Well, we came from there. My initial real love of music and rock ’n’ roll, especially, I think largely came from being part of the music scene out in San Francisco. The quality of the other bands that played around town with us — we were all in different bands out there. I really sort of love the vibe of it. But I also think a big part of it is because, quite honestly, there’s just lots of music out there. And some of it isn’t very well known. The truth is most of it isn’t very well known, because most bands don’t succeed that way. So there is a lot more music going on out there that people don’t know than there is of people who do know. I think that’s where indie music comes into play because there’s an awful lot of them. It’s not so much just that they’re independent, it’s that there’s a lot of music out there. And most people haven’t heard it because it’s not successful. That doesn’t mean it’s not good. I think I just like music, really, and indie music is because there’s more of it. There’s just more of it out there than there is well-known music.
A&E: You spend a lot of time on Twitter and with your blog interacting with fans. Do you enjoy doing that as much as you do?
DURITZ: Well, I’ve always done it. I moved to L.A. after touring for “August and Everything After,” — that was, like, 1995 — and I realized one day that AOL had a message board for Counting Crows. They had message boards for lots of bands, but specifically there was a Counting Crows message board. I started writing on it because I realized that there were a lot of fans on and they were talking about stuff and they had questions and worries/concerns about Counting Crows and I thought, “I have the answers to all of these questions. I could answer everything. I could tell them what they wanted to know.” I thought, “If I can convince them that I’m me, then I can communicate directly with them.” So I tried it and that started a running dialogue. That was 20 years ago almost, 18 years now, I guess. So I’ve been doing it for a long time. I guess that was social media before social media. When Twitter came around, and Facebook, it just seemed like natural progression in a way – better versions of what I was doing before.
A&E: You encourage fans to record the audio at your shows – have you run into any flack from labels or anyone else because of it?
DURITZ: Some, but we don’t really listen to much of that stuff. I mean, to me, it’s dead obvious that it’s a good idea. If you’re a good live band, then you should let people record it because what they’ll do is they’ll listen to it and they’ll pass it around to their friends. I just never saw what we were losing from doing that. Seemed like it was an advertisement for how good we were, as far as I could tell. I don’t understand why more people don’t do it. I mean, people that buy that are people who already bought all of your records, probably. Why else would you be interested in going to a concert and recording it? It’s not like there’s money to be made out there on that [stuff]. I don’t know, I just always thought it was a really good idea. It’s just more of your music out there for people to hear. Anyway, I grew up collecting bootlegs. It would be a pretty high level of hypocrisy for me not to let them record our concerts. [Laughs] I’ve got a whole wall full of bootlegs at home.
A&E: It’s been 20 years since “August and Everything After” — how different is life now than it was back then?
DURITZ: I guess different, probably. I mean, I’m a working musician supporting myself by playing music, that’s not a new thing. I mean, that’s nice. I managed to make a life out of it. I don’t think I’ve changed really. I never really bought into all that much. I’m not very social with Grammy parties and stuff like that. I’ve never been to the Grammys. It just looks boring. I didn’t show up for that a few times, caught flack … THAT’S what I caught flack for. I just never wanted to go to those things. I mean, I went when we got nominated for the Oscar. I was like, “OK, when will you ever win this?” And my parents were totally hysterical. So I went to the Golden Globes because they told me I needed to do the Oscar thing and I went to the Oscars because of my parents. We lost both anyway. [Laughs] But the Grammys and stuff, that’s just boring. The Grammys and MTV Awards, all that stuff, it was never really my thing.
A&E: You guys have been touring for a long while now – at some point do you say that’s enough, we need a break?
DURITZ: Yeah, and then we just take one. I mean, at this point, we haven’t been playing straight for 20 years. We do take time off here and there. We went around the world in March and April, I was home in May, and we’re about to go out again. We’re in America now. I definitely feel like I could use some more time at home, but it does feel like “I can’t wait to get on tour again,” you know?
A&E: You guys released an album a little over a year ago, do you have anything in the works for a new album?
DURITZ: Yeah, I’ve been working on a lot of songs. We’re just doing a short tour this summer because one of our guy’s wife is getting ready to have a baby this summer so we’ll get back on tour, they’ll have a kid, and when he’s ready after that, I imagine we’ll be in the studio and start recording in the fall. I hope.
A&E: Can you talk a little about The GreyBird Foundation?
DURITZ: With GreyBird, the overarching idea was to get people involved with the idea of being involved. I know that sounds like a preciously clever thing to say, but I feel like America as a country is based on an idea … I mean, that’s the whole idea of having rights and voting, is that your voice, your thoughts it all matters here. That’s why we vote because it’s important to hear everyone’s voice. … That’s the real victory of America’s needs – it’s not just democracy but it’s that we make decisions together and then we do not kill each other over making the wrong decision, except for once and we got that very wrong. For the most part, we make decisions together and we are free to live with them. That’s a pretty cool thing … and it is kind of a big deal. There’s not been a lot of revolutions in this world where they didn’t slaughter the other side afterwards. It’s kind of cool we didn’t do that.
I think it’s a much bigger world now and it’s very easy to feel like you’re unimportant and that you can’t make a difference and you can’t do much and that you can’t change anything. Aside from not taking part in society, people don’t even vote. Half the people don’t vote. Kind of what we do is work with organizations and we do try to do good things to help out these organizations, but we also sort of set an example – we got to each town we play in and work with only local organizations, for the most part. It’s usually an environmental organization but it has to deal with a park in your city, or the river or Chesapeake Bay … a rape crisis center or an abuse hotline or a women’s shelter, a local one, right there in your town. There’s usually a free clinic or an AIDS clinic or someone delivering food to someone with cancer. Those are the three issues we work with. There are people in your town doing it. We get them set up on the concourse at the gig and then we talk about them on stage between every band. We make announcements during the course of the evening … the idea is to show people that it is possible to make a contribution. There are people right there in your town making one. It’s not about something on the other side of the Earth, it’s about people right here in your town helping people right here in your town. It is possible to make a difference. …
Sometimes I think people think we ask for things. We just tell people they’re there. If they want to stop by and grab a pamphlet on the way out, they can. Also, if there’s someone who needs help, there are going to be people there to help you. We’ve gotten a lot of testimonials from people like a woman who was in an abusive relationship got up to get a soda during the concert, got a pamphlet and the information she needed and got out of that relationship. We also run a constant voter registration drive, but it’s completely non-partisan. I will not talk about politics publicly because I think the really important thing in America is to take part, not necessarily which side you’re on. I mean, I have a particular side myself, but more important to me is the idea of participation. That’s what makes this really work. The idea that you can lose the election and still live here together, that’s what fascinates me about it. That’s a very enlightened way of thinking. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for that.
A&E: What would you like fans to take away from your music?
DURITZ: I don’t know. I never really think about it. I don’t know. They’re real personal songs. When we made our first album, I remember thinking “Wow, this is an incredibly personal record. I don’t think it’s going to appeal to a lot of people. It’s just too personal.” I remember people at the time telling me this sort of thing was bad because I used a lot of proper nouns – place names, people’s names – and I remember people telling me I should stop doing that. It was going to limit the amount of people who would identify with the songs and that I should be vaguer. I remember thinking that probably made sense, but there’s no [freaking] way I was going to waste time doing it. It’s just not how I wrote. I liked the way I wrote. I thought the payoff or the other side of that would be something a lot of people wouldn’t be interested in. Then what I discovered was that’s not the way it was. Truth is, make something really personal and somehow people find a way to understand it and to see something of themselves in it as well. I don’t know why that is, but they do. So I don’t know. I never really tried to write or play with anything else in mind other than just being as honest as I could be in telling the truth about what I was feeling. People can take away from it what they want to – I wouldn’t know how to legislate what they should get out of my songs. Even if they take nothing from it, I’m still going to write the same kind of songs. I’m not sure what else I would do.
A&E: When was the last time you got a haircut?
DURITZ: A couple of months ago? Or I gave myself one a little while ago. I just get the clippers out and trim things. They’re extensions now, they were [real] in the beginning and I let them dread out for awhile. It just started to smell and it itched a lot. I thought “I’m too old to smell and itch.” But I had extensions in the beginning, too. They come out every three months or so. They just migrate in and out. In between, they do whatever they want to do.
*Correction: The address in the info box was incorrect.