Back to Rockville

Counting Crows: Still flying high after 25 years by putting the band first

Adam Duritz and Counting Crows made a commitment from the beginning to stay together, he says. “It’s a weird alchemy, doing art in a collaborative way. It’s nearly impossible to find a way that works. And when it does, you have to appreciate it and respect it,” he says. The band performs Tuesday at Starlight Theatre.
Adam Duritz and Counting Crows made a commitment from the beginning to stay together, he says. “It’s a weird alchemy, doing art in a collaborative way. It’s nearly impossible to find a way that works. And when it does, you have to appreciate it and respect it,” he says. The band performs Tuesday at Starlight Theatre. From the artist

The Counting Crows have been a band for 25 years without a breakup or hiatus, an impressive feat by any standard. More impressive, however, is that five of its seven members have been with the band since at least 1994.

“We made it a priority in the very beginning because we realized how much we loved being in the band and how what we wanted more than anything was to play together and stay together, so we just did,” said lead singer and songwriter Adam Duritz, who founded the Crows in 1991 with guitarist David Bryson. “So whenever we made a decision, the first thing we thought about was ‘everybody’ as opposed to ‘me.’ 

There have been plenty of battles and fights along the way, Duritz said, but even during those turbulent moments, everyone kept the bigger picture in mind.

“I understand why bands fall apart,” he said. “It’s real easy to do the math and figure out why you deserve more. … But if there’s not enough left over for everyone else, it doesn’t matter if you get more. You don’t have a band anymore.”

Two years ago this month, the Counting Crows released “Somewhere Under Wonderland,” their seventh studio album, on Capitol Records, their second major label. The band’s philosophy regarding labels going back to its debut album is another reason it has remained together.

Duritz recalled the bidding war that erupted for the Crows over their first release, “August and Everything After.” A lot of advance money was offered, but he and his bandmates opted instead for more creative control.

“When we signed with Geffen there were millions of dollars on the table, but we only took a bare-bones advance,” Duritz said. “I think I got like a $2,500 or $3,000 advance.

“But we got Geffen to give us higher royalties and complete creative control, which was a huge deal for me. I’d heard all those nightmare stories about record companies coming in and messing with stuff, and I didn’t want any record companies touching our records. So from the very beginning, we were doing our own thing.”

“August,” released in 1993, was a blockbuster album. Within three years, sales surpassed 7 million in the United States. However, the band couldn’t control the internal politics that erupted within its label, especially after the file-sharing armageddon erupted in the new millennium.

“We had a good, long relationship in many ways with Geffen,” Duritz said. “But at the same time, we never put out a record where the entire structure of the record company didn’t fall apart right before we did it. Our A&R guy left while we were mixing our first album; the president of Geffen left, and there was more chaos, right before our second album.”

Then Geffen went through some restructuring, reorganizing and downsizing, creating more instability. So the Crows’ relationship with the label ended, and Duritz and the band made another firm business decision.

“No matter how good a job you do, if your record company is in chaos and falling apart when your record comes out, it’s hard,” he said. “All of a sudden you’re at the mercy of strangers. So I decided after we left Geffen that we were never signing another contract for more than one record.”

After “Wonderland” was finished in 2014, they shopped it around to several labels. They ultimately chose Capitol, and one deciding factor was the song “Palisades Park,” the eight-minute track that opens the album.

“I thought the most important song on the record was ‘Palisades Park.’ I wanted it to be the first thing people heard on the record.

“So I went into the office of the president of Capitol and played a bunch of the material, rough mixes, and when ‘Palisades Park’ in all of its eight-minute glory went by, he stopped and said, ‘Wait. Can you play that one again?’ I did, and he said, ‘That has to be the first thing people hear.’

“Which is what I thought, but I wasn’t sure how to go to record company executives and say, ‘I want an eight-minute single.’ But I never had to say it. He did.”

So they signed a one-record deal with Capitol, and for the most part, the relationship was healthy. But Capitol is a subsidiary of Universal Music, which, Duritz said, isn’t so progressive.

“The problem is you still get into trouble with record companies because they’re still trying to pretend there’s no internet,” he said. “Capitol is pretty forward-thinking about it, but they still have a lot of corporate rules from Universal, which, of all the companies still trying to pretend it’s still 1985, they’re the worst in a lot of ways.”

He cited as an example the band’s performance at Pinkpop, a festival in the Netherlands. Organizers wanted to broadcast the Crows’ performance on national TV and radio. Duritz thought the free promotion would be great, but Universal wanted payment.

“But that’s the kind of attitude they’re kind of locked into. It wasn’t Capitol’s fault. We didn’t run into many problems at all with them. But there were a few where Universal rules just killed it and I think (Capitol was) as bummed as we were.”

So the Counting Crows, a band that has sold more than 20 million records worldwide, are a group without a label for the time being. But the show goes on, as it has for decades.

Tuesday, they will perform at Starlight Theatre on a bill with Rob Thomas. Their longevity extends beyond the band itself. Several members of the road crew who will accompany the band have been part of the show for decades.

“My tour manager came on in April 1994; my production manager came on for the first gig of the ‘Recovering Satellites’ tour (1996) as a monitor engineer; two of my guitar techs came on in ’93 and ’94,” he said.

“One of our guys passed away a month ago and we were all at the funeral and we all realized how long we’d all been a part of each other’s lives. We’ve spent most of our adult lives with the same 15 people: the seven band members and seven or eight core crew members.”

The key to sustaining any long-term relationship is realizing its strengths and virtues and the depth of its importance and recognizing that the sacrifices are worth the rewards tenfold. That’s what the Crows have done.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “Some people make a mistake thinking, ‘It wasn’t that hard putting a band together. I could do it again. These guys are a pain in the ass anyway.’

“But you never do it again; you never re-create it. It’s a weird alchemy, doing art in a collaborative way. It’s nearly impossible to find a way that works. And when it does, you have to appreciate it and respect it.”

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Tuesday

The Counting Crows perform Tuesday night at Starlight Theatre. Rob Thomas is also on the bill. Show time is 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $17.25 to $95.50. kcstarlight.com

  Comments