interview

No, Adam Duritz Will Not Play "Mr. Jones"

The Counting Crows frontman discusses the band's first new album in six years, and why they don't feel compelled to play their hits.

By Michael Hardy July 29, 2014

Counting Crows

Counting Crows
July 29 at 7
$39.50–69
Bayou Music Center
520 Texas Ave.
713-230-1600
bayoumusiccenter.com

If you’re going to tonight’s Counting Crows concert at the Bayou Music Center, don’t count on hearing “Mr. Jones.” Or “A Long December.” Or any of the long-lived band’s many other hits.

“There’s nothing that’s sacred, that has to be played,” frontman Adam Duritz said in a recent phone interview. “I love ‘Mr. Jones,’ but I do not play it every night. The way we look at it, we’ve got all these songs now from making these records, so we want to play all the songs.”

Duritz founded Counting Crows in 1991 in Berkeley, California, and they shot to fame on the back of their debut album August and Everything After (1993), which featured singles “Round Here,” “Rain King,” and, yes, the now-ubiquitous “Mr. Jones.” They followed that album up with Recovering the Satellites (1996), This Desert Life (1999), Hard Candy (2002), and the double album Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (2008), as well as a handful of live albums.

Since 2008, the band has receded from public view. They left Geffen Records, the only label they had ever recorded under, in 2009. They released Underwater Sunshine, an album of eclectic covers (Madonna, Gram Parsons, Joe Jackson, the Stereophonics) and another live album, Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow. Band members worked on side projects; Duritz began co-writing a musical, Black Sun, with playwright Stephen Belber. 

Now, for the first time in six years, Counting Crows are set to put out an album of original material, Somewhere Under Wonderland (Capital Records), in September, and are in the midst of an international tour to support it. The band released a music video for the first single, “Scarecrow,” earlier this month (see below). The six-year break from songwriting was necessary to recharge his creative batteries, Duritz explained.

“I think I really reached a dead end in a lot of ways with Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings,” he said. “I’m not sure I had much more to share on that subject, in the way I was doing it—it was like I was plumbing the depths.” Doing the covers album and co-writing the musical, Duritz said, “were really good for me. I was writing for other people, so I kind of got out of that first-person confessional mode that I’ve been writing in my whole life. And then seeing all the different ways those other people wrote, in Underwater Sunshine. It was like collaborating with 15 people who weren’t there—different ways of looking at rhyme, different ways of looking at the world, of using melody, of playing piano.”

Duritz said his songwriting on the new album is less personal than his previous work, with the writing often taking surreal turns, as in “Elvis Went to Hollywood,” which imagines Elvis’s visit literally triggering the end of Western civilization via an alien invasion. “The songs sound different to me,” he said. “They’re more like stories. There’s just as much emotion, but I’m not used to writing that way, so it was really weird. I allowed myself to work with some absurdity.”

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