Though I’ve never been great at narrowing down favorites, it’s accurate to say that Adam Duritz is my favorite songwriter. Over the last couple of years, he’s also become one of my favorite people to talk to. It’s weird when your hero actually exists and is a person you like. Who likes you! I’ve been working on editing this interview for a few days, and I’ve been swinging wildly between two extremes– the Counting Crows fan and the journalist in me thinks that you guys would be interested in every word Adam said (because Adam is, as anyone who reads interviews he’s done knows, interesting). But then there’s the selfish part of me: some of what we talked about was really personal to me. I know some of it was really personal to him. This is the first time that I’ve had an interview that was as much a conversation as it was an interview. And I loved every minute of it. So it took me a while to find the right balance between what to share and what to keep for myself. (For the record: The uncut interview, after transcription, was 35 pages and over 16,000 words. So I’ll be keeping some of it for myself, haha.) Here are some of the highlights of what was a delightful conversation with Adam– about the show at the Ryman, and about the upcoming Outlaw Roadshow. In the next couple of days, I’ll post the second part of our conversation– about all of the cool projects he’s been working on and what he’s listening to now.
KD: How are you feeling first of all? I’m still shocked you were able to sing at the Ryman that night after I found out how bad off your voice was.
AD: You know, I’m all right. I’m surprised, too. I was surprised that it went away in the first place. Everyone got sick on the tour except for me, and it started right away, especially on the other bus. Everybody got sick and they passed it around to each other. About a week into it, Jim came on our bus and said, “I don’t want to drive all night to Chicago with these sick people man, can I just hop on the bus with you guys?” Sure, no problem—hope on, I understand, typhoid over there. And two days later, everyone on our bus was sick, too. For the last week, I was really teetering on the edges, drinking like a liter of vitamins dissolved in water every morning, just trying to keep it together. But my voice seemed indestructible the whole tour. It seemed like I could sing through anything, it seemed like I had so much better control. I could just sing so much better than I ever had before. And then the second to last show the night we were in Atlanta, it was just such a great show. There were so many songs we wanted to play, so I just added them all in, fuck it. So I’ve got one night left, my voice is in awesome shape right now, because I’m in like 120 degree weather, it’s really fricken moist, hard to hurt your voice in that anyway, and I thought screw it, I’m so warmed up… and then the next morning, it was like (croaks) oh fuck! Because I was really just like, teetering on the edge of being sick, but if you really push it hard, you just do your voice in… midway through the day it was just so bad, I took a bunch of steroids at like, I don’t know, 6 o clock? And it just did nothing, I mean nothing. Just. Nothing. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t warm up. I went to introduce Mean Creek and I’d already tried to warm up once, nothing happened… Tom asked me if we were going to cancel the gig, and I was like, “No fucking way.” It’s the last gig of the tour, I can find a way to sing. I’m not canceling the gig. It’s ridiculous, I’ve never sung better in my life. Not at the Ryman! We’re going to play the Grand Ole Opry tonight. No way. And most people have a hard time playing gigs there—I mean, we crushed there with the circus a few years ago—and there’s no way we’re not playing it. And I got onstage and, I don’t know, I was kind of finding my way through “Round Here”, and by the end of the song, I was like, “Oh wait, there’s my voice.” …
KD: It’s funny you mentioned the Ryman with the Traveling Circus, I hate myself for missing that. Y’all were great at the Ryman, but the Circus was just insane–
AD: It was a four hour show. I mean, most of them were, but it was a four hour show. It was long.
KD: Any really memorable moments from that show?
AD: It was—Michael got sick. Michael Franti had a problem early in the tour where he had some really bad stomach pain and we couldn’t figure out what it was. We were at a gig the night after we played the Greek Theatre, and he got really bad pain— and didn’t make it onstage for some songs. His band made it on, but no one told them he wasn’t coming, so I sang some songs with them, and he collapsed backstage. They were about to fly him—We were running him ragged. He had these pains at rehearsals before the show, and then they went to Europe and did a quick run leading up to the beginning of the tour. But the pains got worse, and poor Michael was apparently on the floor in agony. And it came up, Tom said something about they were going to do a bunch of radio things where they had to fly to the Midwest and do them in between our gigs and Tom got really angry and said, “You have to go to the hospital.” So he went to the hospital—and his appendix had burst, probably a week or more earlier. What’s happening now was he was turning septic. …he could have died if he’d gone on any longer, it was horrible. So we went on with the tour without Spearhead for a week or two, just us and Augustana, and then he made it back—and I think the Ryman was his first show back, and we hadn’t seen him in a while, so everyone was happy to see him.
KD: And what a venue to come back to. About my favorite place in the country to see a show.
AD: It’s not that way for bands, though. People talk about having nightmare shows there. Before I played there, people always told me it was just not good, just a nightmare to play there. You’re so excited, and then you get there and the audience is dead because the pews tend to discourage people on their feet. Which I don’t know, because I didn’t experience that, my first gig there was that Circus gig and the place went through the roof. So for me, it was a great gig. But I always kind of knew in the intervening years that, “Yeah, maybe, but we had the whole Circus with us. Every audience went crazy for those shows.” I wondered if it would be different playing it ourselves. I didn’t really want to book the Ryman when I booked it for this tour. Just because I was thinking a little bit—I don’t think that much about audiences when we play, but you don’t want to go to a place that’s notoriously difficult because then it’s distracting. But we didn’t have that problem. But it was double pressure because my voice went. But we forgot about all that and had a great show. One of the best shows on the tour, it was a great show.
KD: Andy wrote a lot of his review about “Round Here” but it really was like nothing I’ve ever heard. I realized I literally stopped breathing, and I don’t know for how long—how do you keep making that song better and more relevant? Is it intentional or something that just happens?
AD: A little bit of both, really. I kind of took it all a little differently on this tour. I just had a feeling when we started the tour—a lot of things changed for me in the last year, I got off all of the medications. It was kind of a nightmare—I got off 7 or 8 different medications over the course of the last year. I spent the last 7 months going through horrible drug withdrawals. You’ve got to go to specialists—have I already told you this?
KD: Last time we talked, you were still going through pretty horrible withdrawals. I’m glad to hear you feel like you’ve come through it.
AD: We’re still in the middle of getting one thing gone, but you go to these doctors, and you have to get—in my situation, you have to see specialists and diagnosticians and consultants and they’re really good at diagnosing stuff, and you talk for hours and hours. And you do it every few years, hone your diagnosis, make sure you’re on the right meds. I was on a lot of medications, and I can see why I was on them, they were keeping me safe at the time… they said I needed to change my medications because so many of these medications were for [bipolar disorder] and they didn’t see any sign that I was. So I had to get off all the medications and start over…they wanted me clear of those meds, because they felt like they weren’t helping me anymore, and they were making it difficult to get better, difficult especially for a person who has problems with memory and cognitive functions. I’m having really weird memory problems, which sucks for creativity. Not so good.
So starting last May, I started coming off these meds, but they are really addictive, and withdrawals were horrible. It was getting physical withdrawals and all the weirdness that comes with keeping a drug in your system all these years, especially something that powerful, but too, you’re also getting the withdrawals that come from someone adjusting your mental perspective and now it’s going away. So your brain is like, “What the fuck are you doing to me?” Your brain doesn’t like it when you fuck with the chemistry—at all It’s bad enough being crazy and having your brain be weird, but it’s like, “OK, crazy person, do you really want to stir the pot like this?” From May until a little after New Year’s, it was just horrible. Almost hallucinatory… like being on acid for about eight months….
When we started the tour, during the gig in Austin, we were in San Francisco before that, and I felt really self-conscious onstage. Not stage fright, just really aware of myself on stage. Very aware of people in the audience. Nothing bad, just distracted by it. Thinking about that and not in the songs. So I was kind of having to really work to dig up songs, and it wasn’t making for good shows. I mean, our bad shows are still pretty good, but it wasn’t great… I felt really out of sync. So I thought, I’m going to stand here and close my eyes and sing and not worry about anything else. It was pretty good the first show, but the second show, when we hit Portland, I just took all the pressure off myself. I said, “You know what, you don’t have to create in these songs, you don’t have to adlib “Round Here” or anything. They’re good songs. If you want to make something up, make something up, but don’t feel like you have to, and not every song.” I was putting pressure on myself to create all this crap. I’ve created so many expectations with songs like “Round Here,” that every time through it would be a new revelation and a new song—the “Rain King” thing with “Thunder Road,” which really was off the top of my head the first time I did it—and I felt like I needed to find another song. I just got—it all felt like there were a lot of expectations, not just for the audience, but for me. It was the opposite—in the beginning, it was about defying expectations with those songs, you expected me to sing that song and I’m singing something different because I felt like it. Now it felt like I was expected to sing something— it was the wrong rut to be in. And it wasn’t really necessary. I had to take all that weight off myself and just sing. And it really felt good. I didn’t have to run around onstage as much…it was OK to just play.
I think the band went through some enormous changes.. They don’t get the credit they deserve for what they do and the songs they create, but something really happened when we made this record. Something about it not being my songs sort of freed everybody up. Also maybe because my head was a fuckin’ anvil when we were doing the record… (laughs) I won’t say that, I’m always focused when we’re making music. And for whatever reason, I didn’t notice it until we were on tour, but the band is way better. They are so much more aggressively creative onstage, they’re just rocking out. Especially Dan and Immy. They have just dived into songs in ways they didn’t before.
KD: That was another thing—Andy and I couldn’t stop talking about how Dan and Immy have—it’s more than transcended, they were intuitive. Like having a conversation onstage.
AD: I’ve been kicking at them to play more for years, and trying to get more out of solos and stuff, and finally in the last year or whatever it was, we were playing “Children in Bloom” and I was like, “I’m leaving. You play, I’m leaving. I don’t expect the song to be over very soon, so do something. You can do something great here, but if you don’t, you’re just going to sit here,” and they really started doing their thing. That was a year or so ago, and I wouldn’t credit it to that necessarily, but all around, something about doing all of these songs loosened them up. I don’t need to carry shit anymore. I don’t know if I did before, I never really thought about it that way before, but I don’t even have to move now….The whole band is greater than each of us now. There were shows that I didn’t change much of “Round Here”—well, someone asked me on Twitter [about “Round Here” at the Ryman], where did that thing come from? I was like, “I have no idea, I literally made it up, I’ve never sung it before.” There were parts of things I had done other nights, but it—I think the one that was in Nashville was completely off the top of my head that day, something about the sleep not coming? I have no idea where the fuck that came from. Wasn’t anywhere before. And everything just got kind of fresher. I’m sure it’ll be tired again in a second. And so by the end of the tour, if I was doing something to “Round Here,” it was because I wanted to. It came right off the top of my head. Because it had gotten really stale to me. I decided midway through it, I decided to stop doing anything that felt stale. When a song stopped being interesting, we just stopped playing it.
Two nights earlier, I got a little bored during “Mr. Jones,” and I realized that’s not good, because you shouldn’t be singing songs that you’re bored singing, so we didn’t play it in Atlanta or Nashville. And it’s not like I don’t like “Mr. Jones.” I love the song. But “Round Here” didn’t make it in some sets. I just decided that it’s better—I mean, someone wrote something about, “Remember what got you here,” they were angry I didn’t play Mr. Jones, and I thought about it, and what got us here, twenty years later, is playing a great show. And we play what we want to onstage. We’re fresh—we made standard versions of songs, acoustic versions of songs, but we didn’t play songs we didn’t want to play. Whatever that song is. It’s not going to make a better concert to play it if you don’t want to play it, in fact, it’s going to ruin the concert, ruin everything around it. Whatever the song is. Ad that changes from day to day. There was something else we didn’t play much on this tour… there was one that Immy was tired of playing and one that I just wasn’t feeling…what was that… well, we didn’t play “Hanginaround” much this tour. And I love that song.
AD: We were talking about doing more with the Counting Crows tour, I was trying to figure out how because I really love these showcases we’ve been putting on. I can’t remember—Beast of the Northeast a few years back at CMJ, and then Smoke and Sand a few years ago at SXSW—but when we came up with the name Outlaw Roadshow for CMJ last year, we started talking about what we were going to call the one for SXSW, and I think it was me that said we should keep the name. We decided not to change them every time. We’re doing all these things together, or apart but influenced by each other and we have all our friends, like you, who are also a part of this group of people who are doing a lot of work in music today and bring lots of fans to talented bands. It’s an interesting network of friends brought to us all by twitter. I was also thinking a lot about what was going on with his TV show—you know, and feeling like…it’s really cool. I love Ryan’s passion for putting together these shows, because I don’t do a whole lot. When it comes to stuff, it’s really Ryan who makes it all happen, all these incredible shows he puts together, he talks to me about the music and we brainstorm, but it’s him who really puts it all together. And his TV show thing was so cool, but in typical TV fashion, I don’t know what—I mean, they’ll spend enough money to make something, because that doesn’t get you in trouble, but committing to the thing, that gets you in trouble. That happens all the time. Anyway, I felt like… I would like more of this to come back to Ryan. So I felt we should keep the name the Outlaw Roadshow, the more we do it, the more he can use it, the more people come to know it.
Here’s the promo for Ryan’s TV show. Check it out– this is something that SHOULD happen.
I think after this year at SXSW we made a little bit of a splash with it. We had like, 5,000 people come through the club that day. We had 20,000+ downloads on that download page. And it wasn’t because our song was there. Our song was on there, but it was on the bottom of the page. You didn’t see it. We got like 2 or 3000. Filliger, who was in the top spot (we really should have rotated the top spot), had like 7000 plus downloads. It was crazy. And you know, we made a little bit of a splash. At the end of the show this year, the club was coming to us about the next year. So we were talking about this summer and all these bands and how to make it work for the Counting Crows, a Barnstormer tour or whatever, and I was talking to my crew—how quick can the changeovers be? Because you have a window for a gig. For most places, you have a four hour window, period.
KD: I didn’t realize that.
AD: It’s a union thing. If you go outside that window—by a minute—it’s thousands of dollars a minute in Union fees. …we wanted it to be at least a four band bill. But cancelling out the set, plus time for the changeovers—how the fuck do I do this?—it works out to take three bands with us. We wanted to call it Outlaw Roadshow, because if it’s a good name to have at SXSW his year, it’s a better name after SXSW because now it means something. If we take these bands out on tour this summer, it’ll mean more after that. I would like for people to understand where this comes from—it comes from really loving this music, but that comes from learning about it, and there’s no radio playing it. I learned about this music from my friends, from you, from Ryan, from people who are writing about it. I wanted to make a point about where this is coming from. Its where we belong, too, because we’re an independent band, it’s where people hear music, too. It’s the radio for us. It’s the future of a lot of things. Even if we came up with a new cool name, that name would be associated with this tour. So even if you sort of got the idea that it was an indie rock tour, it’s still a Counting Crows tour, and it’d mean more to the Counting Crows than for the other bands. But the Outlaw Roadshow is already established, to a certain extent. It already means something. It means showcase shows. It means it came from a blogger’s mind, which is what I wanted it to be. We couldn’t have this tour without the influence that’s had on me musically the last few years.
People have asked me if I thought a lot of the bands this record that we recorded will influence our music in the future. I don’t know what it means to have influence on a band. I think people tend to credit that in a more specific way than it probably is. But if you want to say influence, those songs made it onto a record. So, we made a whole record of songs you guys wrote. That’s a pretty fucking big influence– you don’t have to wonder about what influenced “Untitled Love Song”, it’s a Romany Rye song, that’s what influenced it. It’s really clear. Those are 15 bands—well, 14, Tender Mercies is two of them—that influence the Counting Crows. They influence us very specifically in a way that made us put their songs on a record. That’s very clear. The Outlaw Roadshow thing to me, I think it’ll be great to use it again, and after this summer, it’ll really mean something. When people say they’re going to see the Counting Crows tour, there are references in that, and they’ll wonder where it came from, and it’ll come up in conversations—and it comes from the showcase, that’ll go back to the blog, to Ryan. Maybe, hopefully when he goes to do the next sort of show, it’ll fit somewhere, because the guy has a real influence on music, just like you do, like a lot of friends do. If you want to do a TV show about new music, the way Ryan did it is how you should be doing it. And hopefully the next person who gets to make a pilot with him isn’t stupid enough to let it sit on a shelf because that was a really cool TV show. It was really cool. Maybe next time the TV show is called the Outlaw Roadshow or maybe it’s on the internet, I don’t know. I just wanted people to know where it comes from, what influenced us to create a tour like this. It’s clear as can be. It’s not the Traveling Circus, it’s the Outlaw Roadshow and it comes from the last five years of me getting a lot of our music from you guys.
KD: The bands you picked are incredible. All three legs of the tour will be worth seeing. I’m really excited.
AD: The second leg is crazy. It is quite a line up on the second leg.
Adam and Kasey singing “Like Teenage Gravity” at the Outlaw Roadshow, SXSW
KD: It’s stacked.
It’s a pretty wild lineup of bands on the second leg. That’s definitely the leg whose bands have the most press right now. But people will flip when they see Foreign Fields, Filligar, & Good Old War on the 1st leg. Those Foreign Fields sets at SxSW, back when they were still called Flights, were two of the most astonishing sets of music I’ve ever seen. They’re on the top ten at Daytrotter now, so I guess other people are having that same reaction. Yeah, I almost, before I got it set, I almost moved Kasey up to the first leg because I thought I needed to move some other songwriting up there, but then I started looking at who could do the first leg. I think Young Buffalo was going to do the first leg and couldn’t do it, because we didn’t have enough sort of rock n’ roll on that leg. But then Ryan suggested Filligar, which was perfect, just great. And Kasey balances out the second leg, too, in a good way. The third leg should be really good as well….and when we go out this summer, Foreign Fields hasn’t ever toured before. And Field Reoprt will have played a bunch of shows, but they haven’t toured either. Some of these bands will not have ever toured before. Kasey’s record is really cool, too. I haven’t listened to it much. I always get Kasey’s music when I’m in the middle of something overwhelming, but it’s a really damn good record. It’s fun hanging out with Kasey, too.
Yeah, he’s a cool guy. It’s going to be a fun tour.
I’m glad things are working out. I was worried at first. I told my manager what we were doing… we would work a ten minute changeovers, we would headline, and we would have the bands rotate every night, someone plays first one night, second the next, third the next, and just rotate around so nobody opens every night. There’s—everyone gets to change it up. And then it kind of came back from our people who were afraid people wouldn’t be OK with that, “Well, they didn’t—“ because when someone doesn’t agree with what you want to do, they’re not going to come forward and ditch it right away, they’re going to talk to everyone else. They tried to come up with a bunch of conditions to offer to the other bands’ managers, “So-and-so is OK, as long as they play in this slot before you”—I thought they were wrong. I didn’t think any of these bands came from the same head-up-their-ass world. Anyway, I told our agent that anyone who’s not going to go for this is not on the tour. But the truth is, I didn’t really think it was a problem and it wasn’t. I told them to stop worrying and just present the bands with the tour. And everyone came back just fine with it and excited about the tour– there was no need to hardsell anyone. Everybody came back a few minutes later, right away, and said they were fine. Everyone was really good about it. I was afraid at that point we might have some push back. And I said, “I don’t think you’re right about that—none of these bands, the ones that I know, anyway, nobody thinks that way. They’ve all played a million shows at different places in the shows. When we do the Outlaw Roadshow shows, we don’t go from biggest to smallest. We had Hey Marsaille play early at CMJ, because they could handle it. We had Filligar, who played late in the show at CMJ, open the indoor SXSW because they can handle it and not wilt. They’ll play their ass off there. Plus, we want the show to be good all day. So no one thinks about it as the opening spot. No one bats an eye about it. We have party bands at the end of the day. The Bodega Girls, or Gentlemen Hall… they can do that, they party onstage, they’re very fun. What better way to go off than dancing and running around?
Filligar’s “Not Gonna Settle”
But it’s not like the record companies, where everyone’s vying for position—playing showcases is different. They’re just playing short, they don’t fuck around, they don’t come offstage late…these guys are really good about this, it’s all about attitude. The trick is, none of these guys are selling any tickets. There’s no real restitution or anything. We’re basing our ability to sell tickets because enough people love it—they’re going to price the tickets out of the range of these band’s fans anyway—I mean, we don’t have expensive tickets, but we have more expensive tickets than these bands. In the past, the reason everybody balked at it is they thought these bands wouldn’t sell tickets, so we decided to do it ourselves this summer. If people catch on to the idea of the Roadshow, great. They’re going to hear some great bands…. Even the biggest bands, like, We Are Augustines, who are bigger than a lot of these bands, but they’re really cool guys, and they’re management seems really cool, too. Everybody was really into the idea and excited about it. That’s why we’re doing it anyway. It’s going to be a great summer. It’ll be nice to see them play and get really good. I actually enjoy being around everybody and have it all be really cool that way. That’s the theme with everything right now. I don’t do many things anymore that I don’t want to do, even if I don’t want to do them a little bit. I’m not sure they’re that good for us anyway. There’s a different venue out there for us. I’m not sure those places everybody thinks you have to go to promote everything are where you have to go to promote everything. There’s a huge audience that’s untapped out there that is out there. They don’t show up in the same way, in the same polls or measurements or sales, but there’s a shitload of people on Facebook, on Twitter, going to Daytrotter, going to RSL, reading their stuff—and they’re really into music, they’re a concentrated audience, they actually get records, they go to shows. It’s not like the blank populace you face when you put a song on the radio, where you get a cross section of humanity, which is fine. But if you look at the section of people who respond, it’s very small. But the people we’re going to are really interested, and those are the fans you want. I mean, obviously you want everybody to like your music. But if you’re telling me I can have a song on the radio or played by Ryan or you? I’m not sure I go the other way. Because everybody there went there for that purpose, so that means they’re more likely to look at other music. It’s an audience of people who love music who want to read about music they love, not someone with a crass attitude that wants to read about music they hate.
TO HEAR THE REST OF OUR CONVERSATION, TUNE IN OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS.
6/9/12 – Ashbury Park, NJ – Stone Pony Summerstage
6/12/12 – Danbury, CT – Ives Concert Park
6/15/12 – Toronto, ON – Echo Beach at Molson Canadian Amphitheater 6/16/12 – Sylvania, OH – Centennial Terrace
6/18/12 – Cleveland, OH – Cain Park
6/20/12 – Vienna, WA – Filene Center at Wolf Trap
6/22/12 – Rochester Hills, MI – Meadow Brook
6/23/12 – Columbus, OH – LC Pavillion
6/25/12 – Louisville, KY – Iroquois Amphitheater
6/26/12 – Simpsonville, SC – Charter Amphitheater at Herigtage Park
6/28/12 – Tuscaloosa, AL – Tuscaloosa Amphitheater
6/29/12 – Southaven, MS – Snowden Grover Park & Amphitheater
7/1/12 – Indianapolis, IN – The Lawn at White River State Park
7/17 – Brooklyn, NY – Williamsburg Waterfront Park
7/19 – Hyannis, MA – Cape Cod Melody Tent
7/20 – Cohasset, MA -South Shore Music Circus
7/22 – Camden, NJ – Susquehanna Bank Center
7/23 – Pittsburgh, PA – Stage AE
7/26 – Cedar Rapids, IA – Ragbrai 40th Anniversary
7/28 – Lincoln, NE – Pinewood Bowl Theater
7/31 – Kansas City, MO – Starlight Theater
8/2 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheater
8/4 – Salt Lake City, UT – Rail Event Center
8/6 – Boise, ID – Idaho Botanical Gardens
8/7 – Bend, OR – Les Schwab Amphitheater
8/11 – Billings, MT – Magic City Blues Festival
OR CHECK OUT ADAM ONLINE: