What does it mean to give yourself over to a thing that does not care whether you quit or persist, a thing indifferent to your failings or triumphs? Known under many descriptors—painting, dance, music, stand-up comedy, theatre—this thing, art, can appear in moments of creative expression, moments we’ve all surely experienced, even if only as children.
Unless you’re a genius, someone possessed with undeniable, otherworldly talent, pursuit in the arts often accompanies exercise in craft, and therein exists the demands of labor, the hard work needed to hone a craft from which art springs. Among those in pursuit of the arts, many never make it, some burn out early, or burn out only to stage a comeback while some retire, but even fewer make it and keep it going, and longevity is everything in the arts.
The band, Counting Crows, formed in Berkeley in 1991, have made it 30 years, and that’s saying something. With seven studio albums, a record of cover songs, and a series of concerts recorded onto four live compilations, the band’s work has earned Grammy nominations and even an Oscar nod in the Best Original Song category (one of more than 75 original tunes). The band’s touring history, building and tearing down the midway, tracks deep like the wrinkles of a leather-skinned carny, beginning at Berkeley Square on January 31, 1992, and logging stops in towns on the four continents of North America, Europe, Australia and Africa.
“I think being able to play and tour is pretty necessary for any band, especially for one that wants to last,” says the band’s singer, Adam Duritz. “We’ve just made staying together a priority in a lot of ways, but certainly being able to play live is a big part of that.”
From its beloved debut, “August and Everything After,” released in 1993, up until 2002’s “Hard Candy,” Counting Crows was releasing a studio recording about every three years. Six years pass before “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings,” (2008) then six more years go by before “Somewhere Under Wonderland” (2014). Its latest, “Butter Miracle, Suite One,” released this year, comprises four compositions recorded as one long piece clocking in at slightly more than 18 minutes of uninterrupted music, a suite worth hearing live from a band as crafty as Counting Crows, a band with thousands of performances behind it, grinding it out on the road, show after show.
In 2019, Duritz left his home in New York City for the English countryside, where he stayed at a friend’s farm and wrote the songs for “Butter Miracle, Suite One.”
The multi platinum album “August and Everything After” catapulted the band, particularly Duritz, into the atmospheric conditions that result when art collides with fame.
“The truth is, there’s no way to plan for having a hit record,” Duritz says. “You don’t know how to make it happen, and you don’t know what to do with it once it does happen — it’s all pretty different, and you’re fooling yourself if you think you can.”
Counting Crows has always entered the studio on its own time and makes the records it wants to make. The band rearranges and improvises on songs, including the hits, which irks some fans but delights others.
“I get why people like [to hear a song as recorded on an album],” says Duritz. “You associate it with a certain point in your life where you listened to something and loved it, and you want to recreate that moment when you go to see a band play. But the band, coincidentally, is not dead, so they are still living their life in the present, not necessarily 20 years ago, and they still want to create and do stuff. It’s a tension though, I get it. But I don’t want to completely give into that because I got stuff I want to do.”
Within the past ten years, Duritz has ventured into theatre, co-writing a play with his friend, playwright and director Stephen Belber, and workshopping it at the Ojai Playwrights Conference.
“It was pretty well received, but we’ve been just too busy to finish it since then,” explains Duritz. “I’m always leaving on tour or making a record and he’s going off to direct a movie or work on a play. Now it would be nice to do, something later on in life that doesn’t involve touring as much. Although the truth is I love touring now. I used to really have trouble being on the road all the time, now it’s a little weird being at home.”