By Andy Argyrakis
At the tip of 2019, Counting Crows broke a five-year silence from the studio by dropping the newly recorded track “August and Everything After.” To those who’ve kept even casual tabs on the alternative rock/jangle pop band from Berkeley, CA, it also stands out as the title of the 1993 blockbuster debut album that sold more than a staggering seven million copies in America alone and was responsible for the smashes “Mr. Jones,” “Round Here,” “Rain King,” and “A Murder of One.” Though the song “August and Everything After” has occasionally popped up in concerts ever since—and its lyrics were even printed on the cursive-scripted album cover—believe it or not, this Amazon Original cut marks its first-ever official release hot on the heels of the larger collection’s 25th birthday.
“I just didn’t think it was very good,” divulges co-founding singer-songwriter Adam Duritz on a phone call with Ravinia magazine prior to Counting Crows’ return appearance on Saturday, June 29, with drummer Jim Bogios, guitarist David Bryson, keyboardist Charlie Gillingham, guitarist David Immergluck, bassist Millard Powers, and guitarist Dan Vickrey. “It had a lot of holes in it. I thought it needed some work. I didn’t think the arrangement was good and it had some lyrical problems too. Just a lot of stuff I should’ve probably spotted before we got in the studio. I also think the arrangement of me playing the song on piano was really boring, but doing it with the orchestra gave it a much, much more interesting musical vibe. It’s just a song about life, and it was a really good title for the record. The song was there first, but it was the right title for the record, maybe [even more so] because we couldn’t use the song.”
In a matter of mere moments speaking with Duritz, he comes across as kind, super chill, and locked firmly in the present, while also seeming humble and unimpressed with Counting Crows’ stratospheric accomplishments that include selling over 20 million albums and amassing multiple Grammy nominations, alongside an Academy Award nod for the smash “Accidentally In Love” from Shrek 2. Unsurprisingly, he’s never been a fan of fame either, though he’s managed to find just the right formula to unplug from the bright lights and hype, which surely adds to that down-to-earth demeanor.
“I had a hard time at first to be sure,” Duritz recalls. “I really struggled adjusting to that, and it’s just very strange for someone like me. Everybody thinks they want to win a popularity contest, but it was strange for me. When I left LA, I started to be a lot more careful of what I started to do in public. I’ve sort of avoided award shows. We’ve been nominated for a lot of awards in our career and almost never been there. It just never really appealed to me. I don’t do a lot of the public stuff that way. I just realized I didn’t like it as much as I thought it would, and in order to live my life the way I wanted to, I needed to get out of that and live a regular life. I think I’ve really tried to do that ever since then.”
Bowing out of the limelight brought his musical calling into sharper focus, which follows in the footsteps of an influence pool that includes the lauded likes of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., and The Band. In fact, surrounding himself with the sounds and attitudes of those fierce individualists whose artistic evolution was always the priority perhaps help inform comments that could come across as apathetic towards the August and Everything After anniversary and the “25 Years and Counting” tour title.
“The anniversary is meaningless to me,” Duritz says matter-of-factly. “The album meant a lot to me when it came out, but years later, our records are all really special to me. I don’t know that 25 years meant anything in particular other than ‘wow, we’re getting old.’ ”
Instead Duritz seems more passionate remembering the extremely fertile musical ecosystem of the early 1990s, which some might cite as the last true renaissance period before ideas started to endlessly repeat themselves throughout the 2000s. Not only did it introduce rootsy acts such as Counting Crows, The Wallflowers, Sheryl Crow, Blues Traveler, and Dave Matthews Band, but that period also birthed the grunge revolution led by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.
“It’s not something you really expect to happen. Every once in a while the moment catches you, and it just seemed to have a life of its own really,” Duritz assesses of the simultaneous explosions. “I do think there were a lot of bands playing music like us. The Jayhawks were already there, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, who were on our label as well, but even Nirvana—I don’t know that Nirvana really became huge because of the grunge. Kurt [Cobain] wrote better songs than everyone else. They had great melodies too. Lyrics that meant something to people and melodies that you couldn’t get out of your head, which I think is the thing that we had in common with them as well. There are a lot of great songs and bands, it’s just a matter of ‘can you write a song that means something to you and that means something to other people?’ and ‘can you put it in a melody and a musical thing that people need to listen to over and over again?’ I think we had that in common, more in common than perhaps different.”
Duritz adds, “I think that after things catch on and it becomes a movement where everyone wants to dress a certain way and listen to a certain thing, it becomes a style thing. But I think the reason people come to bands in the first place, the ones that last, are because of great songs and a band that plays them like they mean it.”
And that’s exactly what keeps Counting Crows listeners coming back for more, but thus far in the case of 2019, concertgoers have a short list of six cities where they can flock to catch the band performing, making the Highland Park score that much sweeter. “Chicago’s a city you want to play,” the frontman insists. “It’s one of the great cities in North America. And there are a few gigs in Chicago that are really good. Ravinia is definitely one of them. It’s different than some of the other ones too because of the picnic crowd vibe. I like the variety of [doing] different things in cities. It can be really nice, and I think our music can work all kinds of different ways. Ravinia’s a huge place too—and quite honestly, it’s just beautiful there. From offstage, it’s nice to have something to look out at, and Ravinia’s pretty lovely.”
As ready and willing as Duritz is to come to Ravinia, he’s completely uncertain of what attendees should expect from the setlist outside of knowing the full catalogue is on the table with the
“25 Years and Counting” aspect. “The set changes every night anyway, especially this summer because we’re not touring much,” he confirms. “I don’t know that there’s anything that I feel like we have to play. We tend to play ‘Long December’ most of the time. That’s never been boring to us, so that’s one we tend to play every night no matter what.
“It can make a lot of sense to just put together one show that’s really good and play it over and over and over and over again, but I worry that you’ll start to suck [the life out of it]. Getting really, really good at the most audience-friendly songs has some benefit. But are you going to start phoning it in when you do the same thing every night? I worry about that, so I don’t want to want to be in that mix. My feeling is if we’re inspired and putting on great shows, that’s going to be a great show to the audience. It doesn’t really matter what the songs are. It just matters that we’re really playing well. I worry more about us playing poorly than I do about the wrong set of songs. So for me, I want to keep it fresh all the time. I don’t want to get bored.”
The same philosophy goes for Duritz outside of Counting Crows, who has in hand in a variety of fascinating extracurricular activities. Naturally, there are a couple that tie back directly to music, but there’s another that’s generally unrelated, although it can be perfectly paired with an evening of songs under the stars.
“I’m working on and running a winery with two friends,” he drops about the Santa Ynez Valley–based Standing Sun handcrafted wines. “Also, me and some good friends have been putting on the Underwater Sunshine music festival. We just put on our second one in April and we’re doing our third in November, so there’s a lot of planning that goes into that. It’s a free indie music festival. It’s not the easiest thing to organize putting all these bands together, getting a lineup and getting sponsors for that, because we want to make it free for people. And then I’ve been doing the Underwater Sunshine podcast a lot too. If [people] like our music, I think they’ll like the podcast. It’s pretty cool.”
Then of course there’s the question of when Counting Crows will venture into the full-length follow-up to 2014’s Somewhere Under Wonderland now that there’s been the ear-pleasing tease of the “August and Everything After” single. In addition to being the subject of the band’s prior passing through Ravinia, that long-player shot straight to the top 10 and was frequently cited as “the band’s best,” a significant milestone considering how many multi-platinum, modern-day masterpieces came before.
“I’ve been writing some, but I haven’t been as focused on that,” Duritz admits. “I’d like to start doing that again. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do last year so I just held off—I think it helps you as a band to be creative. I don’t know whether people want to hear new music or not. Audiences can be more resistant to new material, but you’re still living your own life, so you have to do what’s right for you.” ▪
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based writer/photographer whose credits include the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Herald, Illinois Entertainer, Concert Livewire, Chicago Now, Redeye, Metromix, Paste, DownBeat, Pollstar, and Celebrity Access, among many others. He is also the founder of ChicagoConcertReviews.com and the house photographer for the Chicago Theatre.