INTERVIEW: Catching up with Counting Crows' Adam Duritz

Interview by Jessica Klausing

The questions were provided courtesy of the Counting Crows Merry Murder of Fans Facebook group.

This interview is featured on Los Angeles Digest

In 1993, Counting Crows was put on the map with their successful debut album, August and Everything After. A seven-time platinum award winning band, Counting Crows is still going strong as ever today. Currently, the band is touring throughout North America, Europe, and Australia in support of their seventh album, Somewhere Under Wonderland.

 I spoke with lead singer, Adam Duritz on a stop in Southern California over the weekend. We discussed stage preparations, rumored new releases, and if he still lurks on old fansites.

Adam Duritz during soundcheck at Irvine Meadows   photo by Jessica Klausing   

Adam Duritz during soundcheck at Irvine Meadows
photo by Jessica Klausing
 

What did you think of Ryan Adams' cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 album? Would you consider covering an entire album?

Adam: I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. Yeah, I could see us doing something like that in the future. I love interpreting other people's material. Our tour mates, Hollis Brown, has done something like that. Their second album, Gets Loaded covers Velvet Underground's Loaded. It's a great album!

Are you working on any new material?

Adam: Not really right now. I am preoccupied with the tour. It's hard to make myself write something on the road.

How do you physically and/or mentally prepare for a certain song on stage?

Adam: I try not to think too much about it. I don't have a special way to prepare. I just start singing. All of the songs have different feelings and there are different ways to interpret them. You just get on stage and do it.

How do you expend so much energy--give so much to the crowd and then adjust to the silence afterwards?

Adam: It was something I had to get used to after a while. In the beginning, it was weird for me to try to connect to ten thousand people and then become isolated. I don't mind it so much now. The quiet can be nice. After all it does give your voice and ears a break.

What's your favorite Rock N' Roll antidote on the road?

Adam: I really enjoy playing gigs. It does have a lot of strain on my voice. So, I try not to do a whole lot of talking in between shows. I had a friend that bought me a white board as a joke since I mostly have to text and email to communicate. I do talk when I absolutely have to but I mostly just hang out in a room and be quiet.

Out of all of the songs you have written, which either song or line has the most personal significance to you and why?

Adam: All of them are very personal. I never pick a favorite. The same goes with making the set list each night. We only pick songs that we feel like playing that night. That way we never get tired or sick of certain songs.

Are there any plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Recovering the Satellites next year?

Adam: Not really. I just thing those anniversaries are gimmicks to get people to buy things. At one point, Recovering the Satellites was my favorite record. We have talked about releasing a deluxe set of footage from that tour. We do have a lot of film from that time period.

What happened to the unreleased song, "Suffocate?" Will we finally hear a studio version?

Adam: Oh yeah, I remember that song! It was going to be on the album, Recovering the Satellites. The song was never finished. I just don't think it's good enough to be released right now. We have tried playing it and just never really got it.

Will you consider another impromptu project like your All My Bloody Valentines? The fan interaction was unique.

Adam: Yeah, my girlfriend and I had broken up a week before Valentine's Day. I didn't want to sit around and be miserable so I decided to learn a different song for each day of the week. I didn't sleep for about a week trying to learn those songs. All I had were recorded versions on my cellphone. So, it was a bit difficult at times. Afterwards, I tweeted for fans to submit art covers for the album and then had them vote for their favorite on Facebook. I might do something like that again someday.

Who is your guilty pleasure on the radio?

Adam: I don't listen to music on the radio, just online. The Weekend has that song from Fifty Shades of Grey that gets played a lot. That has to be good, right? For favorites I really love Miguel. He has such an incredible ear for melody! I think it's disrespectful to the artist to call them a guilty pleasure though. I remember promoting Justin Timberlake's first album on the Counting Crows website when it first came out. That pissed a lot of our fans off. Music moves people in different ways. If it's something that you enjoy then you shouldn't be ashamed of it!

Do you ever lurk on Counting Crows fan sites (Annabegins.com) and Counting Crows fan groups (Merry Murder of Fans)?

Adam: No, I haven't. I used to back in the day interact on the old AOL forums. I was able to build a community that led to the message boards on our website. There was no social media back then. Now I just communicate on our Twitter and main Facebook page.

Tender Mercies: A Timeless Essence

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Tender Mercies can be simply summed up in six words: Indie folk rock at its finest!

The music's stripped down  to the core without the use of today's technological fillers. It sounds like a bunch of friends sitting around a room making homegrown music. The album has this timeless essence like a classic vinyl approach to Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

From the soft guitar intro in "Safe and Sound" to the beautiful mandolin in "Almighty Trial," this record provides a nostalgic mellow listen. The kind of songs to listen to on an afternoon road trip.
 

Even though it took twenty years to release the record, Tender Mercies have been around since the early 90's. Dan Vickrey (Vocals/Guitar) met Patrick Winningham (Vocals/Guitar) at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco. The two would soon play many gigs along with Kurt Stevenson (Vocals/Bass), Charley Gillingham (Vocals/Keyboard), and later on Jim Bogios (Vocals/Drums).

The band came to a halt in 1993 when Vickrey left to join Counting Crows alongside Gillingham. Songs such as "Four White Stallions," "Mercy," and "Wiseblood" have been kept in the Counting Crows set lists throughout the years. It wasn't until last year that Tender Mercies reunited and decided to finally release a record.

It's difficult for me to recommend favorites. I would just end up naming half the record. However, "Scarecrow" and "Angeline" receive honorable mentions.

"Scarecrow" is perhaps the 'bluesiest' song on the record. It stands out among the quieter tracks with the exception of the Honky Tonk-esque "Ball and Chain." Plus, the guitar outro just slays at the end! You can almost feel the raw energy bursting out of the guitar!

 "Angeline" is a song that really strikes a cord in me. It's been a long time since a new song has actually made me cry. This might come across very cheesy but I get teary eyed every time I listen it. Infused with gentle slide guitar, violin, and mandolin among the heartfelt lyrics just makes it such a beautiful song.

Overall, I highly recommend the album. It's a nice listen for the alt-country fans at heart.

I even had the pleasure of talking to Dan Vickrey and Patrick Winningham about the album, musical influences, and upcoming plans.

You guys have had several band names. How did you finally settle on Tender Mercies?

Dan: We didn't have anything else (laughs). At the beginning we took the name Bakery Boys after the bakery we used to rehearse in. For a while we were known as the Patrick Winningham Band. But Tender Mercies just seemed to be the most fitting name.

Patrick: I just really loved that Robert Duvall movie (laughs)...just kidding. Back when I worked at a club, I played in a band with Jeff Trott, Charley, and Kurt. We didn't really have a name. We would just use my name whenever we played mostly my stuff. As far as Tender Mercies, I have no idea where it came from.

How do you divide lead vocal roles?

Dan: I just sing my songs and he sings his songs.

Patrick: We sing our own material. Originally Dan wanted me to sing "Perfect Hour." Jim and I listened to Dan's demo and thought he should sing his songs.

After listening to "Four White Stallions" It sounds like there's a lyric difference in Tender Mercies and the Counting Crows' version. 
This is what it sounds like to me:


Tender Mercies: "There's nothing left of me in her."

Counting Crows: "There's nothing left of me and her."

Dan: The stallions lyric is the same in both versions but the pronunciation is different. The actual lyric your hearing is "There's nothing left of me AND her."

Patrick: I wrote that song in a heartfelt place at the time. We change the interpretations from time to time. We do the same with other songs as well such as "White Freight Liner" by Townes Van Zandt.

How did you become interested in guitar?

Dan: I started playing by ear since I was 14. My neighbor wanted me to join his band. I'd listen to records such as John Mayall, Tom Waits, Eric Clapton, and The Beatles.

Patrick: I started playing around the age of 14-15. I played rhythm guitar in my friends' bands. I was influenced by Neil Young, After the Gold Rush era, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, The Beatles...all the good stuff!

How does the songwriting process work?

Dan: I generally just write my own stuff. Kurt wrote "Mercy" and Patrick just added lyrics on his own to it.

Patrick: Most of the songs such as "Wiseblood" are worked out on the spot. We'll just start playing and decide if we want a guitar solo here or another lyric there. Sometimes we'll even get Dan Eisenberg on piano to add a quieter feel.

What about the recording process?

Dan: It went great! We hired an engineer to set up microphones and Pro Tools in the music room of my house and just recorded everything live in that room.

Patrick: It was a very enjoyable experience! We recorded in Dan's house for a mellower live sound. We sat around in the room and just started playing. That's the beauty of the happening! I think it was Bob Dylan that once said "let it roll because you never know what your going to catch."

Do you have a particular favorite song on the album?

Dan: I'd have to say "Wiseblood." It was the first song I first latched onto around the time I met Patrick. It holds such fond memories for me.
 

Patrick: It's hard to pick a favorite. The songs are like my children! "Perfect Hour" holds a special place in my heart. I also love "Mercy," "Safe and Sound," "Four White Stallions," and "Almighty Trial." There's also this one song we do that's not on the record called "Penny in the Sky" that I'm real fond of as well.
 

How do you go about making your set lists?

Dan: Patrick and I usually come up with the songs on the spot that we want to play. Other times we just improvise.

Patrick: Usually Dan and I bang them out, Kurt doesn't care, and Jim will speak up if he doesn't agree with a particular choice.

I really like the album art! Who's the kid on the cover?

Dan: The artwork was done by my friend, Oliver Arms. That's his nephew in the picture. Oliver and I worked together at Tower Records back in the 90's. He's a talented artist so I went to him for the cover art. Inside the album is a picture of a ferris wheel that I took in Australia and my music room.

Patrick: The cover art was a picture from Dan's friend, Oliver. We were looking for album art ideas while searching on Dan's computer one day. I was looking for a picture of a guitar but stumbled across that ferris wheel picture. I thought it was the coolest thing and told Dan we had to have it on the album!

Are there any upcoming plans for the Tender Mercies?

Dan: Patrick is the process of assembling live recordings of some of our shows.

Patrick: We hope to start working on a second album sometime in October or September. The newer stuff will be a bit darker than our old stuff.

Recording with Counting Crows' Dan Vickrey

This article was originally published in RECORDING Magazine.
Interview by Jessica Klausing with Lorenz Rychner.

Photo by Andrea Henn

Photo by Andrea Henn

When Counting Crows emerged from the San Francisco Bay area in the early '90s, home studios were not nearly as common as they are now. Counting Crows is one of the most successful bands to have created music in a home studio. The band made reference to their albums as being recorded "in a big house on a hill", beginning with their first multi-platinum selling album, August and Everything After.

 Counting Crows continue making groundbreaking albums, such as their newest release, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings.

 I had the pleasure of speaking with Counting Crows' lead guitarist Dan Vickrey during a telephone interview, and learned about how the band turns ideas into albums at home, with an emphasis on getting signature guitar sounds thanks to Dan's role in the band.

Dan, talk to me about some of the guitar equipment you use in the recording studio?


Dan Vickrey: My Fender Esquire 1954 is amazing! It's very flexible and the pickups help give a more "twangy" rockin' sound to a song. Also, my Epiphone Casino is great for reducing microphone feedback.

My secret weapon involves using my White amps (Forrest White Fender models) from the '50s for picking parts. The White amps give a different personality to a guitar, they have a transformer that doesn't sound anything like the other Fender amps. My other amps include a 1966 Fender Vibrolux, 1982 Marshall JCM800 50-watt head, 1964 Vox AC10, 1964 Vox AC30 TB, Magnitone 280, and 1960 Fender Vibroverb.

What about effects?


Dan: I love my ZVex SHO pedal, it can sound like sparks are flying from it...I have other pedals, like the Tech 21 SansAmp, Hughes and Kettner Rotosphere, ElectroHarmonix Memory Man, DOD FX10, MXR Distortion+, the BOSS VB-2, DM-2, HR-2, PN-2, and PH-1, Way Huge Red Llama, and Danelectro DanEcho. All the pedals are powered from a Custom Audio Electronics [Bradshaw] rack, it controls up to 16 individual effects pedals on true bypass loops. That rack has a controller that allows you to program presets for each song or part of a song. There is also a 4-channel amp switcher included in the setup.

How about distortion and feedback?


Dan: Smaller amps with 8' speakers tend to give me a better frequency response with distortion. A small amp turned to eleven can have a greater effect than a distortion pedal. So that's what I use on songs like "Hanging Tree" from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings.

Feedback can be controlled, or it can sneak up on you as a happy accident, like on "Angels of the Silences" (from Recovering the Satellites) where we ended up liking the chaotic vibe it gave so we decided to keep it. We re-visited the idea again with "Cowboys" (from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings) and used it on the guitar solo, with a Les Paul through a Marshall amp in the beginning. For a much louder sound they recorded me standing in front of that amp cranked to ten while playing [laughs].

Do you use loops?


Dan: We're not really a looping band, we all like to really play our instruments, but on "Sundays" Jim (Bogios, drummer) brought in a percussion loop that the engineer then put into Pro Tools. That was a neat exception.

Tell me about the writing process?


Dan: It could be that Adam (Duritz, lead vocalist) begins with playing the piano and the rest of us listening and focusing. Usually me or Immy (David Immerglück, guitarist) start to play, and Dave (Bryson, rhythm guitarist) joins in. Songs such as "Insignificant" and "Come Around" (from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings) were created from everyone's improvisational input. We decide then if we want two electric guitars and one acoustic or vice versa. You just play what you want to play and then tape it. We experiment by trying different combinations of guitars.

It seems to me that your band has no fear in taking chances. Does the improvisation come as naturally in the studio as it does on stage?


Dan: There are a lot of guys in the band, so we mostly listen to each other and make the decision if someone wants to jump in or if too many people get involved. There are moments during a song where it will be left open if anyone wants to take it.
The key to success on stage as well as in the studio is simply listening. Anyone in a band has to listen carefully to how the other one plays to make the decision in which direction to go in the song. Sometimes you have to know when to back off or not overdo it, which can be very hard for a guitarist...

What's the order of tracking?


Dan: We usually start with a scratch track where most everybody plays, with vocals, too. Then we use that as a guide for individual overdubs--starting with the drums, bass, rhythm etc.

What about tracking guitars?


Dan: Generally all three guitarists are in the control room, with the amps out in the tracking room (s). We do very little reamping if any at all. We like close-miked guitar amps, typically with Shure SM57 mics up against the grille.

Has playing for Counting Crows matured you as a recording musician since your earlier years playing for The Naked Barbie Dolls as well as for Patrick Winningham?

Dan: It has for me on a personal level. I like to think I'm playing more passionately and just using my own style. In much earlier years, when I was just learning guitar, I would listen and try to match and emulate sounds of musicians such as Eric Clapton and George Harrison. In the end you should just be playing what you want to play and working to generate your own sounds. If you're not doing this and enjoying it then you should not be playing at all.

What advice would you give to a fellow recording musician?


Dan: Just make sure your main tactics for making music are love and passion. Don't be afraid of working to create and experiment with your own sounds. We are in an era of music where it is more convenient to record at home than in an actual studio, so basically just explore, to find what sounds right for you, and go for it!

Check out the Counting Crows website for any additional information on the band.