Getting older isn’t easy — not even for an award-winning and chart-topping artist like Adam Duritz. “When I was in my 20s, I was panicked about age,” says the Counting Crows frontman. “Most of my friends were getting on with their lives, but I was treading water because I wanted to be a musician.” Then his career took off following the band’s 1993 debut, August and Everything After. On his 30th birthday, Duritz was opening for The Rolling Stones. Aging seemed to stop, he says, because he had achieved rock stardom. But last year was another milestone birthday. “I suddenly felt like I was my grandmother’s age,” he says. “Fifty is immune to rock stars.”
Duritz is hardly washed up. He and Counting Crows perform at the Biltmore Estate on Sunday, Aug. 9, as part of the annual summer concert series. The show is a stop on the band’s current tour in support of last year’s release, Somewhere Under Wonderland. That nine-track album, sometimes meandering and confessional, sometimes energized and hooky, is at once risky and realized. “It’s a new experience every time,” Duritz says of the writing and recording process. “I changed a lot of the way I wrote in the last few years. Working in a vacuum, I wasn’t finishing a lot of songs.” He had good ideas, but they were so different from his previous songs that he worried something was wrong. When he started meeting with his bandmates to prepare for the record, he’d share his ideas and iPhone recordings with them.
“Immediately I was getting back very excited responses from the band,” says Duritz. “That gave me the confidence to see them as new and different ideas as opposed to lesser ideas.” But collaboration has been a major part of Counting Crows’ process, almost since the beginning. The band — originally Duritz and guitarist David Bryson playing coffee shops as a duo — formed in Berkeley, Calif., in the early 1990s. And though early on Duritz was cautioned away from using so many names of people and places in his songs, it’s those songwriting characteristics — along with the singer’s trademark warble — that have set the band apart.
“The only idea I’m religiously tied to is making the best music possible,” says Duritz. “In a collaborative atmosphere, every time you use an idea by somebody else that’s a good idea, the song is that much better than if you’d done it yourself.” There has to be a strict appraisal process, he adds. And collaboration means removing the ego from of the equation, often a stumbling block among creative types. “It’s not really a letting-go process,” says Duritz. “The thing I’ve got in the beginning is not a fully formed idea. I may have some arrangements that are worth trying. But if someone else has a better idea, I’ve got to be willing to try that.”
In a recent interview with Swide, the frontman described Counting Crows’ operation as a three-part system: The group begins with skeletons of songs, and the musicians flesh those out in the recording process. “The third part is playing live, exploring songs as they change while being played on a stage,” Duritz told the magazine.
But while the musician has a lot of respect for his fans and says it’s his job to go onstage and be great every night, “it’s a mistake to pay too much attention to the audience.” The evolution of Counting Crows’ songs — and this is a band known for reworking and extending its back catalog, cross-pollinating songs with snippets of covers or other original tracks — is all about the band members’ chemistry with each other. “If you’re too dependent on having that response and that affirmation from the audience, you’re vulnerable to having a crap show if you don’t get that,” says Duritz. “It’s different from night to night — I just want to play well every night, for me.”
WHO: Counting Crows with Citizen Cope
WHERE: Biltmore Estate, biltmore.com
WHEN: Sunday, Aug. 9, 7:30 p.m. $70 general admission/$80 reserved seating