The Coast News Group
The Counting Crows perform at the Del Mar Racetrack Aug. 9. Photo by Danny Clinch
The Counting Crows perform at the Del Mar Racetrack Aug. 9. Photo by Danny Clinch
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

With new album comes new insights for Duritz

When singer Adam Duritz started writing lyrics for the new Counting Crows album, “Somewhere Under Wonderland,” he expects will be out in September, he almost didn’t recognize the person or the meanings behind the words that were landing on the page.

“It’s weird,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I didn’t understand these songs the way I have always understood my songs.

“(Before) I had a gut feeling. I knew what they were. I knew how good they were right away. But these ones felt like much more of an impressionist stuff, like expressing stuff on a much broader level, all kinds of stories and imagery and stuff I’d never gotten to use before when I’ve just been writing about myself in a room.”

It wasn’t until after the songs were recorded that Duritz came to gain better insights about what was happening in his lyric writing. One day he was visiting a friend and fellow songwriter, Dave Godowsky (who often records under the name John Shade) and Duritz commented about feeling the songs were “weirdly less personal” and maybe that was why he didn’t understand them.

Godowsky’s response startled Duritz at first. He found the new songs to be much more personal. Duritz picked up the conversation from there.

“I think you’re looking at the songs wrong,” Duritz said, quoting his friend. “I think you’ve been writing these stories in this long form epic tragedy about you being crazy and how it ****s up your life.

“That’s interesting and you’ve been writing this long form version of that for years.’ But he goes ‘That’s not all you are.  You don’t walk around all day depressed moaning poetically. That’s not who you are. The truth is you’re funny, too, and have dumb jokes and you think of bizarre s*** all the time. And like these songs are more like really what it’s like to spend a couple of hours inside your head.

“They’re full of dumb jokes and it’s full of like really vivid, bizarre imagery and they still have this emotional weight to them.”

Duritz quickly realized Godowsky was on to something.

“It’s really kind of true,” Duritz said. “It was parts of myself I hadn’t necessarily felt comfortable (before) projecting into songs.”

As Godowsky’s observations suggest, Duritz, over Counting Crows’ six previous albums, became famous for writing serious autobiographical lyrics that have examined his life, his relationships and the factors that form his personality and behavior.

One of the factors that influenced his life and writing was a mental illness called dissociative disorder. The condition, which was diagnosed about a decade ago, caused Duritz to feel detached from reality and unable to feel connected with other people.

A new regimen of medicine and therapy has gotten the disorder under better control. But Duritz saw the damage he had done in his life and how songwriting fit into the equation.

“Even when s*** went terribly wrong in my life, I could always write a song about it,” Duritz said. “It didn’t fix it or anything, but it still was like, it gave value to those years when I was very upset about the way things were going…But I think I got very frustrated with the fact that without meaning to, without it being something I did on purpose, in a way I was trading people for songs, because I had a lot of people of great value in my life and I let them fall out of my life. And they’re gone.”

This realization caused him to basically stop writing songs for a time — at least ones about himself or his life.

What he did do was write songs for a play, “Black Sun,” which was presented in 2011 at the Ojai Playwrights Conference. Meanwhile, when the Counting Crows returned from a two-year hiatus Duritz wasn’t ready to write for himself and the group and the Counting Crows made an album of cover songs, “Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On My Summer Vacation).”

He thinks the covers album might have something to do with why his lyric writing shifted.

“I do think like there’s something to that, seeing the way other people use words and how (many) more words they use and how much they use all this imagery I’m not using yet,” he said.  “And on this record I seem to have used a lot of things I have not used before.”

Songs from “Somewhere Under Wonderland” — which Duritz said reminds him of the group’s second album, “Revovering The Satellites” and “Underwater Sunshine” — will be in the Counting Crows live shows this summer. But because the band — which also includes Jim Boglos (drums), David Bryson (guitar), Charlie Gillingham (keyboards), David Immergluck (guitar), Millard Powers (bass), and Dan Vickrey (guitar) — changes up the selections from show to show, Duritz wasn’t getting specific about its set list. He did say, though, that the band has been sounding very good and the new songs translate well to the stage.

“The new songs sounded really good,” he said. “I was really enjoying playing them.”