Frontman Adam Duritz phoned in the inspiration for their latest album

In the years following 2008’s Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, Counting Crows toured, released a couple of live records, and paid tribute to their heroes with a covers album. One thing they didn’t do: make a lick of new music. Frontman Adam Duritz took a break from penning Crows material to collaborate with writer Stephen Belber on the play Black Sun. Meantime, he slowly amassed song fragments on his phone. Last fall, when three of his bandmates joined him in NYC for writing sessions, he ran the ideas by them. “They were flipping out,” says Duritz. Thus was born Somewhere Under Wonderland, a set of brainy Americana rockers.

You recorded song fragments on your phone. Would you do that again?

I don’t know. I never really think about how I do it. I like the finished songs. That’s what worked this time. It’s definitely a different way of doing it. I’m just happy I finished it. I was struggling to write for myself again for a while.



I just wasn’t doing it. But I didn’t have any trouble writing for the play. If anything, it opened me up for some different kinds of writing. It was really helpful in the end. It was liberating to write for other voices—to write for women, to write songs that weren’t just for me. It gave me a different perspective for writing.


And the band hashed it out together?

It was kind of cool. The four of us got together and camped out for a week every month. We would pop in and out with ideas. People would work on stuff, and I’d go to the back and come back a half-hour later with something and get their take on it. I probably wouldn’t have finished any of it without the guys.


What was the first week like?

I had pieces in my phone and in my notes. I had songbooks full of ideas. We started excavating them so we could see what they were. In that first week we looked at a lot of pieces of music, but didn’t finish anything until I wrapped “God of Ocean Tides” after they left. The next month, after the guys came back, we did five songs in one day—and then it was feverish. We were finishing a song a day, which was crazy. We couldn’t stop pumping stuff out. By then it was clear we had a record.


How did you write “Palisades Park”?

I wrote off the top of my head a year or two ago. I got the whole idea for all the musical movements in one stream-of-consciousness sitting. I was just sitting at the piano playing stuff and happened to be recording it. That song was full-blown there. It’s just that there are no words. I don’t know how I conceived that much musically without putting lyrics to it.


And “Johnny Appleseed’s Lament”?

That was the last thing I wrote for the record. The weird thing about it was I started writing it, and I had this verse thing, and I realized it was accidentally like [Van Morrison’s] “Cyprus Avenue.” So I changed it, and then I wrote my way accidentally into some Dylan tune. And I changed it a second time. In trying to avoid these influences, I’d come up with four different ways of playing the verse. We wound up using all of them in different places. It’s the one song where, when I finished it, the guys didn’t think it was very good. It’s funny, because it’s everyone’s favorite now.

–Kenneth Partridge

comment closed

Copyright © 2015 M Music & Musicians Magazine ·