Singer Adam Duritz described the Counting Crows latest release, Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation), as not being so much a collection of cover tunes as an opportunity to work with a wider assortment of songwriters.
The record, the first since 2008’s Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, includes tunes from iconic writers like Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons, young bands like Dawes and Romany Rye, classic roots groups from Fairport Convention to Pure Prairie League and then some.
The project is rounded out by tunes written by band members for pre-Crows projects.
“It was like collaborating with people without them being there,” Duritz explained.
“Most of the work that goes into making a record is turning that sort of skeleton of chords of music into a song – into, in our case, a Counting Crows song, and that’s something we all do together.
“That takes most of the work, and that’s really no different on this album than any Counting Crows album, because that’s still what we did,” Duritz said.
“The only difference is we didn’t limit ourselves to one writer.”
Duritz offered that the album isn’t so much a tribute to the band’s heroes, nor some kind of attempt to convey the kinds of music that informed the band’s writing. He called Underwater Sunshine simply “a bunch of songs we like, just songs we felt like playing.”
Which is not to say the San Francisco-based seven-piece just showed up and played.
Duritz said he imagines the record sounds pretty much like a Counting Crows record, not only because they’re playing and singing, but because they attempted to make versions of the songs that were unique and different – and not always with success.
“We were trying to come up with our own versions of these things and that means that sometimes you just take the wrong take on the song,” he said.
“We did some truly horrible work. I mean, some of them were just terrible. It was very easy to leave them off the record.”
The attempts that were successful proved rewarding, and have given birth to some of the band’s more inspired performances in recent years, Duritz said.
“It’s almost like there was something ... that was completely liberating about not doing my songs, about just like the fact that the guy that wrote them wasn’t necessarily standing in the room with you and wasn’t necessarily a guy you’d known for all these years, so you owed less to them, in a way,” he said.
“I don’t know what happened with everybody, but everybody loosened up in some way, including me.”
Additionally, Duritz was channeling his own songwriting energy into a stage musical project titled Black Sun.
The project is in development, but Duritz has been writing and composing as well as attending the workshops to see the next step in the work.
“The nice thing with the (songs for the) play was, I wasn’t playing them, I wasn’t singing them, so I felt a different kind of liberation about expressing myself there,” he said.
Don’t read anything into all of this, however, Duritz said.
“I get asked a lot of questions about what I think this or that means about the future and I have no idea what’s going on later today,” he joked.