"I'm a songwriter, and I want to engrave my songs on other people's heads," says Adam Duritz, lead singer of Counting Crows. He needn't worry about whether that goal has been achieved.
From the first moments of the band's emergence in 1993, Duritz and Counting Crows etched themselves into the public pop music consciousness with such numbers as "Round Here" and "Mister Jones" from the band's debut album, August and Everything After. Certainly, part of their immediate appeal was a sound that echoed many of music's greatest artists: Van Morrison and The Band, to name two major touchstones for the Crows.
But what nailed home the group's appeal was the voice and the songs of Duritz. Singing with passion, and a melodious, evocative touch, he crafts material that is rich with honesty and emotion. And Duritz hasn't allowed the band's success to diminish his focus on the ultimate goal.
"You're always trying to give more," he says of his songwriting approach. "It's like, 'How can I make it even more honest and more open?'" And now, on the fourth and latest release from Counting Crows, Hard Candy, Duritz also concentrates on using the power of the music itself to help deliver the message firmly.
"I wanted to make a totally different kind of record this time," he explains. "I had this conversation with Paul McCartney at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, and I came away thinking that I want to concentrate on melody. For the new album I really wanted songs that you can't get out of your head, not just mood pieces. People started taking melody for granted when they started thinking of songwriters as poets. Well, poetry is great and I read poetry, but I haven't the slightest interest in poetry. I'm a songwriter."
To ensure that the songs on Hard Candy were as strong as possible, Counting Crows took the material on the road and worked it out in front of audiences before recording the compositions. "There's something to be said for the freshness of recording the first time you ever sing a song, because first inspiration can be really cool," observes Duritz. "But there's something to be said for coming back to a song later with fresh inspiration."
Hard Candy was primarily produced by Steve Lillywhite with contributions by Ethan Johns, and features such guests as Sheryl Crow, Ryan Adams and Matthew Sweet. The title alludes to the underlying subject matter behind the songs. "The album is thematically about memories - the way you use them to substitute for living sometimes," Duritz explains. "Some memories are sweet, but tough and painful, too. And they're not good for you."
With almost a decade gone by since their debut, Counting Crows are in music for the long haul. And Duritz views songwriting as a lifelong pursuit. "It's the sort of thing you only do if you have to, because it's too hard. So I don't think you'd do it unless you have to do it," he notes." But the other thing is patience. Life doesn't have to come to you in your twenties. You have 60 years, 70 years more of life ahead of you. You have to live all of it, so you don't necessarily have to get what you want when you're 21. You can get what you want when you're 31, or 41, you know what I mean? You've got so much of life out there. There's this real mythos that life only exists for the young, and it's just not true. It's really rewarding forever."