HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- As he sits under a gazebo in the Hollywood
Hills, Counting Crows leader Adam Duritz considers how he might
characterize the months he's spent working in the
house-turned-recording-studio behind him.
"It's like it's the '60s and we're the Byrds," grins the singer/songwriter
-- though with a full beard he looks a whole lot more like the Doors' Jim
Morrison than a member of the '60s folk-rock combo that scored hits with
"Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Eight Miles High."
"No, it's the '70s and we're Glen Campbell," counters Cracker leader David
Lowery, a friend of Duritz's who is co-producing the next Crows album.
"Only while he was writing 'Wichita Lineman,' " Duritz adds.
They both laugh.
The mood here is decidedly low-key. In fact, one of the running jokes is
that Duritz and Lowery have spent more time in the pool than working on the
tracks. "I spend a lot of time playing poker and reading, you know," Duritz
says, fingering a poker chip. "I spend a lot of time going swimming."
"So do I," Lowery says. "Who's working?"
The two men -- both excellent songwriters, both leading rootsy rock bands
that don't bow to the trend of the moment -- are a study in contrasts.
Lowery comes across as analytical and reserved and plenty cynical; Duritz
is pure emotion, going off on a 10-minute rant about how the Republicans
have it in for Clinton when asked what they think the impact of the Starr
Report will be on the presidency.
Working with co-producer Dennis Herring (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) and
the other five members of the Counting Crows -- and inspired by everything
from the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds to Camper Van Beethoven -- they have
been crafting the next Crows album in this decidedly L.A. environment.
Some 14 songs are in various states of completion, including "Baby I'm a
Big Star Now" (closing music for the film "Rounders"), "Speedway," "Saint
Robinson in His Cadillac Dream," "I Wish I Was a Girl," "All My Friends,"
"Hangin' Around," "High Life" and "Amy Hit the Atmosphere." All kinds of
instrumentation are being used, including sitar, xylophone and a Mellotron.
"The sound is more colorful, more textured," Duritz says. "My vocals are a
little more upfront. The vocals are in your face, and stark, with no reverb."
"I think [what we're doing] has elements of the two previous [Crows]
albums," Lowery says, "but a little sparser. The dynamics are more extreme."
As it turns out, Duritz is a longtime Camper fan; he and Lowery became
friends when the bands toured together in the early '90s. Duritz says he
wanted Lowery to produce the Crows' most recent studio album, 1996's
Recovering The Satellites, but scheduling precluded that from
happening. He cites Cracker's 1996 album, The Golden Age, as "a big
record for me and for a lot of the guys in the band."
Clearly, Duritz brought in Lowery to shake things up a bit. For the first
time, the Counting Crows are composing songs while they make their record.
"I called up Dave [Lowery] and said, 'How would you feel about coming out
early and let's just start right now? I have a few songs but no one's ever
played them. Let's just do this. I want the band really involved,' " Duritz
says. "And it's really great for the band because it was something we
wanted to do to really expand what we are as a band. But it also requires
everyone to be ... I guess 'proactive' is the word. You can't just wait for
me to come up with something. You have to come up with it. It requires all
this interaction, a really intense interaction we never had before."
From the open studio-door comes the sound of "I Wish I Was a Girl," a song
that was just written the previous evening. "Like last night, we started on
this new song, 'I Wish I Was a Girl,' " Lowery says. "Anyway, I just felt
like I didn't really need to be involved for a long time. [There was] a
good six or eight hours of them playing together, so I could just sit back
and listen and go, 'That was good, I like that, I don't like that,'
whatever, if I was asked. And that was cool. And now that we're sort-of
getting somewhere with this song, there's more room for me to come in."
After talking for a while, the two men go into the control room to play a
few rough mixes. The new songs sound great. "Amy Hit the Atmosphere" has a
psychedelic feel, combining classic Duritz lyrics ("Amy hit the atmosphere/
Caught herself a rocket ride/ Out of the gutter/ And she's never coming
back") with a Beatlesesque chorus and trippy guitar. "Speedway" is a moody,
confessional number ("I get so nervous I'm shaking/ Get so I have no pride
at all/ Gets so bad but I keep comin' back for more ... ") featuring '60s
organ and low, cool guitars.
Duritz and Lowery agree that it's a bit strange working together, after
being friends for a long time. "How can I explain this?" Duritz wonders.
"It's a weird thing making a record with someone who's been like your
friend -- not just for me, but for everybody in the band. There's a real
collaborative thing that goes on but there's also a real ... The authority
lines are sort-of blurred."
"But you really don't want to cross them in the wrong way because it's a
friend thing," he continues. "Because with authority figures, sometimes,
you can feel the line of authority, but crossing it is a form of rebellion
at times. But when it's with your friend, it's not. It's a form of temper
tantrum. So it can be really weird."
He looks off in the distance, into the smog, at the city's urban sprawl.
"This is a weird way to make an album, for us. We've never done one like