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Interview: Adam Duritz of Counting Crows

 
By on Friday, 19th September 2014 at 11:00 am
 

American alt-rock band Counting Crows have made a strong re-emergence onto the music scene with a new album, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, released this past Monday on Virgin/EMI Records. Lead singer Adam Duritz had already done a fair bit of promo when I caught up with him on Tuesday, but he was gracious enough to give me some insight into the new record, which features a surprisingly spirited reiteration of Counting Crows’ signature musical style.

On listening to ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, I was instantly struck by the energy and expansiveness of the sound, and I asked Duritz what had inspired that size and scope. He explained that the band were galvanized by their previous release, 2012’s ‘Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)’, which featured covers of songs by Teenage Fanclub, Big Star and Bob Dylan, to name just a few. “There was something really good happening with the band when we made ‘Underwater Sunshine’ a few years ago now. Playing all those songs by other people, I think it did a really good thing for the band. Maybe they took more ownership of it, or maybe it’s just the variety of playing songs by people other than me. We immediately noticed as soon as we got on tour that we were just way better. We’d always been a pretty good live band, but we got great after that. And you know, it was the best year and a half of touring of our lives, and when it was over, we just really wanted to record. I think there’s a lot of that, the guys in the band really being a lot more daring. I think they’ve played fantastic on these last couple of albums. The contributions, the collaborations with everyone. They just really, really did a great job.”

The opening track on the new album, called ‘Palisades Park’, makes an immediate statement about Counting Crows’ newly revitalized musicianship. Duritz says that he knew it would be the first song on the album as soon as they finished writing it. “I’m really proud of it, I mean I really love that piece. For years we’ve been taking our songs apart in concert and kind of exploding them, you know, like taking a left turn in the middle of ‘Round Here’ and going somewhere for 5 minutes, then going back to ‘Round Here’. We’ve been doing that with a lot of our songs for years and years, but we’ve never been able to write it into a song and therefore capture it on a record, and I think with ‘Palisades’ we really did that. We got a lot of what we’ve been doing live and put it the composition of a song. I think it was really cool, it’s a really unique piece of music.”

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Starting with the extended musical journey of ‘Palisades Park’, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ shows a variety of musical styles in its track list, including the more radio-friendly songs ‘Earthquake Driver’ and ‘Scarecrow’. Though ‘Scarecrow’ is the current radio single here in America, Duritz says the band didn’t write it with that intention. “It’s still probably 5 minutes long. They wanted us to cut it, but I said no, we’re not cutting anything. They wanted to remove all the guitars at the front and the back to make it shorter, but (we’re) just not really interested in doing that. It’s nothing we ever think about when we’re working on records, but it is how records are promoted, so it’s good to have songs on the radio. It’s not something we ever put a lot of thought into. It might be better if we did, but I wouldn’t even know how to do it anyways. Other than to clip everything shorter.”

Like previous Counting Crows records, ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is filled with specific characters and geographical references. When I ask Duritz about the mysterious title to ‘Earthquake Driver’, which also contains the lyric that became the album’s title, he gives a vivid description of the character in the song as “a guy who can’t figure out whether he wants to be in a small pond or a big pond. He wants to make a difference, he wants his life to mean something, but he can’t decide whether it’s okay to do that.”

Talking about the very specific references that pepper his lyrics, Duritz remarks, “I’ve always been big on details. I think it’s just something I do when I write. It’s funny, when we were first signed to make a record, there were a lot of people who told me that I should stop doing that, to stop using proper names and place names, because they said it made it too personal and people couldn’t relate to it. Which might be true, but it still seems stupid to me. I like writing in details. I think that communicating things that really are meaningful to you will communicate something that’s meaningful to other people. But either way, I didn’t really care. I mean, the truth is, you write the songs that you’re moved to write, and in my case, details make a big difference.”

I suggest that those details might actually make the songs more relatable to a listener, and he continues, “oh, I think they probably do. But I had people telling me the opposite back in the day. But you’re not writing songs to relate to other people. You’re writing songs because they’re important to you. Hopefully people do relate to that, but I don’t have a plan for that, really. For me, I don’t think you need to tell people how you feel. I think if you tell them what’s on the shelves in the room that you’re in, how you feel comes through in that. I mean saying “I love you”, it can mean a lot when you’re saying it to another person, but in a song? It’s just like everybody (says) over and over and over again, it doesn’t really communicate anything anymore. But if you tell someone how it feels to look at someone, (for example) the line from ‘A Long December’: ‘All at once you look across a crowded room and see the way that light attaches to a girl’. That tells something about how the guy felt. I think the details make it meaningful.”

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Duritz says that his songwriting has always been informed by his struggle with mental illness, specifically depersonalization disorder, and I comment that he seems to have addressed it directly in the songs on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, particularly one called ‘Dislocation’. His reply is candidly straightforward. “Well, I mean I think you could go all the way back to most of the tracks on most of our records. They’re all sort of addressing me being a crazy fucker. There’s plenty of my nonsense all over our catalogue. Certainly ‘Dislocation’, but all the other ones too. I mean, ‘God of Ocean Tides’, the last line of it, ‘I can’t remember yesterday, I tried, if I said I could I lied’. That’s a part of the dissociative thing, not being able to register the meaning of anything that happened to you, remember who the people you know are. I mean, it’s all over all these songs.”

Duritz cites another creative project as influential to the songwriting on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ as well. He has spent several years working on and off with Broadway playwright Stephen Belber on a play called ‘Black Sun’. While the project has been stalled by Duritz and Belber’s conflicting professional schedules, Duritz says it has been “the first time in my life I ever wrote for people other than myself. Writing different characters, different voices, you know, and discovering that it was possible to invest a lot of meaning in things that weren’t necessarily the pot of my own life. And that gave me a much larger palette to paint on.”

He is enthusiastic about the project, but unsure about when it might be completed. “It’s a really cool play, and it was really well-received when we did it at a playwright conference a few years ago. The other writers, the directors that were there, flipped over it. The crowd that saw the reading of it flipped out. I thought it was really cool sitting in the audience watching people sing my songs. But Stephen and I have two totally different careers, and it is just really hard to find time to do this. I don’t know, I’d love to finish it. I think it’s a spectacular piece. I pulled one song from the play for the record. Just one.”

That song is the final track on ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’, called ‘Possibility Days’. Duritz clarifies his statement, saying “It was written right before we started to work on the play anyway, so it wasn’t really for the play, but it was a big part of the play. And I pulled it for this. It’s the only one I took, though. I don’t think it was the best song in the play by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a really good song, which should give you an idea of the quality level of the play. It was really beautiful at the end of the record.”

For the moment, the ‘Black Sun’ project has taken a backseat to the busy promotion schedule leading into Counting Crows’ November UK tour dates. I ask Duritz how the constant promotion and performing affect his singing, as his vocals are a hallmark of Counting Crows’ overall sound. He says that he does end up doing interviews and promotion even during tours, but he keeps it to a minimum. “I try and limit it, because, I mean, we’re playing like 2+ hour shows nowadays, so they’re pretty long, and I sing really hard. I just have to be careful about it because you really do need to rest your voice. When we started out, I had trouble getting from gig to gig when we were playing half hour shows. Now we’re playing 2-hour shows and we’re 20 years older. And you know, it’s not easy, but I also never miss a show anymore. ” While he has learned to pace himself between performances, he says he doesn’t hold back when he’s on stage. “I get completely lost on stage during the shows. It’s only afterwards, I just go in a room and sit by myself for the next day.”

Looking beyond the upcoming UK tour dates, it’s easy to see why Duritz might need some time to himself. The band spent this past summer touring in America, and their autumn schedule is similarly busy. Duritz notes, “I haven’t had a day off in a long time. But we have some weeks off in October, and then Outlaw Roadshow comes to town again, so we have 30 musicians staying at my house and 30 or 40 bands playing in the Outlaw Roadshow in New York during CMJ. And then, when that’s over, we leave for England to start that tour.” For 2015, Counting Crows are looking at shows in Australia, South America and South Africa in the spring before returning to Europe for the summer festivals, followed by more touring in America. And after all that? “I don’t know, make another record or something. I’ve never really planned any of it out.”

Counting Crows’ new album ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is available now on Virgin/EMI. Keep an eye here on TGTF for a full review of the album coming soon. Counting Crows will spend the first part of November playing tour dates in the UK, including two already sold out shows at the London Roundhouse.

Thank you to Adam Duritz for taking the time to talk with me, and to Kat and Michelle for arranging the interview.

 

Video of the Moment #1631: The Last Bison

 
By on Thursday, 18th September 2014 at 6:00 pm
 

Carrie included a review of single ‘Bad Country’ in her Bands to Watch feature on The Last Bison last week. The single now has a promo video, filmed on location at the atmospherically rich Triple R Ranch in their hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia. You really haven’t lived until you’ve watched a band perform on a farm while horses run by, am I right? Ha. Watch the video below.

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Track by Track: Young Kato – Sunshine EP

 
By on Thursday, 18th September 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Just because he’s such a nice chap, it wasn’t enough that Tommy Wright of Young Kato filled me in earlier in the week on what their band had been up to all summer. No, he was also kind enough to give us this play by play, track by track personal analysis of their brand new ‘Sunshine’ EP, out this week on BMG. Take it away, Tommy…

‘Sunshine': Sun kissed, all singing, all dancing single. Wrote this in Sam’s (Henderson, drummer) garden on a beautiful afternoon in June. Feel it really shows everything bright and colourful about this band. Lyrically we tried to capture a holiday atmosphere, an escape to somethin sunnier. “You unravel in the sun.”

‘Ultraviolet': Hugely ’80s pop inspired tune, written over a couple of days in (Joe) Green’s (rhythm guitarist) house. Lyrically, it’s a lust for someone and a want to know if you’re still remembered. “Could you pick me out of a crowd, do you remember me at all?”

‘Light It Up': ‘Light It Up’ is just a ballsy mash-up of a variety of influences spanning from EMF, Duran Duran and many, many more. Lyrically, it can be taken in a few different ways, as three of us pitched in with the content. For me, it’s about being bold and brave in the face of defeat. “When you wish the clouds would part, and reveal a blue like ocean, the pressure tends to start, and the heavens they will open…”

Thanks Tommy!

 

Video of the Moment #1630: Sinkane

 
By on Wednesday, 17th September 2014 at 6:00 pm
 

Ahmed Gallab, who goes by the stage name Sinkane, has been receiving plaudits from all over for his current album ‘Mean Love’, out now on DFA Records. The ultra cool, ultra funky ‘How We Be’ now has a promo video and like Glass Animals‘ ‘Hazey’ 2 weeks ago, features the amazing talents of local dancers. Except instead of bone breakers, more conventional but a no less impressive, dazzling display of step, ballet and breakdancing heroes showing off the varied neighbourhoods in the Big Apple. Watch the video below.

Sinkane’s next live appearance in the UK is on the 1st of December at London Oslo in Hackney.

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Interview: Joel Magill of Syd Arthur

 
By on Wednesday, 17th September 2014 at 11:00 am
 

Canterbury progressive rock quartet Syd Arthur have just returned home to England after spending most of their summer touring in America. When I caught up with bass player and vocalist Joel Magill on Tuesday, he had been back only 10 days and was already caught in the flurry of promotion surrounding the band’s second album ‘Sound Mirror’, which was released back in May on Harvest Records.

It was through Harvest Records that I first became acquainted with Syd Arthur earlier this year at SXSW 2014. On the first night of the festival, I saw them play at the Harvest Records showcase on the same bill as Glass Animals and Arthur Beatrice. (You can read my recap of that evening right here.) When I ask Magill about the band’s experience in Austin, he says, “there’s nothing quite like it, actually, in our experience anyway, our limited experience. So yeah, we had an amazing time. We played a load of gigs, and it was all over good music, you know, interesting characters and people.”

This year wasn’t Syd Arthur’s first appearance at SXSW. Magill talks about the band’s trip to Austin in 2013 as an important stepping stone for them. “We got some funding from the PRS here in England to come over the year before, and that’s where we somehow managed to stick our heads out enough for people to pay attention and that sort of started the whole journey for us, signing our deal with Harvest Records and stuff.”

Syd Arthur is comprised of bassist Magill and his brother, lead vocalist and guitarist Liam Magill, along with Fred Roster on drums and Raven Bush on violin, keyboards and mandolin. Joel Magill describes the band members’ musical backgrounds as being very fluid in nature. “Raven studied music for most of his life, traditionally trained as a violinist for a long time when he was growing up as a kid, playing in orchestras and things like that, but [he was] at the same time also very interested in this other kind of weird music, weird electronica or things like this. And the rest of us, we’re basically all just self-taught musicians. We’d just jam and just get interested in exploring different rhythms, different time signatures, things like that, and we just kind of found ourselves just exploring them naturally.”

The four of them have been making music together since their school days, says Magill. “We spent ages just playing live and trying to develop our sound. So we have actually been technically a band for maybe 8 or 9 years.” Alongside learning their instruments, they also found themselves becoming interested in the recording process, starting with recording other bands and experimenting with recording their own music as well.

“We got really into recording and getting into that whole side of things, we just really went on this huge journey, the kind of culmination of which was our [first album ‘On An On’, released in 2012]. Although we’d recorded stuff in the past and released it, this was the first time we’d kind of like tried to make a statement on a record. So it was a big long journey towards making that album, which we made ourselves in our studio, recorded ourselves and mixed ourselves. It was our little baby that we just kind of created in our own little world, you know in Canterbury. And then yeah, just put it out there and we started getting amazing reactions straightaway in England, and that was the whole journey to getting the funding to come out there to America. So yeah, really, the last 2, 2 and a half years have been amazing.”

‘Sound Mirror’ is Syd Arthur’s second self-produced effort, and Magill describes the band’s recording process as a fine-tuned combination of rehearsal and spontaneity. “We basically just set up in the studio so we can play as a live band. [We] just start working on the tune and take as long as we feel is necessary, just playing it and getting a really good version of it as a band. We try not to overplay it, that’s an important thing in the studio, to try and keep this freshness, the spontaneity and stuff. And we all work stuff out in the studio as well. We just record like a basic track live, and we spend a lot of time figuring that out in the rehearsal studio before we come into the recording studio. So that when we come in we can kind of fine tune a few things and just nail a few things and also keep it fresh. And then we just kind of layer on top of those tracks that we’ve made live. There’s always a live underpinning and then we build on top of that with everything else.”

Though the band have done most of their own production work in the past, Magill says they wouldn’t be opposed to working with a producer if the opportunity presented itself. “We’ve just never really been put in a position to do that, you know? We’ve done some experimental sessions with people before, like Chris Hughes, we did some experimental sessions with him. When we were making this album as well, we spent a couple of weekends with Paul Weller in the studio, and that was just a completely different experience, being in the studio with him, seeing how him and his producer worked together. We’d love to work with the right producer, I think. I think it would potentially help take it to the next level. It’s just that we have this facility, you know, we have this studio, we love recording ourselves, and so we can just go in there whenever we want and make use of the space. We’d love to try doing something with a producer at some point. We could easily just make another 20 albums ourselves, but we need to learn in a different way, you know?”

Syd Arthur’s 2014 tours in America included support slots for Sean Lennon’s band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, with whom they became acquainted at SXSW this year, and English progressive rock veterans Yes. “It was an interesting pairing,” Magill says of playing support for Yes, “but ultimately it worked. It was a really positive experience for us and we got really amazing reactions from the crowd and stuff, so it was pretty cool.” Talking about the tour experience overall, he says, “we played some lovely venues, big venues, and it was really good to get such a positive reaction, actually, throughout the whole tour.”

Despite the association with Yes, Magill is hesitant to describe Syd Arthur as a progressive rock band. “We don’t actually consider ourselves to be a prog rock band. We love progressive music and stuff but, you know we just listen to so much else, and we kind of feel like all of that other music we listen to is represented in what we do as well. Whether that’s classic rock and psychedelic music, world music, and even jazz and folk music we listen to a lot. So yeah, there’s definitely this progressive element to it, but we wouldn’t pigeon-hole ourselves so much toward a particular genre.”

Following on their touring in America, Syd Arthur are set to embark on their own headline tour of the UK starting tomorrow, the 17th of September. Magill and his bandmates are looking forward to playing their own shows after spending the summer opening for other bands. “The stuff we’ve been doing in the States has been support shows, and they’re great for introducing ourselves to a new audience, but it’s kind of not your show and you have a much shorter set length. So we’re really looking forward to doing these [UK)] shows, because they’re ours, and we can play a longer set and jam out and be a bit freer.”

Because their studio recordings are so live-orientated and well-rehearsed, Magill says that Syd Arthur’s live stage arrangements for allow for some spontaneous improvisation. “We do have to change a little bit how we do it because of the different things we want to draw attention to in a song, you know, how we might have layered things. We’re only four people, so it’s basically a bit more stripped back. But also live, we jam out a bit more. On our records, we can be a bit more concise, so then live we just try and do things a little bit differently so we’ll extend some sections and we’ll jam out, the improvised sections will be longer. We enjoy doing it and it’s nice to have slightly different arrangements of the tunes live than on the record. The energy of improvising really does, in our opinion, work best when it’s being experienced live, you know?” Extensive improvisation might prove to be more of a challenge for the band at this point, as Josh Magill, brother of Liam and Joel, stands in for Rother on drums.

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Looking beyond their upcoming headline dates, Syd Arthur will see ‘Autograph’, the third single from ‘Sound Mirror’, released on the 6th of October. Despite the relative newness of ‘Sound Mirror’, Magill says the band is already thinking ahead to making their next album. “We kind of want to take a bit more time making this record. The last one was kind of quick [after the first], so the new one, we will take a bit longer with. We’ve got some things in the pipeline for later in the year, none of which are set in stone yet. But there is a little window for us to take a bit of time to just reflect on everything and we’re going to start jamming some new ideas.”

Thanks to Joel for taking the time to chat with me, as well as to Kat and Andy for coordinating the interview. TGTF would also like to congratulate Syd Arthur on being named Breakthrough Artist of 2014 at the recent Progressive Music Awards.

 

Counting Crows / November 2014 UK Tour

 
By on Wednesday, 17th September 2014 at 9:00 am
 

Header photo by Danny Clinch

Following on their recent North American tour, Counting Crows have announced a string of shows in the UK for this November, including two already sold out dates at the London Roundhouse. Their latest album ‘Somewhere Under Wonderland’ is out now on Capitol Records/Virgin EMI. You can get a sneak preview by viewing the lyric video for ‘Earthquake Driver’ below the tour date listing.

It’s been several years since we’ve heard from Counting Crows, but our previous coverage can all be found here. Additionally, a full listing of upcoming European tour dates can be found at Counting Crows’ official Web site. Tickets for the following UK shows are available now.

Saturday 1st November 2014 – Birmingham Academy
Sunday 2nd November 2014 – Glasgow Academy
Tuesday 4th November 2014 – Newcastle Academy
Wednesday 5th November 2014 – Leeds Academy
Friday 7th November 2014 – Manchester Apollo
Saturday 8th November 2014 – Leicester De Montfort Hall
Monday 10th November 2014 – London Roundhouse (sold out)
Tuesday 11th November 2014 – London Roundhouse (sold out)

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest tours, gigs, and music we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like idiots.

The blog is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington DC. She is joined by writers in the UK and America. It was started up by Phil Singer in Bristol, UK.

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