October 14, 2019

Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz on 2019 Underwater Sunshine Festival and Bar Mitzvah Memories

Danny Clinch; Courtesy of Danny Clinch's team.

Adam Duritz is arguably best known as the frontman of the band Counting Crows, which has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide. Yet not everyone realizes the impact that Duritz has made on other artists for 20-something years. Beyond introducing a new generation to the genius of Alex Chilton and Big Star, Duritz has run record labels and curated music festivals.

Underwater Sunshine  also the name of Counting Crows’ 2012 album, which debuted at no. 3 on the Billboard Top Rock chart  is name of the music festival run by him and co-founder Barbara Rappaport. The Underwater Sunshine Festival launched last October with a two-day event, and will be returning to New York City’s Bowery Electric for two more days of programming on April 5th and 6th. Among the participating artists for the April 2019 edition are Jordan Klassen, Eric Hutchinson, Red Wanting Blue, Amy Vachal, Maria Taylor and Roan Yellowthorn.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Adam Duritz by phone about Underwater Sunshine Fest – which also the name of his podcast with author and music journalist James Campion – his preference of New York over California, his bar mitzvah, and more. Highlights from the chat are below, while the full interview will be part of an upcoming episode of the “Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz” podcast.

Jewish Journal: Underwater Sunshine is both the name of your podcast and the upcoming festival and both of those promote new music you like. So would you look at that as your new outlet in lieu of having a record label?

Adam Duritz: Yeah, it’s the same kind of stuff in a lot of ways…

JJ: So what is it that draws you to the Bowery Electric?

AD: The people running it. Diane [Gentile] and Jesse Malin… I love the place, I love the people working there… It’s a small venue. The sound is fantastic but it’s small. I would like to eventually move out of there to someplace bigger. But they’ve been so good to us for so long… They love music and they run a really cool great club and have multiple rooms, more than one stage…

This has been running pretty efficient. We are pretty happy with it… What’s nice about the clubs here… New York has a lot of clubs that sound great… They’ve done the work, they’ve figured out how to make that room sound good and they bring bands on and off stage with like 15-minute changeovers, which is incredible to me. And that was never the way when I was coming up…

JJ: Are you a full-time New Yorker these days?

AD: Oh yes, for 15, 16, 17 years. I moved here in 2003, I’ve been in New York for a long time.

JJ: What is it that makes you loyal to New York rather than Los Angeles? Because I know that you did write some of your greatest work in Los Angeles.

AD: You know, L.A. was great… I grew up in a really cool struggling artist community in the Bay Area with Berkeley and Oakland and San Francisco. But it was really hard when I was a working artist. I felt like there was a lot of resentment towards that, whereas when I came to L.A. and it’s not that way for me at home back in the Bay Area, but it was at first… L.A. was really welcoming and started being a real person artist town and whatnot especially… Everybody was there to work…

But I think New York is a great city to be a grownup. Anything you might be interested in, anything in the world, whether that’s the ballet or the opera or a bookstore. Whatever it is they have it here and they have some of the best in the world here. You can really, as an adult, you can find anything you want and there’s a world-class version of it here. And I find that fascinating… There’s 50,000 art galleries and 10 of the best museums in the world… They’ve got the best [ballet and opera] companies in the world here… There’s big and small venues… Everybody in the world comes to play here. Same thing with food. It’s just, everything you might be interested in is here and I’ve really found that to be an amazing, generous thing to live around.

Also I really love the [New York City] subway. The idea that someone built a train like 100 years ago, underground. It will take me anywhere I want to go 24 hours a day for a couple of bucks. I don’t even know how to express that. Of all the things in New York that’s maybe the best. I mean, it’s an incredible traffic-free thing that carries us all everywhere… I’m in love with the subway…

JJ: Here’s a question out of nowhere because part of this interview is going up on the Jewish Journal website. Can you tell me something about your bar mitzvah? Any memories about it?

AD: I’m trying to think… I remember after the party I went upstairs to change and my mother told me get the f**k back into my suit. (laughs) I don’t remember it very well. I remember I wrote a speech, which means the rabbi wrote a speech. I could always sing pretty well… I remember other people’s bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs more than my own because I had a band that played a lot of friends’ bar mitzvahs, so I have a lot of memories of that.

I don’t really remember my own very well, though. It was such a long time ago. I remember studying in Jerusalem a bit a few years later when I was 17, 18, I was over there. I got really interested in that for a little while. But my bar mitzvah, I don’t really remember a whole lot about it. It was pretty easy… (pauses)

My girlfriend is reminding me that I performed my bar mitzvah speech a couple of months ago, but it wasn’t my bar mitzvah speech, it was my confirmation speech. They refuse to understand that Jews can get confirmed but it’s not the same as Christian confirmation. But yeah, we did it in the Bay Area. (laughs)

JJ: In closing, any last words for the kids?

AD: Listen to music and go see it. There’s more good music now than there ever was before. It’s just a matter of finding it, there’s more of it out there than there ever was. Music is in better shape that way than it ever was before but it does need support from people. It’s easy to be lazy about it because we’ve got everything delivered to our doorstep… But bands need real people to come see them in real places… It’s important.

More on Adam Duritz and the Underwater Sunshine Fest can be found online.