Counting Crows' Adam Duritz doesn't need much of an introduction -- and neither does his songwriting.
Duritz has long been lauded for his confessional poetics -- a lyricism that ranges from agonizingly beautiful to torturously transcendent.
Much of the early expressiveness of the Counting Crows was rooted in Duritz' internal struggles with a dissociative disorder that he's since managed to tamp down. But the craft is always there.
"The main thing that changed for me was I had stopped sliding down a hole. I put the brakes on that, but mental illness doesn't ever really go away. As hard as it was, it wasn't killing me unless I let it. I wasn't necessarily doomed -- there's a difference between being doomed and experiencing life as if you are doomed," Duritz told me over the phone last month.
"I think there is a difference [between his songwriting today and his early songwriting], but I don't know that it has much to do with that [getting a handle on his mental well-being]. I think you just grow and change," he said.
In a Men's Health article published on April 16, 2008, Duritz revealed his struggle with "The Lonely Disease" in first person. Though it provided exclusive details that shed some light on one of the most gifted minds in alternative pop/rock, Duritz didn't actually write the article.
"What's weird about that Men's Health article was the whole interview process was fantastic, but when they put it out, they said that I wrote it, but I didn't write it. I'm a writer myself, and I don't want credit for something that I didn't write. I was appalled at what they'd done; I didn't even know what to say at the time," Duritz said.
That was a decade ago. The Counting Crows frontman has since found stability and a more mature understanding of how his actions affect others.
This year, Duritz is organizing a festival in New York called Underwater Sunshine, which is both the name of his podcast and also the name of Counting Crows' 2012 cover album.
"I wanted to talk about music that I loved and a lot of that is music people probably haven't heard. I wanted to shed light on some stuff that doesn't see the light of day very much. The whole reason for the festival is really the same as the podcast," he said.
Still, I was shocked to see my friend's roommate on the Underwater Sunshine lineup. Less than a year ago, I was watching singer/songwriter Sean Barna perform at a drag bar in Brooklyn, and now, his unmistakable headshot was being displayed prominently on the Underwater Sunshine website. Naturally, I asked Duritz about it -- only to be shocked by the response.
"Sean's one of my best friends actually. I was just texting him. I sang on his last record. That last EP is the best songwriting I've heard in a while," he said, revealing an increasingly shrinking world to me.
Two degrees of separation aside, Counting Crows are always on Duritz' mind, even as he ventures out into the world of podcasts, music festivals and guest vocal appearances for unassuming Brooklyn singer/songwriters.
"I have a bunch of pieces, but I've been hesitant to go too much further with it. I don't really know how to put music out right now," Duritz said.
20 or more years ago, that might have been an internal dilemma informed by emotional uncertainty. Today, it's an issue of practicality informed by an evolution in the music industry.
"Even if you have a perfect record experience, it doesn't really make that much of an impact anymore. What we do is create a world that you can sort of like settle into and get lost in," he said.
The problem is, albums are getting shorter and shorter and single and EP releases are becoming the norm.
"There are a lot of things that are a lot better these days for a band -- lots of things that make it better for way more people," Duritz said.
Now, Counting Crows just have to figure out how to settle people into equally expansive worlds but with "smaller and more disposable chunks."