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Times Will Tell

Podcast: Counting Crows frontman says Israel ‘tugs at me a lot’

Adam Duritz returns after 40 years to perform, recounts time as teen in Israel, working on a kibbutz and in Jerusalem; NEW: Transcript included

Adam Duritz has waited decades to play in Israel, a place that he loves, said the Counting Crows frontman in this Times Will Tell podcast ahead of his band’s Wednesday night show in Ra’anana, outside Tel Aviv.

Duritz visited Israel several times in his teens, hiking through Sinai, working on a kibbutz and later learning Torah in Jerusalem, a “powerful place” for him, he says.

Yet Duritz hadn’t returned to Israel since then, as he built his career and band, waiting for the right opportunity to make it back to Israel and perform here.

The lead singer of the California-founded band, known for hits such as “Mr. Jones,” “Round Here,” and “Accidentally In Love,” credited the physical work he learned on the kibbutz as the foundation for the landscaping and construction jobs that he later did to support himself while building his musical career.

He also spoke about his own struggles with religion and faith, and how those issues showed up in his music.

The following transcript has been very lightly edited.

The Times of Israel: Welcome Adam Duritz to the Times Will Tell, we are very honored to have you with us, and we appreciate you squeezing us into what I know is a busy schedule ahead of your Wednesday night performance in Ra’anana.

Adam Duritz: I know I am. I’m very excited to play some place we’ve never played before.

Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz at the band’s September 14 show in Ra’anana, Israel (Courtesy Shlomi Pinto)

The Times of Israel: It’s hard to believe. There’s been a lot of preview interviews with you mentioning that you came here and you worked on a kibbutz when you were 18 and you came back to Jerusalem and did a little studying in the holy city. But it has been quite a few decades since you’ve been in Israel, correct?

Adam Duritz: Four, I would think about. Four, yeah. It’s been a really long time.

The Times of Israel: Are you planning on traveling around for the next couple of days? Are you going to lay low and hang out at the beach?

Adam Duritz: Well, I’d like to get a chance to travel around. I really want to go back to Jerusalem because that was someplace I really loved when I was a kid. But I don’t really know. It depends on what kind of press and stuff they have us doing. That’s the only thing that’s going to take up the time. Except for that our gear has all been in a locker in Liverpool for a year now. So we kind of have to go through that and make sure we do some pre-rehearsal with the band and the crew to make sure all the equipment gears.

The Times of Israel: It got sent over for a concert that got canceled. And now you’re basically doing the tour that you meant to do a while back.

Adam Duritz: Because of Covid, I decided to leave it over there rather than bring it back with the risk that we would be able to reschedule the tour. I left it over there because especially nowadays, all the expenses for bands’ prices haven’t gone up at all, but the expenses are all doubled or tripled for freight, airlines, flights, hotels, freight for your gear. All that is double or triple what it was. So I didn’t want to waste the money by bringing it all back. There’s a lot of things I’d like to do and hopefully, I’ll get to do some of them. But part of touring is realizing that the gig is everything.

The Times of Israel: How is this tour going? I know that you were touring the US and now you’re in Europe and you hopped over to Israel, and you have a lot of tour dates all over Europe. What does it feel like to be touring again?

Adam Duritz: It’s cool. I mean, this is the first gig of the European tour, so we haven’t done that part yet. But the shows in America, we did a whole tour last summer and we’ve been playing gigs off and on this year. It’s all been really cool. It’s nice to be back playing.

Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz at the band’s September 14 show in Ra’anana, Israel (Courtesy Shlomi Pinto)

The Times of Israel: You’ve mentioned in a few interviews that it’s been 30 years since your first album and that you feel, I guess, a sense of privilege that you guys are still together and that you perform these huge shows, [with] fans that are really excited to see you.

Adam Duritz: Not so much that we’re still together, but that people are still coming out to see us. You always worry about that because the shelf life of a band is very short, but especially after two years layoff, you really wonder whether things are going to pass you by. But we’re still here.

The Times of Israel: What was it like getting back onto those stages, getting back together, working together, performing together?

Adam Duritz: Well, the same as it’s always been. I mean, it’s just performing. It’s nice to play, you know, I think when you’re in a band, that was the longest I’ve ever gone without playing that period during Covid. In my entire adult life, I’ve never gone that long between gigs, so it was very strange.

The Times of Israel: That must be incredibly strange. There are certain songs that are so familiar, so popular, that make people happy. “Mr Jones,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Roundhere.” What is it like when you play these songs that you know are beloved by your fans, but that you have to keep on churning out all the time? What is it like to play those songs over again, knowing that your crowd wants to hear them, but knowing that maybe there’s other things that you want to focus on more, or maybe not. Maybe those are the songs you always want to bring to your audience.

Adam Duritz: If I want to play something else, I would just play it. There’s nothing that has to get played every night. The only song that we play every night is “A Long December.” And that’s because, for some reason, that’s the only song I never ever get sick of. I don’t think there’s ever been a night where I didn’t want to play that song. I don’t know why that is, but I’m never tired of it. Everything else, if there’s a night where I don’t want to play it, I’m not going to play it. Because I think it would suck to play songs that you don’t want to play.

The Times of Israel: Really? You would do that to the audience? You would do that to the fans? Not play “Mr. Jones,” for instance.

Adam Duritz: Yeah, there’s been lots of nights where we didn’t play “Mr. Jones.” I love that song. I love “Mr. Jones,” but I want to keep loving “Mr. Jones.” I don’t want to hate the song. And I would think the quickest way to hating your own music is to play it on nights when you don’t want to play it.

Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz at the band’s September 14 show in Ra’anana, Israel (Courtesy Shlomi Pinto)

The Times of Israel: Interesting, given that you’ve had this long-standing connection to Israel that it took so long to get back here.

Adam Duritz: Bands want to go everywhere, but you can’t go anywhere unless you have a promoter making you an offer that makes sense. The fact is, there’s probably nowhere in the world we don’t really want to go. But you just can’t go until the promoter gives you the right kind of offer. And I don’t know that we’ve had those in the past. This offer was really good. The moment I heard it, I said, absolutely, let’s do it. It’s taking care of a lot of our European tour because some of the other gigs in Europe are smaller, and some of them, not as well paying. This is a great gig. I’d like to be able to come back here every few years because to go to a new country and find out that you have an audience where you can go right and play a 6,000-seat arena right off the bat, that’s fantastic. I mean, not an arena, an amphitheater. So I don’t know about the past, but I don’t really remember offers from Israel. The only thing I say is, as soon as I heard this offer, I said, absolutely, let’s do it. Okay. I love it here.

The Times of Israel: I know it’s always a little bit of a pain to come to Israel because of the fact that you have to ship everything over here and then ship it back to Europe. You’re not playing in the countries that surround Israel, you’re not going to Egypt, you’re not going to Jordan, not going to Syria or Lebanon. You didn’t get hit with any boycotts or sanctions, you didn’t get hit with any criticism of coming to play in Israel.

Adam Duritz: No. The only place I really heard about it were in the interviews. But, I mean, I will say that I’ve been pretty isolated this year because I haven’t been out and about very much. Also, we’re not exactly the center of the culture right now, so maybe it would be different in that situation, I don’t know. But also, like, I’m a Jew. I understand the long tradition of, like, everything is the Jew’s fault. I don’t really buy it.

The Times of Israel: So, talk about that a little bit. Now that you brought it up, what is it like to come back here and to bring the Counting Crows, to bring your people, to bring your band, to bring your bandmates to this place that you connected with a long time ago? What does that feel like?

Adam Duritz: It feels pretty cool. It’s a really long time ago for me, but there’s some pretty powerful memories. I just think for the band, in a lot of ways, you expect your career to be shrinking. You expect to play less and less places every year, so a year where you can come and play, more places to go, someplace new for the first time. I don’t think any of the guys in our band, except for me, have been here before, which is pretty rare. This tour,  we actually have three cities we’ve never played, Helsinki and Warsaw and Tel Aviv. And that’s kind of great. It’s the opposite direction you expect things to go in the later years of your career. So that always makes me really happy, especially if, considering how big the crowd could be here for us, it’s someplace we could come back to.

The Times of Israel: Can you share a memory?

Adam Duritz: I mean, I was a kid, I went through the Sinai. It was still part of Israel back then. I spent a lot of time in Jerusalem. It was very powerful for me, that city, especially the Old City. I worked on a kibbutz for a little while, working in the apple orchard. I dug crap out of a grain silo. I really enjoyed the work. And it’s funny because it kind of prepared me in some ways, because that kind of physical work is what I ended up doing to support myself all the years when I was in the band, at first and in different bands, I was a landscaper and I did construction work. And I think one of the reasons I knew that I was okay doing that kind of work is that I had done it. I had done it over here. I’d gotten up really early in the morning and done hard work all day, and that’s kind of how I ended up supporting myself in the early days before the band was successful. But the first place I really did a lot of that was on the kibbutz here.

Adam Duritz: I went back again a couple of years later when I was 18 and pretty much just spent time in Jerusalem in that time. A lot of it was also that I was a kid and I liked getting wasted and there was no drinking age over here, and I thoroughly appreciated that at the time.

Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz at the band’s September 14 show in Ra’anana, Israel (Courtesy Shlomi Pinto)

The Times of Israel: I don’t know if this is too much of a stretch, but are there any of those early moments and early memories that made their way into your music at any point? Or is there any connection there between what you experienced and what you later started creating?

Adam Duritz: Well, I think there’s a lot of places where my struggle with religion and faith shows up in my music, and that certainly was a part of my time here.

The Times of Israel: It’s a pretty common theme coming to Israel, coming to Jerusalem, struggling with where you are in terms of faith. And of course, now you’re here for work and you’re here to perform and to give interviews and to maybe see a little bit of this country that you haven’t seen in a while. But do you find that it tugs at you in a certain way or is that sort of in your past?

Adam Duritz: Well, there are things about the country that tug at me a lot, like just the history and what part it plays in my own history. Being a Jew, that’s a pretty powerful thing for any Jew. Being here is a very, what’s the word? Intoxicating in that way. Israel is a heavy liquor for Jews, I would say. But no, the religion doesn’t tug at me. I’m past believing things like that.

The Times of Israel: Yeah, but the place, the scenery, what you’re seeing outside your window, what you see when you drive from the airport, those kinds of things, the people on the street.

Adam Duritz: The street, well, not as much from the airport to Tel Aviv, but just the knowledge of what it is and my memories, especially of Jerusalem, maybe if I went over to Jaffa, to the older parts of town. It’s incredibly beautiful out the window, looking at the beach, but between me and the beach is a construction zone. I guess they’re putting in a rapid transit system. I remember when they did that in LA. That always tears up for a bit. Yeah, I guess it’s just like also, it’s a country full of Jews, as opposed to being one in a crowd as you are in the rest of the world. In the rest of the world, you’re one in a crowd and here you are, the crowd. That’s a unique thing.

The Times of Israel: Are you brushing up on any Hebrew for the show? Are we going to hear any?

Adam Duritz: Yeah, if people are talking, I’ll say, sheket. I remember sheket. I remember ken and lo. I remember shalom, which means aloha. I don’t remember most of my Hebrew. I could sort of speak it back then, but yeah, I don’t remember very much of it now.

The Times of Israel: The crowd loves it when some beloved singer comes their way and throws a little shalom and a little sheket b’vakasha (please be quiet). I think they’ll be happy on Wednesday night to hear that as well. Where are you in terms of new songs? In terms of new work? I know Covid, as we keep on saying, has been such a struggle for bands. Sometimes it’s great for being inspired, and sometimes it has made it really difficult. Where is Counting Crows in terms of new music? Are we going to hear any?

Adam Duritz: Well, I had written a second suite, but I threw it out. I sang on my friend’s record and he sent me their record before it came out. They’re this band called Gang of Youth. They have a new record called “Angel in Real Time.” And when I listened to it, it was so good that for the first time, literally the first time in my entire career, I thought, oh, these songs aren’t good enough, and I threw them out. So I have to rework.

Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz at the band’s September 14 show in Ra’anana, Israel (Courtesy Shlomi Pinto)The Times of Israel: Okay, but the point is that you’re working, we’re going to hear more new music. You guys are going to keep on going for hopefully a very long time.

Adam Duritz: The chances of us finding other jobs are pretty slim, so yeah.

The Times of Israel: Well, you said landscape and construction. There’s always something to fall back on. Right.

Adam Duritz: I’m not falling back on that. I’ll stick with my job. I loved it at the time, but I like my new job better.

The Times of Israel: The new job that you’ve been carrying out for a while, happily, for quite a few decades. Excellent. Well, we really thank you for being with us, Adam Duritz, it’s great to have you here in Israel and looking forward to hearing you on stage on Wednesday night and hoping you have a great trip and that you get to do a few things and see a few places that you want to see while you’re here.

Adam Duritz: Absolutely. I hope so. But the main thing I really wanted to do was play here, so one way or another, I’ll get it all. I really wanted to play here.

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