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Artistic risks paying off as Counting Crows come to Tampa

Adam Duritz speaks in the same tone and manner as he sings. The Counting Crows singer has perfect enunciation and occasionally stretches out words. At times, Duritz sounds as tortured in conversation as he does in song.

During a 90-minute chat, Duritz proves to be an impressively accommodating subject, which shouldn't be surprising since he has always gone the extra yard as a songwriter. Since Counting Crows went through the stratosphere 20 years ago with its debut album, “August And Everything After,” Duritz has delivered as a songwriter.

Fans won't find one rushed song in the Counting Crows canon. “I spent time crafting every song, so I don't have an issue playing any song live that we ever recorded,” Duritz said. “I love all of our songs.”

When many of his peers are content to write about love in the most basic manner, or worse, rhyme self and shelf, Duritz analyzes every word and phrase.

“I try not to ever take a shortcut,” Duritz said in a phone interview from his Manhattan apartment. “You just can't settle as a songwriter. That would drive me crazy. I can't write a lyric that is just 'I met her and fell in love.' That's not enough for me. Instead, I'll write 'When you look across a crowded room/see the way the light attaches to a girl.”

Duritz quotes directly from “A Long December,” one of Counting Crows' many hits. It's impossible to question the singer-songwriter's integrity. Duritz doesn't do a ton of interviews. He's never been about the fame or ridiculous amounts of cash rockers scored during the post-Nirvana era, when labels were throwing signing bonuses around like dice at a casino.

“We signed for very little so we could have creative freedom,” Duritz said. “We could have had a bidding war, but we signed for a small sum. We chose higher royalties and artistic control. We took home a $15,000 advance. That's paltry, but nobody could put a thumb on us.”

When the jaunty single “Mr. Jones” became a hit and established the band, Counting Crows and the label were surprised. “I liked 'Mr. Jones' but I never thought it would become a hit. The label was really excited and wanted us to run with it.”

However, Duritz, an inveterate contrarian, was compelled to go to another song when television shows asked the band to perform.

“I wanted to go with 'Round Here' when we were asked early on to play 'Saturday Night Live',” Duritz recalled. “That led to a huge fight (with their then label DGC). But it was the right move. Our album moved 40 spots a week for 5 weeks. We went from 213 on the charts to No. 6 in just over a month.”

Counting Crows, which includes guitarists David Bryson and Dan Vickrey, multi-instrumentalist David Immergluck, bassist Millard Powers and drummer Jim Bogios, really took off in 1996 with their high-water mark, “Recovering the Satellite.” The songs from their sophomore release trumped the solid mid-tempo rock featured on their debut. The band's sound was fleshed out. The hooks were bigger and the lyrics deeper.

“That album feels like our debut album,” Duritz said. “We needed a lead guitarist and we added the right one in Dan, and we added the right drummer in Ben Mize. It all made sense to me, but not the record company. They were less than thrilled that I asked the Pixies' producer, Gil Norton, to produce us. But I thought Gil Norton was a genius, and I was right.”

DGC was pleased, since the band had its second consecutive platinum-plus album. Counting Crows became a cash cow. “Hanginaround,” “Colorblind” and “Accidentally In Love” which was nominated for an Academy Award for best song, are just some of the band's hits.

“We were on this boutique label, and if you sold 100,000 albums, that was a home run,” Duritz said. “But then you had bands like ours and Nirvana selling like crazy.”

Counting Crows, which will perform Wednesday at Carol Morsani Hall, has sold more than 20 million albums. The band could take it easy, but it's working on another album and continues to tinker with its setlist and its own songs.

Instead of playing it safe and walking through the hits, Counting Crows goes another way. The band has occasionally transformed the light and playful “Mr. Jones” into a dirge.

“But I think we've turned every song of ours one time or another into a dirge,” Duritz said, laughing. “Some fans might not like it, but I don't think the fans always know what's best.”

Duritz is fairly sure what should fly for the fans and the band he has led since its inception. The California native, who has more Golden State references in his songs than any band but the Red Hot Chili Peppers, is a benevolent dictator.

“Fortunately, I am the leader, since I don't think any of my bandmates, who I love like brothers, would be any good at leading a band,” Duritz said. “They're great at what they do and we keep it at that. Everybody's happy.”

It's no accident that Duritz has passed on becoming a solo artist. “A lot of singer-songwriters in bands are tempted to do that,” Duritz said. “I never had that urge. I love being in a band. It's been so fulfilling for me.”

Expect Duritz to continue making compelling pop-rock music for years to come. “I don't want to stop doing this,” Duritz said. “We're thrilled making another album and we love playing the hits and even the deeper cuts. It never gets tired. We don't let that happen. I'll send a text out the day of the show to the guys in the band and the crew, and I'll ask what they think we should play before I write the set list. We might not play 'Mr. Jones' and that's OK. I still love that song, but if we played it every single night we would hate it. We've done all that we can to avoid hating anything. It's pretty difficult to hate anything with this band, since we've all received so much being in this group. It's been an extraordinary experience and it's not ending anytime soon.”

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