The result is the four-track Butter Miracle, Suite One, due May 21st, which will be the band’s first release since 2014’s Somewhere Under Wonderland. The first single, “Elevator Boots,” available now, is a melodic, wistful ode to life on tour, with a sound that somehow manages to bridge the gap between the Band and Mott the Hoople.
During his long creative hiatus, Duritz found a degree of personal contentment that long eluded him. “I’ve been quite happy,” he says. “I’ve been in a relationship for four or five years now — one that is very satisfying, and healthy. Most of my experiences in my life had been what it’s like to be alone and live alone. And that’s not the case anymore. That’s a big change for me, to really come to the idea that maybe something’s more important than writing songs.”
Despite a lifetime as a “city kid” — as an adult, he went from San Francisco to Los Angeles to his current home in New York City — he started spending a lot of time at a friend’s farm in the English countryside. While Duritz and his girlfriend were staying there in 2019, he suddenly shaved his head on a whim, removing his trademark dreadlocks. “I got rid of my beard, too,” he says. “I just wanted to see myself. I didn’t want to be hiding behind a beard or the dreads.” Not long afterward, he rented a piano and started writing music again.
The first song he wrote was the unusual, free-flowing track “Tall Grass,” which begins as a sort of dirge – recounting a real-life experience of hunting rabbits on that farm — before exploding into the Crows’ version of arena-rock, a la 1996’s Recovering the Satellites. That song flowed straight into “Elevator Boots,” which in turn led to “Angel of 14th Street,” a song about his experience of leaving Los Angeles for New York years ago, albeit told through a female narrator. “Get up out of your memories,” Duritz sings — a line with great personal significance.
“Everything we did makes us who we are,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we have to drag it around like it’s a ball and chain. I made a lot of mistakes in my life. And you know, living with a mental illness, it just hampers a lot of shit.” (He’s been open about a diagnosis of dissociative disorder.) “But you can spend all your time thinking how you could have done it better, or you can try and live a different kind of life.”
The final song, “Bobby and the Rat-Kings,” is a companion to “Elevator Boots.” “They’re both about loving rock & roll,” he says. “One’s from the perspective of the guy playing and the other is kind of the perspective of a fan, both of which I’ve lived in my life.”
The song suite will eventually be the first half of a full Counting Crows album, with another suite filling the second half. “I’m writing the second one now,” Duritz says.
After scrapping touring plans along with the rest of the world last year, Counting Crows are tentatively eyeing this fall, if Duritz can be convinced it’s safe. But as usual, he’s wary of Nineties nostalgia: “At a certain point, are we just a legacy act that should go play greatest shows or not? I mean, to me, I have no interest in it. We still annoy the shit out of people by not doing it. We went on our 25th-anniversary tour and played obscure shit!”