When Adam Duritz says he “doesn’t care” what fans think about the band releasing a covers album you might think the statement smacks of arrogance and someone who has lost touch. But his initial comment is misleading. “It’s like in politics,” he goes on to explain “if you are always looking and reacting to the polls you end up doing nothing worthwhile. Often the biggest reward is from finding something new. People can’t know they like something if they haven’t heard it.”

I am speaking with the lead singer of Counting Crows on a phone line to the United States on the week after the band’s latest album Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) was streamed across the internet as a preview. It is released properly on April 9th (a review is on the Music News review pages) and sees the band cover artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and Travis.

As the album was previewed Adam admits he was prepared to expect negative feedback; “I put something on Twitter like ‘have a listen and come back and complain’. But Counting Crows is what we want it to be, we are not told what to do by anyone. We fought for that very early on and in that way we have always had full control.”

That control has seen them release just four studio albums since their superb debut August And Everything After in 1993. This is their sixth and contains 15 songs from the sixties to as late as 2010 that in Duritz’s words the world deserves to hear. Songs like The Faces’ Ooh La La are well known but in the most part these songs are unfamiliar to a majority of people.

“We don’t see this as a covers album as such. Recording these tracks was very liberating for me, a very different process. But essentially we are recording new songs, it is just that the words and basic chords were written by someone else. It was important that with each track we did something different than the original. Coming Around (Travis) is a very different version to the original.”

Not everything they tried made it of course, and I am interested to learn two of the tracks that did not make the final cut. “We had a terrible day in the studio, when everyone was pissed off with each other. So that night I told two of the guys to learn the chords for two songs without telling them what they were. Next day we spent time playing Coming Around and Local Boy In The Photograph by Stereophonics. Those songs changed the mood dramatically. Local Boy did not make it but it will feature on something in the future. We did a version of It’s Different For Girls too, which I thought sounded awesome but there was something not quite right. It took someone else to point out weeks later what the problem was. It sounded like a cover version. I don’t think any of these 15 tracks sound like covers.”

To some extent Duritz is defensive about the idea of a covers album because people will perceive it as lazy, while fans are always wanting new material. Releasing the album independently has extended the freedom to which the Crows operate under and Duritz is damning of the marketing people at bigger companies. “They are always looking at what has been successful and trying to repeat it. They know what sold well last time, but they don’t know what we will sell next time. That means finding new ideas is harder for them.”

Duritz is an engaging individual who obviously spends a lot of time thinking. That is always reflected in his lyrical storytelling and 100% effort live shows. The band has kept fans happy for 20 years, despite a relatively small output of material. But his overall love of music is clear. The band have backed several artists in recent years, including Romany Rye, who they cover on Underwater Sunshine. They have appeared at showcases organized by Duritz and now have a burgeoning career.

Another band featured are Big Star, who Duritz says had a wonderful catalogue of material that faced going unappreciated. “So many great songs have been recorded and need to be heard,” he enthuses. “Every band has at least one great song, some are lucky to have 2 or 3.”

Also covered on the album are little known Tender Mercies, a band from 1993 featuring a couple of the guys that would soon be hitting the front of Rolling Stone with Counting Crows. “It was tragic that these amazing songs might not see the light of day. We played them live in a way to save them. But then last year the guys (including Crows’ guitarist Dan Vickrey) finally recorded the album.” The long-awaited release ended up in many people’s albums of 2011, so maybe they don’t need Adam’s support anymore!

Adam tells me that Counting Crows cannot wait to get back to the UK and he had hoped to be playing some of the festivals this summer, saying that they are always more fun to do. But he grumbles at problems with organisation and you sense further frustration with the bigger wheels of the music industry. He ends by promising to hit the UK before the end of 2012, saying the live shows will feature many of these covers but that they never decide the set list until the sound check. We’ll keep you posted on Music News for an announcement on those dates.