rooftop

Maranda Pleasant: Full disclosure: I’m on a tour bus. We’re sponsoring a tour with SOJA and Michael Franti and Brett Dennen. I’m actually having to interview you while hiding in the toilet on the tour bus, because it’s the only quiet place.

Adam Duritz: Tell Michael I said, “Hi!”

MP: You know Michael Franti?

AD: Since we were kids, yeah. We used to play basketball together. My sister did a book of remembrances about my father, and this is what I wrote in it: My nineteenth birthday, I didn’t want to have a birthday party, because I hated birthday parties, so I said to everyone, “If you want to find me, I’ll be at The Ophelias’ and The Beatnigs’ show at the I-Beam.” The Ophelias was my guitar player David Immerglück’s band, and The Beatnigs was Michael’s band before Hiphoprisy, and I was a huge fan. I was friends with those guys. Almost none of my friends came, because they didn’t like those bands, but my dad came, strangely enough. I’ll always remember that about my dad, that he showed up for that. Again, Michael and I used to play basketball, full court, in North Berkeley every other day or so. We’ve worked together too.

MP: He and I spent last Christmas and New Year’s together. He wanted to do this tour incorporating yoga and music. I own three national magazines, and one of them focuses heavily on yoga, so we were, like, “Let’s do it. Let’s bring yoga during the day and music at night. We just played Red Rocks [in Colorado] last night to nine thousand people, it was awesome. I think I saw your picture on the wall. You guys played Red Rocks?

AD: Many times, yeah. We did a tour a few years ago, The Traveling Circus and Medicine Show. It was Augustana, Spearhead, and us, and we all played together for four hours every night. There was no opening band. We’d just open the show with everyone on stage and we’d play “Caravan.” Then we’d kick into all the songs on stage, all of us playing “Remote Control” from Michael’s album, then it would turn into a Counting Crows set or an Augustana set with all of us guesting on each other’s song. It was really wild. We’d end up playing thirty to thirty-five songs a night. But it was tough, and Michael’s appendix burst.

MP: He wrote a song that he plays, the story of when his appendix burst. I didn’t realize you were on that tour. I have followed you since I don’t know how young, but I remember walking through a field and hearing “Omaha.” Very few artists can connect emotionally like that. I’d just like to get inside of you a bit. Can you tell me what are some of the things that make you really feel alive?

AD: Music mostly. I’ve been playing music most of my life.

MP: What are some things that inspire you? I listen to your music and it has so much depth to it. Where do you pull from? Do you channel it? Do you pull from pain?

AD: Just yesterday and today, really. You live through stuff, and it affects the way you feel about the world, and you write about it. Well, that’s not totally true. I do think a lot of it just comes from life. You aren’t really writing about what you did; you’re writing about how you feel. Also, works of art, other people’s creativity—I find that really inspiring. I think I wrote “Rain King” in the middle of the night after watching Doctor Zhivago when I was a kid. Doctor Zhivago has nothing to do with “Rain King” at all, but I was very moved by the movie, and with all that emotion, I wrote a song about the feeling and about expressing emotion.

I think my favorite thing I do in my life is The Outlaw Roadshow, the indie showcase that me and my friend Ryan Spaulding from Ryan’s Smashing Life [music blog] put on at CMJ and South By Southwest every year. It’s introduced me to so many other musicians. You know, when you’re young and you play music, you have a peer group, you come out of a scene. There’s a lot of people you know, and then you have some success, and it all goes away. It’s hard for the people back home to relate to you, and unless you want to hang out at the Grammys, there is no scene once you’re successful, so that kind of sucks. But the last four or five years with The Roadshow, meeting all these bands and putting on these shows, I’ve been getting to know all these indie bands. It’s like I’ve got a peer group again, albeit one that’s mostly younger than me, but still, it’s like we all do the same thing and it’s been great. I’ve been surrounded by musicians and so much incredible music that it just felt like it was when we started out. I think it’s one of the main reasons we’ve started writing again.

MP: What are some of the things that make you feel vulnerable, as a man or as an artist?

AD: People ask me if I have stage fright. I say, “God, no, I’m completely comfortable there. I have rest-of-the-day fright.” I mean, the nice thing about being on stage is it’s not that I know what to do, but I have a very clear feeling that anything I do is OK. All I’m up there to do is express how I feel. Any way I choose to do that is fine. But the rest of life, I have no sense of that. It’s one of the problems I’ve always had in my life: I have a lot of problems understanding connections between people and how to negotiate that. It makes everything hard offstage.

MP: I’m on a bus, living with ten people, and I think you discover how awkward it can be. Navigating that is difficult. You start to feel like you’re the only weird one.

AD: Life on a tour bus — I understand what that’s all about. I had to learn how to be in a band in the first place. A lot of life is about how you feel relating to dealing with this person or that person. If this person makes you feel good, then they’re a person to be around; if they don’t, they’re not. Being in a band is different. The group is the more important part, and you have to kind of shift the way you look at life when you’re in a group of people that you work with. It’s not so much, do they make you feel good when you’re around them all the time; it’s how can you make everyone feel comfortable together. How can you continue to make this bizarre working commune continue to function and live. So on a tour bus, you kind of have to think about everybody else from moment one. Like, you know what, these people are all f——g weird, but this is my life, and I can spend it with them, and later on, we’re going to play music, and it’s going to be amazing. But for now, it’s not all about me. Being in a band is about making the band the priority. That I understand. You are in a band right now.

MP: I have a new respect for all musicians. What are some of the things that break your heart?

AD: We waste a lot of our lives sometimes. There are people sitting across from us who would make the whole world better if we spent more time with them in it, but we can’t get across that gully. I mean, I’m not a spiritual person at all, but I do think that the world doesn’t have to be as lonely as it is. But I think that, often, the people who can make you happy are right there, and having them in your life would make your life better, but you can’t see how to do it. Like a band, these guys I’ve been spending the last twenty-five years with, they’re not perfect, and there’s a lot of things I hate about them sometimes. But what I had to realize early on is, it’s not like the rest of my life where if I don’t like something about someone, I can just push them out of my life, because the truth is, having them in my life has made it immeasurably better. Having been together in this band, having made that the priority for all of us all these years has made all of our lives way, way better.

That’s one opportunity in my life I did not miss. And it would have been very easy to, because it was very frustrating at times—all bands are. They’ll drive you up the f——g wall. It’s impossible having five, six, seven people in a room being creative together and not fight, because you want to fight. It’s the only way creativity works, if you all put your ideas in. But losing fights, or even winning fights, can be heartbreaking, and you can throw that away, but the truth is that it does make our lives better. I think the biggest, saddest thing that happens in our lives is that we just don’t embrace the things that could make it better because they don’t seem to make it better at any given moment or we can’t decide how to get across the aisle to that person. Over and over again in my life, I find closeness to other people and proximity to other people really painful; that’s part of my mental illness, social anxiety. Closeness to other people is really hard, but it’s also a shame because it’s all you want too. But it doesn’t always work.

MP: I think I have a PhD in “It doesn’t always work.”

AD: I think the flip side of that—but it’s also the same side—is that there’s people who think what they need and what they deserve in their lives is a lot worse than what they actually do, so they get themselves involved in things that are needlessly painful: brutal relationships, abusive relationships. I find that truly heartbreaking that, like, it’s such a common, constant thing in people’s lives—a brutal abuse of people by other people, and it’s just accepted. You don’t understand what makes you understand what makes your life better until you take something that makes it so much worse and you embrace that. That’s my problem in my mental illness: I am abusive to myself. And that’s sort of how I do it to myself, the same way I’ve watched other people have it done to them.

MP: What are the current projects you’re doing right now that you’re excited about?

AD: We’re just on tour right now. We have a record that’s coming out called Somewhere Under Wonderland. That’s from the second song on the record that goes, “I was born again a little north of Disneyland. Somewhere under Wonderland and Hollywood. But then I had to go skipping and diving and bouncing back to New York City, straight through the heart of America where all the wild things grow.” It’s the first verse of “Earthquake Driver.” This album has the best song I’ve ever written on it, and I love playing this record on tour. We’ve been opening the encore every night with the first song on the record, which is a hell of a place to put a song that nobody knows! It’s working pretty well, and I can’t help but think about what it’s going to be like when people actually know the song. They’re flipping their shit as it is when it goes on, but when they actually know the song, I imagine it’s going to be incredible.

MP: Adam, I hope that our tour buses intersect at some point. I could sit and listen to you talk for hours. I feel like I’m going to go and find a place to meditate and think about the things you’ve said.

AD: Tell Michael I said, “Hi!” Tell him I said that when we were young, I jumped on him repeatedly over and over when we played basketball, and the only reason he developed as a player is because he stopped playing with me. I used to crush him every day. Actually, he’s so much better than me, but I’d like to see the look on his face when you say it.

MP: I’ll tell him you said you kicked his ass in basketball and see what he says.

AD: Make sure you tell him I took it back, because he might get a little pissed off.

PHOTOS: DANNY CLINCH
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