Counting Crows veteran Dan Vickrey talks "Underwater Sunshine"
Except for a few paragraphs about him on Wikipedia and various interviews he's given going back to 1994, when he joined Counting Crows just after their first album, "August and Everything After," hit the charts, Dan Vickrey remains something of a mystery.
Even during a brief chat ahead of the band's summer "Outlaw Roadshow Tour", Vickrey was hard to draw out, giving brief yes and no answers to the first few questions before he began easing into some dialog -- perhaps at the urging of a publicist who sat in on the session.
The little that is written about Vickrey indicates that he had a broad base of musical influences from Sinatra to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and that he learned how to play guitar from his dad.
While his songwriting contributions with Counting Crows have notched him nominations for a Grammy, Golden Globe and an Oscar, both on stage and in conversation he is laid back and appears to prefer to let his guitar do the talking.
Both leading up to his time with Counting Crows and in recent years, as more time has passed between projects and tours, Vickrey has maintained his own project called Tender Mercies, which released a self-titled debut in 2011.
Interestingly, Vickrey was said to be a Counting Crows fan before he joined the band, having seen many club shows as Adam Duritz and the original lineup honed their sound and songwriting chops in clubs and on stages throughout the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1990s. At the same time, Duritz was becoming a fan of Tender Mercies, so it seemed inevitable that the two would eventually work together.
The relationship has come full circle with Counting Crows incorporating two Tender Mercies songs on their latest release, "Underwater Sunshine," an eclectic collection of cover songs that the band has released independently.
Fresh from a rollicking show in Boston, Vickrey noted that the band has been using the tour to plumb the depths of the Counting Crows' catalog along with the band's diverse inventory of cover songs.
"We've been kind of digging into the catalog lately," Vickrey said. "It seems like every day something new comes up at sound check, and we're like, 'OK, let's get into that one.' It's been really fun, actually."
During the Boston set, the band pulled out a few rarities, including "I Wish I Was A Girl," from "This Desert Life," which Vickrey said was a welcome addition to the show.
"It's one of those songs we always wanted to work up, and Adam always mentioned working up, but we never got around to it. But we got on his case and we finally worked it up. I think it sounds better than ever. It's really fun to go back to a song like that which has hardly been played -- it's almost like playing a new song. We just added "Start Again," a couple of nights ago and I think we did "Speedway" last night for the first time in awhile."
Vickrey said that when the band was determining which songs would go on the new album, many of tracks were completely new to him, and during the sessions he worked hard to try and give the cover songs a Counting Crows groove.
"I probably only knew about half of them coming into the studio," he said. "A lot of times we try and put our own stamp on it by taking the chord structure that was there. It's similar to the way we start working on new Counting Crows songs, except that with these, there were already other versions of them. At first I just tried to listen to the chord structure and kind of let it go, because I knew once we started playing them as a band they would sound completely different. So I approached it just like it was a new song."
Vickrey said that part of the joy of covering other bands' relatively unknown material is giving new audiences a connection to artists they might never otherwise experience.
"Well, we have to love playing the songs, and Adam has to have an emotional attachment to the song in order to sing it. That's just the way he is. But that's just a by-product of it. The bottom line is the only reason we're playing these songs is because we love it, it makes sense and they fit right in."
Although there are sometimes four guitars playing at the same time in a live show, Vickrey said he finds an audible balance comes easily.
"Most of us have been playing together now for 10 to 12 years, and it seems to come quite naturally. I heard someone say, 'that's just the sound these people make when they come into a room.' That's why we're a band, I guess, and we're still together. Whatever needs to be done, we get it done. We switch off and get new colors and flavors. It's all about serving the song as best we can."
According to Vickrey, his work putting together the Tender Mercies recordings nearly two decades after he first started writing and playing the material was greatly enhanced by his experiences working and recording with Counting Crows.
"Being in Counting Crows for so long, you get good chops, and you learn how to record and how to pick a song -- what's needed and what's not needed, all the editing. This last break, I knew it was going to be long. And I was listening to some new albums, and I moved back to San Francisco and was playing a bit with Jim from Counting Crows. So we started playing out, and I still love playing those songs. And Adam obviously loves them, too -- it's the only band that has two songs on the record.
"The whole record was probably done in eight sessions on a ProTools rig and a computer. We were having fun and we're good enough players now that we can just pull them out. Just getting them recorded again was like all the songs on "Underwater Sunshine" -- these songs need to be heard. I guess it was just a coincidence that the Tender Mercies album came out so close to the release of the new Counting Crows album. But there you go, you've got two versions of a couple of songs at least."
12 - Danbury - CT - Ives Concert Park
13 - Utica, NY - Saranac Brewery
15 - Toronto, Ontario - Echo Beach at Molson Canadian Amphitheater
16 - Slyvania, OH - Centennial Terrace
18 - Cleveland, OH - Cain Park
20 - Vienna, VA - Filene Center at Wolf Trap
22 - Rochester Hills, MI - Meadow Brook
23 - Columbus, OH - Lifestyle Communities Pavilion
25 - Louisville, KY - Iroquois Amphitheater
26 - Simpsonville, SC - Charter Amphitheater at Heritage Park
28 - Tuscaloosa, AL - Tuscaloosa Amphitheater
29 - Southaven, MS - Snowden Grove Park & Amphitheater
1 - Indianapolis, IN - The Lawn at White River State Park
17 - Brooklyn, NY - Williamsburg Waterfront Park
19 - Hyannis, MA - Cape Cod Melody Tent
20 - Cohasset, MA -South Shore Music Circus
22 - Camden, NJ - Susquehanna Bank Center
23 - Pittsburgh, PA - Stage AE
26 - Cedar Rapids, IA - Ragbrai 40th Anniversary
28 - Lincoln, NE - Pinewood Bowl Theater
31 - Kansas City, MO - Starlight Theater
2 - Morrison, CO - Red Rocks Amphitheater
4 - Salt Lake City, UT - Rail Event Center
6 - Boise, ID - Idaho Botanical Gardens
7 - Bend, OR - Les Schwab Amphitheater
11 - Billings, MT - Magic City Blues Festival