After the Counting Crows released their fifth album, 2008's "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings," singer Adam Duritz had had enough — not of the spotlight or the road, but of himself.
"I got kind of sick of myself at that point," Duritz said on the phone from his home in New York recently. "I got tired of just emptying [my] guts onto the page every few years for people. I think I needed a break from it."
So the 49-year-old Baltimore native — who will return on Friday with the Crows to headline the Black-Eyed Susan Day concert at Pimlico Race Course — shifted his focus creatively. He co-wrote the musical "Black Sun" with playwright Stephen Belber and produced the independent film "Freeloaders" with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe.
Most importantly for the Crows, in 2012, Duritz and the band released "Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)," a cover album of songs originally written by groups such as Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Duritz was happy to sing about other artists' emotions for once.
"Making a record with all of those different songwriters' [songs] made me realize what a waste of time it is so spend your entire career playing nothing but songs by one guy, even when that one guy is me. I mean, who cares I have a lot to say?" Duritz said. "It exercises your brain in so many different ways."
Last fall, the re-energized Counting Crows wrote their currently untitled next record in New York. The nine-track album, produced by Brian Deck, is the band's first work of original material in seven years.
When Duritz first began working on new songs, the results were unlike anything he'd written before. He was writing from a third-person perspective, rather than the first, and most surprisingly, Duritz was injecting levity into his lyrics.
"I've never written with a sense of humor, although I have one," Duritz said. "When stuff started coming up like that, I thought, 'Well, maybe it's not serious. Maybe it's not real. Maybe it's not up to snuff.' But then I realized it's just different textures and colors."
The new album, which Duritz said would be out in September, is short, with a running time less than 45 minutes. It was also the quickest the band has ever recorded a full-length, he said. Duritz wondered how the more complicated compositions in his head would translate to a full band, but once he and the group hit the studio, it all eventually clicked.
"We didn't really hit a lot of hard roadblocks," Duritz said. "'Palisades Park,' the opening song on the record, is 81/2 minutes long, and if there was ever going to be one that I thought was going to be a nightmare, it would be that. It was one of the easiest to record, and I'm still shocked by that now."
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While Duritz's professional life is solid, and even rejuvenated with the new album, it is his personal life that has made headlines in recent years. In 2008, he revealed to Men's Health magazine that he suffers from "a form of dissociative disorder that makes the world seem like it's not real, as if things aren't taking place." More than six years later, the singer is still learning to live with it.
"It's really frustrating sometimes. You run up to these limitations that don't seem to be there. Things that seem as natural as gravity to other people just don't make sense the same way to me," he said.
Duritz said he works at improving his mental health every day and has accepted the disorder might never "get better."
"I'm still doing the things that I need to do to keep a life going every day, while not necessarily getting everything out of it that I would like to get out of it," Duritz said. "I don't express myself particularly well with other people, necessarily, or in relationships, but I can express myself in a song. And that's something."
Counting Crows performs Friday at Pimlico Race Course's Black-Eyed Susan Day, 5201 Park Heights Ave. The Fray and Annie Bosko will also perform. Doors open at 9:30 a.m., and the show begins at 4 p.m. Tickets are $40. Call 877-206-8042 or go to blackeyedsusanday.com.