January 24, 2014 Interview – James Durbin
How persistent one is determines how successful they become, and in the eyes of singer James Durbin, there was no other way. Developing a love for rock and roll music at a young age, Durbin sang in the glam rock band Hollywood Scars. Taking matters into his own hands, he decided to make a daring leap, auditioning for one of the television’s most watched talent shows, American Idol. While being denied during his initial audition in 2009, Durbin knew this was far from the end and tried out for the show again in 2011. This time his determination and experience helped him advance as one of the top 4 contestants. After success on American Idol, Durbin released his debut album Memories of a Beautiful Disaster (2011), now he is ready to up the ante on his dynamic forthcoming album, Celebrate (2014). Recently we caught up with James Durbin for a look into his passion for music, a never say die attitude, life’s lessons, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – The story of your career is quite an interesting one. You were in the band Hollywood Scars and then auditioned for American Idol in 2009. You didn’t actually appear on the show until 2 seasons later. How determined were you to get a chance on the show?
James Durbin – Really, that was kind of it. I was in Hollywood Scars and we were trying to play and make something happen locally. I was working for Domino’s Pizza at the time and I really wanted to audition for American Idol again. I auditioned in 2008 and it didn’t work out for me. I just wasn’t in the right head space and mature enough. In the course of that 2 years I got a girl, made her my fiancé, we had a kid, and then I had a family to think of. I wasn’t so much thinking about myself at the time. When I was working at Domino’s I put in a request to have the days off to go audition for American Idol. They told me I couldn’t have it. I kind of took it as ok maybe this isn’t suppose happen. I played a few more shows with Hollywood Scars. They were kind of lackluster; it wasn’t right either. I walked into work one day the weekend before auditions. I kept thinking of the American Idol auditions over and over. I went into work, before I even could do any deliveries the owners called us into the back kitchen, even people who had the day off. We had no idea why. They told us we have no money, we are bankrupt, we are fleeing the state to avoid tax repercussions, and you are all out of a job tomorrow. I thought I am out of a job tomorrow, but American Idol auditions are the day after. I called my wife and we were annoyed, scared but excited. We went in full force and didn’t look back.
CrypticRock.com – That’s a crazy story and a great twist of fate. Most contestants which have appeared on American Idol have been open to ridicule in public opinion, but Rolling Stone actually just chose your song “Higher Than Heaven” as 1 of the 15 American Idol alumni songs that don’t suck. I’d say that is a huge compliment. You definitely have rock roots and it shows by your appearance on the show and your past work. With that said, do you think it is sometimes difficult to find acceptance with fans in the rock genre?
James Durbin – Yes and no. I think more so when American Idol was happening, it’s been 3 years, I was a little bit more concerned with it. Now I am not really concerned. If people want to like me that’s great. These days I am trying to win people over with songwriting. I am focused more on writing songs. I am trying to get better at that because your voice can go away at anytime, but your ability to write songs and craft a good hook will never go away.
CrypticRock.com – That is all that matters; to concentrate on what you want to write. Your debut album Memories of a Beautiful Disaster came out in 2011. The album had a lot of great guest musicians such as Ben Moody, Mick Mars, and DJ Ashba. What was it like working on your first solo record and in such great company?
James Durbin – Yes it was really great. I wish I could have taken more time with it. Time was not of the essence. Part of the time I was wrapping up the American Idol Tour. I was getting some songs in from different song writers. For instance the song “Outcast” which Mick Mars plays on, I sent the call into Mick to see if he wanted to do it, and low and behold there it was. I reached out to one of my favorite bands in Sweden called Hardcore Superstar. They sent over a couple of songs they had been working on, just some rough demos, I was just completely floored. I couldn’t believe I was getting to track a song of one of my favorite bands that no one has ever heard of. Working with DJ Ashba was great too. We got to write a song together in that time frame. That was a 50/50 split and we both came up with the song. Unfortunately that didn’t make the record. It was a pre-order bonus track. It can only really be heard on YouTube and we play it every once and a while. Like you said, Rolling Stone just gave a nod to “Higher Than Heaven” which is another song I wrote. I wrote it with James Michael (Sixx: A.M.), he writes tons of songs for Sixx: A.M., Mötley Crüe, and the most recent Kelly Clarkson single “People Like Us”. I also wrote with Marti Frederiksen, which has had a handful of amazing hits and Aerosmith hits. It was definitely a really cool experience.
CrypticRock.com – Sounds like a great experience. With that experience of recording the debut album, you are ready to release your sophomore album Celebrate in April of this year. The first single “Parachute” is very catchy. What can fans expect from the rest of the album?
James Durbin – There are definitely more songs like it, in sense of pop hooks and pop sounds. Then there are the heavy hitting songs. I definitely want to go for a melodic overall record. I felt like on the first record there were a lot of downer songs and minor keys. I wanted to bring it up and put it in a major key. I just wanted to have something I could smile to. I kind of find that hard, singing songs from the first record. Even the title Memories of a Beautiful Disaster. I am done being a disaster, or having my life be portrayed that way. Now I am just focusing on having a good time and being happy for what I do have.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great record to have. Did you have the clear intent of making this more of a mix of pop and harder rock album going into the writing and recording?
James Durbin – When we set out to make the record in 2012 we were in Nashville. We were working with James Michael at his house for 2 1/2 months and wrote 40 songs there. Some of them were absolutely spectacular, some not so much. Not every song was a hit. So we kind of re-gathered ourselves and listened to those songs. We didn’t have a record that we felt really worked. If it was 2003 or 2004 it would have been. You have to think a little differently these days if you want to sell records and have your record label be stoked on you. We kind of regrouped and looked at some different songwriters which I hadn’t written with. Leaning a little bit more pop, less in the sense of Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. I can’t really compare it to anything. I guess there are little hints of Muse in it which I love doing. There are other hints of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, MGMT, and a dash of Justin Timberlake. I went to a little more of a catchy radio friendly route. There are definitely songs that still hit hard, some songs are dance-like, and rocking with plenty of aggression put into it. There are songs like “You Can’t Believe” and “You’re Not Alone” which are fun, big anthem-like rock songs. There are also your heart on your sleeve songs like “Issues” and “Real Love” along with party songs like “Celebrate” and “Children Under the Sun”. It’s a much more well rounded record than the first.
CrypticRock.com – It does sound very dynamic. It’s clear you draw strong influence from rock and metal. I’d like to know what are some of your most significant musical influences?
James Durbin – After I say this there is kind of no point in saying anyone else, but The Beatles. That is where I learned to craft songs and melody. That is where I learned to give the drums, guitar, and bass their own part. They are all there and playing something different. They are all playing something that makes each member stand out, but it all works as a whole. I just love that. They were just so well rounded; from rock to country, to folk, to blues, and everything in between. They definitely broke free of genres. That is something that is coming full circle these days. Genre doesn’t really matter these days. That is why I wanted to make a record that defies genres.
CrypticRock.com – I agree with you, now a days the idea of a genre is a little more open. I think people are a little more open to accepting hybrids of genres now a days. It seems like the time on American Idol and the recording has given you a lot of time to grow and mature as an artist. From your time now being involved in the music industry what is one of the biggest things you learned?
James Durbin – I think it’s not all the glitz and glamour you dreamed of when you were a kid. I have been asked this question a lot lately and I give the same answer because I want people who want to get into the music industry to understand, to study the ins and outs of the music industry. If you have these dreams of cars, houses, 6 record deals, and all this other stuff, it’s not that at all, it really isn’t it. Once you see how sad, painful, and fucked up it all is, if you are still into it and it’s the only thing you can see yourself doing regardless of the ins and outs. It literally hurts me inside to think of what my life would be without being in the music industry; without being an artist, putting music out there, playing shows, touring, and selling merchandise. If it really hurts you to want it, then do it, welcome to the club. Like everyone else in the music industry, we know how it is. We know it can suck sometimes, but you take all that and set it aside because you wanted to be a musician so you can play shows, so people can hear your music, so you can be an artist and recognized for your craft and artwork. It’s like any other artist, that is what it’s about. Unfortunately you have to support your family and think about the future. For the time being, live in the now and make good music or shitty demos and enjoy it.
CrypticRock.com – It’s about the passion of wanting to make music, that’s what it should be about. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
James Durbin – I have not been much of a fan of horror films. The last horror film I saw was The Conjuring (2013) and I thought that was great. I grew up with two older sisters and was raised by my mom so everything was a little bit less scary (laughs). I am definitely up for a good suspenseful thriller but nothing with torture or too much blood.
CrypticRock.com – I understand it’s not for everyone. There are a lot of good psychological horror films which are more suspenseful than graphic.
James Durbin – Yes, I like stuff that is loosely based on a true story, it puts you in the story and concept more.
2014 acoustic tour dates as followed:
3 The Viper Room Los Angeles, CA
7 Belly Up Tavern Solana Beach, CA
8 Pub Rock Live Scottsdale, AZ
10 HOB-Cambridge Room Dallas, TX
11 The Station Bar & Grill Lafayette, LA
12 HOB-Peacock Room Houston, TX
14 The Parrish New Orleans, LA
15 Wills Pub Orlando, FL
18 The Masquerade Atlanta, GA
21 Ziggy’s Winston-Salem, NC
22 Lincoln Theatre Raleigh, NC
23 Empire Springfield, VA
24 I Play America Freehold, NJ
29 The Hollow Albany, NY
30 The Studio @ Webster Hall New York, NY
4 The Rock Factory Akron, OH
5 Agora Ballroom Cleveland, OH
6 Thompson House Newport, KY
7 Austin’s Libertyville, IL
8 Another Hole in Wall Steger, IL
9 7th St. Entry Minneapolis, MN
12 Marquis Theatre Denver, CO
15 The Catalyst Santa Cruz, CA
Photo credit: LeAnn Mueller