CHICAGO SUN TIMES

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Durbin aims to please

By Roxy Silver Contributor February 10, 2012 4:00PM

James Durbin hit the ground running as he launched a tour supporting his recently released album “Memories of A Beautiful Disaster.”

His recent performance at Austyn’s in Libertyville, was a fitting setting for this meat and potatoes performer. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more grounded artist. A finalist from last year’s “American Idol” competition, Durbin is just as likely to talk about his family as he is his music.

While “Idol” served as a launching pad, Durbin’s roots are much deeper as he has been down in the rock ‘n’ roll trenches for years.

This explains his humility and deep sense appreciation for his recent success.

In a graciously extended interview, I had a chance to get a thorough understanding for what this rocker is all about:

Compare touring in the rock ‘n’ roll trenches to walking off of “Idol” into 25,000-seat arenas.

I don’t really see a whole lot of difference. I’ve been playing in bars since I was 15. If there’s a stage, there’s a stage. If there’s a will, there’s a way. If there’s a stage, there’s somewhere to preform and to do what you love. I’ve always performed just as much on a 2x4 supported by two cinder-blocks then I have on a 100-foot stage in front of 15,000 people. As long as someone’s watching, I’ll play like its Wembley.

Some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll folklore come out of touring. Talk about your touring experience.

Touring has been a lot of fun. It was cool because basically my first tour was out on the road with the “Idol Live” crew. That’s about as big as you can get without going in stadiums. That was arenas packed, sold-out every single night. Coming out through the crowd, getting my clothes ripped and my shirts and people trying to steal my rings and steal my hat, ya know it’s pretty big, it’s pretty crazy. It felt kind of wrong because I hadn’t paid my dues. So at this point, I’m able to go out on the road with my band and with my crew and develop a long-lasting relationship with my band members and my new friends. It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll. Like I said, it just felt kind of wrong going straight from playing bars till I was 15 and the hiatus and BOOM ... arenas. I like working my way up and I like playing House of Blues-style venues and that kind of stage. Especially for headlining. I don’t feel like I’ve earned it yet to headline a big stage in an arena. I’m very ready to open and be main support in arenas and stadiums, but at this point, I want to earn what I get.

Your song “Stand Up” is featured in NFL broadcasts. How about that?

The NFL approached me as soon as my “Idol” contract was over and they said ‘Hey, we have this song ‘Stand Up’ and we would like you to hear it. We would like it to be basically the anthem for us, anthem for the NFL. I listened to it, I loved it. We changed a bunch of stuff and made it more my own and they put it out on a Game Day Volume Two soundtrack. By the fans, for the fans. And we gave it time and let their fans hear it and let my fans hear it. It was kind of like a sneak peak into the album and it got such a good response that I included it in the album. I recorded a video for each of the 32 teams in the NFL. We preformed at a couple stadiums, played a couple half-time shows. The 49ers were amazing. Hometown show basically.

Tell me a little about the finished product of your album.

It feels great to just have an album out. I had wished and hoped and dreamed to have an album out, but I never really believed that I would have something out that I would be able to go to the store and just buy it and go on iTunes and buy a full album of original material. No more covers. It’s been really cool, I’m really happy with it. I’m excited for what the future holds and I have a band now that I can write with and go on tour, and now that I’m married, everything seems to just be so perfect right now. My life has really come together full circle. I have so much to be grateful for and so much to look forward to right now.

A couple of your songs “Screaming” and “Outcast” refer to bullying. Have you been able to use your fame to advance any causes?

I definitely have. I just started with an anti-bullying campaign called Be a Star. It’s done by the WWE and I’ve always been a big wrestling fan. Watching wrestling was my escape out of being bullied. I could watch that and be like, ‘Wow, this is just so cool.’ One day I came home from school and was in my room and took a nap, woke up and turned on the TV, flipping through channels, and I see wrestling for the first time. I’ve talked to many wrestlers who have told me they had been bullied their whole lives too and wrestling was their escape. It’s something I’m really happy to be a part of. Bullying is such a big epidemic going on right now and finally people are starting to do something about it. Even now, people drive by my house and yell mean things, but now I at least know how to handle it and I’m grateful for what I have.

No one will ever accuse James Durbin of trying to be all things to all people. He is true to his hard-rock roots and has a great knack for innovation within the genre.

Within arms reach of a good portion of the audience, Austyn’s provided a fittingly grungy setting which was the perfect back drop for Durbin’s brand of hard rock. Durbin was personable and thankful toward the sold-out audience and took the time to hang-out after the show to meet fans and sign autographs. His personality and character will be key in his success.