Durbin was the rock star on the tenth season of American Idol, won by
Scotty McCreery. He was an audience favorite even though he finished fourth
in the competition. After his 'Idol' journey, the Santa Cruz, California-born
singer inked a deal with Wind-Up Records. His 2011 debut album 'Memories
of a Beautiful Disaster' debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard Rock Chart,
and spawned two singles 'Stand Up' and 'Love Me Bad'.
Now in 2014, Jame's decided to change his sound a tad, experimenting more with pop but keeping his rock DNA. Last month, on April 8th, Durbin released his sophomore studio album, 'Celebrate', which is executive produced by Scott Stevens, who is the man also responsible for the new pop approach of rock band Daughtry.
'Celebrate' features 13 tracks if you buy the deluxe edition. The first single from the LP is the rock-pop number 'Parachute', which James performed on TBS' 'Conan' earlier in the year, and whose music video he shot by a nuclear plant (no joke).
DirectLyrics recently caught up with 25-year-old James Durbin for an exclusive interview where we asked about his new sound, new image, new album, 'Parachute', why shooting the visual by a nuclear plant as well as how does he feel being an example of strength for people with Asperger or Tourette syndromes or who his fave 'Idol' winner is!
Hi James! You released last month your second album, 'Celebrate'. How is today’s James different from the one who released his debut three years ago?
I've cooled down. When we released 'Memories' I was hot off 'Idol' & everything was happening all at once. It was crazy & awesome. Since then I've stayed busy touring & writing. I haven't changed at all when it comes to being onstage but offstage I feel more humbled than before.
On 2011's ‘Memories of a Beautiful Disaster’ you worked with Howard Benson and for 2014’s ‘Celebrate’ you’ve linked up with Scott Stevens. What was different between working with Howard and Scott?
Working with Howard Benson was a dream of mine. For 'Memories' he was a great fit but he was also producing Daughtry & Halestorm records at the same time so the whole process was very rushed. Now on 'Celebrate' I was produced by Scott "The Ninja" Stevens who I wrote 5 songs with( that made the album). The process this time around was organic, there was no serious time crunch & I was his main focus. Regardless, I have 2 solid albums under my belt with 2 respectively amazing producers behind them.
In your new album we definitely feel (and hear) a little more pop edge. How did your sound transition to something more pop? Was it natural? Or was it something you wanted to try to reach a broader fan-base?
Definitely aiming at another area of my fan base yet still organic. The range of songs that I wrote during the sessions that became 'Celebrate' go from rock to pop to punk to gospel to alternative to contemporary to metal hahaha. I haven't changed to 'pop'. 'Celebrate' is just the story I wanted to tell this year. I'm excited to start my next chapter.
Not sure if it’s the pop thing, but your whole look and clothes have changed too in this new era. (You look good!). Are you feeling comfortable? And, where’s your head band now?
I just don't feel like wearing the vests & patches everywhere lately. Too much stuff to take off at the airport security line. They're still in my closet though. As for the bandana, someone asked me before if I was 'married to the bandana', so I showed them a picture of me from my wedding, wearing a bandana lol. I'll save it all for the stage.
When did you first begin recording ‘Celebrate’ and when did you finish it? And, what was your reaction when you heard your new album fully mastered for the first time?
The whole process, writing & recording, took a year & a half. It's always great hearing the songs 'finished'. You go through this journey with each song, especially if you do any rewrites, it can be grueling creatively. But it's all worth it when you finally hear that final mix.
The standard edition of ‘Celebrate’ has 11 tracks and the deluxe 13. Surely you wrote more songs for the album that simply didn’t make the final cut. How many did you write for ‘Celebrate’ in total? And, what is one song you think now, ’man! I should have added this one too…’?
Probably close to 50 songs written during the entire process. Not all of those songs were even recorded as demos. Some are great, some are awful haha. There's a bunch I wish could've made the final cut on 'Celebrate'. 'Not The Only Ones', 'M-I-S-S-I Miss You', We All Go Marching On, 'California', 'Scratchers & Cheap Beer' and so many more songs that I just had so much fun writing.
Do you hope to give fans the unused tracks in the future somehow?
I'd love to at some point. I'd love to have other people sing them too. One way or another is better than no way at all. Way!
You co-wrote the majority of tracks on ‘Celebrate’, and that wasn’t exactly the case on your debut. Are you happy with the freedom Wind Up Records gave you in album no. 2? Is your relationship with your label super solid?
Wind Up is an amazing label. I'm really happy & humbled to be a part of their family. Of course I'm happy, they gave me the freedom to just create. Isn't that every artists dream?
Your released your new album’s first single ‘Parachute’ last November. Tell us a little bit about the story of the song, and why did you feel this was the perfect first single?
Parachute was originally thought of as a ballad. My producer Scott Stevens showed me the basic idea of the song he'd co written with Andy Stochansky. It wasn't finished, so Andy, Scott & I put our heads together & created. It's sound is very close to the current pop sound that's out there, so what better reason than to make it single número uno?.
The ‘Parachute’ music video is rather simple but very energetic. Did you have fun at the shooting? And tell me, why shoot it by a nuclear plant?
Yeah it was lots of fun. It's a little stiff because it was freezing out there. The director Roman White (who directed my 'Love Me Bad' video) found the abandoned unfinished nuclear power plant an hour outside Nashville. Originally we had a story line to the video. I don't care to go into it as, needless to say, none of it made the cut & was all edited out. Some of the best parts of the shoot had to be cut. It'll never be seen. Thank God!.
All artists have to have a most personal song on their albums. Which is yours on ‘Celebrate’ and why?
The opening track 'Children Under The Sun' is so personal that I can count on 1 hand how many people I've told its true meaning to.
The title of the album evidently comes from the song ‘Celebrate’. What was so important of this song to name the album that too?
'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster' has 11 syllables & 'Celebrate' has only 3.
James Durbin Photoshoot
Not only to people diagnosed with Autism or Tourette's but people on any spectrum that gives them difficulty in the eyes if society. You are born different. You have an obstacle to overcome that few others have. That obstacle is like a job. It's your job to tackle it, defeat it, prove to the world that you're in control of you. Some people think we're deformed or incapable when in fact we have the advantage. We see the world differently & our brains work differently. I like to compare it to a 'Here's Your Sign' sketch. When I was diagnosed, the neurologist gave me my 'sign'/my label. This is what I'm supposed to contribute & this is what the world expects of me. I didn't want to be another face in the crowd, especially because I'm 'different' than the 'normal kids'. I took that as my job to break my label & create my own. I've been fortunate enough to meet & come to know people who have Autism, Tourette's, Down Syndrome, etc. They have it, yeah. But it doesn't have them. Who's teaching who?.
What are James Durbin’s Top 5 songs of the moment?
"Currently 'No. 1 Party Anthem' by Arctic Monkeys, 'Roadhouse Blues' by The Doors, 'Amelie' by Carney, 'Going To California' by Led Zeppelin, & 'The Burden Of Sea Captains' by The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit."
What is your best single memory of your journey on American Idol?
Playing on that stage every week with amazing musicians. That & Casey Abrams.
Are you following the show this year? Care to venture a winner?
We've been watching 'from afar'. I try to keep up with it but not religiously.
What is James Durbin’s favourite Idol winner? Why? And would you love do a duet with him/her?
Probably Scotty McCreery. I mean watching him grow not only as a singer but his confidence on & off stage & his character was great. He was never off. He's a good ol' boy & didn't let any of it change him. I got to sing with him the night I got eliminated. It was really special because we were the last 2 guys left & we had really bonded by the end of it.
What is one country that you haven’t been to that you would love to explore one day? And why that country?
I've always loved Japanese culture & I've never been. On the Idol Live Tour we played 2 sold out shows at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila, Philippines & I recently played the last show at closing Manas Air Force base in Kyrgyzstan. I'd love to tour the UK & Europe, also South America. I'd love to tour everywhere I have fans.
What is the weirdest thing that’s happened to you in a concert?
I was out on tour opening for Buckcherry & at one of the shows I witnessed a very weird rule at a particular venue that will remain unnamed as I don't remember. I hit the stage with my opening song 'Stand Up' & was greeted with a crowd full of sitters. Apparently the security was making people sit. At a rock concert! And they were real jerks about it. I'll never understand that.
Talking about concerts. You finished a month-long tour last February. But fans want to know when is James going to get back on the road? Any chance that's in a very near future?
Very near future.
Finish the sentence…’Forget about your problems and CELEBRATE because…’
That's the bottom line, 'cause Stone-Cold said so!
Thanks for your time, James! Best of luck with the new album, and everything!
And thank you for a solid interview.