Loves Paul Simon, Plus Chatting With Bill Wyman, American Idol's James
Durbin and Mastodon's Brann Dailor
A Conversation with James Durbin
Mike Ragogna: Hello, James.
James Durbin: How are you?
MR: I'm pretty good. How are you, sir?
JD: I'm great, just finished up rehearsal and did my farewells to my attorney and manager.
MR: Permanent farewells?
JD: No, no, definitely not.
MR: It's now getting exciting for you, isn't it, what with anew album and all?
JD: It's getting very exciting. I flew forty minutes from Burbank to lovely Santa Cruz, which would normally be a six and a half hour drive.
MR: You have a new album and a couple of singles with "Love Me Bad" that's going to Top 40.
JD: Yes, sir.
MR: You also have a single that's headed for rock radio called "Stand Up." Both of those are featured on your new album, Memories Of A Beautiful Disaster. So, what kind of memories do you have of a beautiful disaster at this point in your life?
JD: To me, the meaning behind the album title is that I've had plenty of time to reflect on my life and look back on points of it now that I'm a little older and wiser. I'm more stupid in some parts, but now I'm able to look back, and parts that I thought were just awful and disastrous, that I wished before had never happened? Now, I can look at those and see the beauty in them because it makes me who I am today.
MR: What went into choosing the material for ...Beautiful Disaster?
JD: I wanted to find songs and write songs and partner up with people to write songs that really reflect who I am and reflect my life and reflect some of those memories of the beautiful disasters that I've gone through--and also stuff that I'm going to enjoy singing in thirty or forty years, God willing.
MR: On this album, you worked with James Michael of Mötley Crüe and Sixx:A.M.
JD: Yes--James Michael, Dj Ashba, Marti Frederiksen, Mick Mars, Hardcore Superstar, Ben Moody--there's a lot of really great writers on there.
MR: And it has been said that you've got rock royalty on this record.
JD: Yeah, and I'm not worthy. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Oh, yes you are, sir! I'd like to talk a bit about what got you here. You were on American Idol in 2008, can you go into the story?
JD: Season eight auditions were held at Cow Palace in San Francisco, and I went and sang my ass off. They asked to hear a second song and I didn't have one prepared. So, I sang the last song I had heard, which was by the same artist. That didn't really show any diversity or anything. I just waited and they said, "Sorry, you're not what we're looking for." I was pretty distraught at that moment, but I just got it out of my head. I went back and found out that Steven Tyler was going to be a judge and I thought, "Well, sh*t, this is my chance. I can really do it now." I think I have a much better chance of doing this now that I have the support from a legend of his status.
MR: And you ended up fourth, but that's still a good result, right? You did really well and a lot of people loved you.
JD: Thank you, man. I really focused on staying true to myself and really being me no matter what anybody said or what anybody wanted me to do or try to make me be. I stuck to who I am, and I think that's what made me so personable and likable.
MR: Your song choices were interesting, and version of "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" rocked.
JD: Thank you, man. Before I went on the show, the track that my mind was on was to really try and make as many possible moments for myself with stuff that people would hopefully continue to talk about. Like, "Oh, you remember that? That was really cool!"
MR: "Living For The City" was another good choice. How did you feel about your performance of that one?
JD: I loved the performance. That's probably my favorite recording because I got to work with Don Was. Don Was is an unbelievable producer.
MR: Yeah, and you sang "Don't Stop Believing," although it seems that song needs to be retired.
JD: You know, it hadn't really ever been done on the show. They were never able to get the rights for it. The previous week, my buddy Chris Jericho, who was on Dancing With The Stars, danced to that. It was his last dance before he got eliminated. So, I was trying to get a stab at him, and then I ended up getting eliminated on it. It's kind of an inside joke that we can both laugh about.
MR: It being the series-closing song on The Sopranos, that's interesting what happened with you.
JD: Exactly. That's actually our joke--"Don't Stop Believing" eliminated Tony Soprano, Chris Jericho, James Durbin, and, apparently, Steve Perry. No offense to Steve. I love Steve. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Funny. When you approached this album, how hard was it to tackle?
JD: It wasn't that hard. Everything I go into, I go into with really high expectations of myself. I'm very, very driven in the studio. I just really like to get in there, sweep the place, and get out. We were able to finish all the vocals on the record in two and a half weeks.
MR: And you had a great producer, Howard Benson, who worked with My Chemical Romance.
JD: Oh, my God. Howard is so unbelievable. The line of people that he's worked with are artists that I look up to, My Chem especially. I was a really big emo kid in high school, and My Chem were like the poster children for that, so I was definitely thrilled and excited and downright speechless to be able to work with Howard. The album turned out unbelievably.
MR: Since you mentioned your emo kid days in high school, who were your musical influences then?
JD: My Chem, Thirty Seconds To Mars, and all that old stuff is what got me through the hard times. During the good times, I was listening to Queen and Zeppelin.
MR: Now, how did the jump from emo to metal happen?
JD: Well, I've always listened to metal. But emo was what really spoke to me at a young age, because there weren't really songs in metal about being a loner or being an outcast and getting picked on. I really felt that it was my calling to join that scene and that I would be better accepted by the other kids who were like that if I was like that too. So, I did that and it did help to mold my sound and how it is today. Then later in high school, I got more into metal and got more into Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and Dio and when for the whole metal band thing. I've done so much stuff--metal and emo and classic rock and hard rock and country. There's so many factors that create this.
MR: By the way, what's your favorite Queen song?
JD: Let's see. I've always had a soft spot for "Killer Queen."
MR: Interesting choice! It's a joy to not hear "Bohemian Rhapsody" every time that question is asked.
MR: Now, what's the story behind the recording of "Outcast," which features Mick Mars?
JD: "Outcast" was mainly written by my favorite band in the world, Hardcore Superstar. They're from Sweden. I was in a hair-metal influenced band and really started getting into those guys. It really helped to listen to them a lot. Another band called Crash Diet really helped to mold our sound. I just love everything that they put out, and so I had my team contact them. We got on the phone and we just figured out what kind of song we wanted to write here, and I said, "Let's make it something personable and very tongue-in-cheek," and that's what we came up with. It was very fun. I don't really know how to describe "Outcast." I'm thrilled by it. It sounds great--it's classic Hardcore Superstar and classic James Durbin, and Mick put his spin on it. So, it's a fustercluck, but it's a beautiful disaster.
MR: (laughs) Nicely played, sir. Now, "Stand Up" has a little NFL connection there, right?
JD: Yeah, definitely. I was approached by the NFL to sing a song for the Gameday compilation album, and I recorded "Stand Up" and put it out. It was getting great reviews, so we decided to stick with it and throw it on that record.
MR: So, James, say more about the players.
JD: It's different people that played on the record. Being on Idol last tour, you don't have so much time to sit down and audition guys or even call your guys to get them together. So, I had to wait until the tour was over and finish the record. But now, I have my guys and they know all the stuff and put their original spin on it. My lead guitarist actually played on a few of the tracks on the record. He did some rhythm parts on "Outcast" and played on "Liberate" and "Crawling Home" and "Higher Than Heaven."
MR: Are you going on tour?
JD: I'm not quite sure when, but we'll probably do a couple of mixed shows this year. I'm getting married at the end of the year, so we're still trying to plan all that stuff out. I don't want to busy it up too much, but we'll definitely be going on a big tour early next year.
MR: Congratulations. You're pals with Alan Parsons, right?
JD: Yeah, yeah. Actually, right before my audition for Idol in 2008, I did a video with Alan Parsons called The Art Of Science & Sound Recording. It was narrated by Billy Bob Thornton and I sang one of Alan's songs. It was cool. It was an amazing experience and offered up some info and some advice. It was a great learning experience. I'd never really been in the studio to that extent. Oh, man, it was great. I hold that moment near and dear.
MR: Having had some success now, what advice might you have for new artists?
JD: Stick to who you are. Really know what you want to put out. Know what sound and what vibe you want to put out and how you really want people to think of you. I think that's personally what it narrows down to, whether you want to have a good reputation or a bad reputation. That can all come off of what you do with your sound and what you do with your stage show and everything. Every single show, no matter if you're opening or if you're headlining, give them hell. Play like you're the headliner. That's how you're going to get noticed.
MR: Any prediction for next year around this time?
JD: I don't know, man. Hopefully, some kind of award?
MR: Do you have any closing thoughts about your American Idol experiences?
JD: I really hold those moments near and dear to my heart. Without them and without all of the support from the fans all over the world and all over the country, especially right here in my hometown of Santa Cruz, I would've never been able to do this, to have an album coming out and to be where I am. So, I'm forever grateful and thankful for that. It was really the launching pad for my career. I'll never forget that, definitely not.
MR: Very nicely said. James, thank you very much for your time.
JD: Thanks so much for having me, man. It's been a blast. I always love doing interviews, especially when the hosts are so much fun.
MR: (laughs) Thanks, thanks for the compliment, buddy, fun it was. All the best.
1. Higher Than Heaven
2. All I Want
3. Love In Ruins
4. Right Behind You
5. Love Me Bad
9. Outcast - feat. Mick Mars
10. Everything Burns
11. Stand Up