Maps To The Hollywood Scars’ James Durbin and Alex Grossi
This is a cool one. James Durbin placed in the top 4 of Season 10 on American Idol, and is now the lead singer in Quiet Riot. Alex Grossi is the guitarist with Quiet Riot and Hookers and Blow. They got together to create some kick ass rock n roll, in a band they called Maps To the Hollywood Scars. Their 5 song EP, Volume 1, is available now, with Volume 2 scheduled for summer 2017. James and Alex talk about their beginnings, Maps, Quiet Riot and much more. Enjoy!
James, you’re a hard rock fan. Where did that influence come from and who were your big influences growing up?
JD: I have a lot of influences, not only rock. My childhood was influenced by a lot of Motown. Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 was my everything from the ages of 9-14. Then in high school I discovered Rock N Roll. The biggest influences on me at the time were Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Beatles & Aerosmith. Of course not long after that was the big bang of all the major “Emo Rock” bands of the early 00’s and I was immediately addicted to My Chemical Romance, HIM & 30 Seconds To Mars, respectively. All of the above bands remain my core influences.
How about you, Alex?
AG: My first 2 albums were GUNS N’ ROSES “Appetite For Destruction” and MOTLEY CRUE’s “GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS” – I was turned on to Hard Rock & Metal by the older kids in my neighborhood.
Can you remember the first concert you ever saw and how did it affect you?
JD: There had been some festivals in our town when I was little, but it didn’t really affect me or resonate with me then.. I remember going to a concert at church but I can’t remember who was playing. It was heavy none the less and at the time I didn’t listen to a lot of Rock. I unknowingly entered a mosh pit and got pinned to one of the PA speakers. To this day I have trouble hearing out of my right ear haha. You could say I’m still affected J
AG: I went to my first concert (POISON) and after seeing the mainly female audience, fire and the spectacle of it all, I was hooked
Alex, what was the first guitar you ever had and what are you playing now?
AG: My very first guitar was a Harmony strat copy that my buddy gave me, it sucked – but so did I ….. I eventually got a PAUL REED SMITH CE-Bolt On after saving a lot of paper route money, and have been playing them ever since – I signed with them as an endorser 20 years ago fresh out of High School and haven’t played anything ever since.
James, you got to perform with Judas Priest on American Idol. Did the Metal God
JD: I imagine there were some words of wisdom from both, but at the moment (6 years later) it’s hard to really remember. The last time I saw Steven Tyler face to face was at the end of my season’s Finale. He cornered me and yelled “If you don’t pick Dina LaPolt to be your attorney it’ll be the biggest goddamn mistake you’ll ever make in your life!!!!” To which I replied, “OK! OK! OK! Just don’t kill me you crazy rock star!” Then in his classic ‘Demon Of Screamin’ way, he laughed and gave me a big wet kiss on the cheek. What a fuckin’ LEGEND haha.
Did you ever get tired of being called ‘Dawg’ by Randy Jackson?
JD: Now that you mention it, I kinda miss it.
Since American Idol is primarily a pop oriented music show, did the producers try to stop you from singing the music you wanted to sing?
JD: Fortunately for me, they didn’t try to stop me. The first time we were set to perform on the main Idol stage, the Top 24 were each given a list of songs. We had to sing 1 song on this list. I searched that damn list over and over for an hour and didn’t find anything right. There were hundreds of great, classic songs on that list that, in retrospect, could’ve done equally as good, but on my last scan of the list I spotted: “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest. I immediately went to the producers and they had no idea that song was on their list, cuz they didn’t ask for it to be there, it just showed up. Fate?
Alex, can you remember the first gig you played? Where? When? How was it?
AG: My first “Official” gig was with a bar band in Connecticut opening for Slaughter in 1994 – It was in Springfield MA, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven !
Ok, your backgrounds are out of the way, let’s move on to the real reason we’re here…Maps To The Hollywood Scars. How did the two of you hook up?
AG: I met James in 2011 via a mutual acquaintance. I remember being taken back, not only by his obvious vocal prowess but by his knowledge and love for real rock n’ roll. Then, last year I went to a Vegas show he was doing, and we ended up jamming together at the after-party.
JD: We knew each other through a mutual acquaintance but only in passing. Fast forward to last Fall (or rewind depending on how you look at it) I was performing in a show in Vegas and had to attend a restaurant for an appearance and happened to run into Alex there. Then Alex attended the Opening Night of said Vegas show & we jammed together on stage at the rooftop after party. The Vegas show ended a few weeks later and Alex emailed me some songs he’d written that needed lyrics and melodies, so I just started writing and sending em back. Writing and sending em back. Writing and sending em back & before ya knew it, we had a big pile of songs.
Can you take us through the writing process?
AG: I had a bunch of demos that I had been working on that I wasn’t sure what direction to take them in – I started sending them to James and he was just delivering GREAT lyrics and melodies back – We decided after demo-ing a dozen or so to enter the recording studio and lay it down for real – It was VERY easy and organic.
JD: It’s pretty simple really. Alex writes the music to the song on his end: intro, verse, pre, chorus, verse, pre, chorus, bridge, solo, chorus, chorus, outro. He sends it to me through email. I upload it into a basic Logic session and listen to it on repeat. Sometimes melodies and lyrics will come immediately. Sometimes It takes a week of listening and looking through note pads full of lyrics and listening to matching melodies in my Voice Memo’s on my phone.
James, where did the lyrical ideas for Hollywood scars come from?
JD: Funny. I’ve realized there’s a lot of fantasy style writing. Songs about Vampires, Zombies, Frankenstein’s Monster, etc. A song about the evil’s of the Pharmaceutical Drug Industry, songs about following your dreams regardless of rough Roads & songs about the ways we can deal with life and death.
Where does the band name come from? It’s a pretty interesting name.
JD: Pre Idol, I had a band names Hollywood Scars.. Footage is on YouTube from those old days. It was short lived but I always knew I wanted to re use the name. I love the imagery in the name & the meaning. It’s interesting that an era of music, style & attitude can affect us the way it does even if we weren’t there or alive when it happened, in a way we are forever Scarred by it, hence, “Hollywood Scars”.
You’re now also playing together in Quiet Riot. From the videos I’ve seen on Youtube, you seem to be a perfect fit in Quiet Riot. What took so long to make this happen?
JD: Timing. It happened on both sides, where it wasn’t the right timing. But everything happens when it’s supposed to, if it’s supposed to. I believe God has a plan for me, so just because something doesn’t happen right when I think it’s best, if it’s meant to happen, it will. When it’s right, it’s right.
AG: James had been on our radar for a while, but the timing never lined up – I am very glad it finally did, as he is not only a GREAT singer and frontman, but a great guy to be around.
James, what was it like to perform those iconic Quiet Riot songs on stage for the first time?
JD: It was definitely a little nerve wracking just getting my footing with the setlist. I guess I’m still settling into the overall show. It’s a very tight show but can also be a really loose vibe at times, so it’s just getting used to a new stage, new group of band mates, where the big notes are and building the show around that.
Kevin Dubrow was a classic hard rock singer. I recently saw a list of the top hard rock/metal singers. Give us your top 5.
JD: That’s a tough one. These aren’t my all time favourite of any genre, these are my top 5 hard rock/metal singers that I don’t mind listening to their voices over and over and over. In no particular order: For the classic Hard rock singers, Ronnie James Dio and Robert Plant The Modern singers, Myles Kennedy, Chris Cornell & Jocke Berg (Kent).
A few guitar questions now for Alex. Can you take us through your pre-show routine? What kind of exercises do you do to get your hands and mind ready to Rock?
AG: It really depends on the show – We like to come out swinging no matter what, and QUIET RIOT is one band that NEVER phones it in – You are only as good as your last show, and with everyone in audience basically filming the whole time, you gotta be on your toes, I just get the blood flowing and go for it.
You’ve got three bands going: Hollywood Scars, Quiet Riot and Hookers and Blow. Do you ever stop working? Tell us how each band differs for you as a guitar player and how you find time to represent each act.
AG: Well, all 3 bands are VERY different – that is for sure.
QUIET RIOT is obviously my main focus and the most high-profile, which constantly makes me want to play the best I can, as I have some pretty big shoes to fill between Carlos Cavazo and the late, great Randy Rhoads – Playing songs that sold millions of records and people are so familiar with, you really have to nail it every night.
HOOKERS & BLOW was originally formed by Guns N’ Roses Dizzy Reed and Myself in 2004 simply as a way to get free drinks in Hollywood – Little did we know that 13 years later it would become a viable band that has toured the world playing covers and GN’R deep cuts – We NEVER take ourselves too seriously and it’s a cool fun way to blow off steam when QR and GN’R aren’t on tour – We also have the amazing Mike Duda (WASP) and Johnny Kelly (Type O Negative) joining us – So it’s a Fun AND Great band….
HOLLYWOOD SCARS is my main creative outlet and something that James and I built from the ground up – So, we are responsible for it – Both good AND bad. It’s truly a labor of love and that is what I like about it – Plus, unlike a lot of projects, we have nobody to answer to and are in control of it’s destiny.
I’ve asked this question to many other guitarists: What are your views on the state of Rock and Roll and the music business in general?
AG: I think it’s changing daily and you either adapt or give up…… It certainly is not what it was back in the day, but that is simply evolution — You gotta evolve with it….. As far as “Rock N’ Roll”? – It’s Alive and Well… I see it every night.
What advice would you give to beginning guitarists or those who want to make a go of it in the music industry?
AG: Do it because you really enjoy it – If you think the movie “Rockstar” is what it’s about, I can tell you that it’s not even close….. That’s like telling a girl ready to turn her first trick as a street hooker that she is gonna end up like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” – (thanks Jizzy) ; )
What are the most important things every guitar player should know?
AG: 1) Always run a tuner in line (between your amp and guitar)
2) Don’t let your stripper girlfriend come to rehearsal and/or make clothes for the band.
3) If you are lucky enough to get free gear via an endorsement, don’t abuse it and be grateful.
4) NAMM is for business only, not for your bass player’s drunk chick to take 700 selfies with anybody she can, because you were dumb enough to get her a badge via your endorsement (see above)
5) Don’t take career advice from a guy in a band called HOOKERS & BLOW.
James, Quiet Riot was one of the defining bands of the 80s metal scene. A lot of the great 80s bands continue to tour, record and have large followings. Are you surprised by the resurgence of 80s metal?
JD: I’m not actually. I’ve been listening to resurgence bands for years! Dirty Penny, Vains Of Jenna, Crashdiet, Reckless Love, Hardcore Superstar, Backyard Babies, etc, etc. I’m proud of this style of music and those that have paved the way before me. I’m glad there are still bands all over the world who have not let this music style die out. They’ve brought in their own influences and style to it and in most ways have made it better.
How important is image in Rock and Roll and do you work on it?
AG: VERY and YES
Who had the best image in the history of Rock?
AG: I would say anybody that you can dress up as for Halloween has a great image (KISS, Slash, David Bowie….etc)
What are the future plans for Hollywood Scars, Quiet Riot and Hookers and Blow? Touring? More new music?
AG: Taking one day at a time – QR is touring A LOT and “Scars” has more new music coming out soon — HN’B will always play, when we can.
JD: No idea.. Hopefully a lot more songs to write
Thanks so much for your time. Keep kickin’ ass and keep ROCKIN’.
AG: Thank you, Ken