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Catching up with James Durbin of American Idol (exclusive interview)

Belinda Thomas , LA Music Examiner
December 8, 2011

Santa Cruz, CA native James Durbin, 22, rocked the stage of “American Idol” every week with his signature high-pitched scream and touched the hearts of America throughout the season as he opened up about his Asperger and Tourette Syndrome condition.

He recently released his debut album "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” on Wind-Up Records. I spoke with James about his time on “American Idol” and his new album in our exclusive interview.


Examiner: Before we talk about your latest CD, I want to ask you a few questions about American Idol. What was your audition process like, from auditioning, to Hollywood and then to end up in the Top 4?

James: It was really crazy. It was actually really scary a lot of the way. There's a real unsure feeling about it all. You’re really doing this on a limb. Not knowing what's going to come out of it. Not knowing if you're going to succeed at the end of it to not, you're not really sure what's going to happen along the way. How are people going to take you, you're performances and your attitude, your way of performing or anything. It was always like...it was very scary a lot of the time. It was unlike anything I’d ever done before.

Examiner: You came up with the "Give Metal a Chance" slogan that really caught on. How did you come up with that? Was that your plan going in?

James: It was definitely a plan that I was going to do. It's all music that I love that doesn't get that much attention in the main stream world.

Examiner: You got rave reviews from the judges to the fans for it. What was it like to tour the country, and the world, going to the Philippines on the American Idol tour?

James: It was unlike anything I'd ever done before. I always dreamed of going on a tour. It was kind of the makeup for a small town boy who has an undying love for music to get plucked out, which I was and being put on this grand huge scale, and to be onstage in front of all those people, it was definitely an eye opening experience. It was something I might never have done before if it hadn’t been for Idol.

Examiner: What metal artists did you like and grow up listening to?

James: Judas Priest, Motley Crue. I'm a big fan of a band called Steel Heart from the late 80s early 90s. A band that did not get much attention. Mike Matijevic is amazing. His was one of the voices I immediately took a liking to. His notes were unlike anything I'd heard before and I really took a lot of influence from him. Just where he goes with his voice. He still has a note on there that I can't hit.

Examiner: Let's talk about the new album, “Memories of A Beautiful Disaster.” I love the title? How did you come up with that title?

James: The title is about looking back on the course of my life and memories of my life, it being a thing of beauty now in what once I thought was chaos...through the beauty and the pain. It makes me who I am today and I wouldn't be able to change that.

Examiner: You're on Wind-Up Records, who are known for launching such bands as Creed and Evanescence? How's it been being on Wind-Up so far?

James: It's been great. My whole goal in shopping for a record contract was to find a label that looked at me as more than just a number on their paycheck......Others label that we went to didn't really want to, didn't really seem to care. Their main thought was how we are going to make money off this...With Wind-Up, before I was even signed yet ... two days after I went and met with them, they called me up just to see how I was doing, to see how the tour was going. I took that to mean that they really cared, and they do really care, they still really care. They're all about me growing as an artist.... They really care about you.

Examiner: You worked with producer Howard Benson [Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson] on this new album and co-wrote some songs on the album? What's your writing process like and how was it collaborating on songs?

James: I'd never collaborated before or done a co-writing session. It was a really eye-opening experience in getting to do that versus going on TV and singing some covers. It was so much fun. I can’t wait to get back in the studio and to get back into a writing session and do it all over again. It was just a lot of fun.

Examiner: I've got to ask you, it must have been surreal working with Mick Mars of Motley Crue. What was working with him like?

James: It was great. Mick is such a character and such a real person. Coming in the studio and getting to watch Mick Mars record and getting to watch him play was so cool because he is so unique and has a unique style of playing his guitar, to getting his tone and his tuning, everything how he plays and watching him play. He's such a real person. I still stay in contact with him. He called me up to see how me and my family were doing and to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving. I enjoy talking to the guy. He's great.

Examiner: You worked on a song, “Screaming,” with David Cook, an “American Idol” winner. How did that come about?

James: I was actually on the Idol live tour and I got to New York. I knew that I was doing a co-writing session and thought I was doing it with someone else and I get in the studio and Cook's there. We're hanging out talking for like 40 minutes and then I finally turned to him and said so David what are you doing in New York, what are you doing here in the city. He said well I' m here to write with you. And I was like oh, well we wasted 40 minutes BS-ing about life and about Idol and the Idol tour and everything and immediately we got to writing. The writing process is such a studious process you really need to be focused on what you're doing to write the best material you possibly can, so we got right into it and more and more people kept showing up and we wrote the song. It's one of my favorite songs on the record. It really comes from a very special place of experience and with passion. I was bullied, beat up for a long time, from elementary school to middle school and high school, I was bullied a lot. That's what the song is about. It's a fun one to sing because I get so into it. I'm really screaming at all those people that singled me out as a kid.

Examiner: One of my favorite songs on the album is “Love in Ruins.” What was the background of that song?

James: Charlotte Chaffey, Steven McDonald and Anna Warnoker wrote the song. I got that song played live for me when I was on tour. It was actually one of the first songs that I heard while we were getting ready to make the album. Originally I was like, ‘wow it’s this really cool Eagles, Aerosmith vibe’ ... I was just listening to the song over and over. I sort of tripped out on it and vibed on it. It's really a great song. It's one of my favorite songs to perform live with a band. That feels real good ...like when you see Steven Tyler singing, sometimes his body starts doing convulsions when he's singing. It is not because he is tweaking or anything. He's so deep in the music, you know. And with that song, I really get deep into the song. Man, it's just such a fun song.

Examiner: Any other favorite songs? Any that you have a special emotion about?

James: “Higher Than Heaven,” it’s a co-write with myself, James Michael and Marti Frederiksen... it’s about my life before I met my fiancée' Heidi and the date that I met her. It is kind of like wow. Nothing before this. Nothing before the moment I met you matters. My life is.... starting now, starting again. Nothing that I do before matters... I want to make her proud of me.

Examiner: I know there is a promotional tour happening now, but are there touring planning coming up? What are you looking forward to most with going on tour?

James: We are planning the tour for early next year, getting everything situated now. I just can't wait to get on the road can wait to play for all the people who bought the record. Plus the ones who have not bought it to give them an incentive to go out get it. It is not just a good record on your headphones with your computer...it is a fun record... I don't want to cheat my fans out of something...with an over produced record that they are not able to hear the same thing live. I want them to have the best experience.

Examiner: If you could collaborate with anyone outside of your music genre, who would it be?

Steven Tyler and Jared Leto. They are two different artists. Two very special artists. Steven brings something amazing to music. He has held history for a very, very long time. Jared Leto is also one of those people that has started his own history... doing something of his own. The band “Thirty Seconds to Mars” is about to make history with their 300th performance from one album. That is very inspiring and shows a dedication to your art. That is a big dedication to their fans. Both Jared and Steven are both very dedicated to their fans. If it wasn't for the fans, we wouldn't have careers. It is all about the fans.

Examiner: Are you in still in touch with anyone from this season of American Idol?

James: Of course. Myself, Stefano, Paul and Casey keep in contact. Stefano is going to be my best man at my wedding. We shared a lot of time together so it... to not talk and keep in touch would be a total waste of time. We all had so much fun and shared some great memories up there on Idol...fun times I will never forget.

Examiner: What are your holiday plans?

James: I am going on the road from December 7th to the 17th , then I come back home and it's on...I can't wait for Christmas. Can't wait to see what the new year brings. [It’s] going to be a special year and a very special end of the year with my fiancé. It will be a very, very special year.

Examiner: Thanks for taking the time out and doing the interview. I look forward to seeing the live show. Have a great holiday with your family.

James: Thanks and same to you. I can't wait for you to see the live show.