SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
Afterburner: James Durbin releases debut album: 'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster'
By WALLACE BAINE - Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 11/19/2011 04:13:43 PM PST
Act II is about to begin.
The Santa Cruz “American Idol” star is poised to release his first album, which he is hoping will serve as the turbo-rocket that pushes him out of the orbit of “Idol” into a stratospheric career beyond.
“Memories of a Beautiful Disaster,” on the Wind-Up label, will be released Monday and will mark Durbin's first effort at self-definition after finishing fourth in last spring's “Idol” competition. It also will prove whether the hugely successful “Idol” franchise can
Durbin hits one of his trademark high notes during his concert at the Boardwalk. (KEVIN JOHNSON/SENTINEL FILE)do what it has yet to do in its 10-year existence — create a bona fide rock star.
To mark the release of the album, Durbin will make an in-store appearance Monday at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz, signing copies of the disc from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
For a young man who a year ago was essentially completely unknown outside Santa Cruz karaoke circles — a card-carrying 99-percenter when it came to celebrity — “Memories” marks a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming project for Durbin. His producer is Howard Benson, who has not only worked with a wide roster of name-brand bands such as Less Than Jake, Papa Roach, Creed and My Chemical Romance, he has helmed projects by past “Idol” stars Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert.
Motley Crue's Mick Mars is a guest player on the album and Durbin drew from a stable of top-drawer industry songwriters, as well as contributed his own songs. He even got to bring in his all-time favorite rock band, the Swedish group Hardcore Superstar, as a songwriting collaborator.
“It doesn't get any cooler than that,” said Durbin, in between rehearsals with his new band in Santa Cruz. “They're my heroes,
Durbin, with his band Hollywood Scars, in the days before American Idol. (Russell Martin/Contributed)people I just really look up to.”
“When I met him, I wasn't sure what to expect,” said Benson, a two-time Grammy nominee for Producer of the Year. “But he's about the sweetest guy you'll ever meet, extremely easy to work with. He would dig in his heels when he had to, which is what I wanted him to do. It's not good to have artists you can just run over, and James definitely wasn't that.”
None of this matters much to Durbin's battalions of fans who developed Durbin-mania from prolonged exposure to “Idol.” What matters to them are the songs, and it's the strength of those songs that will determine if Durbin is destined for greatness. Already, the album has spawned two singles —
James Durbin's Stand Up is being played in stadiums during NFL games this fall. (Russell Martin/Contributed)“Stand Up,” a rollicking anthem that has been adopted by the NFL and included on a “Game Day” compilation released earlier this year; and the muscular ballad “Love Me Bad,” which has been rolled out this month as a video and a Top 40 contender.
As a whole, “Memories” shows Durbin has a savvy understanding of his audience. The album cleaves nicely down the middle between big, earnest romantic power ballads that will rock the world of his mainstream fans, and darker, more potent material certain to appeal to the tormented teens that make up the metal record-buying public.
A trio of songs toward the end of the album — “Screaming,”
James Durbin gives fans the rock-on salute on Saturday as he makes his way across the Beach Boardwalk. (Kevin Johnson/Sentinel file)“Outcast” and “Everything Burns” – serves as a suite of emotionally charged yowls of anguish and catharsis that present compelling evidence that the 22-year-old Durbin, who shares songwriting credits on two of the three songs, isn't far removed from the pain of growing up a fatherless kid with a double diagnosis of Asperger's and Tourette's.
“I accidentally made half a record that really focuses on something I didn't think I was going to focus on going in,” said Durbin in reference to “Outcast” which he penned with the members of Hardcore Superstar. “There is an epidemic going on now with bullying. That's something I had to go through my whole life. And I picked these songs
Santa Cruz Idol James Durban hits a high note during his performance at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Saturday. (Kevin Johnson/Sentinel file)that really focused on that. But it happened very subconsciously.”
Much of the rest of the album, by contrast, leans toward exuberant but lean high-energy rockers that work as love songs, which is also part of Durbin's experience — he and his fiancee Heidi are to be married “later this year,” he said.
HIS LIFE'S STORY
In fact, there is one particular song, titled “May,” that seems to come gift-wrapped for that rabid demographic of older women who make up a sizable part of the James Gang. Written by Doug Brown of the alt-rock band Safety Suit, “May” is a poignant story-song of vulnerability that's likely to hit a significant portion of his “Idol” fan base right between the eyes.
“He was open to us finding great songs for him from different writers,” said Benson. “So the record is a good mix of what we consider great songs for radio that he really delivers on an emotional level, but with a little bit tougher sound, so it has that edge that he really wanted.”
Durbin stood out among his 2011 “Idol” peers not only because of his otherworldly vocal range, but because of his headstrong vision of where he wanted to go with his music. “Memories” represents a kind of walking the line between pop accessibility and the uncompromising rock sound that Durbin loves.
“He was able to do some songs out of his comfort zone,” said Benson. “And we toughened them up like he wanted. But inside, they are really good songs.”
The release of the new album is likely to give Durbin a foothold from which to take advantage of his celebrity before the new season of “Idol” starts up again in January and a whole new crop of Next Big Things pushes him into “Idol” history.
Durbin said that Santa Cruz is still very much his home and his base of operations. His favorite lunch spot, Zoccoli's, has even named a sandwich for him — grilled chicken with pineapple and light mayo on a sweet roll. He's been rehearsing with a hand-picked band in town, two of whom hail from Santa Cruz: Tyler Molinaro of the band Dirty Penny, and Dylan Rosenberg of Archer.
Howard Benson has produced scores of albums — many have been hits, many have fallen short. He's convinced that Durbin can endure in a notoriously fickle, flavor-of-the-month industry. He believes “Memories” is going to make some noise in the marketplace.
“There are three or four songs on this record that, when they get on the radio, they're definitely going to move the needle.”
But Durbin's most memorable song may be the album's first single “Stand Up,” an infectiously galvanizing rock anthem that the NFL is using in stadiums this year to get fans on their feet. Songs that have shown resilience in sports arenas aren't subject to the here-today-gone-tomorrow of the pop charts. They stick around for generations. “We Will Rock You,” the dominant song of the genre, has been in heavy rotation in stadiums for 35 years.
It may seem unlikely that a Durbin song would continue to be popular long after even “American Idol” has faded into pop-culture history. But given where he has come from in the past 10 months, would anything about this man's career be truly surprising?
IF YOU GO
Durbin to make appearance Monday at Streetlight Records
WHAT: Santa Cruz singer/songwriter James Durbin will make an in-store appearance at Streetlight Records on Pacific Avenue on Monday in support of his new debut album ‘Memories of a Beautiful Disaster.'
WHEN: Durbin is scheduled to make his appearance to sign copies of the new CD at 4:30 p.m. Streetlight Records is at 939 Pacific Ave.
WHERE: It will be Durbin's first public appearance in Santa Cruz since his Durbin Day concert in May.
IF YOU GO
Durbin at Santana Row
WHEN: 10 a.m. Black Friday; performance at noon
WHAT: Album signing and performance
WHERE: At the Row's 40-foot-tall holiday tree, which is being set up this year near the giant chessboard in Santana Row Park instead of at Park Valencia in front of Maggiano's Little Italy.