James Durbin talks about his new single, artistic control and “the
Santa Cruz mentality"
by Jacob Pierce on Jan 18, 2012
James Durbin, who started singing in bars at 15, has an edge that
even his most ardent fans may have missed as they watched his ride
on national television last year. He’s the first to admit it.
“Being on Idol, you get this stigma of being this wholesome
person, or else you don’t make it very far,” Durbin said
before a secret concert held earlier this week at Kuumbwa.
These days, the artist isn't afraid to speak his mind. In a wide-ranging
interview with Santa Cruz Weekly, Durbin criticized some Santa Cruzans
for laziness, expressed qualms about his album’s first single
and bragged about head-butting the wind out of a professional wrestler
at a WWE match the week before.
The Santa Cruz native, who has both Asperger and Tourette syndromes,
released a new album, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, last November.
The music video for his second single, “Stand Up,” comes
out Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Durbin spoke about living with disabilities, being a rock star and
the importance of staying true to James.
You set a piano on fire for your “Love Me Bad” music
video. Was the Santa Cruzan in you disappointed about the pollution
and the waste? Or was it just pretty fucking badass?
It was pretty fucking badass. They had firefighters on hand and paramedics
just to make sure it was as safe as possible. But on the first take
when we lit all the fire, the smoke was billowing so much I couldn’t
open my mouth. It literally knocked me down on the ground.
You’ve said you want to stay in Santa Cruz forever. Are you
sticking with that?
Everything I need is in Santa Cruz, but there’s this curse with
people. They get to a certain age, and they wake and bake. They sit
home and do nothing with their lives. Maybe they’re a “professional
skateboarder.” That’s what they say their title is. They’re
really unemployed, and they just hang out and don’t do anything.
It’s like Highway 17 scares them.
I love driving Highway 17! It’s fun getting over and saying
“It’s not Santa Cruz! This dude doesn’t look like
he wants to kill me! And he’s not wearing khaki Dickies shorts
with tall white socks with a handlebar mustache and his head shaved
and a swastika on his back.”
So you’re making fun of Santa Cruz?
No, I grew up on the Eastside. So I saw a lot of that. And even a
lot of people that I went to school with are now like that, and I’m
just amazed that I didn’t turn out that way. I didn’t
have that mentality of not wanting to do anything with my life, and
I see that a lot. I refer to it as the Santa Cruz mentality.
Former Mayor Ryan Coonerty gave you surfboard last year with your
face on it. You said it would be an incentive for you to learn how
to surf! How’s that board treating you?
It’s treating me pretty good. I get to go into my garage and
look at it. I couldn’t tell you the last time I went into the
ocean in Santa Cruz. It’s so damn freezing.
Does Tourette Syndrome ever interfere with your performance?
No. When I’m on stage, everything goes right for some reason.
I can be sitting right here having a simple conversation with you
and ticking my brains out, and it really bothers me. But as soon as
I get onstage and as soon as I start singing, it really just takes
my mind off of it and takes my mind off of the stress.
Some people say you’re a role model for people with disabilities.
I’m actually really honored to be thought of as a role model.
I’ve always stayed true to who I am. I’ve never tried
to be someone else. My interest and my style may change, but I’ve
always been James. I was just the outcast.
And that’s why you took to metal?
Yeah, I noticed metalheads were the outcasts. People don’t really
understand it. They think it’s just annoying, and people have
this strange misconception about metal. I mean, Judas Priest is so
enjoyable to listen to, and Black Sabbath too. Something about it
I really enjoy. It’s so melodic and so much fun, and it really
gets me in the mood.
“Love Me Bad” was your first Top 40 single off the new
album. But “Stand Up” was later released to the rock charts.
Which do you like better?
“Stand Up,” definitely. “Love Me Bad” is good
for what it’s worth, but it’s definitely not my favorite
song on the album. There’s so many other songs on the album
that would be a better representation of me coming straight off the
“Love Me Bad” sounds like a radio pleaser.
Yeah, it definitely is a radio pleaser.
So it doesn’t feel like you?
Yeah, it doesn’t. I play it so much. I play it acoustic. I play
it electric. We did it on Conan, and switched it up. And then I actually
heard the recording on the radio for the first time. We were in Portland,
and it was so strange. I said, “Can we re-record that? Like
the way we did on Conan? That was more fun.”
How much artistic control do you expect to have in your career?
As far as songwriting and recording and music videos and style and
how I present myself, I have complete control over it, and I intend
to keep it that way. If I’m going to be the one singing the
songs, I’ve got to be happy singing ‘em. You’ve
got to stick to your guns.