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Q&A: James Durbin

Story by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

SoundSpike Contributor

Published April 10, 2012 08:40 AM

"What you see is what you get" is the mantra that rocker James Durbin lives by.

While other "American Idol" contestants have been embraced by the pop and country communities, the Season 10 fourth-place finisher has made a rare connection by sticking to his guns and producing the rock/metal album "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster."

"It's really cool, especially coming off a show like 'American Idol,'" Durbin told SoundSpike. "It comes with pop. When you think of 'Idol,' you think of bubble gum pop and everything that comes with that. I really stayed true to who I was. That's who I am again. What you see is what you get. My faithful, my fans -- The Outcast Army -- are behind me all the way. It's great to be accepted in the rock industry as much as I am. I couldn't have asked for more. That's what we're here to do. We're here to work our asses off and be accepted completely. That's the plan."

Durbin has felt the love from the Revolver Golden Gods awards, which take place April 11 at Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Slated as a presenter, Durbin is also nominated for Best Vocalist along with Sebastian Bach, Black Veil Brides' Andy Biersack, Evanescence's Amy Lee, Five Finger Death Punch's Ivan Moody and Korn's Jonathan Davis. Durbin said the magazine acknowledged him after he performed with Judas Priest on "American Idol."

"It all blew up from there," he said. "A couple months ago, they put me as one of 100 Greatest Living Rock Stars and now I have the nomination for the Best Vocalist at the Golden Gods. I'm really excited. It's going to be a blast. I'm just happy to be there. I'm really honored to be there."

Durbin, who kicks off his tour and appears on "American Idol" on April 12, spoke to SoundSpike about the making of "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster," why he, Marti Frederiksen and James Michael make a dream team and the joy of writing songs while delivering pizzas for Domino's.

When we last spoke, before the "American Idol" show in Phoenix, you couldn't release details of your album. Now "Memories of a Beautiful Disaster" is a critical hit. It sounds like it was a fun project to be a part of.

James Durbin: It certainly was. We threw it together pretty fast. Sometimes I'm surprised that we came out with something I actually enjoy playing. When you throw things together too quickly and you really think about it too much ... I wrote songs that I love, I found songs that I love and still love today. It's a cool mix and we really love playing it live. It translates well from the album to the stage. I have fans coming up to us every single show saying, "I was so surprised it sounded exactly like the record." We're not playing to tracks or anything. It's just how it sounds. It was exactly the record I wanted to make. It was something that sounded exactly, exactly how it sounds on the record.

That must be a good feeling to please fans like that.

It's really cool. I don't like to gyp people out of anything. What you see is what you get. What you hear on the record is what you get live. If anyone has faith in the record, they'll certainly have faith in us live.

Howard Benson produced your record. How was it to work with him?

Howard's a blast. At first I didn't know what it was going to be like working with Howard Benson. He's a Grammy Award-winning producer and he has produced some of my favorite records. It was really intimidating at first, once you realize he's just a cool guy and we saw eye to eye on everything. We didn't butt heads once. So it was great. It was a really comfortable working session and working environment. It was awesome. I'm really happy with the way my record turned out, especially for my first record. It couldn't have happened any better.

Have you started writing new material?

We are musicians. We're always working and noodling on something. I have a guitar in my hands right now. There's always an idea boiling. I've been actually looking at old song ideas from when I was on "Idol," even before that, when I would be delivering pizzas for Domino's and driving around in my car. I'd have an idea and turn on my little mp3 recorder and record something. I've been listening to a lot of those lately. Just trying to piece them together and find something that can transcend the way my album has before. Music for me is about evolving and evolution. Your music and your tastes, they evolve. They don't always stay the same -- especially for me, anyway. I have songs that I'm cooking up right now that are completely different from the album and songs that are completely different from that and that and that, so on and so forth. Especially this summer on our tour we're definitely going to be writing. It's the first time that really the whole band will be around a lot. We've been doing a lot of promotional acoustic performances, me and the two guitarists Dylan [Rosenberg] and Blake [Bunzel]. Now that we have Jeff [Fabb]our drummer and Ty [Molinaro] our bass player, we're going full-fledged rock 'n' roll the whole summer. We'll be able to put our heads together and see what we can come up with.

You had some great co-writers on this album as well, from Ryan Star, to Ben Moody, to Marti Frederiksen. Who did you learn the most from?

I definitely learned the most from Marti Frederiksen and James Michael. We wrote two songs together and one of them didn't make the record. The other one did, which is "Higher Than Heaven," the first track on the record. The other one is called "In the Name of Love," which will hopefully be released at some point. We might just start playing it and make them release it. I definitely learned a lot from them. That was my first time ever being in a writing session. First time working with the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. I'm a huge fan of Marti's work. A huge fan of James' work. James as a producer, Marti as a producer and both as songwriters and singers both. It's still an honor. I still think, "When can I write with them again?" If I can write a whole record with just the two of them it would be a dream come true. I like to switch it around and stuff. I'm just completely honored. Mick Mars, I got to write with DJ Ashba, my favorite band in the world Hardcore Superstar from Sweden. We co-wrote a song together, the song is called "Outcast." That's the song that Mick Mars plays on, too. That was a pipe dream. It was definitely a dream come true. A bunch of my idols all together it's great.

Co-writing with Marti and James, did it come naturally or was it a bit difficult?

It was definitely difficult at first. I'm not much of a lyricist. I can come up with a vocal melody no problem. I'm not too good coming up with riffs on the guitar. It's not my first love, my first forte or anything like that. It was definitely something different. I didn't really know what to expect. I'm going into this thing being very business. "Here we are, we're going to write a song." We actually just ended up hanging out and it flowed so much better. There was no stress. We just hung out, sat down with guitar, piano and bass and at the computer. We started throwing around ideas. We settled on something, the first song, "In the Name of Love" that came out, I think it took two days, two or three sessions. "Higher Than Heaven" happened in six or seven hours. There's no telling what can happen. People spend a good month or more writing a song. It just all depends when you have three creative minds in the room together, magic happened. It was great. We were a great team, I thought. I still think. "That's why I'd definitely like to work with them again."