At this time last year, singer James Durbin was bravely competing on one of TV’s top shows—American Idol. The country anxiously watched as the charming and talented young man from Santa Cruz, Calif., who has both Tourette’s and Asperger’s syndromes, proved that a rocker can make it to the finals on Idol. Durbin wound up finishing Season 10’s contest in fourth place and, today, he has a well-received album out, a tour in the works and a new bride!
Durbin’s debut, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, came out in November, only a few short months after his stint on American Idol and the brand’s summer tour. With 11 hard rocking tracks displaying the 23-year-old’s powerful vocals and some big name songwriters and studio musicians (plus one special guest), it’s no wonder that Revolvermagazine nominated Durbin for Best Vocalist at their Golden Gods Award Show and that People magazine gave the album three out of four stars.
While the album’s first and last songs—the heavy “Higher Than Heaven” and the anthemic first single “Stand Up” (which was widely used by the NFL this past season)—may be its best, there’s no filler in-between. Other standouts include an epic ballad about the death of a loved one (“May”), a fun song to sing along to about the not-so-fun topic of bullying (“Screaming”) and a mid-tempo number about a relationship gone sour (second single “Love Me Bad”).
Aspire chatted with Durbin in late January to get the scoop on his red-hot career and happy home life…
Where did the album’s title, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, come from?
JAMES DURBIN: I knew that I wanted to do “memories” of something, I just didn’t know what. So, after a long time wracking my brain, “beautiful disaster” just popped in my head. It had kind of a dark elegance to it.
Are you the “beautiful disaster”?
JD: I think I’m the disaster. It’s, basically, about looking back on moments of my life that, at one point, I thought were disasters. But to look at them now and see the beauty in the pain, it made me who I am today and I never want to change that.
You worked with Season 7 American Idol winner David Cook on the song “Screaming.” Were you a fan?
JD: I thought he was really great at what he did on Idol. I was in New York and knew that I’d be writing and, randomly, he was at the studio at the same time. It wasn’t really planned—he was there and I was there.
On the cut “Outcast,” you worked with your favorite band, Hardcore Superstar. Who are they and how did you get them in your corner?
JD: Hardcore Superstar is a band from Sweden and they have been my favorite band for the past couple of years. They created their own subgenre called street metal, which is merging both grunge and hair metal—two genres that pretty much hated each other at the time because they canceled out each other. It just really worked and it’s a really great sound. [When I started making my album], I wouldn’t shut up about them and kept begging my team to get in touch with them. We finally got through and I was able to get on the phone with those guys and talk to them and tell them what I was thinking as far as what kind of song [I wanted to write with them]—a mixture of [David] Bowie and [Hardcore Superstar songs] “Hope for a Normal Life” and “Dreamin’ in a Casket.” They sent a couple of songs, one of which, “Outcast,” ended up making the record. And we got Mick Mars from Mötley Crüe to play guitar on that song.
How cool was it working with the legendary Mick Mars?
JD: Mick is a real class act—a really nice, kind guy!
You co-wrote five of the songs on the album. Do you feel weird singing songs that you didn’t pen?
JD: Sometimes I do. But, lately, I’ve been able to switch them up a little bit live and make them more personal for me by singing them a little differently than the way they were written so I get my own satisfaction out of it.
You’ve already made music videos for the songs “Stand Up” and “Love Me Bad”—do you enjoy that process?
JD: Music videos are a lot of fun to make. I’d love to make a video for every song!
What made you ink a deal with Wind-Up Records as opposed to another label?
JD: We had another offer, but it just really wasn’t what I wanted—it wasn’t right at all and I knew we could get something better. We found Wind-Up and met with them when I was in New York. I hadn’t signed anything and, a couple of days later, they just called me to see how I was doing. They didn’t have to do that. It really meant a lot to me that they would call to check in on me and see how I was doing, not to talk business.
When you first auditioned for American Idol, were you worried about doing the rock thing since there haven’t been many rockers who’ve made it from the show?
JD: No, I wasn’t worried about it at all. I was really looking forward to it.
Do you think having Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler as a judge helped you out more in your Idol journey?
JD: I think, at first, I may have thought that, but Steven was very non-biased with me and I think it was because of that reason.
Have you remained friends with any of the other contestants from Idol?
JD: Yeah, I’m still in touch with a couple of them. Stefano [Langone], Casey [Abrams] and Hayley [Reinhart] were at my wedding. I talked to Scotty [McCreery] yesterday and Paul [McDonald] a few days ago.
Speaking of your New Year’s Eve wedding, how is life with your new bride, Heidi?
JD: Married life’s treating me really good. I’m just taking it one step at a time. There’s a lot to be grateful for so I don’t want to miss any of it.
At your wedding reception, you sang Queensrÿche’s “Take Hold of the Flame” with the band’s lead singer Geoff Tate.
JD: I had no clue that he was going to be there! It was pretty cool—and really weird. Geoff’s really cool!
Does your 2-year-old son Hunter have any musical aspirations?
JD: He loves to sing my songs. And he can’t play guitar without a pick. So there’s definitely something there.
What are your concerts like?
JD: We just came off two really good shows—intensity in two cities! That was a lot of fun. We, basically, played the whole album minus three songs.
“May” is probably hard to play live.
JD: Yeah, definitely. I’ve done it twice and it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to happen both times…but what can you do?
Who plays in your backup band?
JD: My lead guitarist Dylan [Rose] and my bass player Tyler [Molinaro] I’ve known for quite a while. They were both in local bands: Dylan being in a metal band called Archer and Tyler being in a now-defunct hair metal band called Dirty Penny. I knew that I wanted them to be in my band so I gave them a call and they were totally down. We had closed auditions and found Jeff [Fabb] and Blake [Bunzel] who were both in In This Moment. They were both there on the same day, randomly enough, without the other knowing. I picked them to be in the band and they quit their other band.
Tell us about the charity work you are doing with WWE.
JD: I just started with their “Be A Star” anti-bullying campaign. The tagline is: “Don’t be a bully, be a star.” I was bullied throughout elementary, middle and high school and pro-wrestling was one of my escapes other than music. It’s something I’m really happy and honored to be a part of. I just recorded a PSA [Public Service Announcement] for them and I get to go into a couple of schools in March with some of the WWE superstars to talk about bullying. I’m really excited to be a part of it!
For more information on James Durbin, visit his website: DurbinRock.com.