My Conversation With James Durbin: "There's a True Reason That You're Different"
If you guys read my blog during Season 10 of “Idol,” you know that I often criticized James Durbin. But one listen to his new album, “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster,” and I could hear what all of his fans were screaming about.
And after talking to him, I admit. I’m on the Durbin train. My purpose was to get James’ thoughts about the album and the process of making it—and I achieved that. But I also received an inspirational message about following your dreams no matter what the obstacles in front of you…
“It doesn’t matter what obstacles you put in your way, you can overcome them. And there’s a reason, no matter if you feel you’re outnumbered, if you feel singled out. There’s a true reason that you’re different, no matter if you can’t figure out that reason just yet. I just say give it time. Because I didn’t know what my purpose was at first—growing up, getting bullied, beat up and teased, picked on—but now I do. My real purpose was to be able to go on “American Idol” and go in front of 25-30 million people every week and tell them that I can overcome anything. I can do what I love to do and there’s no limitations by it. My whole dream my whole life has always been to be a working musician and be able to support myself and my family off of doing what I love and doing pretty much the only thing I’ve ever been good at, which is performing and being on stage. And my dreams have been surpassed completely so I’ll just hold on to it as tightly as possible. Because if you lose sight of it for too long it will be snatched right out of your hands.”
Pretty good, huh?
Read on to see James’ thoughts about the album, including the meaning of the title, and what else he’s got going on in his life right now…
When I listen to the album it takes me back to the glam rock of the 80s. Is that what you were going for?
It definitely is. That’s probably the #1 genre or subgenre, however you want to refer to it. It’s definitely the big one that inspires me. The big one that is probably my favorite. It’s probably the thing that I listen most to. I try to find bands nowadays that embody that and I look up to that and I go off of that for inspiration.
Who are some of the bands who inspire you these days?
They’re all from, none of them are from the US, they’re all from Europe. Hardcore Superstar are probably my #1. They actually co-wrote one of the songs on the record, which is Outcast, which is the song Mick Mars [Motley Crue] plays on. Another band is Crash Diet. Hardcore Superstar and CRASHDIET are both from Sweden. Negative from Finland, HIM from Finland, Backyard Babies from Sweden. That’s pretty much it for now. The list goes on and on as I keep discovering more. The more I listen to those certain bands, the more I discover other bands that have that same style and flavor to them. Something about it, it’s something that’s been long forgotten in the States for a while. I still have a strong passion for that style of music so I think that’s probably why I go looking for it so much.
Tell me about the whole process with the album.
I had just come off of “Idol” and we were trying to figure out who would be a good fit to produce the record and pretty much the only person I was thinking was Howard Benson. I just love his producing style and the way he produces and just the artists that he’s worked with. Number one for me on his list would be a tie. Two different sides. He produced four Motorhead records. He did My Chemical Romance’s first record. Motorhead was the very first rock CD that I ever got and My Chemical Romance was one of my favorite bands growing up in high school. So you have a singer, you have the producer, so all you need are good songs to have a good record. So we enlisted the help of Dj Ashba of Sixx: A.M. and James Michael also from Sixx: A.M. and Marti Frederiksen who has written for Aerosmith and a long, long list of others. And we got right down to songwriting. I wrote a track with Dj called Crawling Home which was an iTunes pre-order bonus track. And I wrote a couple songs with Marti Frederiksen and James Michael and one that did make this record is the opening track, “Higher Than Heaven” which is basically the story of my life before I met my now fiancé, soon to be wife, but now fiancé, Heidi, and just really how she transformed my life and gave it meaning. And later on in the process we had a bunch of songs and I kept begging and begging to enlist the help and the expertise of my favorite band Hardcore Superstar. And we reached out to them and they took it in with open arms and they got back to us with the song Outcast and we got a call from Mick Mars, who wanted to, out of the kindness of his heart, play on the record. You’re not gonna not let Mick Mars play on your record if he asks. Mick played on it and we just got right down to singing and we got all the vocals down in two and a half weeks which was pretty insane. I hear that doesn’t happen too often, getting it done that quickly. But I was completely satisfied with all the songs and I still am and I found that I work really well under pressure and under stress and we got it finished. We had a deadline and I beat the deadline by a long shot. Finished it long before anyone thought we would. It was definitely a journey but it was a learning experience and I’ll take everything I learned from making “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” into making the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, so on and so forth, God willing for the rest of the life.
Where does the title, “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” come from?
The title is about looking back at moments of my life that perhaps at the time, you know, growing up I thought why did this happen? Why is this happening to me? I wish I could change this. But now I look back on my memories and I see the beauty in the pain. I can see the beauty in what was once a supposed disaster. It makes me who I am today and I would never want to change that.
Talk to me about your label, Wind-Up. Is it a dream knowing that you are on this label with all of these amazing artists?
It’s a huge dream come true to know that I have a recording contract and a record deal and on top of that my record is out right now. And on top of that it’s on Wind-Up Records with all these other great artists like Seether, Evanescence, and OAR. Just great, great amazing bands that are just, artists that aren’t just good recording artists, artists that go out there and bust their a-- on tour and really show their fans that they love them and they care about them. Artists that go out there and tell their fans thank you. I’m so happy to have gotten to be with Wind-Up. I was looking for a recording deal and a contract and Wind-Up came in the mix and I got to talk to them and we hadn’t finalized anything. But two days later they called me up to see how I was doing. Just to see how the Idols Live Tour was going at the time and just to keep up. And that really spoke to me. I really appreciated that and it really meant something to me. They asked me how my family was and family is what I’m all about. It was kind of a no brainer in that aspect.
Do you feel like now you can really show people who you really are and not just that guy from “Idol”?
Yeah, definitely. “American Idol” is a terrific amazing platform and I’m forever grateful for that opportunity, but the thing is that you’re up there singing karaoke every week and now this is my chance to shine and to show who I am as a musician, as a singer, as a songwriter. I am forever grateful for that opportunity because if it wasn’t for “American Idol,” I would have never had this chance to tell people who I am and to show the world, show the masses what I can do.
What else have you got going on in your life right now?
I’m getting married real soon and the album’s doing great and I’m just trying to secure, trying to get the album out there as much possible, do as much promotion around it and really get it out there because there’s still a lot of people who don’t know that it’s out, who don’t know that I have something out right now. So I do as many interviews as possible and radio performances. Go visit radio stations, go visit fans. I know in a couple of days I’ll be going to a children’s hospital in Atlanta and I love visiting kids. I love it for their satisfaction. I walk away being so much, so thankful for what I do have. I just love being able to give back like that. Because if not for fans, what do you have?
What’s the #1 question people still ask you about “American Idol”?
That’s interesting. I don’t know if I get asked so much about my favorite thing, it’s more, “Oh we voted for you, you should’ve won.” So it’s “Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.” There’s only so much you can say to that. Only so much you can answer that with. Either that answer or “Oh well, I didn’t. But I’m thankful for what I’ve got.”
That’s a great answer, because you’ve got a lot to be thankful for and more on the way.
“Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” is available now.
Photo Credit: Michael Scott Slosar/Wind-Up Records