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James Durbin Just Wants To Celebrate

James Durbin

Just Wants To Celebrate

By Ally Abramson

James Durbin has a whole lot to celebrate right about now. Durbin, who came in fourth place on the tenth season of American Idol, is readying for the release of his new disk. Celebrate hits stores this April. The album is awesome – it’s got a little something for everyone. Durbin is a nice guy, and his music is great. He’s calm, cool and collected, but when it comes it singing, James is not shy. Recently, I sat down and had a conversation with him about his new album, his fans and his career.

You were on tour recently, right?

Yeah, I just got off of an acoustic tour.

What was your favorite part of being on tour?

My favorite part of being on tour is not only just playing music, but it’s also meeting my fans and making new fans. When my fans come see me, they always bring someone new that hasn’t seen me before, so it’s nice to always know that I’m trying to win someone over. It really makes me perform at my highest. It keeps me, and the energy levels high, even for an acoustic show. First off, when people heard acoustic show and James Durbin, they thought that was really weird. Even some people came to the show not thinking it was going to be very high energy. They left very surprised because we made it a lot of fun.

You’re going on tour again soon, right?

I’m in the middle of booking some tour dates right now. I’m trying to get a summer tour started up.

That sounds really cool. What’s the best city you’ve performed in?

What’s my favorite city that I’ve performed in? I really liked – let’s see – we did Dallas, and we did Houston back-to-back and those were really awesome shows. They were at the House of Blues. They were really cool. They were in the smaller rooms. I think one of them was the Peacock Room, so the architecture and the design, they had all this really cool folk art. The sound guys knew what they were doing and all that good stuff. Another great one was the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, because the likes of Billy Idol, The Beatles, Elvis, they all played there. So it was cool, you could really feel the energy emanating through the building.

So a lot of music history. Must be inspiring.

Oh yeah, a lot of music history. And then also, 7th Street Entry, which is at the venue called First Avenue in Minneapolis. That’s where they filmed the movie Purple Rain. There are just all these amazing bands coming through there.

Wow. Sounds like you’ve performed in a lot of interesting places, to say the least.

Yeah, definitely. It was awesome.

You’ve got a new album coming out which I really enjoyed. Let’s talk about that.

(Laughs) Yeah, totally. So yeah, Celebrate comes out in about a month now, like one month. I’m really excited. I just got a really big box of pre-orders with CD covers at home and I’m driving home to go sign them all. (For the record, he signed them all the next day. Impressive.)

So you’re really happy with how it turned out?

Oh yeah, I’m really happy with the way it turned out. I spent about a year and a half working on it writing songs and producing and yeah, it’s really great. It’s definitely where I’m at right now. I’m just riding the wave and living the dream, so why not make good music?

I love that philosophy!

It’s all good music. I loved the music on my first record. I love the music on this. I just like to go with the flow and evolve and change a little bit and try new things, you know? It doesn’t hurt to try new things.

Speaking of new, how is this album different from the other stuff that you’ve put out?

I’d say it’s a little bit more mainstream than the first record. It has songs on it that catch your ear. You hear them on radio, but also writing some hooks, keeping in mind licensing, commercials and movies. When you hear a song in a movie, it’s very catchy. There’s something about it, it just sticks in your ear. I made sure to put a couple of those on the record.

Yeah, and from what I’ve heard, you’ve definitely got a few of those at least.

Well thank you!

What do you want your fans to know about this album before they hear it?

I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about that. When I went into writing this record, before it turned into Celebrate, I didn’t really know what kind of record I was writing. So along the road I wrote some pop songs, a bunch of rock songs, I even wrote a hip-hop/rap song.

I’ve got to hear that!

So I guess, I’m not worried about naysayers or negativity. It’s not affecting me in any way. I’m really just focused on perfecting my craft as a songwriter. That’s writing super heavy songs or lighter pop songs or what have you. It’s all going up. You look at an artist like Bruce Springsteen or like The Beatles. Especially for the Beatles. They were only together for like six years as a band. In that short amount of time they wrote pop songs, rock songs, country songs, punk songs, ballads, storytelling Americana folk songs and everything in between. With Springsteen songs, he takes you on a journey, like he did with the high ends and the low ends, the heavy jam bands songs.

Would you say that your album is the story of how you grew over the time that you wrote it?

Yeah, I definitely think so. That’s one way of looking at it. It starts out big and dramatic with "Children Under the Sun" and then right into "Parachute." Then it takes you back. There’s a song called "You Can’t Believe" which is more somber. It’s got like a Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Muse, and Modest Mouse sound, which I haven’t compared to anything but a whole lotta Durbin. It’s really me and it’s a lot of fun. Then bringing it back into the song about being okay with who you are because you are different. The song is called "Issues," because we all have them. We all have issues, but it ends up being that we’re all completely different, and if anything it means we’re all the same. I think the album really flows and it drops. It takes you on a ride. It’s a magical mystery tour. (laughs)

Speaking of which, tell me, if you had to pick a favorite song on the album, what would it be?

Well, it’s hard to pick. I think I’d have to go by the writing session and just how the song came about and where it came from. In that case, it would be "Celebrate," the actual song. It’s a bit different, very different and poppy and trippy. It’s very chill. I can listen to that song in every mood. That’s what we set out to write and we really accomplished that through this song.

Did the process of perfecting it take a long time?

I think it took us probably around two days to really get it solid.

You’ve been working on and putting out some music videos, right?

Yeah. So far, I’ve done one video for "Parachute," and a lyric video for "Parachute." The lyric video for "Celebrate" is coming out soon. I’m hoping to do a video for that. I have lots of fun trippy ideas that we conceived during the writing of that song itself. It’ll just be a lot of fun. It’s really weird and odd and it gives you a little bit of an idea of the song. The song and the lyrics are very simple, but where they came from – and the conversations that we had and the session that we had, Ted Berger and myself – was just very abnormal.

When you make these videos, what’s that like? Do you get a lot of creative input yourself in making the video?

Yeah, I definitely do. It’s a nice problem to have. You have to see it and you have to be in it and it has to be representative of you. So, yeah, I definitely put some creativity into the video process.

As many people know, you started out on American Idol. How did your experience there influence you today?

Being on Idol, it’s like a crash course in the music industry. When I went in, I had played shows. I had been in a bunch of bands and had been doing that for a few years. Being on Idol, it’s completely different. There are cameras. There are interviews. You have to learn how to talk right in front of the camera and give interviews. What to say.

And what not to say.

How to dress. All these different things that are really important when you are trying to be current in the musical scene and the big industry. I’m forever grateful to Idol just for giving me that chance. Letting my talent become something that could be molded into success in the industry. It’s pretty cool. It’s truly weird, but it’s pretty cool. Some say that anyone that makes it from Idol, whether you end up going for it afterwards or not, it’s just something you really have to be grateful for. You wait in line. I actually waited in line, well, my wife and I waited in line for 32 hours, just so I could sing for 30 seconds.

Wow, that’s dedication. And hey, it all worked out right?

Yeah, it did. That’s hanging onto a dream so tight that nothing is going to stop you.

What would you say is the most important thing that you learned? What piece of criticism helped you most in becoming an artist?

That’s something that I’m learning more now, because when you perform you kind of pick your spot. When I’m playing a show, like on my first tour post-Idol, I was just stoked to get out there and scream my head off. Play over and over and over. I started to show off with a big scream for every song and every song was high. Each was an 11. How was there room to go anywhere else once you’re already at 11? That’s definitely something that I focused on making Celebrate, the record itself. I wanted to be able to take some songs down a little. Have a little bit of brood and attitude and some chill and of course, some rock. It really just kept it flowing.

I totally get that. So James, tell me, if you weren’t a music artist, what would you be doing now?

Well, when I was a kid, I either wanted to be a singer, a professional wrestler, or a cartoonist and voice-over artist. So probably I’d be doing cartooning. I’m not really tough enough to be a wrestler.

Cartooning... are you a good drawer then?

I think so. I’m okay. I like to draw. I draw on canvases. I’ve sold a couple of them, so I’d say, I guess I’m good enough to do that.

I bet your fans would love to see something that you’ve drawn.

Yeah, I post them from time to time on my Instagram (@durbinrock). A couple fans have auctioned some of my canvases.

That’s so cool, I’ll make sure to check it out! Besides your knack for cartooning, what is something that a lot of people don’t know about you?

I don’t really know that there is anything that my fans don’t know about me, without giving away all of my secrets. I guess one thing is that my hair doesn’t like my fingers. My hair just hates my hands. When other people do my hair it works, but when I try to do my hair, it goes off on me. It pops and does this weird Free Willy dorsal fin thing where it flops over and sags.

That’s an interesting problem to have...

Yeah, that’s probably my biggest pet peeve about myself.

Hey, we’ve all got Issues, right? (Oh, album puns...) So James, where do you see yourself in five years? Will you still be performing?

I think regardless of where I am and what I have, I’ll always have music. That’s what I do. It’s what I love. So regardless of how records do and how many sell and how many tickets sell, I’ll always have my voice. I’ll always be able to sing either by myself or with a band. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t really like to look that far ahead into the future. I like to focus on tomorrow and this weekend, the things that I have coming up recently.

It’s a good way to live. Tell me a little about your family.

Well it’s myself, my wife Heidi, our son Hunter, he’s four and a half. And we have two rescue dogs named Max and Thomas, and two cats named Jedediah and Okie.


Okie, yeah.

Where’d that name come from?

"Okie from Muskogee," the old Merle Haggard song.

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists?

Yeah, figure out who you are as an artist and as a persona, so to speak. Just what makes you different and unique. If you try to sound too much like someone else and try to be too much like someone else, strive to be just like your heroes, nobody wants another. We already have them. We already have a Rihanna, and we already have a Steven Tyler, all these different people. Be you, be different and be unique. I think you should record your voice over and over to know what you sound like. A lot of people think they sound really good, and they go sing somewhere and it’s not really that, or vice versa. You might think that you don’t have a good voice and then you record yourself and listen back as a bystander and you’re like “Oh, that’s really good.”

That’s some good advice.

You’d be surprised. I’ve listened to my voice recorded and I hate how it sounds. When I was a kid, I’d try to change up my voice and make it sound like me and more original. Don’t try to sound too much like Steven Tyler or John Lennon, I just need to be me.

What do you want to say to your fans who have stuck with you through the years?

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. For everything, for buying the shirts, for coming to the shows, for supporting me, for donating money to put up posters to promote shows. You name it and my fans have done it. I just got a doll; someone made a doll of me. They made me a poster of my album cover. T-shirts and fun stuff. All sorts of cool things. They gave me stuff for my birthday and Christmas, and for my son’s birthday and my wife’s birthday. They’re just very loyal and it’s really a beautiful thing, especially coming from Idol. You have a built-in fan base, but it’s not only that. You are on the Idol journey. You’re on this journey on TV. You have your fans watching you. Growing with you so much that they’re voting for you. They have this attachment to you because they’ve gotten here with you. Wherever I am and where I am today, I’m here because of my fans, because they voted for me. They supported me. The last three or four years wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for my fans. I’d still be delivering pizzas at Domino’s. You can get so far because of your talent. Once you have a fan base and you get records sold and tour, it becomes like a joint custody of your career, you and your fans. It’s teamwork. You get there together. I always thank my fans for being along for the ride, because if we’re going to get to the top we’re going to get there together. We’re all going to celebrate together.

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: March 21, 2014.

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2013 LeAnn Mueller. Courtesy of Ken Phillips PR. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2013 LeAnn Mueller. Courtesy of Ken Phillips PR. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2013. Courtesy of Ken Phillips PR. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2013 LeAnn Mueller. Courtesy of Ken Phillips PR. All rights reserved.

#5 © 2013. Courtesy of Ken Phillips PR. All rights reserved.

#6 © 2013. Courtesy of Ken Phillips PR. All rights reserved.


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