James Durbin on Rob Halford, Mick Mars and Carrying the Metal Torch
Sure, most people know James Durbin as the golden-voiced contestant who dared to bring heavy metal to the 'American Idol' stage. But now, instead of impressing Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, he's impressing the likes of Judas Priest singer Rob Halford and Motley Crue guitarist Mick Mars.
We recently had the pleasure of hosting an acoustic set by Durbin at the offices of Loudwire and its sister site PopCrush, and what we found out is that this young rocker is the real deal. With no mic and accompanied by a couple of members of his band on acoustic guitar, Durbin sang to us as if he were singing to a television audience of 25 million. And he rocked the house. (Check out the exclusive videos below for proof.)
With his debut album, 'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster,' set to drop on Nov. 21 and a single 'Stand Up' making waves at rock radio, Durbin sat down with Loudwire to talk about working with Judas Priest, signing to a rock label and, for lack of a better phrase, shooting the s--t with Mick Mars:
We interviewed Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford recently and he told us the reason Priest decided to appear on 'American Idol' with you was because you had "something really special" and are a "real metalhead," What does it mean to you to hear compliments from someone like Rob Halford?
Man, Rob is the ayatollah of rock 'n' rolla. Oh my god, that’s crazy, man. Rob is so fricken nice. You see these concerts, you hear how soft spoken he is, but you don’t completely grasp that until you meet him, it’s one in the same. It was trippy meeting them and sitting down drinking tea and cracking lobster. I still can’t believe I performed with them or met them. It’s just mind-blowing.
I hope I can relive it in the sense that I can do something else with Rob like maybe sing on a tribute album to him or sing on his next solo record or if Priest does another record it would be unbelievable to be a part of that or just perform live with them again or just hang out, go get lunch and hang out like buds. That’s just what I get from them; Rob’s been sober since '86 and I really respect that, being sober period, and especially being sober at the height of when every single band was using and abusing. [Laughs] I just blabbered about Rob.
You signed with Wind-up Records and that’s home to Seether, Evanescence and a lot of rock acts. Was that a conscious decision to tell the world that you are first and foremost a rock 'n' roller?
Oh yeah, definitely. We honestly were wrist deep in another deal and feeling it out; we didn’t sign to do anything, it just wasn’t gonna make me happy. I wasn’t happy with okay so there’s a possibility of doing this and then that’s it and if they don’t like it then that’s it for me but I’m still with them for eight years and not being able to do anything? Yeah, I’m gonna pass. So, we looked around we found Wind-up and I noticed an immediate change of things. Wind-up wasn’t just a record company, they’re not just someone like alright, “What’s your name -- James? Alright you’re on the list, when something happens for you, we’ll take your money and you’ll get a little bit of it and then we’ll see you later.”
Wind-up is definitely more of a family. It’s something that I really wanted to be involved with, when I saw that and I saw the artists that are signed to them have been with them, the artists that are there, it seems like there’s ethics there, it’s not just, “Here we’re promoting sex, drugs and violence and rock 'n' roll,” it doesn’t have to come with the territory. So Wind-up was a perfect fit.
You worked with Mick Mars on the song ‘Outcast’ off your debut album, 'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster.' Tell us a little about what that experience was like.
So, I get in there a little bit early, into the studio and I think I have time to go to the bathroom because if I don’t and if Mick Mars shows up I’m gonna s--t my pants. Here’s the bathroom door, here’s the entrance door so you walk in, the bathroom’s just to the right and walk down the halls, so I’m coming down the hall to the bathroom; the door opens and Mick Mars is right there and I’m about to go into the bathroom and he’s like ‘Hey James, how’s it going man?’ I’m like, I just sh-t my pants. [Laughs] “Hi, I just s--t my pants.” It was just unbelievable, he comes in with his hat pulled down over his eyes like he always does; I don’t even know how he sees.
Oh my God, Mick Mars man! The first thing he did actually was he said hi to my son Hunter [who is] two and a half. And I was just like yeah man he’s cool, he likes the kids. By the end of the day he was like Grandpa Mick. Hunter kept walking up to him when he was recording guitar, getting his tone or something, he’d walk in the room with his toy and he’d be all, “Mit Mars, Mit Mars.” Actually, a couple weeks ago, Motley Crue was on TV and he’s like, “Daddy, Mit Mars, Mit Mars!” It was so cute. Mick’s unbelievable. He just totally made that song.
The base of the song was written by my favorite band Hardcore Supersta; they’re from Sweden, unbelievable, unbelievable band. My main goal was, they’re not well known over here, not at all, nobody knows who they are but they’re super popular over there, so to get the word out about Hardcore Superstar and have them write on the record. It’s a very awesome song, it’s very tongue and cheek but it’s just got that cool essence about it. Mick totally made the song what it is.
Watch James Durbin Perform 'Stand Up' at the Loudwire Offices
Watch James Durbin Perform 'Right Behind You' at the Loudwire Offices