Singer James Durbin embraces a poppier sound


Diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and Asperberger syndrome as a youth, singer James Durbin left high school before graduating and never looked back. Durbin, who finished fourth in Season 10 of American Idol, now has a recording contract and his catchy new single “Parachute” is generating some anticipation for this forthcoming album, Celebrate. His current tour includes stops at The Rock Factory in Akron on Tuesday and at the Agora Ballroom on Wednesday. When asked about how he was able to overcome those obstacles, he says determination was a key.

“When I was kid, I thought I would never amount to anything,” he says. “I had teachers tell me I couldn’t live my dreams. Something snapped in me. You’re supposed to tell us we are capable of doing anything. I literally told the teacher, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ It was right at the heat of my pro-wrestling days and I kicked the door open and I said, ‘All you can suck it.’ I left and dropped out.”

Durbin then started doing more community theater and began singing with local hard rock groups in his Santa Cruz hometown.

“I was figuring out who I was and what I liked without the teachers or the kids who bullied me,” he says. “I went home and started smoking pot and listened to a ton of music and started a band.”
He auditioned for Idol on a whim — he was laid off from his pizza delivery job and suddenly had the time to make the audition.

“I waited in line for hours to sing for 30 seconds,” he says. “That changed our lives forever.”

Though Durbin didn’t win Idol, he did get to perform with heavy metal icons Judas Priest.

“They invited me out to dinner,” he recalls. “They sent a car to pick me up. I was on my way to go have dinner with Judas Priest, and I didn’t know what to expect. Are there going to be male strippers and a pile of blow? I don’t know. I walked in and everyone was drinking tea. It was very British. It was definitely my speed. We were talking and cracking lobster. It was a good time.”

Durbin’s first proper studio album, 2011’s Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, sounds a bit like hard-rock crossover acts such as Daughtry, but his new single, “Parachute,” has much more of a power-pop feel to it.

“I had a lot more time to work on this record than I did for my first,” he says. “I had over a year to make the record. It’s mixed and mastered and now we’re working on album packaging and everything. I went a little more radio-friendly sound. I use that term loosely because the songs on the radio are anything. There are no genres. If I had said that a couple of years ago, it would mean I went pop. Of course, the single is produced a little more poppy. It’s catchy. It has to be in order to get played on the radio. It’s getting some spins. It’s awesome. I’m living the dream.”

Though his new song sounds a bit more poppy, Durbin says he still retains the showmanship from his heavy metal days.

“I like to have fun on stage,” he says. “I like to be a total goof. You watch any video of Sebastian Bach and Skid Row, he’s really goofy. Maybe it was the drugs. Maybe it wasn’t. I love the theatrics of watching Kiss and Queen and Guns N Roses. They knew how to put on a show. I’ve seen Kiss twice. They know exactly what their fans want. They know what they want and how to do things. As soon as you are that comfortable with yourself and you know that everything you say is going to go off without a hitch, you’re in it. I’m not there yet. There are plenty of things I say on stage and I think, ‘Shit, I shouldn’t have said that. No one will understand that.’ I’m still learning. I want to be inspired by my heroes but I don’t want to be one of my heroes.”

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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