James Durbin Overcame His 'Weirdo' Childhood Through Heavy Metal
Michael Scott Slosar
It's not often that Noisecreep covers someone from 'American Idol,' but then again, how many other 'Idol' finalists can say they performed a duet with Rob Halford? But that's exactly what 22-year-old James Durbin did during the 'American Idol' finale this past May, delivering a show-stealing rendition of 'Breaking the Law' alongside Judas Priest.
Although he ultimately didn't win the television competition, Durbin's revved-up stage performances and arena-ready voice made him one of the most popular contestants in recent memory. Now signed to Wind-Up Records (Evanescence, Seether), the powerhouse vocalist will be releasing his hard rock and melodic-metal influenced debut solo album, 'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster,' next month.
"I just remember being a kid, driving around with my mom, and then Dio's 'Holy Diver' came on the radio and it changed everything," Durbin tells Noisecreep. "It was the first time I had ever heard a metal song. I loved it right away. From there I just wanted to learn as much about music as I could. Eventually I found the artists that I liked more and stuck with those. I'm talking about Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio, Mötley Crüe– you know, the classics," says the singer.
Durbin suffers from both Aspberger's Syndrome and Tourette's Syndrome, but while growing up in Santa Cruz, Calif., his mother encouraged him to embrace his artistic inclinations. "I've always showed an interest for music of all kinds, so they might have thought that the metal thing was just a phase [laughs]. When I was a teenager I even started a metal band called Leviathan. I've always wanted to be a professional musician. Look, metal isn't the kind of music my mom would listen to, but she's always been supportive nonetheless."
This past season on 'American Idol,' Durbin took on classic songs from the likes of Queen, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Most vocalists wouldn't have dared to tackle material that hallowed, but Durbin proved that he had the pipes to back it all up. The higher register of his voice particularly wowed the judges and everyone voting at home.
Noisecreep asked Durbin how he first discovered he could hit those piercing high notes. "I was singing in a choir during middle school and we had a test one day. They wanted to see where they should put me. At that point I was a real loner type of kid – a weirdo. So they put me up against the highest soprano in the choir which was this girl. Anyway, they wanted to see who could hit the highest note, and right when she bottomed-out, I kept on going. It was strange for me because I didn't even know I could do that."
It turns out that a one-hit-wonder hard rock band from the early '90s had a huge impact on Durbin's vocal styling. "I learned so much from listening to Steelheart. They were a band that just missed the hair scene of the '80s and merged the thrash look with a glam sound. Steelheart's singer is a guy named Michael Matijevic and man, can he f---ing wail! I would watch all of their videos on YouTube and listen to their records and try and hit the notes he was nailing. I always wanted to see how far I could take my voice and listening to that band helped me out a lot. Michael actually did some of the vocals for the Mark Wahlberg movie 'Rock Star.' That's how I first discovered him."
James Durbin's 'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster' will hit stores on Nov. 21st via Wind-Up Records. Pre-order the album today at this link.