James Durbin's 'Memories of a Beautiful Disaster': Track-By-Track (Exclusive)
The "American Idol" season 10 finalist tells THR how each song came together for his debut album (out this week), which includes a collaboration with fellow show alum David Cook.
James Durbin knows the sting of American Idol rejection all too well. Not only was the Santa Cruz native thisclose to making the top 3 on season 10, but he was unceremoniously denied entry to season 8, too, never making it past the first round. “I auditioned with ‘Faithfully’ by Journey,” he recounts. “I had someone coaching me and he didn't know what he was doing. They asked to hear a second song, and I wasn't prepared to sing another. My stupid ass, I sang the last song that I had heard, which was another Journey song, ‘Wheel in the Sky.’ It showed nothing. But they loved ‘Faithfully.’”
Maybe it was for the best. After all, season 8 brought Adam Lambert to the national stage, which, in a way, opened the door for a James Durbin to crash his way into.
And did he ever. Durbin’s season 10 run included fiery numbers like Judas Priest’s "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” and Muse’s “Uprising,” while his love of wrestling brought Hulk Hogan to the Idol stage.
Indeed, if ever there was a contestant that took it to 11, it was Durbin, which is one reason his debut album landed at Wind-Up Records, rather than Universal Music’s Interscope, which had first dibs on his signing. It seems the 22-year-old who’s suffered from Tourettes since childhood, was too rock for the label that’s increasingly relied on pop and hip-hop acts for sales.
“Looking at the artists that had been with Wind-Up -- Evanescence, Seether, Creed, OAR, Civil Twilight – it felt like a family,” Durbin tells the Hollywood Reporter. “Judging by that and [the fact that] before we signed anything, they called me just to see how I was, that was a clear indication that it would be a perfect fit.”
The end result of that relationship is Memories of A Beautiful Disaster, out this week. Produced by Howard Benson in the same studio where he recorded My Chemical Romance’s game-changing debut Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, an extra-special honor for Durbin who’s a huge fan of Gerard Way and Co. Says Durbin: “It's really cool to be there, where history was made. I hope I can make a little bit of history too.”
With a video for first singles “Stand Up” and “Love Me Bad” in the can and a new band -- guitarists Dylan Rose and Blake Bunzel, bassist Tyler Molinaro and drummer Jeff Fabb -- recruited and ready to hit the road, Durbin runs down how the record came together in this exclusive track-by-track.
"Higher Than Heaven"
“This is a song that I co-wrote with James Michael from Sixx:AM and Marti Frederiksen, who's written for Aerosmith, Buckcherry, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. It’s about where I was before I met my fiancée Heidi. Once I met her, it was like this complete realization that I'm throwing my life away and becoming a worthless piece of shit and just going down a downward path. The chorus says, ‘Angels saved me, God forgave me, but you alone take me higher than heaven.’ It's just a badass, heavy love song.”
"All I Want"
“The album in itself covers a lot of love and bullying, and this is another love song. But it's fast and down-tempo and was a lot of fun to record, actually. That was one of the songs that while we were recording, I was putting so much into it that my voice gave out and we had to come in the next day to finish vocals.”
"Love in Ruins"
"This is a fun one. ‘Love in Ruins’ has got an Aerosmith, Beatles, real tripped-out essence. The bridge is very psychedelic and fucking awesome. The thing I love about this record is that these songs are fun to perform live. They just have this certain quality about them and ‘Love in Ruins,’ especially in the bridge, I feel like Steven Tyler singing this song. I even pay a little homage to Steven Tyler in the song. I can't help but do that Joe Cocker-Patty LaBelle-Janis Joplin convulsion thing.”
"Right Behind You"
“For ‘Right Behind You,’ I actually teamed up with the U.S. Army. They took the song and they put it in 100,000 USB bracelets and sent it off to the troops and their families. It's a very comforting song that gives you hope. I love singing it acoustic and completely building on it and the bridge. It's very fun to perform live and I get really into it -- maybe too much into it.”
"Love Me Bad”
“This is the single and another love song written by Marti Frederiksen. It's a song about regret, and I find I'm able to sing it because I look at that every time I go on business and have to leave Santa Cruz and my family. We shot the video out in Barstow. There was this dried lake bed and we got to light a bunch of shit on fire and blow stuff up and I was driving a '71 Dodge Charger so freaking hard that the engine blew up. The hood was on fire and the firefighters are running out from, like, 300 yards away, going, ‘Get the fuck out of the car!’ In the breakdown, it's got me throwing gasoline on everything and getting it on myself on accident and then I had to light a torch and drop it down and it blows everything up. The video is so hardcore. And the song, it’s the closest thing to a single on the record -- I thought this one would be a great fit. It's catchy enough. It's not too complicated and I can imagine someone driving in their car and hearing it on the radio. It's easy to sing along to.”
“Hearing the demo of this song, which was written by these young kids (Grady Benson, Aidean Abounasseri, and Joao Barao Neto), ithad this kind of old, early Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath feel to it -- this sick innocence with a protruding sound that you haven't heard. What I want is to write a treatment for a video for it and possibly direct it and film it in Santa Cruz based off The Lost Boys, because that movie was filmed there. I'm constantly thinking of all the different scenes from Lost Boys that I could take like hanging under the bridge in Santa Cruz. The opening line is, ‘I lost myself again in the dead of the night’ and the beginning of the second verse is ‘I found myself again with the dead of the night’ and it's, like, vampires. I just think it would be so much fun. The song is so weird and so different, but it's awesome.”
“Written by Doug Brown from the band SafetySuit, it's one of those classic storytelling songs. When you hear Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty or Bob Dylan, they're able to sing these songs with the emotion and feeling as if it happened to them, but they're singing about someone else. They're telling a story through their heart and through their own eyes. That's what it is -- I'm singing fictionally that I've known this girl my whole life, grown up, graduated high school, high school sweethearts, and get married, bought our first house, had a baby on the way… I had to re-sing this song a lot in the studio. I was getting so emotional that we had to keep stopping because I'd literally be bawling.”
“The funny thing about ‘Screaming’ is that people might think because I was on Idol and I was the screamer that it’s just a bunch of painkiller high notes, but it really isn't. It's about being bullied, it's about being picked on and revolting for it, saying ‘I'm screaming for my losers and we're screaming at the abusers and we're showing them that we're fed up.’ It's like the fist in the air -- we're all joining hand-in-hand to fight the battle, but to fight it with our hearts, not with fists…. [American Idol season 7 winner] David Cook worked on this song with me, and it was funny: I get to Rewind Studio in Manhattan and I knew that I'd be co-writing with Greg Wattenberg, the head of A&R at Wind-Up, and he wasn't there yet. So I'm hanging out, waiting around and there’s David Cook waiting around. Finally I ask him, ‘What are you doing in town?’ And he says, ‘Writing with you, apparently.’ [Laughs] So we started and I had lyrics that I had written with no song. I also had tickets to go see the Spiderman musical on Broadway with Casey [Abrams], so Casey and I went to that and I left my lyrics there and they wrote the song. I came back, heard what they had and was, like, ‘Yeah, that's fucking awesome!’ We recorded a demo and that was it.”
“‘Outcast’ is a co-write I did with [Motley Crue's] Mick Mars who played on it and my favorite band in the world, Hardcore Superstar from Sweden. It's a song that deals with bullying but it's very tongue-in-cheek… Middle school through high school was when I got bullied most until I said, ‘I'm not going to take it -- no more timid little James,’ and I created an alter-ego for myself and became ‘Crazy James.’ I literally made people call me that. I put it on my dental records and had to change it recently. [Laughs] I finally got some dignity and some pride in myself when I finally decided this is who I am. I'm a freak, yeah. I'm crazy. I'm fucking out of my mind and that's when I started getting serious about my music and my band and writing songs while I trained my voice to go high. This song really coincides with that crazy James shit – ‘You're the outcast, you cry when we all laugh, I'll be the one that you want, I'll be the outcast.’ And what I love about Hardcore Superstar is that their songs are so much fun Getting to hang out with Mick Mars. I was just doing another interview and Mick Mars texts me. I'm like, ‘Dude, that's Mick Mars! He is texting me! Freaking cool!’”
“Ben Moody wrote this song and the original demo I heard was Ben and Avril Lavigne. I thought it sounded really cool. After we recorded it, I found out that Ben pre-released it somewhere else, so it's floating around somewhere else, the original. Technically, that makes it the only cover on the record. I wasn't upset. I was just like, ‘Nobody knew this? Nobody looked it up?’”
“This is the rock single and a song I did for the NFL Game Day Soundtrack. It got such good feedback that we decided to put it on the record. It also had a great push -- all 32 teams of the NFL put on a jersey and recorded a video. It took, like, 10 hours which was heinous, but the song and video plays on jumbotrons at every home game! The song has so much energy.”