James Durbin talks life post-‘Idol’ and his sophomore album, ‘Celebrate’
In the bitter winter of New York, James Durbin reminisces about his hometown of Santa Cruz, and the whirlwind that was set in motion the day he took fourth place on season 10 of FOX’s American Idol.
“It was really crazy,” he says, remembering May 14, 2011, or “Durbin Day,” when he went from being an ordinary local resident to a celebrity overnight. “I have to pinch myself whenever I think about it.”
He may not have won the singing competition, but local support for Durbin earned him a grand homecoming celebration, something usually reserved for the show’s top three contestants.
“It was absolutely complete pandemonium,” he recalls of the scene at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk that day. “You look out and you can’t even see the sand at all. It’s shoulder to shoulder. It’s madness, It’s absolute madness … there’s over 30,000 people lining all over the Boardwalk. They’re on the rides. They’re on the Hurricane roller coaster … And there’s people on the skyline ride. And it was just absolute insanity.”
Since then, Durbin released his debut album, 2011’s Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, and is now touring in support of his sophomore effort, Celebrate, due for release in April. “I’m ready for people to see what I’ve been up to,” he says. “It’s been what I’ve been working on for the past two years.”
Durbin describes his new album as upbeat pop/rock/alternative, a slight departure from his more aggressive debut. “There were a lot of songs on there that were a lot of screaming and yelling,” he says of his first album. “I just kind of got bored with screaming and yelling and I wanted to sing. I wanted to write songs that I wanted to sing. I’m probably not gonna be able to sing a lot of those songs on the first record when I’m 40 or 50, you know, just because of how intense they are. So, it’s nice to make a record of songs that I know I’m gonna be able to sing for a long time.”
Celebrate features a diverse collection of songs, including the slick pop single “Parachute,” a mellow ballad called “Real Love,” and the heavy rock track “You Can’t Believe.” Durbin attributes that variety to his more hands-on involvement on this album. “On the first record, I got to really [write only] one song … The other ones were songs that I got sent to me and I changed the lyrics. It’s hard to really have a real connection with [those] songs.
“But yeah, this time around I was a part of every session,” he goes on. “On the record I co-wrote 10 of the 11 [songs].”
Durbin says that he wanted to be more involved in the songwriting process this time, so that he could connect more personally with his audience. “I mean, your fans are there to see you, to feel your presence, to feel the love in your voice,” he explains. “[These songs] came from my brain, went down my sleeve, out of my pen and onto the paper. How much more personal can you get? I can fit myself in these songs because they came from me.”
One of Durbin’s favorite tracks on the album is the opener, “Children Under The Sun,” which evokes images of his childhood visits to the sun-soaked Boardwalk. Backed by crisp guitar and upbeat drums, Durbin’s vocals soar to incredible heights in the chorus, as he sings, “Raise your hands, let the roller coaster take us over the edge/while we’re young, children under the sun.”
“It’s just about an experience I had at the Boardwalk when I was a kid, difficult to go into it, as it’s very personal,” he divulges. “But yeah, the song kinda stands as my ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.’”
Now married and living the kind of life he could only dream of a few years ago, Durbin says that the high energy that defines Celebrate perfectly expresses his excitement about how far he’s come and where he’s headed.
“That’s been the big theme of this record … and with the album title. I’ve just been in a state of celebration,” he explains. “I’m celebrating my life. I’m 25, I get to do what I love for a living. I have a family, I have everything I could quite possibly need. You gotta feel positive about [life]. It’s all positivity. Good thoughts, good feelings, good energy. It’s a Santa Cruz kind of state of mind.”
James Durbin will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15 at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $16/adv, $20/door. For more info, call 423-1338.