If there’s nothing more American than hard work, overcoming obstacles and giving back, then James Durbin is the quintessential American. Known for his incredible voice, the new album “Celebrate” highlights Durbin’s versatility and is filled with songs that reveal both depth of character and a core strength in acoustic pop rock style songwriting.
From struggling to overcome an early childhood diagnosis of Asperger’s and Tourette Syndrome through music, to finding his way onto the big stage that brought him fame via American Idol, Durbin has never forgotten from where he came. Born in Santa Cruz, California—where he still calls home—James Dubin has that easy going personality for which the surfing town is known.
“Celebrate” is available for purchase via iTunes here
I spoke to James via telephone on Friday, March 28, 2014, just as he had returned home from doing what he does best—giving back.
“You’ve been busy,” I start because with a rock star like James Durbin there is no one specific place you can dig in. Set to release his second album “Celebrate” on April 8th, the singer songwriter has been busy making appearances on shows like Conan and Good Morning Fox LA. “Yeah, I’ve been pretty busy,” James replies with a voice that sounds tired. “It’s a good problem to have.”
“Did I hear that you just came back from Iran?” I ask. “Close, it was an hour and a half flight from Afghanistan. It was an air force base called Manas Air Force Base in Kyrgyzstan. Any soldier that was on the field in Afghanistan fighting for our country. They had to first [fly] to Manas Air Force base–they flew there for probably two days–and then fly out to Aghanistan. Those that came back would fly back to the Air Force base. They would fly there for three days and have the best two drinks ever, and then fly home.”
“Did you get to perform for them?” I ask totally taken off guard by this information. It was only mentioned to me in passing that he was out of the country. There was no pre-interview hype on this “talking point” which surprises me not at all. When you are as genuine as James, humility reigns. “Yeah, I played an acoustic show,” he says casually. The imagery of having the best two drinks ever at Manas Air Force Base with James Durbin singing his new song “Parachute” washes over me and I get chills just thinking about what a cool experience that would have been to witness. But I only muster an uncharacteristically speechless, “Oh that’s incredible. What a neat experience.” “Yeah, it was cool,” he says opening up a bit more. “There was a big giant American flag behind me, playing in their little bar club there. It was super cool.”
James goes on to chat with me about the flight and tells me, “I was fine going over there, but then on the way back I got really sick.” Being the germaphobe that I am–like James’ song says we’ve all got issues–I offer my theory, “I always think it’s from international germs.”
“Yeah, it was probably mostly that,” he replies. “Well, the day that we got to Kyrgyzstan, it’s like a fifteen hour flight into Istanbul and then we had like a seven or eight hour lay over in Istanbul airport doing nothing cause there is nothing to do. And then we went five hour flight to Kyrgyzstan and [there’s] a five hour time change.” That’s a lot of travel time and dedication to sing for our Troops I think to myself and comment, “So your body when you get back is just worked.” “Yeah,” James says, but I can tell he would do it all over again.
MY “CELEBRATE” Q&A WITH JAMES DURBIN
Q: Your song “Children Under The Sun” makes me picture a boardwalk pier scene. I think a lot about that endless state of childhood and how we never stop learning with childlike curiosity. I’m wondering what you are still curious to learn about?
James: There’s tons about music that I don’t know and that’s probably what I want to learn more about. Kind of anything in the arts interests me whether its drawing or canvasses or music. I want to learn how to play the bass, I can find my way around the bass but I would like to learn how to play better. Figure out how to do live stuff on the amps and petals and that a kind of stuff.
Q: How many instruments do you play now?
James: Guitar, mandolin, bass, drums and piano.
Q: When people think of James Durbin they think of a success story, small town boy overcomes big issues and you write about that on this album with your song “Issues.” Can you talk about the ability to see personal struggles and overcoming them as a reason to celebrate? And what would you say to someone dealing with difficult issues and trying to overcome them?
James: It’s definitely tough. One of the things that people have to understand is that with any kind of change and overcoming something is that it just takes time. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of patience. When I was diagnosed with Tourette and Asperger’s–looking at it now–it’s kind of like a doctor was handing me a sign… “Here’s your sign, this is where you’re meant to be, this is where you’re meant to stay. This is what your contribution to life is. And, I like to break free of that and break out of that. Not be contained by what somebody else tells me I’m supposed to be because that’s not right, you know? It’s not their place…I think that more people need to know that their voice is what matters.
Q: In your song “You Can’t Believe” your lyrics say, “live like you were born to” and “you can’t believe what people say about you.” Given how you felt then, how now do you feel like you were born to live?
James: Peacefully and happily and as freely as anyone else.
Q: Can you talk about the inspiration for the song “Forget It” where you say, “learn to live before you die” which is such a powerful line?
James: Yeah it is. I mean it’s profound and it isn’t. Just cause you’re living doesn’t mean that you’re alive. Because you’re breathing doesn’t mean you’re actually experiencing life. You know? Like walk outside, look at a tree, look at all the leaves on a tree–how it takes time to make something so perfect.
Q: Is there a list of things that you want to learn and experience before you die?
James: Yes, there definitely is. I can’t think of that list off of the top of my head [laughter] but I’m only twenty-five so hopefully that’s not for a long time G*d willing. But whatever it is, I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep being safe but keep experiencing new things and not being afraid to try different stuff.
Q: I like that and that brings me back to your “Parachute” song. I have fears, for instance my fear of flying sometimes those things can hold me back from experiencing life and people in general–we let fears get in our ways. Can you talk a little bit about jumping and where you get the courage to jump from? What gives you courage?
James: My wife gives me courage and my son and just the feeling of security.
Watch James Durbin “Parachute” Official Music Video filmed at an abandoned power plant just outside of Nashville, TN.
Q: If you had to choose one song title to describe your personality, which song title would you say best describes your personality?
James: Rainbow In The Dark by Ronnie James Dio. If I had to pick a song title that describes me, I think that’s what it would be because when I was growing up I was never like a standout person in school. I was more the guy that people would just kind of walk past or pick on or something along those lines. So it’s just kind of like suddenly I’ve–you know the past couple of years–I’ve broken free and broken into the spotlight a little bit and just started to shine a little bit brighter.
Q: I know you are donating to the Tourette Syndrome Association with the pre-orders of TSA Charity T-Shirt Bundle for “Celebrate”. Can you talk about why it’s important to you to give back?
James: Of course. I think that if you have any kind of celebrity or any kind of fame it’s important to give back because you have a voice that not everybody else has and you can make bigger waves that way. The reason that I’m doing the partnership with the TSA is because when I was ten I was diagnosed with Tourette’s and for my mom and I and my sisters trying to explain it to the school system, our family and all that stuff the TSA was there for us with any answers to questions we need or resources or help. Because we certainly needed a lot of help. So this is now my way of kind of giving back to them for what they did to help me.
ON THE WEB
Interview by Nicole Hanratty
Posted April 4, 2014