.Q&A: Santa Cruz’s James Durbin on Moving to Nashville, New Album

James Durbin’s new release represents a clear departure from his image as the metal-loving singer who took American Idol by storm seven years ago. The album also strikes a different chord than the time he has spent with the hard rock group Quiet Riot, who made him their lead singer last year.

For Durbin’s mostly acoustic Homeland, which comes out Friday, Oct. 19, the Santa Cruz native laid down most of the instrumentation and all of the singing. Durbin, who recently moved with his family to Nashville, also wrote all of the songs except for the final track, a cover of “House of the Rising Sun.”

The first song is about learning to play guitar as a kid, the second is about your love for California and the third is about an awesome-sounding road trip. Were you feeling nostalgic at all when you wrote this album?

JAMES DURBIN: This is definitely the most nostalgic-feeling music I’ve written—not just lyrically and thematically, but the sounds I was going for, getting a few different violin players from Santa Cruz and Dale Ockerman on the keys. I wanted it to feel like you could put this on in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s.

Another theme is travel. Did you work on it while you were on the road?

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A lot of these songs were written in the back of a van or the back of a tour bus or airports during six-hour layovers. They were also written during our move from Santa Cruz, my hometown, to Nashville. The song “Resist” was written right there on West Cliff—the last song I wrote in Santa Cruz. There’s a lot on there about going somewhere, where I don’t know if it’s right, but it feels right. It’s all for the adventure.

Does Nashville still feel right?

Some days. It’s a daily, monthly back-and-forth kind of thing. We definitely miss our friends and family—the familiarity. But at the same time, it’s nice to see different things and have different experiences. Santa Cruz will be there when we get back. That’s what we have to remind ourselves. In our absence, nothing’s really gonna change. We go back, and everything feels the same way. Maybe we’ve changed from it. The beach’ll still be there.

Lots of country vibes on the album. Did those bring you to Nashville, or did Nashville bring them out of you?

It’s a coincidence. I was going for more of an Eagles, John Mellencamp, stripped-down sound—the Eagles if it was just one guy. I was listening to a lot of Chris Stapleton, Eric Church, John Mayer’s Born and Raised album, Arctic Monkeys’ “A.M.,” the Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit. I just wanted to record within my means, and I love playing acoustic guitar.

Do you ever wonder what people who used to bully you think when they see you now?

I don’t really care. I never stop to think about what they would think, because I never did it because of them or in spite of them. They were just another obstacle. I try not to hold grudges, because I’ve met people from those days that changed. Most kids are dicks. That’s your free pass. Some people took it a little far, but I’m all for forgiveness—and I wasn’t the best kid, either. If I could meet myself as a kid, I’d have some choice words for myself, as well as those other guys. It made me who I am today. I hope everyone’s found success and that everyone can be happy. Everyone’s worth a beer and a pat on the back.

You’re a wrestling fan. WWE comes to you and asks if you have an idea for a new wrestling star played by you. What do you say?

There’s a wrestler named Darren Corbin, and online people have mistaken old pictures of me from Wrestlemania for him with his hair bleached. We ran into each other at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, and we were basically wearing the same thing. We took a selfie. It was creepy. My wife was like, ‘He looks like your brother.’ I don’t have a brother. So we would definitely have a tag team, Durbin and Corbin.


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