Onetime “American Idol” star James Durbin ups the ante from his Quiet Riot years and channels his love of Dio, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest on his latest album, “DURBIN — The Beast Awakens” — and Santa Cruz fans will have plenty of chances to hear it.
James Durbin is enjoying his time back in Santa Cruz, and says he doesn’t plan to leave again.
“It’s OK to be an artist in your hometown,” said the 32-year-old singer who made a name for himself a decade ago on “American Idol” and had spent several years in Nashville, Tennessee, before returning to his hometown two years ago.
“The Santa Cruz that I remember in my childhood is not necessarily the Santa Cruz that it is today. It was a lot louder, colorful, more unique,” Durbin said. “If I want to still promote that idea, then it does no good doing it from Nashville.”
He lived in Nashville from 2017-19 while fronting the revived version of the classic heavy metal band Quiet Riot, which was founded by Randy Rhoads in 1973.
Durbin decided to take his modern heavy metal revivalist bent to the next level with the album he released in February, “DURBIN — The Beast Awakens.” The album takes his love of all things Dio, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest and sets out “to craft his own signature strain of fantasy-inspired power metal.”
He will perform locally the next three Saturdays, and at the end of December.
Durbin decided to use guest performers on his new album: “It’s just kind of like the Bay Area music scene and ... thinking of what players I know, what different parts I can put together here.”
Durbin knew drummer Mike Vanderhule of legendary Bay Area heavy metal band Y&T after opening some shows for them.
“Mike and I were actually talking in the parking lot behind the Catalyst at the last show that I played with Y&T, and Mike was like, ‘I love your voice and would love to play on something if you’re ever working on an album.’ So I told him, ‘I just signed a deal, I’m writing songs right now.’”
Before that happened, Durbin says he was contacted by “a phenomenal bass player” named Barry Sparks (Scorpions, B’z) and “Barry just reached out and said, ‘Hey, man, if you’re working on an album, I’d love to play bass on it.’”
Durbin’s time in a Los Angeles television studio also came in handy. “Kings Before You,” the first single off “The Beast Awakens,” features Fozzy vocalist Chris Jericho and guitarist Phil Demmel (BPMD, ex-Machine Head). Durbin has been friends with Jericho since he was a contestant on “American Idol” a decade ago and Jericho was on “Dancing with The Stars,” which was filmed at the same studio.
DURBIN'S LOCAL GIGS
- Solo acoustic set this Saturday, Nov. 20, at Michaels on Main in Soquel.
- Durbin’s classic-rock cover band, the Lost Boys, will perform at the Crow’s Nest in Santa Cruz on Nov. 27.
- He will play an acoustic set at Southpoint Seascape in Aptos on Dec. 4.
- Durbin will play with the White Album Ensemble at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz Dec. 28-30.
Durbin met Demmel at a Fozzy concert. “It’s like everything connected and worked. Mike and Phil had played together before,” he said.
With the exception of Demmel, Durbin found his lead guitar players locally — as with longtime friend Dylan Rose of the band Archer Nation, who was in the very first iteration of Durbin’s solo band and also played on his first album. Durbin also stayed local for production — “The Beast Awakens” was produced by one of Durbin’s friends who goes by the name “Ellison” and works at the Starving Musician music store on Pacific Avenue.
One of the songs on the album, “Riders on the Wind,” has an ‘80s mid-tempo heavy metal sound, as Durbin calls it: “I wrote this song at Manresa Beach, inspired by a blanket waving in the wind as I sat on the beach holding my daughter.”
There’s a mystical theme throughout the album that Durbin attributes to his love of fantasy and trying to stay true to the genre: “I just love fantasy and I thought it would be fun — I didn’t realize how challenging it would be to write my own fantasy story in album form. I was inspired to write a classic ‘70s/'80s heavy metal album, and the majority of those, at least the ones that I love, have that vibe, that element to them.”
It was about the same time the pandemic hit, and Durbin and his wife, Heidi, had just watched the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy again.
“We decided to show our kids,” he said.
The song “Into the Flames” was inspired by Samwise Gamgee‘s journey and courage, said Durbin.
“How awesome would it be to have a Sam in your life?” he said.