James Durbin is on a quest to bring old-school, 80s metal back to the forefront. His last release, The Beast Awakens, was the shot in the arm metal purists were looking for, now he’s back, joined by Mike Flyntz of Riot V and Perry Richardson and Robert Sweet, both of Stryper, in the band Cleanbreak. James recently took some time to talk about the band’s debut record.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with James Durbin –
On starting Cleanbreak rather than putting out another Durbin record – Durbin takes a long time. Because Durbin is all my own brainchild, so with The Beast Awakens, that was written all throughout 2020. When I signed with Frontiers records in December of 2019, the original plan was to release a solo album, which became Durbin The Beast Awakens, and then shortly thereafter, began work on a band, I don’t like the term because I don’t feel “super”, I sing and write songs, it’s only heavy metal, but it’s super group, for lack of a better term, to bring together. So it was kind of always the plan. I’m actively working on a follow-up to The Beast Awakens, and we actually also have our very first Durbin live concert that I just announced in San Francisco in August with fellow Frontiers label mates Enuff Z’nuff and Hal Sparks’ Van Halen tribute Nerd Halen. 1:06
On if he wrote the record with Alessandro DelVecchio prior to assembling the band – It happened simultaneously. We definitely had both instances. We started writing the record first before all of the pieces were into place, we already had Perry and Robert pretty much from the get-go, and all that was missing was Mike. Alessandro and I had already begun writing a couple of songs, which for me, personally just having come off of the heels of The Beast Awakens, I tried to write, but also I’ve got a storage of ideas for Durbin II. Definitely, I didn’t wanna use too many of those and I’m like, “Well, Alessandro is a world-class phenomenal songwriter, and I’m sure I’ll love whatever he writes and with his team of writers as well”. I’m no stranger to that. Coming off of American Idol, my first record, I was touring on the Idol tour, and so that was kind of like the thing that’s kind of the thing in the pop world. Really, it was a pop-rock record of sorts and leaning heavier as far as I could nudge the scale in that direction, but I’m no stranger to singing and emoting songs that other people have written. It’s an industry standard, just maybe not so much in the rock and metal world. So I wrote two and one-third songs on the record, and that’s why my credits say. I wrote “Cleanbreak”, the latest single, and the song, which the band was named after as well as “Before the Fall”, and a three-way co-write, I wrote the vocal melodies and lyrics and everything for “Dream Forever”, which I believe is gonna be the third single on release day, spoiler alert. 2:59
On bringing in some of the outside co-writers – It’s all Alessandro as far as I know. Yeah, it’s amazing. It was really something special to listen to the masters for the very first time. That was the first time that I was hearing everything coming together, so that was the first time that I heard what Mike had done with his guitar solos, using my demos as a placeholder. To hear him use some of my personal guitar noodling in the demo to actually formulate his solo, and it’s like, “My thoughts are Canon in this universe? This is awesome. My guitar thoughts? Wow.” It was really, really just awe-inspiring and humbling, so humbling to just hear how everything came together. A lot of different songwriters, you can bring in all these different ideas, and I don’t know if everybody had heard what songs. Sorry, this is a long train of thought. When I wrote “Before the Fall” and “Cleanbreak”, I had not yet heard any other songs. These were just kinda like Durbin after burn, but less mystical, less Dio. But still somewhat Dio. The beginnings of most of my songs would probably sound like a Dio song, so just get used to it. It lives in that world. A minor. At 95 beats per minute in A minor, it’s going to sound like Dio. Just to hear everything come together is just something else. It can’t be beaten, can’t be replicated. 5:24
On working with the band- The only time that I’ve spent with my Cleanbreak bandmates was at the music video shoot, which was just one day, it wasn’t even like a full day, it was like a half day. But it already felt like we had known each other as Mike watched me on American Idol and voted for me, a big fan and working with Perry and working with Robert. When I was with the band I previously sang for, Quiet Riot for a few years, we played The Frontiers Rock Festival, and that was Perry’s very first show with Stryper. So it’s just funny, so I had met him there and I was like, “Oh cool, nice to meet you Perry”, then coming back and then doing this thing, and it was so fun. As soon as we got a case of Budweiser, I was like, “Can we get some yummy craft beer or something?” It’s the hipster in me. But then they brought back just a case of straight-up Budweiser and then we were all having a fun time eating meatballs, drinking Budweiser, Perry’s out there smoking cigars, and we’re just shooting the shit. By the end of the day, Robert Sweet gave me a kiss on the cheek. Sealed with a kiss. 7:48
On if he was surprised by any of his bandmates playing on Coming Home – To answer the previous question, but I realized I didn’t answer also, I wasn’t really as aware of Mike’s playing and just his level and his intricacies. I say this, not being able to do so myself, but looking at how many shredders there are, it’s like it’s not necessarily that difficult to be a shredder, you just learn precision picking and being able to control the fretboard quickly and efficiently. But there’s being a shredder and then there’s being able to walk that fine line of shredding, but also crafting a solo. There’s one way to go at it, which is playing the blues scale, but then you mix, there are more scales. That’s what Mike does just so effortlessly, and just some of the note choices that he makes, and especially it insights that feeling of listening to it for the first time after living with my demos and then hearing them performed by Mike Flyntz, Robert Sweet, and Perry Richardson being produced by Alessandro DelVecchio, and I’m singing on it. Little James Durbin sitting here in his little studio? Cool, whoa. I’m just so damn humbled all the time, just by experiences, and it hasn’t been that long ago since I was, at least it doesn’t feel like it, since I was in my room at my mom’s house listening to YouTube videos and trying to match vocals with all my favorite singers, and I’ve worked with most of them and or worked in place of most of them, so it’s pretty outstanding. 9:46
On if he sought out certain bands to listen to when preparing for Cleanbreak – Not really. I did that a lot with Durbin, because I really wanted it to live in that specific era, I really wanted it to live in 84. It lives in 84, which that means that it was growing up through the 70s, so then it listen to Sir Lord Baltimore and Lucifer’s Friend and stuff like that. But this no, I just kind of wrote and like I said, I wrote, I penned two and a third credits of songs for this record out of the 11 that are on it. That wasn’t necessarily my doing. But I think that we did have an overall idea of American metal. I don’t know, it’s kinda tricky. This is the part of doing press for the album that I’m like, “How do I talk about this?” because I’m not so sure. 12:06Stream Metallica’s entire 2022 tour on nugs.net. Stream official concert recordings all tour long.
On if this classic metal style is his sweet spot – I don’t know, I definitely feel the most authentic now than ever before, and it’s come with age also. It’s come with age. My only thing that I wish to gain, if anything, in my life, is wisdom. Wisdom comes, I found, from shit. You find your way out of it and then you have the wisdom to not find yourself in it again, hopefully, but it keeps happening. To finally learn from something, I feel like you have to fail at it time and time again to finally understand why. It also goes the same way with, if there’s something that you really want, for the longest time, I wanted to be the lead singer of a different band, and there are all these different opportunities, and then it happened. So after it happened, it’s like, “Oh, that happened. Who am I?” And it was such a blessing that Frontiers reached out and gave me the kick in the ass, to kick some ass. To have a label approach you and be like, “We believe in you, we want. We think that you have great things to offer”, it’s really, really something. Then the pandemic hit, and that was also a big kick in the ass because I was gonna do a bunch of co-writes, I was gonna do this sort of thing like Cleanbreak, and I was trying to source songs from different writers and trying to connect with people to do co-writes and then the pandemic hit. Then I actually used some encouragement that I got from Rich Ward of Fozzy, he said, “Durbin, you’re a hell of a guitar player, you’re an awesomely solid rhythm guitar player, and you can riff and I heard you like noodling and playing some riffs and you’re really good. You need to understand that you are good, you are good”. I think about that all the time. I think about that all the time because I second guess myself all the time. Especially live. I’m a studio guitar player, which is why you’ll never, probably never see me playing full band Durbin shows and definitely won’t see me playing guitar with Cleanbreak. I’m comfortable here because there’s no one watching. But there are no stakes. I can hit the space bar and I can do another take. But I formulate all this stuff. It’s really enjoyable to figure out new riffs, it’s really enjoyable to figure out after you found that riff and found that feel and that tone that the song is gonna take, and then searching for inspiration. The cool thing about The Beast Awakens album is I found inspiration in so many places. I found inspiration, I wrote that album looking out a window in a condo, and just driving around, I live in beautiful Watsonville, California in Santa Cruz. Last interview I did a couple of weeks ago, the guy said that I reminded him of Dio and how I try to look at my surroundings and see magic and to see the Lord’s hand at work, hopefully, he’s got two hands, and just feel that, just feel that like this is all really weird. Ever look at a tree? A tree’s weird. But I get to drive by the most beautiful mountains every day and see them at my window, and I still do, I manifested that I manifested a better view, we bought a house. But yeah, I just try and just that next step and finding the inspiration and finding the idea for the song. I feel like I can do that in metal, I feel like with heavy metal, with traditional, with New Wave British Heavy Metal, thematic metal, there are no rules. I don’t feel like there are any rules. Some bands, I might feel like there are rules and you have to be this, you have to do this, but that’s across all genres, there are people like that, and more power to them. That’s not my lane. So good. Make that paper. You’re picking up on it. I just have a ton of fun. It’s heavy metal and I like it. 14:07
On if he sees both Durbin and Cleanbreak continuing – Durbin is gonna develop. It’s already developing, it’s already changing. In some ways, I wanna go for an even earlier sound than what The Beast Awakens had and a little less production, a tighter production, cleaner production, but a little less. Maybe not four different guitar parts at the same time and that sort of thing, but in space, I really love this band called Hallas, they’re mystical and retro and vintage, and the singer looks like my aunt did in high school, and they’re Swedish, and they’re awesome because every type of music that the Swedes do is just the greatest thing that my ears have ever felt. Then Cleanbreak. It’s just been a pleasant surprise, I’ve had so many different experiences that I’ve been fortunate enough to have and earned and all that, and I just try to be very grateful for everything. If I’m going into something new, I set no expectation for everything with an interview, with work, with songwriting, playing a show, especially, I don’t set an expectation of like, “Well, the show last night was the greatest show ever, and this one’s not gonna be”. But just be like, “I’m getting paid to make music, I’m in my home studio talking about an album that I recorded, this is awesome”, it’s really cool, and just being happy and grateful and thankful for each different opportunity that continues. I’m stoked to be with Frontiers and I just love the creative outlet that they give me, and there’s a lot of possibilities. I like that word. There’s a lot of possibilities with Frontiers. I saw some fan post something that was like, “Would you ever do an album with Nathan James”, and I was Like, “Yeah, I wanna do an album with, I already pitched an album with Nathan James and Renan Zonta”, which is cool now that Renan is in Skills, Nathan’s in Iconic, I’m in Cleanbreak. So if there’s ever a tour or if there’s ever shows played, I’m pulling for that to be the lineup, those three. I don’t care what order. It doesn’t matter to me. Then at the end, bring Oz Fox out, and then there’s a Stryper. I think I Oz got left out, where’s Oz? I just feel like that’d be a hell of a show, a hell of a show, and I just love to work with those guys. I’ve never met them in real life. 20:17
On possible touring – We haven’t discussed it for a Cleanbreak. We’ll probably wait till the album comes out, see what the reception is and all that stuff. So far it’s been really positive and I’m really stoked about that. For Durbin, this show just happened to fall in my lap, in my lap as my email is located in my lap, apparently. It just kinda happened. It was like August 26th, the Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco with Enuff Z’nuff, they’re on Frontiers and Nerd Halen. It’s crazy, going back to the humble and grateful and everything, I’m a firm, firm believer in the power of attraction because whether it’s coincidence or not, there’s been so many things, many, many things that would not have remotely been possible to have happened if not for thinking and putting that energy into the universe and it coming back. I grew up going to church on a little Christian boy with my Stryper, but this has gone beyond that. I’ve gone beyond. I happened to just say to myself, “Gosh, I really wanna play a Durbin show, I am just ready. I want it”, and then it appeared in my inbox and I couldn’t be more excited. Very, very, very, very, very, very exicted, playing more than half the record. 24:09