Many Sleaze Roxx readers may not know that the Sleaze Roxx writer behind the moniker wrestlingepicenter.com is that site’s principal, James Walsh, who has conducted over 750 wrestling interviews. When James suggested that he interview Durbin and former Quiet Riot frontman James Durbin for both Sleaze Roxx and Wrestling Epicenter, it made a lot of sense since the singer has deep pro wrestling ties. For one, during American Idol, Durbin’s fandom of pro wrestling saw Hulk Hogan make a shocking appearance cutting a promo on the rocker and pelting him with the shirt he ripped off which Durbin still has. And, probably more importantly in terms of the interview, Durbin sings a duet with AEW wrestler “Le Champion”, “The Demo God” himself — Chris Jericho!
The young rocker discusses American Idol, his new record, how he fell in love with pro wrestling, why he supports AEW, the recent wonky explosion at AEW Revolution, and more! Durbin’s new album ‘The Beast Awakens’, with the title inspired by Jushin Thunder Liger’s alter ego Kishin Liger, is an ’80s fantastical heavy
metal masterpiece blending the heavy guitar riffs, loud powerful high-pitched vocals, haunting melodies, and all the wizardry you can shake a stick, or a wand, at. It is available right now via Frontiers Music Srl.
On the reaction to his new album ‘The Beast Awakens’:
James Durbin: I’m totally stoked with it. It came about when Frontiers contacted me. I had just left a band [Quiet Riot]. Everyone knows that. I had just come off of that and was planning on making more music. Even during that experience [Quiet Riot], I never shied away from making my own music. I knew I wanted to do a return to heavier rock. For me, I get bored [laughs] — I guess would be the word — of doing the same things. I always like to try different things to re-inspire myself. That thing that kept nagging at me was classic metal. You know? But, it was like, “Do you really want to? There’s so many bands out there that do classic metal. Young bands, older bands, legacy bands, baby bands. There’s a lot of that [classic metal] out there. So, there is a lot of that out there. But, that nagging voice is telling me, “Buddy, there’s only 12 notes on the scale [laughs]! Every song has got to be written by now. Every song about kings and queens, dungeons and dragons, and all that kind of stuff. It’s got to be done! But, I just got so curious about it and inspired by it.
So, when Frontiers contacted me, I asked them, “What kind of album do you want me to make?” They said, “We want to know what kind of album you want to make.” I was like, “Do you really want to know [laughs]? I want to make a classic metal album mixing vibes of Dio’s first three albums, Rainbow, Black Sabbath — not just the Dio Sabbath stuff but also Tony Martin stuff from ‘Tyr.’ So, I started listening to some of the albums that I grew up with and maybe hadn’t heard in a while or hadn’t heard all the way through. That is something I also wanted to do with this album. I wanted to make this a listening experience. When I put on Judas Priest’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ or ‘Defenders of The Faith‘, or any of Dio’s early albums, anything before ‘Lock Up The Wolves‘, I am transported into that world that they’re creating. I knew I wanted to do something like that.” But, to do that, where does one start (laughs)? Around that time, the pandemic started and we were forced to be home. On one hand, I had started working on this record, I had this contract with Frontiers which I signed in December of 2019, and I just had at it and I just started writing. And, it started to grow and evolve.
On how wrestling inspired the album:
James Durbin: The first song I wrote ended up being the theme, and the title, of the album. And, I would go on to write all the songs for it. It was called “The Beast Awakens.” This is where wrestling and metal come together. I was doing a wrestling podcast and we were talking about New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom. This was January 2020 so Wrestle Kingdom 2020 and Jushin Thunder Liger was getting set to retire. So, I researched him and saw he had an alter ego called Kishin Liger. It is like, when you remove the mask, you think you’re going to humiliate the man. But, instead, what you’re doing is you’re releasing the inner monster. I was super inspired by that.
One of the series of words in the article I read was, “The Beast Awakens.” I was like, “Oh my God [laughs]!” I knew right then and there… And I had this riff that I had written, and I have never considered myself much of a riff writer so I started singing riffs. I still have this in my phone on a voice reminder of me singing the riff and I immediately took it and transposed it on my guitar. I just ran with it! I sent that song and a few others to Frontiers, some songs I had written with other people. They were like, “Those songs you wrote with other people, they’re all right. They’re not bad songs. But, this song, this is you. If you can tap into that, you’ve really got something here.” So, that is what I did. I just ran with it.
Durbin‘s “The Beast Awakens” single:
Sleaze Roxx: I heard you say in an interview in 2011 that “Memories of a Beautiful Disaster” was coming along great and sounded a lot like Dio…
James Durbin: And it didn’t [laughs]!
On if he was trying to make good on that Dio-like promise with “The Beast Awakens”:
James Durbin: Not necessarily. I didn’t really think about that. But, Ronnie is just such an influence because I love the larger than life aspect he did everything with which is so ironic because he was so little [laughs]. You always hear “Size doesn’t matter [laughs]!” In Ronnie’s case, if I had never seen a picture of him, I would have believed he was 10 feet tall. He was just a massive presence. Just the way he over enunciates things and brings a gravity and weight to something that is fantasy based. I needed to draw from that. Him as well as Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson. Just a gravity that makes you feel there is an importance in what they’re singing even if it is completely made up.
On if it was stressful to go on a national TV show like American Idol having Aspergers:
James Durbin: I mean, it was and it wasn’t. In the studio, you’re not in front of millions and millions of people. You’re in front of the camera. But, when you go on tour, you see lots more people. It wasn’t something that was really on my mind. It was just a lot of the new experience and stress. I was gone for a long time from my family, my wife and my son who was only 18 months at the time and is now almost 12. It is just difficult… Very difficult from an emotional and a stress standpoint. Couple that with the Turrets which I also have, it is like a stress vacuum [laughs]! But, a lot of it was just the new experiences. Like, when my buddy Casey Abrams [American Idol contestant] comes over here to Santa Cruz where I live, we always watch a couple of episodes from our season, and I look at myself and I’m ticking and awkward and I said stupid stuff that comes with the Aspergers like inappropriate comments at inappropriate times, and not really understanding the consequences of those comments.
On how he fell in love with pro wrestling:
James Durbin: It was about the time that I was diagnosed which was about the time that my dad passed away. I was about 10. I had friends… I did have friends and girlfriends. I lived a pretty normal kid life except I always had this thing that always singled me out. I remember it was a particularly difficult day at school. Really tough day… I was having really low self esteem. And, I took dinner in my room. I had a TV in my room with cable. And, I was aware of wrestling growing up. I remember different people having Austin 3:16 or nWo or Rock shirts on at school. But, RAW was on. I want to say it was 2004? I feel like it has to be longer ago than that because I feel like I’ve been watching longer than that. Maybe it was 2002? It was RVD versus Jeff Hardy in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Title. [Interviewer’s note: It was July 22, 2002] This was post-Invasion. But, that match really drew me in. I instantly became a hardcore RVD fan! I just recently found a sign I made for a live event that had RVD on it, the yin yang, and dragons on the side… Undertaker on the other side. But, I just became a fan!
On understanding wrestling as a work:
James Durbin: I understood, because I came from a theater background, and I must have been 13 or 14, that it was a performance. That this is an art form! But, I latched on to it. It is difficult to explain but these guys using the unique aspects and qualities of themselves and taking those things out of their personalities and using them to make their characters different and distinct. Something about it, it was so over the top! At the same time, I was getting into hard rock and metal so it was mixing a concert experience with a fight. I just latched on to it. And, I met a buddy in high school. I was a freshman and he was a sophomore or maybe even a junior and he was super into it. Even at that stage, I collected the action figures. I would go to the flea market.. I did the karaoke circuit.
So, I would sing karaoke and on the weekends, there was a guy who would do karaoke productions at the flea markets we used to have here in Santa Cruz. Big ass productions! Giant JBL speakers, DJ mixing, the whole nine yards. So, I would go to sing for him and I would go out early and help him set up and then I would go into the flea market so I could scope out, “OK, where is the guy who has the wrestling trading cards? Where’s the guy with the wrestling action figures? ” I’ve got so much random stuff [laughs) Like, I’ve got a vintage Hulk Hogan plastic mask with the tags still on it. I’ve got a random “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth special edition action figure set. So much random stuff! But, I think it is because of the Aspergers that if I found something that I like, I really latch onto it. I’ve always had that kind of an addictive personality.
On if he’s still a wrestling fan:
James Durbin: I still love it and still watch it. Even if I poo-poo the product… [laughs] Sometimes I just watch the highlight videos and read the dirt sheets just to keep up with it. I try to keep up with AEW just because it feels like being a part of something that is just starting. But, I watched all of those ‘Being The Elite’ videos when I was touring with the band that I can’t say their name because they’ll tell me that I said the name [laughs]. I wish it wasn’t like that.”
On having Chris Jericho sing a duet with him on the new album:
James Durbin: I have a mountain outside my window. In fact, I’m going to go over to the other window and look at the said mountain. On the album, I sing about the “Sacred Mountain.” This is the Sacred Mountain. I had an idea to write a song about an exiled King. Whether that King was alive or dead just kind of changes. I was looking at the lyrics just this morning, the original lyrics for “Kings Before You.” I just loved the idea that I’d look at this mountain and I would love to sit on top of it. The view has got to be different. I’m looking at this barren mountain with trees and green hills. It looks like something out of the ‘Lord of The Rings’ or the Shire – Middle Earth. Imagine he was sitting high atop the mountain, he’s not sitting high on top of the mountain. He’s sitting on top of the mountain getting high [laughs]! Sitting high atop this mountain, what would he see? What would the view be? And, at this time, I was still uneasy about writing this record about letting people’s opinions rule or control me. “What would the reviews say? What would people think?” You know?
I had the same thing when I wrote “The Prince of Metal” [laughs]. I was like, “Shit!” You know [laughs]? What am I asking for writing this? But, I can’t remember if I had a dream like a sleeping dream or just a day dream… I just had this feeling that Ronnie James Dio approached me and said, “Don’t be afraid! Don’t fear doing this! Don’t fear writing this album! We never had fear doing this. You’re making music! Just write the music!” And, I did [laughs]! Sitting high atop the mountain, seeing all there is to see, the dark side of the rainbow touched the earth beside me and from the sky descends the wizard as he spreads his hands apart manifesting right before me holding out the sacred heart. I tried to put different Dio things in there making it kind of obvious. I had finished writing the song and sent it to Frontiers and, originally, Frontiers didn’t want it for the album. I just kind of ignored that e-mail. It is funny. I was just talking to another Frontiers artist and another singing show person — Renan Zonta. I just talked to him today and we were talking about songs and Frontiers. Their new song “Sticking With It” — their new song and video that just came out today — it was the same thing.”
Durbin‘s “Kings Before You” video featuring James Durbin, Chris Jericho and Phil Demmel:
On how he got Chris Jericho involved in doing the duet:
James Durbin: I loved the song so much. I said, “This is the only song that I can kind of imagine somebody else joining me on.” And, I made a short list. I was thinking of a couple of guys that I think would have been good for it. I’ll never share the list. But, I think they all would have done it. But, I thought Jericho just kind of fit it. I feel like it was in his range. And, his verse, I don’t know how to describe Jericho’s voice. It is just kind of piercing. He just has a really distinctive, piercing voice. Kind of the way Dio sang. Not to compare the voices, but in the sense that he puts so much emphasis on words in a way that not everybody does. So, I texted him and said, “Hey Chris, if you were to theoretically sing on a kind of concept album, what kind of character would you want to play?” He wrote back and said, “Well, the villain and if I couldn’t be the villain, then a wizard!” I was like, “Dude! I just friggin’ wrote a wizard song!” He got back to me later that day, he was like, “Shit! You wrote that?” I was like, “Yep! All by myself!” [sings Celine Dion’s song “All By Myself”] He was like, “Hell yeah! I’d love to sing on this!”
We had a place holder solo by Jon Yadon Jr. who is just all over this album. Gosh, what doesn’t he play on [laughs]? But, it just didn’t sound like it fit. For me, it was always just a place holder solo. So, I was thinking in addition to having Chris on this, what if we had a guest guitarist on the song too? I met Phil Demmel at a Fozzy show. We both got up on stage with Chris. He lives a couple hours away from me. We kept in touch. I was like, “This could work!” He and Chris had just put out a cover with their quarantine group the Wheel Blocks, a cover of the Iron Maiden song “Aces High.” I was like, “Shit! This is perfect!” So I texted Phil the details and the song and he was like, “Dude! Hell yeah!” I had just gotten the bass tracks from Barry Sparks along with the drum tracks from Mike Vanderhule. It was great because Phil and Mike knew each other. Barry did this really killer almost bass solo where the guitar solo would be and Phil shredded where he needed to shred and he complimented what Barry did [laughs]. As soon as I heard it, it was one of those moments where you take the headphones off and you just go, “Whew! OK! This is getting real right now!” I was blessed to have both of those guys on the record especially for that song – A song that was kind of on the cutting room floor.
Durbin‘s “The Prince of Metal” video:
On when Hulk Hogan came on American Idol and cut a promo on him:
James Durbin: That was bizarre! I remember we did this thing at the Idol Mansion where we were kind of like wrestling. They were like, “Oh, Durbin likes wrestling. Some of the other guys like wrestling too.” So, we put all these pillows on the floor and made this shotty backyard wrestling gimmick in this million dollar mansion. They had me take a microphone and kind of mock different people. It was all a play on “I’m the Miz and I’m awesome!” But, it was “I’m Crazy James and I’m awesome!” Then, it was like, “Eat your heart out John Cena! Eat your heart out, The Rock! Eat your heart out, Hulk Hogan!” They had me do like four different ones. Unbeknownst to me, they had him like in a holding bay and all that during the day. But, when it came to the results show, they throw to the video, they played the one where I said, “Eat your heart out, Hulk Hogan! Because I’m Crazy James and I’m awesome! Back to you, Ryan!”
Ryan brings me and Brian McDonald and says, “Both you guys did great last night. Great performances. A win tonight sets you on the live rounds and gets you a spot on the Idol tour. But, both of you guys aren’t safe.” Brian and I looked at each other like, “You’re shitting me. Out of everybody [laughs]?” “What’s the gimmick here, Ryan?” He says, “No, I mean, really not safe!” And then [singing “Eye of The Tiger’s guitar], they start playing “Eye of The Tiger” [and] the bay doors open on the stage. He’s back-lit and he’s doing the full on pose, the Atlas pose. I could have sworn I saw a string going to a mustache. So, I thought it was somebody pretending to be him.
But then, the lights came on and I saw him in the flesh! I almost lost control of all of my bodily functions. Fortunately, none of my bodily fluids were lost. I’m proud to say that [laughs]! My jaw became unhinged. I was on live television. I still had to go up beside him. He pulls Paul and I in and he goes, “Let me tell you something, dudes [laughs]!” God! It was just so, so crazy! I’ve still got the t-shirt. The following week, somebody sent me — the people who used to make and maybe still do — they sent me a custom WWE replica belt. They put a custom plate on there that said “Crazy James” on it. WWE sent some shirts over. TNA [Impact Wrestling] sent a bunch of stuff over because Hogan was working for them at the time. It was just wild!
On talking to Hulk after the appearance:
James Durbin: Afterwards, and they didn’t use any of the footage, Terry sat me down and gave me a Bible and said, “We’ve got to get you humble.” I was like, “Terry! It was a joke! They told me to say it! They fed me the lines [laughs]!” “I already have a Bible! I go to church probably more than you!” It was just so crazy. It was just such a blessing to have that experience happen when it did. It also led to Jericho coming over. Jericho crossed the lines the very next day because he was on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ at the very same time and they were filmed in the same studio. ‘Idol’ was on FOX, ‘Dancing With The Stars’ was on ABC, and they both filmed on CBS Studios.
On what he learned from touring with the legendary band [Quiet Riot] he sang for:
James Durbin: I can answer that very quickly. Nothing! I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. For a long time, I thought that was something that I wanted — to sing for a band that had already been established for a lot of years. And, I had several different brushes with that almost happening. And, just different auditions and different things… Really random ones. It is very interesting. I didn’t really learn anything. I had tons of fun playing shows and all the fun parts of touring. I have plenty of good memories. And, there are of course plenty of bad memories. But, nothing you have to hold onto. There was a lot of stress there. So, if there was one thing that I learned it would be that if you have a lot of stress and there is a choice to not have that stress, wouldn’t you choose not to have it anymore? It was a tough decision and a tough choice to make but in the end, I wouldn’t trade this time with my family for anything.
Durbin‘s “Evil Eye” video:
On what blends pro wrestling and heavy metal:
James Durbin: I think it is the explosiveness, the entrance music, the waiting on the edge of your seat for something to happen [laughs]. Heavy, metal, rock and roll. It is really unexpected. It is honest! Especially with the metal of the ’80s, the classic metal, it is so much like pro wrestling! The costumes, the stage show, the theatrics! Look at Dio’s ‘Sacred Heart’ tour. If there just happened to be a ramp and he slayed the dragon, it is a WrestleMania entrance! If he would then go down to the ring and wrestle Rey Mysterio, that wouldn’t be something you’d bat an eyelash at [laughs]!
On who was taller, Dio or Mysterio:
James Durbin: [Laughs] I think Rey would be taller. It is funny, I was just looking at a picture from WrestleMania and I was thinking, “Wow, he is really little!” I was jsut thinking that same thing! He’s probably taller than Dio!”
On future albums with Frontiers:
James Durbin: Definitely. I’m conceptualizing the second Durbin album and the story — and there is a story. And, I do want to be mindful of that for myself — for the cannon of it [laughs]. Even if I’m the only one paying attention to it. The music has to evolve. I don’t want the next album to sound exactly like this one. And, that has a lot to do with my own sanity. I don’t like to stick to the same things. If you look at the pantheon of all the different albums I’ve done. No two next to each other are alike if any two are alike at all [laughs]! But, there is definitely going to be a more closer relation from the first Durbin album and its predecessor.
On what he’s working on now:
James Durbin: Frontiers loves to mash together guys from different groups and I’m currently in the early stages of one of those right now. Who knows what is going to happen? There are so many great vocal artists and musicians that are currently signed to Frontiers. I could kind of run my finger down a list and pick different people and said, “Hey, what about the possibility of doing this?” And, most likely, that would be a possibility! That is what is cool about Frontiers. They’re always signing new talent and always signing new artists. It is always growing! I log on to Facebook or Instagram and they’ve announced they’ve signed four new artists! It is like, “Wow! All right! The more the merrier!” I’ve said it is like a family. But, it is really like a community. It really is!
On working with Mick Mars and Hardcore Superstar for the great track “Outcast” off ‘Memories of A Beautiful Disaster.’
James Durbin: Mick was great! Not a super active guy. Not over the top by any means. But, super soft talker, easy going guy. Certainly a joy to be around in the studio. He just brings such a different quality. Such a light… And a darkness [laughs]! He’s a very dark fellow as well. As far as who wrote it? That was Hardcore Superstar! One of my favorite bands! During my Idol run, I was listening to them and listening to them when I was on tour. And when I was making ‘Memories of A Beautiful Disaster’ or what became ‘Memories of A Beautiful Disaster’, they asked me if there were any bands that I’d want them to reach out to to write me an original song. The only one I said was Hardcore Superstar! Get me Hardcore Superstar! Oh, the other one was Jimmy Johansson [Lizzy DeVine] from Vains of Jenna. What was his name? Lizzy DeVine! He wrote me a song called “Stare At The Sun / End of Days” and he ended up putting that out… He wrote that for me. But, he put it out with his new band The Cruel Intentions.
On the AEW Revolution Explosion that wasn’t:
James Durbin: Oh Gosh [laughs]! It was so cringe worthy! If only there was a way to get word to Eddie Kingston in that moment so he could get up and stomp Moxley anyway. You know, a double turn? There could’ve been a better way to figure it out.
Interview with James Durbin by James Walsh for Sleaze Roxx and Wrestling Epicenter: