“American Idol” finalist James Durbin (and powerhouse rock vocalist) and multifaceted Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Grossi have experienced a truly explosive start to 2017. In late 2016, the duo joined forces to create an ambitious new project titled Maps to the Hollywood Scars. Rock fans were given their first taste of the project in the form of the hi-octane five-song EP “Volume One,” which is being released worldwide via New Ocean Media. The first single, “Till Death,” is now getting radio play around the country and serves as just a taste of the greatness to come. Recorded at Desert Moon Productions in Las Vegas, (a state of the art studio owned by Danny “The Count” Koker, star and creator of the History Channel’s hit show “Counting Cars”), Maps to the Hollywood Scars showcases the darker side of Hollywood and the music industry as experienced by two people who have taken two different paths, yet ultimately found common themes throughout their respective journeys. “Volume One” features a guest appearance by longtime Guns N’ Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed, as well as programming and engineering by A.J. St. James (The Big 4, MTV).
In early March of 2017, James Durbin was announced as the new frontman for legendary rock band Quiet Riot. Durbin jumped into the band after the abrupt departure of short-lived vocalist Seann Nicols, who had handled the vocals on Quiet Riot’s forthcoming album, ‘Road Rage,’ which is currently scheduled for an April 21st, 2017 release via Frontiers Music Srl. Famously known as the first heavy metal band to top the pop charts, the Los Angeles quartet became a global sensation thanks to their monstrous smash hit 1983 album, “Metal Health.” The band now continues their historic journey in 2017 with founding member of the 1983 ‘Metal Health’ era of Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali who, on this new release is joined by veteran bassist Chuck Wright (who has been in and out of Quiet Riot since 1982) and guitarist Alex Grossi (who has been handling his duties since 2004). A fan of hard rock and heavy metal since birth, Durbin is a natural fit for the band and will hit the road with them in the coming days.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with guitarist Alex Grossi to discuss his creative connection with James Durbin, breathing life into Maps To The Hollywood Scars, their process for making music and what the future might hold for Quiet Riot.
James Durbin and yourself have been busy lately with both Maps To The Hollywood Scars and Quiet Riot. How did you cross paths and what intrigued you about him as an artist?
I met James about six years ago out here in Hollywood, through a mutual acquaintance. What intrigued me the most was, at the time he was 23 years old, how big a fan of metal and how knowledgeable he was of the genre. It was very cool and very organic. We reconnected this past fall in Las Vegas. We started trading demos back and forth. The next thing you know, we had a record basically in the can!
Maps To The Hollywood Scars recently released the “Volume One” EP with “Volume 2” slated to drop this spring. Tell us about the songwriting process for the project and what was it like working with James Durbin in that capacity.
It was great! I was demoing songs out in my home city of Las Vegas and sending him just instrumentals. There were three-and-a-half or four-minute rock ‘n’ roll songs, nothing crazy! He would dump them into his computer at home, sing along, make up melodies and come up with lyrical ideas and themes and send them back to me. Basically, when he sent them back to me, they were almost done! After about eight or nine songs, I said, “Why don’t I fly you out here and book some studio time!” That’s how Maps To The Hollywood Scars came to be! We just made the record and, so far, we have released five songs. We have another five songs in the can ready to come out in a month or so. The songwriting process was very organic. There was no, “You do this, you do that. No, you can’t do this … ” It was very cool and a very smooth process! There was very little change from the demo to the finals. Let me put it to you this way, I booked five days, 12 hours days, to do five songs. James finished his vocals, from top to bottom, in a day-and-a-half! I had three-and-a-half days to mix and do everything. I didn’t expect that but that’s how natural it flowed!
How do the songs on “Volume 1” compare and contrast to the songs on the forthcoming “Volume 2?”
There is a common theme. I tried to split them up equally so that one would not be heavier than the other. They have a common theme of the music industry and Hollywood. There is no true contrast per se; it could easily be one record. Let’s put it like that. We just decided to put them out in incremental fives because people’s attention spans these days are so small. People don’t listen to entire records these days; they only buy one or two songs and move on. So, I figured, “Let’s space it out and let people really digest what we are doing.”
James has become a bigger part of your life in recent days with him taking over the duties as frontman for Quiet Riot. Before we speak to that, what did he bring out of you creatively?
He brings a more youthful vibe but also has allowed me to write with a vocalist in mind, as opposed to just writing guitar riffs. Some of the best songs that we have done, if you break them down, are just three or four chords. That’s it! There is no major guitar riff. It’s not riff-driven music, it’s more just straight ahead rock. It’s more about the song than the riff. That’s what he brought out in me because a lot of the singers I have worked with haven’t been able to write unless you spoonfeed them every little thing. With James, I can give him three chords and he can sing 10 different melodies over our work. He has simplified my guitar playing process as far as songwriting goes.
Which of the songs you created together resonates with you the most?
My favorite song is “Till Death,” which is a ballad. It was our first single that came out a couple of weeks ago. It really encompasses everything the band is about; it’s heavy and it’s dark. We had Dizzy Reed from Guns N’ Roses play piano on it, so it has that “November Rain” type of vibe. It’s the kind of song that anyone who has ever lost someone can relate to but it’s not the typically, cheesy love ballad. It’s actually got some depth to it, which is really nice.
Will we see you hitting the road in support of these EPs?
You know, we have a lot of offers on the table but given your current situation with Quiet Riot … who knows? We will probably do it once or twice but it’s more of a side project than a full band. We’ve gotten some late-night TV offers and some tour offers but we’re just going to see what tomorrow brings and go from there.
Obviously, some of the biggest news out of your camp lately is James Durbin joining the band after the dismissal of Seann Nicols. What can you tell us about that situation and was James the obvious person to bring in at this point?
James was their first choice to begin with. Basically, we had had to be let go right away. It very clear he wasn’t going to work out, so we cut it off at the knees knowing that it wasn’t going to work. When we were initially looking for a singer, James wasn’t available but when we had to get rid of our most recent singer he was and he fell into place.
You will hit the road with James in the coming weeks for a tour. How does this situation impact the upcoming release of Quiet Riot’s new album, “Road Rage?”
That’s a good question. We will find out; we’ll see what happens. It’s really not up to us. It’s up to the label. Either way, we are already working on new music with James, so it doesn’t really matter. I mean, records come and go but bands stay forever, you know?
Yeah, especially in the case of Quiet Riot!
Yeah, it’s another chapter! It’s always a work in progress, so we will keep doing what we do! I always tell people that if Kevin DuBrow passing away couldn’t stop this band, nothing will! Take your best shot! I tell everyone on the Internet who says we should hang it up, “Dude, we’re still going. I don’t know what you are doing for a living but I’m playing music!”
You mentioned working on new Quiet Riot music with James Durbin. What does he bring to the mix?
He has a genuine love and knowledge of classic hard rock and heavy metal. With that comes an understanding of what we do. Given his age, you think he would want to sound like Green Day but he’s a fan of Humble Pie and a lot of the stuff Kevin DuBrow was a fan of. He also knows it and can sing it! A lot of guys talk a big game and, in the end, can’t deliver the goods but James can, which is nice! I think he’s the first singer we have had since Kevin that can actually deliver the goods on every level. He’s the first guy we have had that’s the real thing. I will say that Jizzy Pearl was the real thing but he was a different kind of singer as far as what we’re looking for. As far as what we needed, James delivers the goods right off the bat! Jizzy is definitely the real thing and we are all huge Love/Hate fans but he is a different kind of singer.
You played professionally for years and been successful along the way. What are the keys to longevity in the music business?
Just being able to roll with the punches because everything changes so fast, if you know what I mean. Since I first started playing, everything in the industry has changed 10 times over with things like Napster, people illegally downloading music and so on. You have to be able to roll with the punches and just keep going with it. You can’t just stick around and wait for things to come to you. You have to go get them! You have to learn to evolve and adapt. That is the key to longevity!
It’s inspiring to see all you have going on and everything you created. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Don’t ever stop. People are going to tell you can’t do this or can’t do that but don’t ever give up. When people say things like that, it’s simply not true. The best advice I can give is to keep doing what you’re doing. If you believe in it, don’t ever stop. If it is your dream, you’re talented enough and work hard enough you can make it happen. If you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you. Just keep doing it and don’t ever let anyone tell you not to. I had 1 million people telling me I was crazy when I said I want to be a rockstar when I was 17 years old. I’m not calling myself a rockstar but I don’t have a day job and I play guitar for a living, so I’m doing something right!
Truer words have never been spoken! Thanks for your time today, my friend! Keep your nose to the grindstone and we will catch up with you again very soon!
Thank you so much, my friend! I really appreciate your time and I’ll talk to you soon!