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Q and A with Quiet Riot’s Frankie Banali and James Durbin

quiet riot

photo Henry Lipatov

By Brian Tucker

Quiet Riot, the 80’s band that was the first to land a number one heavy metal album on Billboard with Metal Health and hits like “Cum on Feel the Noize” has returned with new album Road Rage and will perform at The Muse this weekend.

Frankie Banali is the remaining original member and recruited former American Idol contestant James Durbin to sing. Durbin was a standout singer on the show, not only for his talent but because he was singing material hardly seen on the show known for producing pop stars.

Durbin came in and quickly wrote lyrics for songs that has already been written musically for Road Rage. Below Durbin and Banali discuss Quiet Riot and making the new album.

Why did you ask James to join? What about his singing made sense for Quiet Riot and carrying on its history?

Banali: When Frontiers Slr reached out to me wanting to know if I was interested in recording a Quiet Riot record for worldwide release, I felt the time was right to enter into the agreement. At the same time the vocalist we had been touring with was lured with his own record deal and decided to put his efforts into his record rather than a Quiet Riot record.

I was aware of James Durbin’s abilities on my own from his time at American Idol, and Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Grossi already knew him. This was well before Alex and James started working on a side project. I reached out to James to see what his level of interest might be to work with Quiet Riot both live and for the new record. At the time James had just entered an agreement for a residency in Las Vegas which was open-ended making it impossible for him to join or for me to wait. As fate would have it, James was available when I need him most after I had made the decision to revamp the recording sessions for what became the Road Rage release.

Early on what do you remember about Kevin Dubrow singing with the band? He was so great, how did labels not see/hear what the band was doing – was it a matter of times about to change in ’82-83? 

Banali: Kevin was always an incredible singer with such a diverse vocal range and was the consummate performer, he loved the stage. His early vocal influences were Steve Marriott (Humble Pie), Roger Daltry (The Who), Rod Stewart (The Faces) and Freddy Mercury (Queen) and I clearly hear those influences in his vocal style.

I started playing with Kevin after he came to see me play live on January 30, 1980. But you have to remember that in 1980 Punk and New Wave music were the flavor of the times and that is all the labels were signing. We had a solid two years of playing the L.A. club circuit honing our songs and style.

We recorded the Metal Health record in 1982, released it in 1983 and if you look at the landscape on Billboard magazine when we reached #1, the competition had nothing that was rock. It was Michael Jackson, The Police, Lionel Richie, etc. We were American Metal and that was new. We jumped over Thriller and Synchronicity and they had no idea what hit them.

Dubrow was in a category by himself. The band has had numerous singers since his passing, is that attributable it being hard to play without your friend?

Banali: I never set out to “replace” Kevin. That is impossible. There was only one Kevin DuBrow, there will never be another quite like him. Kevin set the bar really high, we all did. It was never a matter of getting someone exactly like Kevin, but there are enough examples of Kevin’s performances with Quiet Riot both studio and live that should tell any singer what is expected of them, how they need to rise to the occasion for this thing called Quiet Riot.

I don’t bring singers onboard to make them fail, that is counterproductive and a waste of my time and resources. But if you are given an opportunity and you do not cease that opportunity or take it for granted, then I didn’t make you fail, you did that on your own and I have no qualms replacing those individuals. Quiet Riot is too important to me, the legacy is too important to me, and how hard I work to keep Quiet Riot moving forward for my team, the fans and myself is the most important thing.

Kevin and I were best friends, brothers, and I will miss him to the end of my days. For 27 years I saw him standing in front of me onstage. Each night I walk onto any stage I know he’s still with me.

“Still Wild” is an album highlight, a song that sounds like the old days and new at the same time. Were you looking to re-invent the band, or maybe re-introduce the band with Road Rage?

Banali: I really didn’t go into the writing or the making of this record with any set idea that the writing or the music had to be this or that. I went in with a blank canvas. I have a writing partner, Neil Citron, who is also our recording engineer – he’s a Grammy Award recipient engineer and one of my closest friends.

The result was that there are some songs that are reminiscent of older Quiet Riot style – “Freak Flag,” “Wasted,” and there are some that are very different from anything we’ve ever done – “Getaway,” “Roll This Joint.” But this is something that Quiet Riot has always done. If you listen to the songs on the Metal Health record, then listen to a song like “Condition Critical” from our second release, which was way off the Quiet Riot “radar” or sound at the time. The same thing happened with the song “The Wild & the Young” which was different than anything we had previously recorded.

My point is that we always strived to stay true to what the fans expect but also give them the unexpected in order to progress. “Still Wild” is a perfect example of this and the natural progression of the Quiet Riot style and sound.

Your drums sound large on albums, whether on the Metal Health album or like “Make a Way” on the new one. Do you approach recording differently or have you play/record in atypical spaces?

Banali: I take a lot of pride in what I do and how I record. When we recorded the Metal Health record in 1982, the “live” room at the studio was small and not very live. Overnight, I transformed the room by bringing in sheets of plywood to cover all the walls to get reflective sound from my drums. I removed all the hanging acoustic tiles from the ceiling above me to get an extra four feet of height for the overhead mics. I take recording very seriously.

For the Road Rage record I hired a larger room that already had the proportions and surfaces I like to use. I recorded the tracks on the same 1969 drum set that I recorded Metal Health with and countless other recordings. I’m the original owner of the set. I recorded the drums analog just like we did in the past.

It is more time consuming, more expensive, but worth it to me. Neil is a fantastic engineer and is well versed in which mics to use and placement. Neil says that I am the easiest drummer to record because I know how to tune, I know how to hit, which drums to bring, which drumheads to use and that I come prepared.

Metal Health was the first number one heavy metal album on Billboard, introducing millions to that music. Being the first, was it a burden to carry, did other bands resent or support your success?

Banali: Burden is an interesting word. Was it a burden to have your debut record hit #1 and sell six million copies in the U.S. alone, now well over ten million worldwide when we stopped counting in 2003? It was in the sense that we knew that we would likely not be able to repeat such a feat and when our second record Condition Critical was released and sold over two million copies and was considered a “failure,” then that is somewhat of a burden.

But that is a “burden” I can live with easily for the rest of my career. All other bands that came after Quiet Riot benefited from our success because record labels that ignored us in the past, managers, attorneys, accountants, merchandisers, etc., all saw that there was a lot of money to be made based on the success of Quiet Riot. So they all started signing bands that they had also ignored. Quiet Riot is not responsible for other bands successes in the wake of our success; they did that on their own merits to whatever degree. But had Quiet Riot not have been as successful with Metal Health as we were at the time, it is quite possible the genre would have never existed. I am proud of that.

You’ve kept the band going all this time; did your family teach a work ethic that helped your career, be it in a band or as a session player?

Banali: Both my parents taught me that life is never easy, that you have to work hard and that you only get back what you put into it if you are lucky. My father told me when I was a child that in life you have two options, to do the best you can or do nothing and nothing was not an option. I never forgot that. I am highly motivated, competitive, and realistic. I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic, I am a realist.

I ask a lot of the people I work with but I ask more of myself than I ask of anyone else. No matter how much anyone else does, I make sure I do more, a lot more. You never know when you are going to record your last record or play your last performance, or tell your family, band mates and friends you love and appreciate them. Life is unpredictable and life is short. I’m always going to try to do my best. I don’t plan to leave life on a bad note.

Being asked to sing for Quiet Riot, was it a surprise? What were you doing before being asked and did you know they were seeking a singer?

Durbin: Since my time on American Idol I’ve released three full length solo albums and a holiday EP. Before being asked to join Quiet Riot I had started a new project with Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Grossi called Hollywood Scars and we were putting the finishing touches on our debut EP. Throughout our time writing and recording together we always joked that I should know the full Quiet Riot set list, just in case.

Coming up with new material for Road Rage, did you bring in existing ideas or did the band’s music inspire lyric writing? “The Road” is a great song, can you share the story behind it?

Durbin: I always try to have a stockpile of ideas – lyrics, melodies, guitar parts, so I’ve got somewhere to start from, hopefully. For the most part the Road Rage album was written from scratch and, like you said, the music inspired the lyrics. “The Road” was the last song I wrote for the album and actually finished writing it at the mic while tracking vocals. The lyrics touch on the routine that we all go through to get ‘out there.’ The love/hate relationship with the touring lifestyle. I guess it’s my way of playing with the album title Road Rage.

Seeing you on American Idol was refreshing. I couldn’t believe someone singing metal/hard rock was on the show. Your success on it, did it surprise or confound the show runners?

Durbin: I suppose they thought it was funny in a way. When I first told them I wanted to sing Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” they asked me where I got that idea from. Luckily for me it was on their list of approved songs. Whenever a show has producers they’re there to make the show the most interesting, exciting thing it can be and with that being the tenth season, most of the popular songs of the past had already been sung.

I know because I sang some of those songs too and fans of previous seasons can be brutal when you sing their favorite song that someone else already did. So, I made the extra effort to choose songs, when I could, that were new or hadn’t been over-done. Sometimes easier said than done, but it means a lot to me hearing you say it was exciting and refreshing because that’s all I was going for.

I can’t imagine the stress of working on that show, between family commitments and performing weekly. What did you take away from those experiences, not just as performer, but from the perspective of carving out a career?

Durbin: It takes a village. Even if you’re doing it independently, especially, it takes a village perspective. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes that never gets shown on TV. For instance every week we got through so many interviews, stresses, long hours, and it’s all edited down to fit in a two hour performance show and a one hour results show. What I’ll end it on is that what they are able to do. They’re able to take a group of kids with talent and promise and turn us into superstars. Whether some like it or not, Idol has the track record of making stars.

Are there songs, deep cuts perhaps, from Quiet Riot’s catalog that you wanted the band to revisit on stage?

Durbin: Fortunately our set list already consists of most of the songs I’ve wanted to sing, so I get to do those every night. I’ve expressed wanting to sing “Winners Take All” so we’ll see where and when that happens.

Growing up, what was your diet of music, what albums did you play the most? At what age did you begin to find your singing voice and shape it?

Durbin: Motown was my youth, mostly pop music too. High school was where I started listening to rock and metal. These days it’s really all over the place. Since meeting my wife I’ve gotten really into country, old and new and I still enjoy my Motown, pop, and of course, rock. I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. If you mean when I found my rock voice then that would be in late in high school years. I was home alone a lot and would listen to music really loud and try to match what my favorite singers were singing. I think it happened at the perfect time because my voice was starting to change.

What went through your mind performing classic QR material like Metal Health? Do you ignore the surrealism of it and just have fun?

Durbin: I definitely felt like there was pressure the first couple of shows but at this point I feel like the best way to pay respects is to just have as much fun with it as possible. Look up on YouTube the classic Quiet Riot lineup playing “Metal Health” at the US Festival. That is the brass ring I try to grab. Every night if I can.

 

 

 

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