Hard Rockers Breaking Benjamin Reap Musical Dividends with Retooled Lineup

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click to enlarge Hard Rockers Breaking Benjamin Reap Musical Dividends with Retooled Lineup
Nicole Napier
When Breaking Benjamin singer Ben Burnley founded the hard rock band back in Wilkes-Barre back in 1999, he probably didn’t imagine the group would sustain such a lengthy career.

Having weathered the rise and fall of nu-metal, a movement with which the group was loosely associated, the band continues to top the charts even as many of its musical peers have faded into obscurity.

The band’s 2015 album, Dark Before Dawn, which was recently certified gold, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. The album’s first two singles, “Failure” and “Angels Fall,” both became No. 1 rock radio hits; “Failure” was the most-played song at rock radio in 2015.

The group continues to tour in support of the release and plays at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28, at House of Blues.

“The first band I was ever in was the best experience of my life,” says Burnley in a recent phone interview. “It was just friends of mine. We would have loved to have success. We were all very inexperienced and just did it for the fun. The music was decent, and we liked it, and that’s all we cared about. It was unrefined. It was repetitive chord structures. That paved the way for me to grow as a musician.”

Burnley would move to Southern California in the early 2000s with the hopes of getting a record deal.

“At a certain point, I wanted to give that a shot with a different approach to get my way into the music industry,” he says of the experience. “For myself, I was unrefined as a songwriter. I still had a lot of kinks to work out as far as the creative aspects go. I moved to Los Angeles for a little bit to get my foot in the door and it didn’t work out because my songwriting wasn’t where it needed to be.”

He returned to Wilkes-Barre and restarted the band with a new lineup. The group quickly became part of the city’s burgeoning hard rock scene.

“There was a big scene going on in the early 2000s,” says Burnley. “There were clubs playing cover band stuff and you could make a good living. We tried to do that thing to make some cash and people were coming out and packing these clubs every weekend. The record industry was aware of it. But there weren’t a lot of original bands. There were just cover bands. We were a mix between the two. We would do cover songs and our own songs too. It caught the eye of local people and labels.”

The group signed to Hollywood Records and had great success throughout the 2000s. But Burnley wasn’t satisfied. In 2010, he dismissed his bandmates, and after a couple of years of bickering (and nasty lawsuits), recruited all new members to play alongside him and record Dark Before Dawn.

“The current lineup, for the most part, is just made up of my friends that I’ve made through all of the years through touring and being in the band,” he says. “It’s important to have a personal chemistry and a musical chemistry. The people I used to play with are talented but from a writing standpoint, we didn’t have the chemistry needed to create entire songs. They made contributions that were minor. I was never given a song that was complete from start to finish. The new guys are writing verses and entire songs. Musically, we get along great.”

Dark Before Dawn begins with “Dark,” a rather experimental sounding song that includes a spoken word segment. Burnley says guitarist Jason Rauch wrote it along with the album’s outro, “Dawn.” Songs such as “Failure” and “Bury Me Alive” feature the kind of menacing vocals and heavy percussion for which Tool/A Perfect Circle is known.

“One of the things I think our fans like is that we explore new things, but we keep it within a framework that’s familiar,” says Burnley. “We tread new ground but do it in a new way that doesn’t change the sound of the band.”

Many of Breaking Benjamin’s contemporaries no longer tour and record. Burnley says the key to Breaking Benjamin’s longevity has been the band’s ability to deliver good songs.

“People want good material,” he says. “I’m not saying we’re that good or anything, but we try to keep the bar high as far as the songwriting goes and make it so everything has purpose and meaning. That comes from a love of what we do. It comes from having a passion for the music and it comes from being with the right people in the band. If you’re not with the right people, it’s not worth it. One thing I learned is that there’s no amount of money that makes it worth not being happy. It’s hard to make that call to pursue your happiness. But when you’re happy and where you belong, the music just comes.”

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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