“…I would rather if I do die from whatever this is, I would rather die on stage or doing something that I love rather than laying in a hospital bed waiting for them to give me another excuse as to why they can’t find the answers for me, so that’s what I decided to do. I love my fans and I love playing music and if I go out, I’m gonna go out doing that.”
From release: Over the past decade BREAKING BENJAMIN has amassed a sizeable and diehard fan base, both through their chart-topping music, as well as their electrifying live performances. Their discography includes 2002’s Saturate, 2004’s We Are Not Alone, 2006’s Phobia, and 2009’s Dear Agony. We Are Not Alone spawned a pair of US No. 1 radio hits (“So Cold” and “Sooner Or Later”) and sold 2.3 million units worldwide (albums and digital tracks). Phobia debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top 200, hit No. 1 on the US Rock Album Chart and was one of the top 50 selling rock albums of 2006 worldwide. 2009’s Dear Agony debuted #4 on the Billboard Top 200 chart on one of the busiest release days of the year and #1 on the iTunes Rock Album Chart. Dear Agony also spun off the platinum selling and US #1 song Active Rock single “I Will Not Bow” where it stayed #1 for five weeks straight. The first original music from the platinum-selling band since the release of Dear Agony in 2009, Dark Before Dawn marks a new era for the acclaimed band.
At home in New Jersey, we chatted to Ben of Breaking Benjamin about the band’s return, their new album ‘Dark Before Dawn’, his illness, the possibility of one day touring Australia… and much more…
To start us off, let’s talk about the new album, can you tell us about the title ‘Dark Before Dawn’ and what it represents?
Well I kind of take a page from the book of Nirvana, in that I don’t really talk about too much what the meaning or the planning of stuff is because I love for people to draw their own conclusion and that to me is part of the fun of doing all of this. It could be taken as you’ve got to go through the band to get to the good, or there’s two sides to everything and you can’t have light without dark, all of those kinds of things that it can hark into, but I don’t want to say that that’s it and all that it is, you know what I mean? One thing that is cool about it is that in ‘Dark’ there’s a sort of disembodied voice going and it’s talking about the chemistry of the human mind, and anger and fear and things like that. Then in ‘Dawn’ I actually have my sons heartbeat, I had a doctor record it and I took the heartbeat and I chopped it up and made it the beat for the song, so the beat that you hear, that’s actually his heartbeat, the kick drum, so yeah it’s edited and turned into a beat. Then me and my wife are singing the ‘Ohs’ on it, so it’s me, my wife and my son in ‘Dawn’.
It’s been a crazy six years for the band, without going into the details, I wanted to ask was there ever a time that you thought Breaking Benjamin was done?
There was never really a time in my mind that I doubted that I was on the right side of things, that I was on the side that deserved justice, the only thing is that sometimes the legal system can be a little corrupt and not what it needs to be. In my case I had the right people and I had great people and we were able to ensure that justice prevailed for us, but there is a dark side to everything and anything if at all some of it would try to loom its head in the situation, but fortunately for us we went in strong and we knew we had right and justice on our side and justice and right prevailed.
More importantly, how are you feeling, are you getting any better?
No, not at all, I’m still as sick as I’ve ever been, the medical system completely 100% let me down, I’ve struggled so bad with health issues for years and years and years and I’ve gone to so many doctors I can’t even count to try find the answers and try to get a treatment or a cure and doctors have given me zero answers, literally zero answers… and they were just not able or willing or whatever the case may be to do whatever they needed to do outside of the box to try to cure just one person, they’re not interested in that… they’re only interested in if you fall into a certain category or if it’s a worldwide thing affecting millions of people, that’s all good, but still you should try to cure somebody if they’re suffering horrendously… but it doesn’t work that way believe it or not. They basically told me, and this is from a top-notch doctor that I don’t even remember their name because I’ve seen so many and they’ve all said the same thing, basically said that there’s more that they don’t know than what they do know and that what I’m looking for they just don’t do. So you can have anything wrong with you and go to a doctor and they’ll find what it is and cure you, you have to have something that is in their medical book for them to cure you.
Well I have to say thank you for still making music, man…
Well that’s the thing, it’s my pleasure to do it and I got to a point where I was seeing so many doctors I basically got to a point in my hiatus was all me just trying to find out what was wrong, it wasn’t me sitting on a tropical island somewhere enjoying life, it was me sitting in a hospital somewhere being biopsied and scanned and you know, spinal tapped and all that stuff, that’s what it was. So I finally got to a point where I went to see this doctor and he had told me the same thing for the hundredth time that a hundred other doctors had said, which is basically ‘we don’t know what it is, we can’t help you’, I basically slammed my medical records down on the floor and I walked out of there, and that was the last time other than the birth of my son that I had talked to or been in a doctor’s office. At that moment on I was like I’m not going to get anywhere with this, so it’s either sit around waste my time doing this or get my band back together and get on the road and start making people happy, including myself, so that’s what I decided to do. I’m not going to lay down and let this thing defeat me and I’m not gonna try to find answers for things that people aren’t willing to do what it takes to get me the answer for, so I would rather if I do die from whatever this is, I would rather die on stage or doing something that I love rather than laying in a hospital bed waiting for them to give me another excuse as to why they can’t find the answers for me, so that’s what I decided to do. I love my fans and I love playing music and if I go out, I’m gonna go out doing that.
Has this new injection of talent given you the push and drive you needed to continue?
Yeah well one of the things about illness and one of the things about the human body is that it is really keen to adaptation, so if you’re blind you hearing gets better, if you don’t have arms you learn how to grasp things with your feet, so one thing that my illness has strengthened in me is my will, so the more I suffer and the more pain I go through, the more tolerant to that pain I become and the more my will is tested, the more my will grows. The amazing support that we’ve received from everybody, fans, the media and radio, all of that it definitely helps to strengthen my will and carry on and just deal with the suffering and do something that not only brings me happiness but makes so many other people happy as well, and those things all contribute to this being worth going through this horrendous suffering to continue to do…
Was it somewhat of a challenge putting the new line up together?
You know I get that question a lot, and I’m actually pretty fortunate because I knew everybody that’s in the band now I knew them for years and years, even when the old members were in the band and I’ve always wanted to play with them because I knew they were just great, amazing players, so really in my mind I already had the band members picked out, not that I was scheming anything, but I always wanted to play with these guys whether it was Breaking Benjamin or something else. So I’m glad that we’re able to come together and the opportunity arose for it to be for Breaking Benjamin, and the only thing that was an extenuating circumstance was that I knew individually that I wanted to play with these guys but we had never played together, so that was the only mystery, because I knew I loved playing with this guy and loved playing with that guy but will it all work together? Then we all came together in the same room and it was just magic from the start and it was just amazing, not only in the music but just the overall vibe and feeling everybody was getting and that’s the chemistry part, what we call the X factor which is the part of it that doesn’t have an explanation, so that part was something I’ve never experienced before and it’s really what’s carrying us today to have so much fun and be so grateful for where we are.
Was there anything you were able to do with this album you hadn’t previously?
Oh yeah for sure, one of the things that is most notable as an improvement on the band is that I really consciously wanted to play with who I wanted to play with, not only because of their musical talent but because two of the guys have extremely amazing singing voices, they’re both very talented singer and were both front men of their own bands, so the bass player Aaron Bruch he sang a lot in his career, he’s sung in a lot of projects. Then the other guitar player Keith Wallen, he was the singer of a band called ‘Copper’ so those two guys brought not only the ability to duplicate what we do on our albums, because every Breaking Benjamin album all the way back to the beginning, not only has a lot of background vocals on it, but those background vocals they’re not hidden, they’re loud in the mix so they’re there you know? It’s not like we have background vocals and if they’re turned down you wouldn’t notice, like they’re super loud and we need those vocals live and now we have that, none of the other guys previously were singers, they just didn’t do it. So it allows us to do more things vocally going into the studio knowing that we can do it when we come out instead of trying to figure it out later, so for instance with our single ‘Failure’ that’s out now you’ll hear on the outro there’s two totally distinct vocal things going on at the same time, and it’s just impossible for one person to do, so you need two people to sing it, really you need three people, so it’s cool to be able to do those things. For instance ‘Diary of Jane’ is another popular Breaking Benjamin song and in the last chorus there’s *singing* “something’s getting in the way…” that and underneath that there’s me recorded over myself going *singing* “ahhh ahhh ahhh” all this chanting stuff and we’ve never been able to do it live, it’s just not been there, it was not there. So now that we have those singers that part is there when we do it live, not only with the harmonies but other parts that are two different vocal things going on at the same time. So it’s really freeing and it brings another layer of music because you’re not limited to do anything.
I know you’ve never been here and probably never will, but can I hear it from the horse’s mouth? Will we ever see you in Australia?
Yes I was just saying this on another interview I was just doing, right now I’m really diligently looking into not only Australia, but getting on a boat and going all over the whole world, and before it was something that I left up to other people, say the powers that be in labels or management or whatever the case may be, I always left it up to them to decide where the band should go and what we should be doing. That lead me to not getting on a boat and ever going over there, so this time around not only with the album, not only with the band line-up, just everything, I’m trying to be more proactive in my own decisions and be proactive in the decisions that the band makes and what the band does, so I’m basically going to take the helm and not wait for anybody to tell me it’s ok or say it’s a good or a bad idea, or challenge me as far as when or how to do it, I’m just going to say I want to do it, get it done. So that’s what we’re doing and even as we speak, because it’s on a boat because everybody knows I don’t fly and that’s the sole reason I haven’t been able to go all over the world, but because it’s on a boat it just takes a little more time to plan and takes a little bit more effort but together I know we’re going to be able to do it if we put our minds to it. So right now we’re starting to put some plans together that probably won’t come to be for several months from now, but we’re definitely working on it, and believe it or not and I’m not just saying this for the sake of the interview, I’ve always my whole life wanted to go to Australia, so not only am I looking forward to playing there, I’m looking forward to going there personally and we’re really thankful that Australia includes us in the music that they listen to, we’re so grateful that there are people there that really enjoy what Breaking Benjamin does, so of course we’re going to do everything that we can, and I’m really certain and really confident in that we will be able to get out there. That’s another thing too, it’s the aspect of physically getting there and then there’s another aspect of when should we go, what venues should we be playing, what bands should we play with, but we’re gonna figure all that out and that stuff isn’t gonna hinder us from getting over there, so I’m really excited about it.
Actually we had a couple of people that we were able to meet, there may have been more that actually flew out from Australia just to see us and then they flew back the next day *laughs* I mean it was amazing and they were the most awesome people you could ever meet, they were really nice and kind and just really grateful to be there and that’s hardcore, that’s not a short flight… I was talking to them for quite a bit and asking are people cool there and do you think we would do well there and they were like yeah, come to Australia and find out. So to those people if they ever hear anything, or see this, I have to give them mad props for flying all that way…
OK, so you’ve been doing this for quite some time, what’s the biggest thing you learned about the industry that you didn’t feel would be a part of it all when you started the band?
Oh definitely the politics of things, I mean you think when you start any band that you have good music and that’s all you need, you have good music and so you’re gonna make it. It’s really not like that, there’s a lot of things that people call luck, well that luck is the A&R guy that likes really bad music from another band gonna be into your band? This was a time before social media where bands can pretty much if they’re awesome they’ll get some kind of following… but back in the day you had to have luck and you had to play the game a little bit, I’m fortunate though that Breaking Benjamin came from a relatively obscure small town in eastern Pennsylvania at a time when there was a really unique scene there where two thousand people every weekend would come out to see your band and you mixed covers and you played originals if they were good and shit, and that’s like pretty much the scene that the band grew out of. So when we had labels coming out to see us, we did a few showcases and they didn’t pan out because they were all like, and I don’t like to diss anybody, but they were all like dinosaur dudes, dinosaur meaning old dudes that should be extinct, like they wouldn’t know what an iPad is, those kinds of guys, or guys that think they’re on the cutting edge because they have this android from 2003, like those kind of guys… like Rick Rubin, like I’ll pass… so I did this showcase and it didn’t pan out for us, so we just got a point where I was like comfortable playing for two thousand people every weekend, you wanna see the band? Come out and see us, we’re not doing anymore showcases, come out and see us… and that’s what we did and then we had a bunch of people finally saw what we were doing and what we’re about and that’s how we got our record deal and we weren’t expecting the BS politic part and we didn’t want anything to do with it, we were like ‘do whatever you’re gonna do, we’re just gonna play’…
Lastly, let’s look ahead and predict the future, so finish this sentence for me, by the end of 2015, Breaking Benjamin will…
*laughs* Oh man, that could be a million things though… prosper… I don’t know *laughs*
How about figure out when you’re going to be in Australia? *laughs*
I tell ya man, when we do know when we’re coming to Australia you guys will be the first to know, for sure, and thanks so much for having me, we really appreciate all the support we’re getting out there…
From: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA
Band members: Benjamin Burnley – Vocals / Guitar, Aaron Bruch – Bass, Jasen Rauch – Guitar, Keith Wallen – Guitar, Shaun Foist – Drums
Latest release: Dark Before Dawn– (Out Now – Universal Music Australia)