Rock band Breaking Benjamin has been busy blazing a trail of firsts. Since founder and frontman Ben Burnley rebirthed the band more than a year ago – with a fresh lineup of musicians, followed by a rabid return after a five-year break - the outfit has spawned its first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, wrapped its first-ever European tour, co-headlined with Korn, and more.
Now, the steadied band is readying for the next chapter, announcing a winter 2017 tour. The headlining U.S. run will coincide with Breaking Benjamin’s appearance on the five-day floating rock fest that is ShipRocked.
In light of the news, AXS caught up with Burnley for a deeper read on Breaking Benjamin’s current pulse. Via phone from his New Jersey home, the veteran singer/songwriter teased a new album, revealed particulars on the new tour and explained why – despite being a worldwide rock star – he’s really just a regular guy.
AXS: Since you and I last talked, Dark Before Dawn dropped, marking your first No. 1 album. What was it like when you first heard that news?
Ben Burnley: It was crazy – I mean, we’d never done that before so it was just mind-blowing! You never think that a rock band, especially a rock band like us that’s kind of an underdog sort of band, would be able to achieve something like that. But we attribute that to our fans – that’s really their accomplishment, not ours. They’re the ones that really did that and we’re basically trying to do the best that we can and deliver the best music that we can. We’re all really excited to tour and we’re really, really working hard on this next album. We hope our fans are going to like it because we’re just putting it all in, like 150 percent [on] this next one. It’s all because of them, they are our driving force. The fans are the only reason why we’re here. After the hiatus, if fans didn’t want the band to stay around or come back, then we definitely wouldn’t have. The fans are really the only reason why the band exists to begin with, let alone come back off the hiatus, do Carolina Rebellion (2015), make albums and all that stuff. It’s all for them. I think too many bands get into themselves so much that they kind of forget that they’re only there because of their fans.
AXS: You often attribute your success – which you’ve had a lot of – to your fans. How do you stay so modest?
BB: At the end of the day we’re just normal guys that have a really, really awesome job because people gave it to us. We don’t look at ourselves in any other way. We really stray away from all of the things that bands do that’s lame and played-out. There’s still bands around that do that [type] of stuff. I don’t like to judge - just let everybody be, let them do what they want – but there’s definitely some “rock star” mentalities out there that need to get squashed because that’s not what it’s about. If they didn’t have that one lucky break or whatever, they’d be working at the mall, or something. All bands are only one lucky break away from just having a normal, regular job and being completely nine to five guys. There’s really not too big of a stretch between what we do and what the average nine to five job is, as far as the mentality is concerned.
AXS: You revealed that the band’s working on a new album – when can we expect to see it out?
BB: I don’t know when just because we always do things as “when it’s done, it’s done” type thing, in how we work. As far as the actual music is concerned, I’ve never been able to describe how something sounds - you have to listen to it to really understand it. But I can say we’re putting every last day that we’ve had into this and so far, we’re really stoked about it.
AXS: What’s something new that fans can anticipate on the winter tour?
BB: We try to put in different material every time we go on tour, so we’ll definitely be doing new songs – “new” as in songs we haven’t played in a long time or songs we haven’t done before at all [on tour]. There’s so many Breaking Benjamin songs that never got played live because of limitations of background vocals, or whatever the case may be. But now we have other vocals in the band, we have ways to play orchestral instruments live, in real time. We don’t play any tracks or clips, or anything like that. So that makes it easy for us, as far as songs - we don’t have to stick to one program that’s on a computer to play along with on-stage, like so many bands do. We just play live, we’re able to change out songs. We won’t be (playing) any new material because I like for people to have the album first, or at least have a recorded version that they’re familiar with, so that when we play it they’re familiar with it already. I don’t like to drop it on them live, right away.
AXS: We haven’t seen any openers yet on the bill – any hints on who’s in the running?
BB: To be honest with you (pauses)….. I don’t know…..sometimes we just play longer and we don’t have an opening band at all. I don’t even know if we’re going to have an opener, which means we gotta’ play longer (laughs).
AXS: That’s not a bad thing for your fans (laughing)! Speaking of them, the ones in Europe finally got to see Breaking Benjamin tour there.
BB: Yeah, we toured Europe! Breaking Benjamin fans know that I don’t fly - and Breaking Benjamin fans in Europe were always sending messages on my social media like, “Please come over, take a boat, just take a boat!” So I took a boat – and it was awful! It was like, “I’m on that boat to try to get Europe,” but [the other] people were on there ‘to be on the boat.’ I just wanted to get [to Europe] - and the whole boat was people 80-plus years old. And it took NINE days. And you’re out in the middle of nowhere, there’s just ocean all around you, and there’s no birds, because you’re so far out. It was insane.
But the first show we did there was in London and it was packed. The whole experience was incredible. I had no idea that Breaking Benjamin was so big over in Europe until I went. Now that we know we have this incredible following over there the next tour that we do, that’s on the next album, we’re going to start in Europe and then do the States after.
AXS: What’s a stand-out moment from the European tour?
BB: When we first went there, we were trying to focus on doing the bigger festivals that they have over there. We did Download [Festival], it was incredible. So it’s hard to pick an outstanding moment because the whole experience was incredible – and the shows that weren’t huge radio festivals, that were Breaking Benjamin headline shows, they were all sold-out and packed. So even though they were a little smaller, obviously, than the huge festivals, they were still “big” and blew us away. To never have been there before and have this incredibly warming response, again, we were blown away. We went to Russia - and I guess not many bands get over to Russia because it’s really hard to get in there with all the laws they have - so they’re hungry and really grateful when rock bands from America come there. Russia [was] definitely a highlight of the tour. It did suck getting in [the country] – I guess that’s why a lot of bands [don’t] do it - but our fans there are incredibly passionate about the band so we can’t wait to go back.
AXS: Besides touring and playing together, how has the band managed to sync so well, since the updated lineup?
BB: We’re all like-minded, we all think the same things suck. You can be in a band where everybody likes the same things but it’s actually more important to think the same things suck, because then people know what not to do. I took the time to not only form a band of capable players but guys that were my friends in real-life first. It really makes a difference. You spend a lot of time with these people and you need to make sure that you have a good personal relationship with them - because if you don’t respect them personally, chances are you won’t respect them professionally. That’s really the foundation of it, it’s a really honest and sincere friendship. And the talent that the guys have makes it so that working together makes it effortless. And it’s fun. And it’s been getting more and more fun, whereas every other situation I’ve been in, it’s kind of been fun when it started but it was a bit of a push to get people where they needed to be to play the music exactly how it should be played. But the guys that played with us in the past, they’re capable musicians of course, but just not there on a mindset level. And you don’t want to be creative with people that you don’t mesh well with. The guys that are in the band now….they’re not just looking at it as a job.
AXS: Off the subject – if you could rid the world of one thing, what would it be?
BB: Oh wow! Just one thing? Illness. It’s true that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.
AXS: I know you’ve had some issues with yours - how’s your health?
BB: It’s the same but I just deal with it. All of the support that we get from our fans and all the support we get from media and radio, and all that, it really does help with being able to deal with things that I have to deal with. I don’t let it rule me. I don’t let it define who I am or what I do.
For more on Breaking Benjamin and complete tour info., visit the band’s website here.