Arts

Ben Burnley, Breaking Benjamin a consistent force in rock

Ben Burnley (center) with the current line up of Breaking Benjamin - coming to Madison on March 25.

Image By: Courtesy of Live Nation

Since 2002’s Saturate was released, American rock radio has featured a constant presence that has produced solid hits time after time again. Breaking Benjamin has traversed an always-morphing musical landscape, survived several member changes and has simply gotten the better of time itself. 

The one constant throughout the entire journey has been founder Ben Burnley, the band’s lead singer and guitarist who also served as the creative mind behind most of the band’s music dating back to the its inception.

Speaking with Burnley over the phone this past weekend, I had a chance to ask him about the sustained success that Breaking Benjamin has enjoyed over the years. He was hesitant to take credit for any of it, instead praising the band’s fans.

He said, “I think the key to our success has really been all of the amazing fans … I don’t really look at it as the band that makes you successful, I think it’s the people that support you that make you successful. I think we’re kind of like a people’s band. We are real people with real problems, and we express those things … people can relate to it and they share that with us.”

The name ‘Breaking Benjamin’ itself is rooted in a relatable story; one that exemplifies just what type of a musician, presence and icon Burnley would later become in life. Early success and exposure set the band off and running. Yet, with all things in life comes the ups and downs.

It hasn’t always been easy for Burnley. After a well-publicized fight with physical ailments that forced the band into an extended hiatus in 2010 that lasted until 2014, Breaking Benjamin re-emerged with new members (this time a five-piece featuring three guitarists), a new outlook and a sound that was an evolved form of their older music — not different, but better.

After doing a substantial amount of the writing on past albums, the band’s newest record, 2018’s Ember, was much more of a collaborative effort. I asked Burnley about his new bandmates and how he can rely on them. He spoke with a sense of relief in his voice, as well as excitement for the future.

“It’s incredible, man. I’m really just stoked beyond words that I don’t have to do every single thing. I can open up an email and there’s this really awesome song in it and be a fan. I’m a fan of the guys that are in the band … I can enjoy it on a different level. I can enjoy it as somebody else’s work that I get to be a part of,” he said.

Burnley has been the sole member of the group since its inception in 1999, writing most the music during that time.

Ember has been a huge success, garnering positive feedback from fans and critics alike for its heavier tones. In April of 2018, it was ranked number one on all three of Billboard’s Top Rock, Alternative and Hard Rock charts for three weeks. Falling in line with all other albums released by Breaking Benjamin, Burnley and company chose a unique album title with deeper meaning behind it.

“We looked at it as a band and thought that ember could be the start of something or the end of it. It could be the start of a spark or the end of a spark. So, it’s just kind of an open-ended thing to be left for interpretation,” Burnley said.

One of the most often requested tracks off Ember has been the hit song “Tourniquet,” which was made into a music video released last December. Featuring a driving bass heavy drum line, a beautiful blending of tones and a textbook example of Burnley’s vocal prowess, it stands as a gem of modern hard rock. Unlike past hits by Breaking Benjamin, this was not a brainchild solely of Burnley.

“I’ve had to do a lot of the writing on past albums — some albums I’ve written the whole thing, completely … but this time around, I’ve got guys around me that are amazing songwriters. So, with ‘Tourniquet,’ in particular, I didn’t write any of that music at all — not one bit of it. Keith Wallen — our (rhythm) guitar player — he wrote that. All I had to do was put the words to it,” he said.

It is quite clear that Ben Burnley is in a good spot with his bandmates. This should invigorate the thralls of fans Breaking Benjamin has throughout the country, as the band is scheduled to visit nearly every corner of the nation within the year.

On March 25, a massive show featuring Skillet, Underoath and Fight The Fury headlined by Breaking Benjamin will take place at the Sylvee in Madison with doors opening at 5:30 p.m. and the show beginning an hour after.

Wisconsin is, in fact, one of the states that Breaking Benjamin will visit the most and has been a frequent stop for the band in the past. When asked about the many shows in Wisconsin, Burnley spoke very highly of the Badger State.

“Oh dude, the people are just super nice, and the food is good, and you know how to rock and have a great time at a rock show. It’s just a really, really cool vibe there, it always has been. Some places you go and people — I wouldn’t say they’re lame — but they just express themselves in a different way. Which is cool and all, but there it’s very high energy and a lot of excitement. Sometimes you go places and people are more observant … there, people just know how to rock, and we love it.”

Ben Burnley is one of the more underrated musicians and creative minds of the past 20 years in American music. While others have faded away into irrelevance, here is this hard-rock band Breaking Benjamin churning out hit after hit, with no signs of relenting. The fans have responded, snatching up albums and tour tickets by the hundreds of thousands.

For more tour information, visit the band’s website by clicking here.

To purchase tickets for the show this month at the Sylvee in Madison, click here.


John Everman is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.

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