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The Diary of Ben: An Interview with Breaking Benjamin’s Ben Burnley

Pennsylvania rock band Breaking Benjamin released a new album called Dear Agony in September ’09, and on the same day three of their hit singles came out as Rock Band DLC – “So Cold,” “The Diary of Jane,” and the first single from the new album, “I Will Not Bow.” 

I had the opportunity to sit down with Breaking Benjamin singer/guitarist Ben Burnley when they were in town, and talk to him about music games, writing songs, and what it’s like touring with bands you’ve toured with a lot. We spoke on the tour bus, so you may hear some odd noises – the heat turning on and off (it was a chilly 21 degrees in Lowell, MA that night), the walkie talkie squawking, and the bus door opening and closing. 

The band went on to play a high-energy show playing their three Rock Band tracks, plus “Blow Me Away” (featured in Halo 2), “Fade Away” (a song from the new album Ben mentions as being fun to play live), their first single ever, “Polyamorous,” and more.

Listen to the interview below, and click here for more pictures from the show. 

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Breaking Benjamin logo


Christine Jandreau: It's Christine from RockBand.com here with Ben from Breaking Benjamin.

Ben Burnley: What's up?

CJ: So you guys have three songs in the game. You've got "So Cold," "The Diary of Jane," and then the new single "I Will Not Bow." Have you had a chance to play them in the game yet?

BB: Not yet, because I don't own the package or anything like that.

CJ: We can take care of that.

BB: Awesome. That's what I was hoping.

Both: [laughs]

CJ: Yeah, we can definitely take care of that. So do you play music games at all? I know you're a big gamer.

BB: I'm a huge gamer, but I usually stick to first-person shooters and stuff like that because, you know, I play guitar for a living, so the last thing I want do really is to play a game that's like my job.

CJ: Sure.

BB: I mean, like playing Interview: The Game, you wouldn't want to do it. But I do every now and then, but more so in a social setting. Like if everybody's hanging out, having a good time or whatever, then we'll bust it out. But the last time I played was, I don't know, when it first came out. A long time ago a buddy of mine had it and I sucked at it.

CJ: So you guys have been a band for about ten years now, right?

BB: Yeah.

CJ: Some of you have settled down and gotten married and had kids. Has that changed the band dynamic at all, or how you go about writing and recording? 

BB: No, I mean I'm the primary writer in the band, so my style has grown as I've grown older, but it's not anything drastically different, I don't think. It's just more, now that I'm sober too, it's more thought out and more planned out.

CJ: You guys have a brand new album out. It came out in September. It's doing really well on the rock charts - "I Will Not Bow" is number one on the rock charts.

BB: Yeah, it's hung in there pretty tough.

CJ: And it's great in the game, by the way. The Rock Band community was thrilled to get Breaking Benjamin in the game.

BB: Awesome.

Ben Burnley on stage


CJ: Can you tell me a little about the process of writing and recording the new album?

BB: It's like I lock myself away and write and write and write. And kind of take probably a hundred songs and cut the best bits out of those and make ten songs out of that. It's more like a puzzle kind of thing, like a Frankenstein kind of thing. With certain songs, I'll take the chorus from this song and the verse from that song, or the riff from this song and a riff from another song and that'll be the bridge. It's all fair game when it comes to writing. Even if a song is in a different key, I'll take it and move it to the key or whatever. I usually do it that way. I usually just write a lot of songs that are similar and chop them up and make one good song out of like ten mediocre songs.

CJ: You guys are on tour with Three Days Grace and Flyleaf now, and you've been on your with Three Days Grace a couple of times before - back when Phobia came out, and before that you guys were with Evanescence. Is it different touring with a band that you've toured with a lot?

BB: Yeah, it's really comfortable because you know everybody and you don't feel like…sometimes when I'm on tour - and I can only really speak for myself - but when I'm on tour in particular and I don't really know the main act, I kind of feel like [I'm] in the way a lot of the time. I try to hurry up with soundcheck, although I do [that] now anyway because it's just a consideration thing, but even just walking around in the hall you kind of feel like it's somebody else's deal and you're just there and in their way. That's how I feel. With this, we're all friends and stuff so it's like, who cares really? And it's just a really comfortable environment because we've known each other since…their first album and our second album. Because we had an album come out before theirs. So we've known them for almost their whole rock career and vice versa. Because they toured with us with Evanescence too. We've actually toured a lot with Three Days Grace. Probably most of our touring lives have been with them.

CJ: I've seen you a few times and I think two or three of those times were with Three Days Grace.

BB: Yeah. But it's a great package, and people are still into coming out and seeing it and that's why we continue to do it, other than the friend thing. That's kind of like a bonus to go with the familiarity and stuff like that. And our albums came out around the same time, so the timing was great. And we just figured, why not? And Flyleaf too - we toured with them before their actual album came out. They had an EP of that album and we toured with them on that, so we've known them forever too, so it's a really awesome package

Ben Burnley on stage


CJ: So, you guys have always been a band that seems to really connect with their audience during the live shows. Do you have a favorite song to play live?

BB: You know, it's like a fine line between songs that are fun to play musically and songs that are fun to play because they're so familiar. So like all the singles I really enjoy playing because everybody knows them, and you get a good vibe when you get the people that actually recognize what's going on. But then there's songs that are fun to play technically. Like there's a song called "Fade Away" that's new that we have. It's the first song off Dear Agony, and that's really fun musically to play, but it's not a single, so only like 70% of the people know it. But still, it's cool and gets a good reaction and stuff. But "Diary [of Jane]" is fun, because as soon as I start playing it people are like [crowd noise] because they know what it is, and that's what's fun about it.

CJ: I know "Shallow Bay" has always been a big one for you guys live. Even the website is [named that].

BB: We haven't played it in a long time, because you only have a certain amount of time to play and the more albums you have, you have to start cutting older stuff out. It's either that or cut newer stuff out, so it's kind of like, well, we're out promoting the new stuff so it makes more sense to cut older stuff. So we haven't played that in a really long time just because we don't have enough time.

CJ: I've got one last question for you. Do you have any advice for fans that may be thinking about taking the leap from plastic guitarring up to real instruments?

BB: Well I think, absolutely. I think it should always just be fun, and the minute it stops being fun, you might want to evaluate and look at things a bit differently. Because you can get in a professional situation where it's kind of not fun anymore and you're just going through the motions and stuff. But there's things you can do to try to keep it that way, but definitely, stay true to what you're doing and just try your best to have fun at it. Take it seriously, but not too, too seriously.

CJ: Anything else you want to tell the Rock Band community?

BB: I just want to say thanks for having us and I think it's about time. Because I'm an Xbox gamer, you know what I mean. And I posted my Gamertag on our website and I've gotten so many messages of people [saying], "Why aren't you on Rock Band? Why aren't you on Rock Band?" and now I can finally say, "We are!" It was getting kind of like, "I don't know. Why are you asking me? Go call them." So I'm glad it came through.

CJ: The Rock Band community, pretty much that was the response we got was, "Finally, I've been waiting since the game came out to play these songs."

BB: Well I didn't understand it either because you know, I know the aspect of it as you gotta put something on there that's successful, you know? I understand that, and we did have stuff that was successful, so it was like, well I don't know why. At least like some kind of DLC with one song? Just something, you know. So it's awesome, and we thank you so much for having us on there.

CJ: We're happy to have you on there. Have you heard about the program we're doing now called Rock Band Network where anyone can put their tracks into the game?

BB: No.

CJ: It's for any of the artists that own the copyrights. They can either do it themselves or hire somebody to chart the tracks for the game, and it gets put through the XNA - the Xbox Live system - and can get sold in the store just like any other DLC track.

BB: Like DLC? That's cool. Maybe I'll put my demos on there.

CJ: I'm sure the community would love to get anything else from you guys.

BB: I'll check it out, cool. I'll definitely check it out.

CJ: Well thanks for talking to us.

BB: Thanks for having me.