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Big Ben

Breaking Benjamin's front man Ben Burnley

Breaking Benjamin founder and front man Ben Burnley says the group's name isn't an indication of his emotional state. He's not being broken by the music industry. "Breaking Benjamin got its name from me breaking a microphone," he laughs. "I used to go out and do these open-mike-night performances under just the name Benjamin. That was my stage name, like Madonna or Sting or something. So one night I did this Nirvana tribute, and at the end, I threw the microphone down on the floor, just like Kurt Cobain used to do, and it broke. The thing is, it wasn't my microphone. Later on that night, there was a kid thanking everybody, and he said, 'Oh, yeah, I'd like to thank Benjamin for breaking my effing microphone.' That turned into Benjamin Breaking at first, and then that became Breaking Benjamin."

Burnley is talking to the Houston Press just as the third Breaking Benjamin CD, Phobia, is getting ready to drop. On the day before Phobia's release, it was already No. 23 on the Amazon.com best-seller list. "Is that good or bad?" asks Burnley innocently. "Really, I don't know. I mean, I'm not Internet-savvy at all, so I don't know a lot about it. Is 23 on Amazon a good rating?" After a long pause, he adds, "Who's No. 22?"

Burnley insists he doesn't pay attention to rankings. "As far as chart positions and spins, I don't keep track," he says. But, he adds, "Don't get me wrong. If your song is No. 1, that's pretty cool. But you can't just sit there and watch it be No. 1 thinking, 'Oh, I'm gonna make it stay there.'

Breaking Benjamin's Ben Burnley (center) says fans, not charts, are his No. 1 priority.
Phil Mucci
Breaking Benjamin's Ben Burnley (center) says fans, not charts, are his No. 1 priority.

"I'm to the point that all I want to do anyway is go out and play rock shows. That's it. That's all I've wanted to do since the beginning. That's all the fans want; they want to come out and see Breaking Benjamin. And that's our No. 1 priority: our fans. We love our fans. Fans are the ones that buy the records, fans are the ones that come to shows, fans are the ones that request our songs on the radio...And Breaking Benjamin fans are probably like the coolest fans ever; they really get the music, they really get what's going on. It's been so far, so good."

Actually, it's been so far, so very good. The first single from Phobia, "The Diary of Jane," is the most added track to three rock radio formats and has jumped into heavy rotation on 100 radio stations nationwide. The audio track was streamed from the band's MySpace site more than 160,000 times in its first two weeks online, and the video is also getting big streaming numbers.

Too musical for a straight-up metal tag, Breaking Benjamin has alt-metal leanings. "Yeah, okay," says Burnley offhandedly, seemingly unworried about what people call his work. "Basically, I sing songs that people like. That's it.

"We take what we do seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously at all. We're not drama queens. We go up on stage, we have a good time. There used to be a time when everyone in the band was so serious about it, but people go to a show and they want to have a good time. It took a few years of touring for us to realize that the more fun we're having, the more fun everyone else is going to have. This is our third record, and while that means that we're not veterans by any means, we certainly aren't wet behind the ears anymore. So, people will come to our shows already knowing what to expect. And if they don't like something new, they'll like something old. I don't care either way, as long as they like something."

Burnley says he was influenced by Nirvana and Tool and remembers what it was like to be a teenage fan. He uses that as a guide to dealing with his own fans. "When I started playing music, I was very idolistic of Kurt Cobain; I wanted to be like him, I wanted to do everything he did. Well, not everything, but you know, I really looked up to him. And it's just weird now to be doing some of the same things with my fans. It's surreal. I'm the singer for Breaking Benjamin, so I'm that guy now. Like Kurt was to me, I'm that to somebody else. I'm really a quiet and modest dude, but I've been through the wringer and I've been through some stuff. Haven't we all? But people looking up to me, wanting to be like me, it's a privilege, kind of weird, but a privilege. I tell them, 'If you want to be like me, then be yourself.' Because that's all I'm doing. I'm just being myself."

 
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