On May 20 at 9:15 p.m. PT/12:15 a.m. ET, Yahoo Live will live stream Breaking Benjamin's concert from the Egyptian Room at Old National Centre in Indianapolis. Tune in HERE to watch!
Breaking Benjamin singer/guitarist Benjamin Burnley has seen Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck six times since its release earlier this month. Not only can you hear the influence of Nirvana in Breaking Benjamin's post-grunge sound, but Burnley can relate to the late Nirvana frontman's struggle with a stomach ailment that led him to self-medicate with heroin and ultimately contributed to his suicide. Burnley, too, has been suffering from a number of undiagnosed ailments since 2007, but he has no plans to go out like Cobain.
Instead, he's fighting through the pain on tour with a reconstituted line-up of Breaking Bad that includes guitarist Jasen Rauch, formerly of the band Red, who collaborated with Burnley on Dear Agony, Breaking Benjamin's 2009 album; guitarist/vocalist Keith Wallen, formerly of Adelitas Way; bassist/vocalist Aaron Bruch, from Forever Oeuvre; and drummer Shaun Foist, formerly of Picture Me Broken. And it's gearing up for the June 23 release of its fifth studio album, Dark Before Dawn. So far, three tracks from the album have been released, with its first single, "Failure," cracking the top 10 of Billboard's Rock Songs chart.
Dark Before Dawn comes after a five-year hiatus that saw Burnley battling illness, sacking his band mates and feuding with Hollywood Records over the release of 2011's Shallow Bay: The Best of Breaking Benjamin, which he says was compiled and released without his involvement.
"I first took a break because I became very ill with some very unique and tortuous symptoms in late 2007, and they've never gone away," Burnley says. "I was pushing through them for years and they were just coming around and getting worse, so I decided to take a little time to get to the bottom of what it was making me feel so horrible." That battle served as much of the inspiration for the band's last album, Dear Agony, which features a MRI of Burnley's skull as its cover art.
"As far as the symptoms are concerned, some of them are very vague, but there's a great deal of pain involved. Some of them are so horrific, I don't even know what it is and it goes far beyond what any human being has ever experienced, and if any human being has experienced it, please let me know so I'm not alone," he says. "It's its own thing, but if I had to compare it to something, I'd compare it to sensation of being electrocuted, poisoned and having the flu all at the same time times 1,000, constantly. It makes it a nightmare to sleep and a nightmare to be awake. On top of that I have dizziness. I constantly see spots. My joints and muscles absolutely are completely inflamed and are in severe pain. I don't say these things to complain. I say it because I was asked."
Unfortunately, Burnley says his ailments remain undiagnosed. "To make a long story short, the medical community completely let me down," he continues. "I didn't get a single answer. I didn't get a single diagnosis, so I'm still suffering as much now as I was when I first went into the medical system to try and figure out what was going on. Everybody failed me left and right. After getting the 300th verbatim answer for the 300th time from the 300th doctor, I just basically said, 'You know what, this is like the same thing over and over again... They're just not going to figure it out.' So I just threw myself hands up in the air and said, 'You know what I can either sink or swim here. I can either lay defeated or get up and do what I was made to do.' That was kind of the deciding moment. I just decided to throw all abandon and get back out there and do this with people I truly love and for fans that I truly love."
While his pain hasn't gone away, Burnley is at least taking comfort in what he says is a better support system with the band's new lineup, which he cherry picked after he was "95 to 97%" done with Dark Before Dawn. "I had made a lot of friends in the music industry over the years in a lot of different bands," he says. "And these are the guys that not only stood out on a professional level, but on a personal level, too. We all always got along."
For Burnley, it's a big difference from the band's previous lineup. "I've never really been supported," he says. "Before, I was just kind of egged on to continue even though I was sick. Not supported at all. And what little support I did receive in the band was not really wholehearted, because there was always this underlying thing of, 'I'm I going to get paid,' so it really wasn't a comfortable situation to be in."
So far, Burnley says fans have embraced the new lineup. "This is absolutely way better musically than the old lineup and we've seen nothing but support from the fans that come and see us," he says. "It's just a factual truth."
When pushed for evidence, Burnley points out that the band now had two capable singers besides himself in Bruch and Wallen. "They're guys that were lead singers in other bands," Burnley says. "Breaking Benjamin albums have a lot of background vocals on them and they're turned up, not buried and now we can do those live, because before no one else was really a singer." And with Rauch also on guitar, the band now has three guitar players, which provides more firepower when necessary and also frees up Burnley to simply sing without a guitar on some songs. Rauch's guitar is also equipped with gear that allows him to play string parts and choir parts, rather than run backing tracks. Similarly, drummer Foist has an electric kit built into his traditional drum set allowing him to trigger effects live in real time. "Everything you see now at a Breaking Benjamin show is played by a human being," Burnley says. "So you're never going to see the band playing along to a tape, like so many other bands are doing. Nothing against that, that's just not for us."
With that new musical backbone, Burnley is strangely optimistic, even as he continues to deal with his mysterious and debilitating health problems. "Dude, I'm in it for the long haul man," he says. "If I'm going to go out, I'm going to go out on stage playing for the people I love. I'm going to keep making albums and keep playing live as long as I'm given another day. As long as I'm given another day, I'm going to keep doing what I do."