Wednesday, July 1, 2015


BREAKING BENJAMIN is No. 1

As the band tops the Billboard charts, it’s important to note some of the people
 no longer working with the group that helped make it happen.


By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
July 1, 2015

The first photo seen here was taken about 15 years ago on the roof of The Times Leader building in downtown Wilkes-Barre. It was of a new band called Breaking Benjamin that I was writing about for my “Music On The Menu” column. The band was so new at the time that it didn’t even have a publicity photo, so we took one for them.

The second photo was taken about two years later, also at The Times Leader building. That time, we were in the basement of the newspaper. I've always loved the shot. To me, it has a very urban, subway kind of feel. We used it as the artwork for a cover story that I had written about the band.

I couldn’t help but think about such things today as we get word that the band’s new album, “Dark Before Dawn,” has debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. There is no doubt that having a band that was originally based out of Wilkes-Barre sitting on the very top of the charts is pretty cool. But it is also, to me, very bittersweet in some ways. I wrote about Breaking Benjamin many times over the years. I saw them play at the old Voodoo Lounge in Luzerne in front of 20 people, and I saw them headline shows at the arena in Wilkes-Barre and the amphitheater at Montage. During that time, Ben Burnley gave me some really good interviews, and while serving as music editor at The Times Leader and later as editor of The Weekender, the band graced the cover of both The Guide and The Weekender several times.  When the group received its very first gold record, the story ran on the front page of the daily newspaper. For me, it was all a lot of fun to write about and I enjoyed covering the story for our readers and for the band's fans.

In 2006, when I was helping organize “Concert For A Cause 4,” I asked former Breaking Benjamin guitarist Aaron Fink if the band might consider playing the show. Aaron said he’d try to make it happen. And he did. And - at the very height of their commercial success - Breaking Benjamin came down to The Woodlands and played a set, for free, for charity, to help out young kids in need. And I have never forgotten that.

So why is this a bittersweet day? Simply because I wish that some of the people that helped make Breaking Benjamin such a successful band were still with them as they hit No. 1 for the very first time. The reason they call it the “music business” is because it’s just that: a business. And sometimes, especially when all most musicians really care about is art and creativity, that really sucks. The two members of the band that I am closest with, Aaron and former bassist Mark James Klepaski, left the group under difficult and bizarre circumstances that ended up in the courts, with all sorts of unnecessary legal mumbo-jumbo.  They are both really good guys, talented musicians, and all they ever really wanted to do was make great music with Breaking Benjamin. In fact, they each believed in Breaking Benjamin so much that they left another band that was already signed to a national recording contract in order to join the group. And so, in my opinion, two good guys and two really great players got screwed.

How do I know they’re good guys? I’ve seen it firsthand. And not just with “Concert For A Cause.” Two years ago, when I asked Aaron and Mark if they would be willing to come down to the Wyoming Valley West Middle School, where I now teach an anti-bullying course, and if they’d be willing to speak to an assembly about the negative effects of bullying, they were both more than happy to do it. And they were great with the kids that day. They had a very positive impact.  And so I am speaking from experience.

Mark has now taken his music to Southern California and is very happy. And Aaron was recently the guest on my Sunday night radio show on 105 The River for the full hour, and he also recently played the monthly “Music On The Menu Live Original Music Series” that I host at Mohegan Sun Pocono. If you haven’t yet heard Aaron’s new solo album, "Saint Sylvania," you should. And his new band, Gentleman East, is also making some great music. I am glad that we have always stayed in touch.

I took this shot for The Weekender when Breaking Benjamin
headlined the area in Wilkes-Barre in 2006. 
Former Breaking Benjamin drummer Chad Zeliga is also a good guy. He’s a monster of a drummer and he actually lives in my neighborhood.  His departure from Breaking Benjamin also seemed completely unnecessary, and I was not surprised at all to find out that when a guy like Zakk Wilde of Ozzy Osbourne fame found out that Chad was available, Chad got the gig. He’s now pretty much doing the same thing he did with Breaking Benjamin - playing killer drums on records and at concerts - but without the silly aggravation. Good for him.

I also know original Breaking Benjamin drummer Jeremy Hummel and original bassist Jonathan Price. Good dudes. Talented guys. My friend Bret Alexander, formerly of The Badlees, produced the first Breaking Benjamin EP, and I still recall him telling me at the time that he saw great potential and talent in the band. Bret even went as far as to connect the group with The Badlees' former manager, Larry Mazur, who later helped Breaking Benjamin land a deal with Hollywood Records. The title of the band's first national release, "Saturate" was actually a gesture of respect to Bret's own Saturation Acres Recording Studio, where they had recorded their first EP.

My friend Freddie Fabbri was the band’s first manager, and he was willing to put his whole career in radio on the line in order to help break Breaking Benjamin. It was Freddie, all of those years ago, that first urged me to get my ass over to The Voodoo Lounge to check them out, and it was Freddie that hooked the band up with Bret to record that first album. And it was Freddie that first put “Polyamorous” on the radio.

None of these people that I’ve mentioned here are involved with Breaking Benjamin today. And that is why, to me, the news of the band hitting No. 1 on the charts comes with some mixed emotions. It’s not that I am not happy for the band. I am. I really am. I’ve always loved the work of current bassist Aaron Bruch and was a huge fan of his former project, Panacea. That band, in my opinion, also deserved a record deal and Aaron deserves the chance to play on some of the biggest stages in the country. I caught some of the all-new Breaking Benjamin’s set at Brews Brothers West last year (the old Voodoo Lounge) and Aaron was in top form. He’s a good fit and his work on the new album is excellent.  And I've known John Phillips, the band’s current road manager, for almost 15 years. And I am also happy for him in that he’s gotten the chance to tour the country with a great band.

So yeah … I go way, way back with all of these guys and I’ve known all of the key players. Lots of folks around here know these people. For me, it all started 15 years ago, when another good friend, Lyn Carey, recommended that I write about this new band called Breaking Benjamin for my “Music On The Menu” column. That was the first time I’d ever heard of them. I wrote the story. We took their picture on the roof. It was the first time they’d ever been written about, anywhere. Seems like yesterday. But it wasn’t. It was a long time ago. And again, in my opinion, every single person that I’ve mentioned here today that have all been a part of a band from Wilkes-Barre having the No. 1 album on the charts deserves a big shout out. Congratulations to all of you. That is not to take anything at all away from Ben Burnley, who is an incredibly gifted songwriter and vocalist. Breaking Benjamin, as he has always shown, is his band, and again, he’s always been very cool to me. But I am also sending out congratulations to the others … to Jonathan, to Jeremy, to Aaron, to Mark, to Chad, to Bret and to Freddie. And of course to Ben, Aaron and John, and to the other current members of the band, whom I have never met.   

Today, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is the home of the No. 1 band in America. And a lot of cool people from NEPA helped make that happen over the years. I am proud to have known all of them. And today, I just wanted to give some of those people a nod of respect and to advise them that maybe it’s best – just for one day - that we all put the odd inner-dynamics of Breaking Benjamin on the side, that we take just a moment to realize this will probably never happen again, and that we make note that this is indeed pretty damn cool.

Cheers to you all.

Especially those that helped get it all started.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River)  




3 comments:

  1. Well said Alan Stout, it is a great day to be a Breaking Benjamin fan from Wilkes-Barre, PA !

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  2. Great article Alan local music is what it is all about.

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  3. Beautiful...a very good read. I'm grateful that BB made number 1, but they would not have gotten to this point without the former members. I love and support all of them.

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