Ben Burnley of Breaking Benjamin talks touring, fans, virtual reality, and more

By Jared Allen

January 18, 2017

Breaking Benjamin, the rock band hailing from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., cemented their resurgence with the Nocturnal Underground tour back in the Fall. The band’s revival has only grown since as they’ve collected another RIAA gold certification for their recent release Dark Before Dawn and continue to sell out a string of shows across the Southeast. Their present tour which rolls down the East Coast before embarking on ShipRocked has already sold out in a number of cities, including each of the three in North Carolina (Greensboro, Charlotte and Asheville). It’s a feat that’s become routine for Breaking Benjamin and for good reason.

We caught up with frontman and founder Benjamin Burnley to discuss the band’s recent triumphs, touring in North Carolina and virtual reality gaming.

CLTure: First off, how was your recent tour with Korn and getting back to playing amphitheaters? It really seemed like the fans thoroughly enjoyed it!

Benjamin Burnley: It was a lot of fun. Right out of the gate with the new lineup when the album came out we we’re doing a lot of radio stuff, so we tried to ease our way into those tours. It was great being with those guys and we’re really grateful for them having us. The fans loved it, we loved it and, overall, it was just a really good time.

CLTure: Congratulations on receiving certified gold for Dark Before Dawn! It seems like every album you put out is a monster hit.

Benjamin Burnley: I like to keep myself really humble but that goes back to the fans. They’re the reason we got that and they made that happen. We’re just really grateful for it. We’re over the moon that the fans are really supportive of everything we do. We’d be nothing without them. No band should take credit for their achievements in the music industry because the fans are the ones who give all that to us – we owe it all to them.

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Benjamin Burnley of Breaking Benjamin

CLTure: On the present tour that you’re out on, you’re playing three shows in North Carolina. It seems like every time you’re here, which is pretty often, every show sells out including these three.

Benjamin Burnley: That’s again the fans. If they want us to come back, we’re going to come back. Any area that wants Breaking Benjamin to come and receive us so well is going to get us. The fans there are incredible and really amazing every time we stop there.

CLTure: Are you looking forward to heading out on ShipRocked and touring the seas? Maybe relaxing a bit?

Benjamin Burnley: Well, it’s still part of our tour because we have two concerts on the ship that we need to do. It’s kind of like a floating tour for us. I’m not so sure how much relaxing we’ll get to do. There’s five days and we play twice, so there will be some time to chill, but it’s still part of our tour. We’re there to play. We’re looking forward to it though and there’s a lot of bands on there that we’re friends with and looking forward to hanging out with. We love to play and what we do. That in itself is a blessing everyday. We’re grateful that they wanted us.

CLTure: Over the years, have any of your songs changed meaning for you? Considering that your mental state when writing a song in 2007 may not be what it is today?

Benjamin Burnley: I think that the maturity plays in a little bit. You want to make music fun and don’t want to be too serious about it, but serious enough that you do a good job with what you do and that there’s meaning and depth. There’s a few songs I’ve written through the years that are more catered toward the serious end and some that aren’t. That’s just something that’s universal in everything that we do to this day. Age and being more mature is going to affect everything that a band does.

CLTure: So you don’t necessarily look at songs in a different light? In the same way we look at social media posts we’ve written years ago?

Benjamin Burnley: It’s hard to say because while music is a statement, it’s an artistic statement. It’s not like a post on social media which is more so your opinion at that time. For music, it’s like if you paint a painting and 20 years go by. You’re more mature – even though that’s not what you would’ve done in that day, it doesn’t make it any less valid. Art can be interpreted and so many different. It’s not necessarily an opinion, but an artistic statement. I don’t regret writing any of the songs I did – I know that’s not what you’re asking – I don’t know if I would’ve done it any differently because those songs have a place in history in being what they are in that time.

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Photo by Ben Vogelsang

CLTure: That definitely puts it in a different light in that it’s a creative expression. Now, I know you’re a big gamer and that you’ve dove into the new virtual reality. What are your thought’s on the new platform?

Benjamin Burnley: It’s funny you mention that because I was playing virtual reality before this interview [laughs]. I’m really into it. I think it’s the next logical step and it’s at a point where it’s 100 percent usable. We’re right on the cusp and now it’s about making it affordable. If it was affordable, everyone would have it. I think as time goes on headsets will become more affordable and streamlined. It’ll be the way of the future. I love virtual reality so much that I have a difficulty playing on a flat screen. The only thing that virtual reality is lacking – which will change very soon – is that there isn’t many different content. There really aren’t any games like Skyrim and Fallout where you live a virtual life and there’s hours and hours of game play and choices. There’s no games like that, but I have my fingers in the virtual reality community and they’ve been really helpful to me in getting non virtual reality games running really well. I played both Skyrim and Fallout in virtual reality.

CLTure: Wow, and how’s that!?

Benjamin Burnley: It works really well. We use a program called Vortex that allows games to render in virtual reality. It’s definitely the way of the future and we feel like we’re on the cusp of it. In June or around that time, Todd Howard, the head of Bethesda (Skyrim, Elder Scrolls and Fallout) announced that the entire game of Fallout 4 will be playable on native virtual reality. I can’t wait for that! We get those games to work on virtual reality now, but they’re not native to it – so it’s not perfect. They’re not made for virtual reality, we force it. It’s made for a flat screen and some things such as the menu system don’t translate well. I think that when Fallout 4 comes to virtual reality natively, it’ll be a real game changer as to what people can do. You can literally live a virtual life. If anyone has played virtual reality, then they can understand that. It’s really hard to explain virtual reality to someone who hasn’t played – you just need to put the headset on and experience it for yourself.

CLTure: Back in the summer when I was in San Francisco, there was a science convention set up where they were playing virtual reality – just the typical knockoff of Call of Duty: Zombies.

Benjamin Burnley: I think you’ll always have people that prefer to play on a flat screen. There’s people that don’t handle virtual reality well, as far as the movements. There’s people that might feel nauseous in the virtual reality environment. Therefore, I don’t think virtual reality will ever replace flat screen gaming. There’s also games that won’t always translate well into virtual reality. The way Halo is now and how it’s fast paced, the ways you run – I don’t think it’ll ever translate well. Single player might, but the multiplayer and the movements – jumping, sliding and the power dash – I don’t think that will work very well in virtual reality. I think it’ll make you sick, regardless of how acclimated you are. I think there will always be gamers that don’t want that aspect and want to play on a flat screen. However, I do think that virtual reality will continue to grow. Thus far, we haven’t changed gaming other than how your controller reacts. Virtual reality, however, puts you in a world inside the game. Your entire audio and visual perception is drastically changed. With the Wii, we only changed the controller scheme and it’s not enough. It also has to do with content. I think when Fallout 4 comes to virtual reality, it’ll be a game changer. You can have amazing experiences in virtual reality, but if the games don’t have replay value, then there’s no reason to play. That’s why I was so desperate to get Skyrim running in virtual reality because I exhausted everything that was already available. There aren’t any games like Skyrim and Fallout that’s beyond a wave shooting experience or escape the room. Also, the next Resident Evil will have some virtual reality support.

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CLTure: In my opinion, Fallout 3 was one of the best games of all time and I couldn’t imagine playing that in virtual reality. It would be mind blowing.

Benjamin Burnley: You would live in that world. You wouldn’t just be playing the game at that point. I’m really looking forward to it too. I hope it comes out sooner rather than later!

CLTure: What is your favorite series or favorite games of all time?

Benjamin Burnley: Probably the Elder Scrolls series. I’m not a humongous fan of Elder Scrolls online, but I love Oblivion and Skyrim. Those types of games – the single player experience – are so rich in content and you can player them for hours and hours.

CLTure: Are you a fan of the Red Dead Redemption series? The trailer for the RDR2 looks really exciting.

Benjamin Burnley: Yeah, absolutely. The big open world with a lot of content is great. I’m not a huge fan of third-person, but other than that, maybe they’ll add a first-person mode to it. They did that with Grand Theft Auto 5 and reissued it after its initial release and made it an option to play it in first-person. Games like that really lend themselves well to virtual reality. Game developers try their best to put the gamer in that world and there’s no better way than virtual reality. I know that Todd Howard at Bethesda understands that and I trying to make it a reality. Hopefully Rockstar takes the hint and jumps on board with Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto.

CLTure: If they do, that would be on the top of my Christmas list next year for sure!

Benjamin Burnley: Me too! Me too!

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