When Gene Simmons infamously proclaimed “Rock is dead”, Ben Burnley didn’t get the memo. After five years of internal band turmoil, legal battles, and no new albums, Breaking Benjamin’s lead singer and founding member delivered a Billboard 200 #1 ROCK album in June 2015. Ben took time out of his busy tour schedule for the 3rd time in less than a year to talk with ROCKwell UnScene about finishing their acoustic tour, his upcoming tour in Europe, and of course, the stories behind his tattoos. When did Ben get his first tattoo? What band inspired him to get his first tattoo? What’s he getting next? Keep reading to find out.
Rockwell: I know you guys were doing something a little different recently – an acoustic tour. How was that for you?
Ben: We just finished up with the acoustic tour, and now we’re back doing some larger venues with a full electric set. We’re out with Starset. The acoustic tour was good.
Rockwell: So you’re out with Starset right now, and I know you have a lot of big things coming up this summer. You’re heading over to Europe. Are you excited about that? Going to jump on a boat?
Ben: Yeah. I’m going to take the Queen Mary II over to Europe, and it will be the first time the band has been over there. So we’re all very, very excited.
Rockwell: I had to ask about that because last year at Rocklahoma, we talked about you going over to Europe, and you were saying that you’re going to make it happen no matter what. Whether you had to buy a boat or ride on one, you were going to hit Europe (Ben Burnley does not fly). So… Congratulations!
Mel: I know a lot of fans get tattoos of you or your band. How does it feel as a musician to see that?
Ben: Well I mean there’s no words to really express the gratitude that I feel when I see that someone is willing to put that on themselves for the rest of their lives. Being out on tour, we meet a lot of people and see a lot of tattoos, and a lot of them are over ten years old, and a lot of them are brand new. It’s really cool to see that out there and see people getting lyrics tattooed. It’s just amazing.
I have a Nirvana tattoo on my arm that I’ve had since I was fifteen years old. I had to go to a trailer to get it done, and my mom had to go with me to give permission because I was fifteen. I’m thirty-eight now, and I’ll never cover it up. It’s my favorite tattoo. I’m that way with Nirvana, so to have somebody do that with my band… I know what it feels like as a fan, and I know what it feels like being on the other side. It’s an honor.
Mel: That’s an awesome story, and the best part is your mom being so supportive of your tattoos at such a young age.
Ben: I would come home with a new tattoo, and she’d be like, “Oh lordy, here we go again.”
Rockwell: So how many tattoos do you have?
Ben: I don’t even know.
Rockwell: It’s hard to see when we shoot you and cover you live; you’re usually wearing a long sleeve shirt. So what’s hidden beneath that shirt? What’s the biggest piece you have and where’s it at?
Ben: I have a lot of bad tattoos, but I found this really badass tattoo artist in New York, and I’ll actually be going there soon to get some of my tattoos covered and some of them fixed. The biggest one I think I have is on the back of my leg, and it’s a Superman that’s done by a really awesome artist named Alex Ross. He does a lot of DC work, so I got one of his paintings of Superman on the back of my leg. It takes up my whole calf.
Rockwell: So what’s the name of your artist in New York that you’re going to go see?
Ben: I don’t know if they want me to say their name without asking… I’m like that, man. Out of respect.
Mel: You seem to have a love for these comic book characters, so what would your next piece be character-wise? Can you give us a hint of what your next goal is?
Ben: I have that Alex Ross Superman on the back of my calf, and then I have a couple of friends that are artists; you know they draw and sculpt, and they’re really professional artists that do a lot of work for DC and other universes, such as Star Wars and that nature. I’ve contacted them to do some unique artwork for me to get tattooed because I don’t want to pull something off the internet. I want something original. I want an artist friend to mirror the Superman tattoo on my other calf to make it sort of similar, but not the same.
Ben: I have the Transformers symbol tattooed on my knuckles, and I like the Autobot symbol on my left, middle finger and the Decepticon on my right. I’d like to get some more Transformers stuff. My favorite movies of all time are Edward Scissorhands and Star Wars, so I’d like to get some of that. I have some tattoos that I actually want to get removed, as well.
I love Superman, Batman, and Star Wars. I might get a Lost Boys tattoo because I love that movie too. Just the things that influenced me in my life, like movies and stuff like that I really really love. I love the 80s, so I might get an 80s montage sort of thing.
Rockwell: Do you have any personal tattoos that relate to family members, or anything like that?
Ben: No, just the Nirvana thing. That’s probably the most personal one for me, because not only was it like my first tattoo, but if it wasn’t for Nirvana I wouldn’t like music at all, and I definitely wouldn’t be a musician. I wouldn’t be where I am without that band. The the rest are just things I like. I have a Spider-Man logo and that kind of stuff. I’m really interested in comics and sci-fi stuff.
Mel: If you were to get something besides the comic book and sci-fi stuff, say lyrics, what would you get?
Ben: Man, I don’t know. Probably some Nirvana lyrics. There’s a cool line in a song he (Kurt Cobain) has, called “Territorial Pissing”, and I probably would get it tattooed. The line is “Never met a wise man – if so, it’s a woman.”
Rockwell: That’s awesome. Thanks Ben, we’ll see you next week at your show in Anaheim.