Editor’s Note: After fighting a sore throat with a sinus infection, I muscled through and got to talk to one of the premiere guitarists in the mainstream rock world in Keith Wallen of Breaking Benjamin for Madness To Creation. This man seems to do it all musically and he lives for performing on that stage rocking for his fans! He has recently released his rather dark cover of “Shallow” from the movie “A Star Is Born”, and plans on releasing another single entitled “Crows” next week. In the meantime, Breaking Benjamin is embarking on an insane headlining spring tour as they are taking along Skillet, Underoath, and Fight The Fury with them! Fans can find Breaking Benjamin at the following locations:
Fans can find Keith Wallen’s solo project at the following locations:
Madness To Creation: Thanks for taking the time with me Keith, let’s start off by talking about the Oscars, did you watch them the other night?
Keith: I did not! I did see some recap stuff on Twitter but I didn’t really watch it.
Madness To Creation: I saw that you recently released a cover of “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” movie, can you take us into that cover?
Keith: I basically went and saw the movie in the theater and I knew that it was going to be a heavy movie, I knew that it was going to be an emotional kind of thing but I’ve always been a big fan of both of them individually on their other projects, so I was curious because I knew that Bradley Cooper had directed it, and I love movies and I love different directors and seeing their different takes on things and their approaches, and I went and watched the movie, and I thought it was great. It was really well done, I really like the music and the songs and everything. I thought Lady Gaga did great, her first acting experience, I really thought that she did great. I really appreciated the chemistry there in between both of them in the movie, it really came across as genuine, and you see them in interviews and stuff talking about the song and the whole experience, and they just do have this authentic connection between them. I just think it’s really cool, they’re not in a relationship or anything but it’s just cool to see that kind of connection, and I thought the song was great, and I was like, “eh, sure, I’ll do a cover of it”.
Madness To Creation: When you approach a song to cover, what does that look like to you?
Keith: That’s a good question, I think obviously I go into it knowing and giving all of the credit where credit is due, and that’s to the original songwriters and to the original performers. Covers rarely sound as good or better than the original, and mine is no exception. The original is always better, sometimes it’s cool to do a different sound and a different take. Lots of people do darker versions of various songs, the first time I heard a cool version of a dark song was when Gary Jules did that Tears For Fears song, it was on a video game commercial back in the day, I think it was “Mad World”, but I always thought that it was cool and it was a cool concept. Since then, so many people do that now, they do dark versions, and I think that’s really cool, but there’s always something cool about trying to nail the original sound and the original vibe that I also appreciate. It’s just kind of a song by song basis for me. I’ve done a cover of “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak, I did my own spin on it, but with “Shallow”, I just kind of try to do it like they did it, obviously there’s some subtle differences there, I try to keep it true to form.
The latest example of bands that have followed the covering songs trend was the latest Weezer album, they did a whole release of covers, and they really did try to sound like the original bands, and I thought that was really cool, and they did a great job too.
Madness To Creation: What’s your favorite Weezer song off of that album?
Keith: I’m going to have to say “Africa” by Toto, that was the one that kind of started it. I know that they did “Rosanna” at first to kind of mess with people, I thought that they did a really good job with that.
Madness To Creation: Is there anything that you want to cover that your fans would say, “why in the hell would he want to cover that”?
Keith: Honestly, I think about that every time that I release a song or just think about a cover. I want our fans to be like, “what is he doing”, so that’s kind of a pretty wide open question. I can’t think of anything specifically, it’s always a challenge to think of the right cover, I want to do a song that I like from an artist that I like, but also I want to do something that I feel that I would sound good doing, so that’s important.
Madness To Creation: Do you see yourself going on a solo run, I know that you’re in Breaking Benjamin, but like when Breaking Benjamin is not touring?
Keith: Definitely! I don’t know if it would be a set full of covers per say, I just kind of do the covers just for fun and to just have content to put out because lots of times if we’re not touring or if I don’t have any solo stuff in the works, so there’s just kind of idle time, but I absolutely have plans to do that at some point to play a set of original material, and to throw a cover in there every once in a while, but with everything with this summer coming up, there’s a lot of Breaking Benjamin stuff to do, we’re in the middle of an album cycle, we’re hitting that hard and heavy, but it’s one of those things whenever I have off time, I try to make time to work on my solo stuff, whether it’s writing, recording, or doing a video, or eventually at some point, tours.
Madness To Creation: Got a ridiculous question for you, Breaking Benjamin packs arenas and amphitheaters around the country and world, do you sometimes miss playing the intimate venues, or do you get a thrill out of playing the packed arenas?
Keith: That’s a good question! Honestly, I love them both equally, they both have their own set of challenges and things that bring on different anxieties, but I’m really fortunate to play some bigger places with the band, and for my solo stuff at this point, it’s at the beginning stage for me with that, obviously some fans of Breaking Benjamin are into my solo stuff, which I’m super appreciative and thankful for, but for the most part, no one knows me as a solo artist, I’m kind of in the beginning stages of that, whenever I play shows solo, the smaller venues are more of an intimate thing, so I kind of get both worlds, so it’s kind of cool to have both of those scenarios happening, but they’re definitely different.
I love playing the big places and I love the challenge, but I almost feel more anxiety and more nervous when it’s a more intimate thing because you can really see people up close and see their eyeballs looking at you, and you’re just like, “oh dang!”, but it’s definitely more nerve racking I think the last couple of solo shows I’ve played, it’s just been me and an acoustic, and an acoustic guitar is a little less forgiving, but I love the challenge of it, it’s inspiring and it’s fun to do that and have that kind of opportunity to change things up from the usual arena run with the band.
Madness To Creation: Is there one particular Breaking Benjamin song that stands out where you just get totally fired up to play?
Keith: I don’t know! It’s a blast with every song, I know it’s kind of a lame answer but it really is fun. I would say a song called “Breath”, I think that’s my personal favorite one that Ben has written, it’s just fun to play, and the audience really gets into it, also one of our more well known songs “Diary of Jane”, it’s really fun to play and the audience really responds to that one, and that’s always great, and we feed off the energy from the crowd, those are songs that always kind of whip it up a little bit.
Madness To Creation: Let’s say way way way down the road when you retire, what legacy do you want to leave for the next generation?
Keith: Geez, that’s a great question, I’ve never been asked that. No one has cared enough to ask me that, I appreciate that question, I think that’s another reason why I do the solo stuff. There’s going to eventually be a time where I’m going to be too old to get out there and play and too old to really be able to sing, so I’m just trying to make as much music as I can while I can. As far as legacies go, I don’t really think too much about leaving behind a legacy, but I guess I really want to show younger generations that to just never quit and never give up, I know that’s cliche but I was born in West Virginia and eventually moved to Tennessee, it’s possible for anyone to follow their dreams and to not give up and to just keep working at it. I don’t know, I never really thought about the whole legacy part, but I just hope that people will appreciate the music and hope that they look me up decades into the future, they can appreciate something that I put forth into the universe, that would be all that I would find satisfaction in.
Madness To Creation: You can’t really ask for much more than that. What is the one thing that you’re looking forward to the most on this run with Skillet, Underoath, and Fight The Fury?
Keith: Number one, I really like Underoath’s new album and I never met those guys, and I really never had a chance to tour with them, so I’m stoked to see them play and stoked to meet those guys and hang out, I’m just really looking forward to getting back with my extended Breaking Benjamin family. We put a lot of time in together over the past couple album cycles, they really are family to me. We just have a great time out there and really just lift each other up and encourage each other, it’s just a really good environment.
Madness To Creation: I can tell that there is a sense of camaraderie with the band, is there any pre-show rituals that you do?
Keith: Yeah we have our little things that we do, they’re absolutely ridiculous, anything to just loosen us up, we try not to take ourselves too seriously because at the end of the day, we’re playing music, we are there to entertain and to have a good time, hopefully the audience and the fans all have a good time too, that’s pretty much all we care about.
Madness To Creation: What’s the one thing you want to accomplish this year?
Keith: With both the band and with the solo stuff, just try to reach new fans and to get out there and meet some new people and to stay true to all of the wonderful fans and friends that we have, but just to get out there and play more of the same, and play some new songs, whether it’s with the band or with the solo stuff, and just having that opportunity to get out there is super amazing and I’m super grateful for that. I do have a new solo song, this is something that I should plug. My next solo release is going to be a song called “Crows”, and I’m super excited for that and it comes out March 22nd, we’re also going to be out with Skillet and Underoath, we’re going to take a little time off, and we got another big tour that recently got announced with Chevelle and Three Days Grace. It should be a good year, obviously the goal that I have is to stay happy and to stay healthy, and I wish for that for all of our fans and all of our friends and all of our family, just to lift each other up and to love each other.
Madness To Creation: What can fans expect from the “Crows” single?
Keith: With my schedule, I get people asking me when the album is coming out, this is just a single, as I only have the time in my schedule to release one song at a time, but with this next release “Crows”, it’s kind of a darker song and a darker sound, the last two solo singles that I released were a little bit more poppy and a little shiny, this one has just got kind of a cool vibe, it’s got a little bit of Clint Eastwood “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” kind of vibe, but at the same time, it’s a positive message, it’s almost a foreshadowing or a warning about the state of the world, which is basically about if we don’t start loving each other soon, it’s not going to be good, but I definitely want to try and push out a positive vibe to everybody.
Madness To Creation: This was an honor, thanks so much for taking the time with me!
Keith: Thanks for having me and I really hope you can come out to a show, we’ll see you out there!
And there you have it! The pre-sales for “Crows” by Keith Wallen have started today and the single will be available for sale on March 22nd! In the meantime, the tour featuring Breaking Benjamin with special guests Skillet, Underoath, and Fight The Fury kicks off tonight. Check out the tour dates:
Fri. 3/15- Dow Event Center in Saginaw, Michigan
Mon. 3/18- Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana
Wed. 3/20- TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Illinois
Thu. 3/21- The Rave in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sat. 3/23- La Crosse Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin
Mon. 3/25- The Sylvee in Madison, Wisconsin
Wed. 3/27- Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa
Fri. 3/29- Verizon Center in Mankato, Minnesota
Sun. 3/31- Bismarck Event Center in Bismarck, North Dakota
Tue. 4/2- Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, South Dakota
Fri. 4/5- 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado
For tickets and further information for any show listed above, click here.
- Photo Credit: Kim Casper at Garden State Band Connection