Interview With BRKN Love Frontman Justin Benlolo
Last week, Mikey Jablonski sat down with BRKN Love frontman Justin Benlolo over Zoom just days before he began across Canada trek to meet up with the remaining members of BRKN Love to start their Canadian tour with Big Wreck and Monster Truck. Justin and Mikey covered a lot that includes the aforementioned tour with Big Wreck and Monster Truck, what you might be in store for during their set, the best advice he's ever received as a musician, what Justin and BRKN Love have been up to recently and what they will be up to for the rest of the year, and much more.
What first got you into music, Justin, and made you want to form BRKN Love? Justin: The reason I got into music in the first place was my uncle, and he influenced me heavily when I was very young. Because he was a great guitar player and songwriter, and he was in bands himself growing up in Toronto. He came up playing with the likes of Our Lady Peace and The Tragically Hip and those kinds of bands in that scene. He was the rock and roll head in my family, he showed me all the rock bands: Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC, and I thought it was the coolest, you know. He also had long hair, and he dressed as a rock and roller, and I was just really attracted to that. It was really cool cause no one else was doing that. Maybe a little bit of that rebellious nature of me is like that is what I wanted to do. He was the reason I got into music in the first place.
You're filling it with that long hair and got the look with everything now. J: I just got a haircut actually like an hour ago cause of COVID and with things closed and all that. It's a hard time for a haircut. I finally got my pre-tour hair cut in. [Laughs].
Speaking of tour, it's been a while since you've toured Canada. Do you have any crazy stories from the road that you're willing to share, and are there any you wish would never be repeated on future tours? J: You know, it's weird being asked a question like that. It's hard to pull off the top of my head. I can't recall any... The thing is, if they really got crazy, that means A. I was pretty drunk, which leads me to B. where I don't remember, you know. [Laughs]. There are ups and downs to tours when things get really hectic. It's hard to keep track of everything. Sometimes you get really run down pretty easy, just the constant travelling every day and day out. We definitely have gotten to the point now where we've toured enough where we learn from certain mistakes we made. We learned to tour more efficiently over time. This is the first tour where we're going to be pulling a trailer, which most bands do, but we never have done that before. I'm a little nervous about that. Because I think driving with a trailer is radically different than just keeping everything in the van. I'm picking that up tomorrow, and I have to drive all the way out west to Sidney, BC. Yeah, you guys are setting up to tour across Canada next week with Big Wreck and Monster Truck. How excited are you and the guys to finally get back on the road and tour after so long since COVID? J: It's weird. We got a little bit of a taste of it, you know. We had a proper tour last summer in the States. So we did four months, and it was unbelievable. That was something we haven't had done in like two years. Then again, after we were supposed to do these dates back in November, they had to get postponed, and we rescheduled them. We haven't toured Canada truly in about two and a half years, I think. We did a couple of shows in Ontario like four months ago, but it was like five. I wouldn't even consider it a tour. If I can get home every night after a show, it's not a tour [Laughs]. I'm just stoked. It's amazing that we get to play like Big Wreck! I have been listening to that band for so long, and they are just huge influences on us and myself. You know, as a guitar player and as a singer, I could sit here for an hour and say a lot of nice things about Ian Thornley. It's just amazing I can play with a band like that and like a band like Monster Truck, there like Canadian rock royalty. I was listening to these bands in high school. I never thought I would be able to share a stage with them, but to go on a whole tour and play every night, it's a dream come true, in a way. So it's going to be a little cool to get in a little deeper and get in tour mode with those guys.
They are such a big influence in the Canadian rock music scene. It's really cool that you guys are sharing the same stage with two big influences, right? J: Yeah! What's nuts is that I still listen to the radio sometimes, believe it or not. It's like you can't make it like two hours without hearing one of those bands on rock radio. It's insane we get to be able to get mixed up into that fold and kind of leave our stamp in. It's kind of gracious of them to bring us on the road with them. They could have picked anybody, you know. So not to downplay any of the hard work of our agents and the team that does a lot behind the scenes. I would think Big Wreck and Monster Truck would have a say in those things and who gets to play with them. I hope so in my mind. I really hope they like my band [Laughs].
Without picking favourites of past tours, are there any cities you are looking forward to performing in that you haven't yet and ones that you are excited to play again? J: So on this tour of Canada at least, we've pretty much done all these cities before. I think the only two cities we haven't done before are Sidney and Abbotsford, which are the first two dates. But we've done Vancouver before, and I know Abbotsford and Vancouver are pretty close to each other. But everywhere else, I'm really excited to go back to Kelowna. I think its one of the most beautiful places in the world and just that drive going through the national parks and to go between those cities. I'm like, why do I live on the east coast...[Laughs]. When I drive through this, it's incredible that we get this. I'm really looking forward to that, but you know what I'm not looking forward to is driving through Ontario, through Manitoba, and then through Saskatchewan. If I'm getting my provinces right. Because it's just all flat land, right. It's just, flat, flat, flat. Then you hit Alberta, then it's just beautiful [Laughs]. I think we have played in every city, but now we are playing in bigger rooms in all these cities. Thankfully cause of Big Wreck and Monster Truck, they can bring the people in. I'm excited to see these cities in a different angle. Because last time we toured Canada, we were playing little clubs or bigger bars and that kind of stuff. It was more intimate, but these are going to be bigger shows. I'm really excited about that. Any bands, in particular, you would like to tour with that you haven't yet in the near future? J: I mean, right now, the end all be all for me is, I would love to tour with Royal Blood. I think that would be the coolest thing because to me, they are the front runners of like this young new age rock wave, whatever you like to call it. To me, they are spearheading that movement, and I think they would be really, really cool. Our friends cleopatrick are going on tour with them. It's really cool that they're looking at bands like that and taking younger people out and on a stage like that. That got me excited like wow, one of our peers got on tour with them! Maybe one day we could do that too. Obviously, I would love to tour with Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, or you know, anybody like that would be great. I would really love to tour with Muse. That would be awesome. There's a lot. There's a whole list of people I would love to play with. In Canada right now, I'm really gunning for Billy Talent. I think that would be so sick! It would be so much fun. That's kind of like my Canadian hope right now. Were doing Big Wreck and Monster Truck now. Next, let's get that Billy Talent tour. No idea if they will be reading this, but if you are, Billy Talent, please take my band on tour! [Laughs]. We love you guys! [Laughs]. Hey, honestly in that ball park, you can say Nickelback even? J: I would not hate to tour with Nickelback, you know. People would love to throw shade, and they want to say what they want to say about Nickelback, but I have friends who toured with them. So nothing but amazing things, and they said that tour was the best tour they have ever done. They said they were incredible. I actually have seen them live. They were my first show I ever saw in my life. My first band, I saw live. Dude, you know what? They played their asses off! They sounded pretty fucking great. I would not be opposed to doing a tour with Nickelback, that's for sure. Playing arenas, come on, you know. Going off your self-titled, are there any songs that may see the light of day in the future? Possibly even make light by making them like an acoustic EP or something at all? J: We talked a little bit about doing some acoustic releases. I actually tried something a week or two ago that might come out sometime soon. But everything that was recorded for the first record has been released. There are no extra tracks. I mean, there was one extra track, but it just didn't make sense for this band. Maybe I'll give it to somebody else if they want it. [Laughs]. But no, there's no more content from the first record. But there might be a potential to maybe do an acoustic thing. I would love to do something like that. Just really stripped, you know. Maybe like piano arrangements or something. Something over the top, you know. That could be something nice as far as that goes now. I mean, when we decided to do this deluxe edition a year into the pandemic, I had to kind of like figure out what are we kind of going to do. I was kind of fishing on some things that ended up on at the time, little bits and pieces, you know. But acoustic stuff is a possibility, I won't say never. It's been two years since the self-titled record came out and had so much traction in the Canadian music market. Any chance for new music this year, or even new songs you guys might play live on the upcoming tour? J: Sure, yeah. Well, I guess "Dead Weight" is out already. We play that already. Our next single, no idea if we're allowed to say this yet, but I'm saying it anyways. Our next single is coming out in like two weeks. It will be dropping, I think, the 29th or the 30th. We probably won't play it live until it comes out. We have played it before, and we do play another song that's from the new record. I'm literally in the process of mastering the back half of the record as we speak. The issue is that my band is in New York City, and I'm in Toronto. We only have had a few times of rehearsing a handful of songs from this new bunch. So we can only like play four of them at the moment. We will be playing probably three of them. The downside of us having short sets on this tour is that it's hard to like... We want to prioritize the songs that people might know first. We gotta play "Shot Down," and we gotta play "Papercuts," you know and then sprinkle in one or two new songs. I don't want to let people down if they want to come and hear one of the songs they have been listening to and know for a while now. Sometimes we'll try something like, let's try x new song and see how the crowd reacts. We don't ever rehearse ever before tours, by the way. We just show up and play [Laughs]. I'm driving across, they are flying from New York and were just going to get on stage and hope that you know that we still got it. That's been our memo for like every tour except the first tour we have ever done. We occasionally rehearse when there's new stuff, or maybe we have to record something. But most of the time, me being in Toronto and them being in New York, we don't ever get together and rehearse. We play so many shows together that there's a lot that we can do on our own time to tighten up these things. It's genuinely the first show of the tour, it's the roughest. We're kind of figuring it out. Then three or four shows in, we're like hot again. What's the best piece of advice that you've ever gotten while doing music, Justin? J: Oh wow! That's a really great question. You know what? This is the first thing I'm thinking of. I remember I was writing a song with a friend of mine. I was trying to do something that wasn't really me. I was afraid that my natural instincts were making this song. I was afraid that people were going to hear it in a way I didn't want them to, if that makes sense. I was going to try and portray myself in another way, and he was like, you know, man, is that how you naturally want to do, and that's how you gravitate towards why are you trying to pretend something that you're not. I thought that was really profound because a lot of my journey through my musical career has been about self-discovery. And also being comfortable on who I am and what I like to do, and the music I like to make. For a long time, I put limitations on myself because I was like, "No, I can't be like this and that." I think that at the end of the day, it's so cliché to be you. You know what I mean, just be yourself [Laughs]. But it's true. It's hard. It's a lot harder to go out there and be like your authentic self when there's a spotlight on you in a way. We're not a huge band, by any means, but you still have to be this public figure and try to be this successful musician. You have to get on stage, you gotta have people listen to your songs. There's a piece of you for everybody else that is a part of. To be your authentic self in that context, I believe is a lot harder because it's for everybody to see. I think that was one of the most profound pieces of advice I have gotten because it never really clicked with me. When people say just be yourself because there's a lot of fear and anxiety behind a lot of the decision-making when it came to figuring out how I wanted this band to sound and how I wanted everybody to look, the art direction and this and that. Now, it's like, I don't think twice on anything because I'm sure of it. I know who I am, I know what I do, I know that whatever we do now is going sound like BRKN Love. Whether or not we have heavy riffs or I put drum machines and synths on a song. At the end of the day, you're not making music for other people, you're really making it for yourself. If you're happy with it, we hope that it makes other people happy as well. If you can have your listeners and fans to remember one thing about yourself, Justin, what would you want them to remember you by? J: My god! Crazy Question... I just want to be remembered as... Oh wow. You haven't ever thought about this? J: There's like the egocentric part of me that I want people to remember me as a great rock singer or like a really good guitar player. There's that part of me. I want people to remember me by my technical ability. But then there's the other side of me...I want people to remember me by this genuine good dude. Almost like a Dave Grohl. Nobody has a bad thing to say about that guy because 'just so likeable. Even if you don't like his music. You're like, I just want to have a beer with this guy. He's just an everyman. Anybody can relate to him. That's how I kind of see myself. I don't think I come off as pretentious or like a pompous douchebag or anything like that. So I hope people think of me as a good person and hopefully, and include especially talented, as well. I hope at the end of the day to come out as a fucking rockstar. I want people to remember BRKN Love as a bunch of rockstars that did something for the genre. As well brought this huge fun, and kids were able to rejoice in rock and roll again. Breathe a little bit of life to -I wouldn't say a dying genre, but maybe one that's a little stale at the moment.
Finally, what are your guys' plans for the rest of 2022, and the back half of the year?
J: As of right now... Oh, wait. It's 2022? Oh, shit [Laughs].
We're doing this tour first with Big Wreck and Monster Truck, and then we have some [new] music that's coming out. I have no idea when we are releasing this record or what were going to do with it. That will probably be out by the end of 2022.
Right after we are on tour with Big Wreck and Monster Truck were off and going on a tour with Badflower in the States. That's going to be a lot of fun. A couple of weeks with them. After that, it's kind of just up in the air. We have a couple of festivals we're doing, I think. I have to go to Europe at a certain point in like June and July to do some stuff for this band. But nothing has been set in stone yet. There's no other tours happening right now, but I'm sure we'll be doing something over the summer. On top of that, were going to be releasing a new batch of songs, which I'm super excited about.
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