July 28, 2009

Die Benny: Driling Through the Definition of Punk

Words by Albert Opraseuth; Photo by Die Benny

Die Benny got its moniker from an edited version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s science fiction classic Total Recall. During one of the movie’s seminal moments — the original version — Schwarzenegger’s character drives a drill into a nemesis’ face, ridiculously screaming, “screw you!” In the edited for television version, it was changed to an equally ridiculous, “die Benny!” The original members might have named the band that just because it was funny, but it turned symbolic. With a refusal to be censored or politically correct, these men constantly turn a cold shoulder to compromising their integrity.

Nathan Streeper, Jeff Claxton, Jeff Honea, Trey Morgan and Zac Hobbs comprise this ingenious Atlanta ensemble. The current lineup has been together for the past two years, but the band has been churning out its brand of brash punk rock — which often encompasses a wide range of sub-genres — for more than six years. With songs that span from singalong pop punk to outright thrash, Die Benny is poised to carry on the spirit and intensity its genre’s founders evoked. However, even the members can’t really define their sound.

“I always just tell people we’re a punk rock band,” Claxton says. “If you try to keep naming sub-genres, things just get too convoluted and doesn’t even matter.” Hobbs adds that he considers the band to be a melting pot of punk influences. “Some of the guys listen to three chord punk rock bands; I grew up on Blink 182,” he says. “The only bands we really agree on are the Get Up Kids, early Alkaline Trio and the Foo Fighters.” Honea just says, “I’m content with calling it ‘blender’ punk.”

Streeper and Honea are all who remain of the original members. Having toiled in other local bands that weren’t into the same kind of music they were, the guys decided to form a band without restrictions. They wanted to be true to themselves and the music they grew up on, adding and losing members along the way. Morgan lived with them and naturally progressed into the role as the band’s keyboard player. After Die Benny’s old drummer decided to move and pursue other interests, Streeper invited Claxton to join the group. Hobbs came aboard when the band decided to part ways with one of its guitarists near a crucial CD release show. At the time, he was the president of the now defunct Alaska Records and fronted the cash for a split CD with Die Benny and another local band, Fox Trotsky. Instead of having the band play songs at their CD release show that weren’t on the record he was releasing, he joined the band for what was supposed to be a one-time show. Since then, two years later, the current group has released another album with two more in the works.

With vocals ranging from black metal squeals to happy chants, drum beats ranging from power pop to double-time punk, driving and thrashing guitars, slippery bass lines and catchy riffs, to say the band has an eclectic sound would be an understatement. Since the band’s inception, it’s released three records in relative obscurity outside the Atlanta area. But Die Benny are heroes in the area’s DIY scene.

The band ran a local house show venue at its old East Atlanta loft and threw legendary parties for touring bands coming through. After that, the group was part of the now closed, but still famed 141 Moreland Scene. Streeper moved next door and Die Benny played many of those illustrious shows. “Those shows were crazy,” Streeper says. “Even if I have a favorite memory, I couldn’t really tell you any one with detail; it’s just a 141 memory, and they all just blur together.” Hobbs adds, “The thing about all the bands that played is that many are so big now. We saw and played with bands like Lemuria, Young Livers, O’Pioneers, Bridge and Tunnel and others that are total “hype” bands now — in a living room half the size of my bedroom.” The band is so dedicated to playing music that many of the members actually play in more than one band. Streeper and Hobbs play in local band Benard, and Claxton and Hobbs are members of the rotating supporting cast for future-punk band Mose Giganticus, based out of Philadelphia. “I see a lot of working bands trying to get practice together once a month,” Claxton says, “and it’s amazing we can practice twice a week, plan a tour and actually execute it on a regular basis.”

Cashing in on favors from bands they’ve helped along the way, Die Benny’s 2008 nationwide tour “Clutch and Judgment” was a complete success. It was full of classic Die Benny debauchery and was amazing inasmuch as it actually happened. To complete 2009, the band has even taken on the daunting task of releasing two records. With continuing exposure, they’re sure to reach new heights.

Listen at: myspace.com/diebenny

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