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Music

Milwaukee’s Best

The Benjamins on hero worship, classic pop and .

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The Benjamins know what it means to love music. Even when they were just fans in the crowd, they knew what it meant to love a band, road-trip hundreds of miles to see their favorite group and to hope that their heroes were nice guys.

“I’ve had pretty good luck meeting heroes,” says bassist Ben (the band doesn’t disclose last names). “We met Weezer once, and that’s our absolute favorite band besides the Beatles. We left a club and there was this bar right next to it and there’s Weezer hanging out with like five people. I taught [singer] Rivers Cuomo the ‘rock block.’ You know what the rock block is? It’s when you throw up your little finger and index finger, and they throw up the middle and ring finger and you put ‘em together, like a rock-version of a handshake. They were really cool.”

Running into heroes has become more and more of an everyday occurrence for these Milwaukee twentysomethings. They’ve already played with their heroes, Superdrag. They are now on tour with Reel Big Fish. And they recorded their first album, The Art of Disappointment—a fuzzed out, addicting dose of power-pop rock that harkens to the days when alternative was thriving—with Nick Raskulinecz (Superdrag, Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Marilyn Manson) producing. Even before its release, it was already the No. 1, most-added album to college radio in the country.

The group actually evolved from another one. “I walked into this dirty, tiny club in Milwaukee to see the other band and they were playing and I was like, whoa,” says Ben. “I was blown away. I met them after the show and eventually weaseled my way into the show.”

While Ben is credited with starting the band—they were basically a bar band until he threw in his booking and business sense—it was more a matter of finding the right line-up. They started playing gigs around the Midwest to underground acclaim, and built a large fanbase with their adrenalized shows and credo to always be cool to admirers. On Labor Day 1999 they recorded a six-song EP, Bordering on Boredom, with a friend who had some equipment and some cash to print out demos from Ben’s parents.

A Drive-Thru Records rep caught them in Green Bay. It didn’t take long for Drive-Thru to offer them a deal, get them to Los Angeles and record a full-length album, which uses five out of the six songs on the EP. The Art of Disappointment is a delight in a stale music market. The guys take cues from their favorite bandsthe Beatles, the Beach Boys, Radiohead, Blur and Weezerto create their own magic. It’s slightly strange, slightly punk, and absolutely addictive.

Songwriter Jay writes some great lyrics—as in the song “Dr. Frank Was Right”: “I just want someone to be there on my birthday/I just want someone to get real drunk with/I just want someone who needs someone to need them/Because I’ve got nothing left that I believe in.” The Benjamins deliver a more realistic, complicated message to fans than most bands: Don’t expect a lot of that teenage angst to go away; you just find other ways to deal with it—funnier and smarter ways. Which makes this album funnier and smarter, too.

“I don’t know where he [Jay] comes up with this shit. He only writes like one song every five months,” says Ben. “But when he does, it’s good. I love his voice, too. Even if I wasn’t in this band, this would totally be my favorite band.

“The cool thing is we don’t need to cater to one scene,” he continues. “While the college-aged understand the music and the words, the punk kids still get into it because it still has the more driving rock songs.”

But these humorous and intelligent guys shouldn’t have to worry about who will dig their music. The Benjamins have promise. Even the Madison, Wis., king of smart-ass newspapers, The Onion, digs them and featured the band in their Justify Your Existence column, which lets bands sound off about why people should buy their records.

If things keep going the way they are, Ben hopes to give up his courier job and move out of his parents’ house. However, while the foursome may be rock stars in theory, they’re not quite all the way there yet.

“I love traveling and meeting new people and rocking out good. I smash my bass against the amp, too, but not too hard. I can’t break it. They’re expensive, and we’re in the process of buying a bigger van right now. We’re used to doing the mini-van tour, so we’re really looking forward to upgrading to a real van.”

The Benjamins open for Reel Big Fish and Sum 41 at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at DV8, 115 S. West Temple. 539-8400.