The Benjamins

Straightening Out The Local Scene

Fans of The Benjamins, one of New Jersey's top cover bands, will now be exposed to another dimension of the band: original music. After throwing originals into its cover repertoire and releasing singles, the band has now released a full-length CD, entitled "Go".

From its first track, "A New Day," the disc immediately displays why The Benjamins rank at the top of the cover band charts when it comes to musicianship. The song's infectious hooks are driven by a rock-hard pulse, laid down by drummer Jeremy Luke and a dirtily-melodic solo by lead guitarist Anthony Picone.

The band showcases its ability to incorporate the sound of some of the better modern rock bands it covers on a nightly basis, while sealing the signature Benjamins sound. Years in the cover scene has caused the band to develop originality, which is evident even when it plays other bands' music.

Underneath the modern rock approach of "Go" lies a versatility which shows the band's wide range of influences. Picone adds a nice raw, metal touch to the disc, while a little grunge can be found beneath Ben DeGennaro's bass notes. Both members also show their ability to build sensible melodies in the process.

Lyrically, on many songs like "Wonderful," the band sings of the need to express one's feelings in a relationship, a relatable topic to many couples. Vocalist Joe DeGennaro sings the band's statements with emotion and conviction and keyboardist Roger Hitchuk rounds out their sound with embellishing chords and arpeggios. The disc even includes a Benjamins-heavy version of Pat Benatar's "Invincible."

The release of "Go" will serve to solidify the respect that the band has already earned from its fans and gain that of those not already familiar with the group's musical and creative abilities.

Chorus and Verse recently asked Roger Hitchuk about the creation and events leading up to "Go".

When did you begin playing originals and what led you to it?

We began writing together as The Benjamins about two years ago, which led to a CD single for "Again". We all come from original projects at one point, so although the cover business is fun and profitable, original music is in our hearts.

How does being able to draw such large crowds playing covers help with exposure for your original music? Will it help with CD sales?

We are lucky in the fact that we've been able to build up a fan base over the last five years. So far, we have gotten a great response from playing these originals live. And we've found that this is what is directly leading to CD sales.

Does playing the music of other artists help when creating your own?

Many times when we've covered a song, like Pat Benatar's "Invincible" for example, we have rearranged it, and put our "stamp" on it. This has helped us to begin to define exactly what The Benjamins' "sound" is - and it has certainly helped bring our compositions to life.

What do you think has led to the fact that a large amount of Jersey Shore cover bands, like members of Big Orange Cone, are now playing originals?

Well, think about it, New Jersey has the most backward live music scene on earth! Where else do cover bands reign, while original bands have nowhere to play? I believe that what you mention is the scene slowly starting to straighten itself out.

What are your plans as far as playing your new originals before crowds?

We have been throwing one or two originals in each set, every night. Sometimes more, depending on the crowd. It's really great to see people starting to sing along with us!

Is tough to juggle the band's time when it comes to playing originals and covers?

It could be if we were not so dedicated to making our original project work. We're playing five to six nights a week this summer.

Who writes the music and how is it communicated to the rest of the band?

We have been writing in very non-traditional ways. In only a few instances one or two of us came up with complete songs. For the most part, we'd have the most basic structures written, which we would record. For many of the songs, lyrics and melodies were then written around those recorded arrangements.

Although this could have been confining or restricting, it forced us to really find the best fits.

Josh Davidson

Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.