Keith Wallen first knew he’d inherited the musical gift from his father, a crooner with a modest record deal in the 1960s, when his elementary school music teacher heard him sing and cast him in the Christmas musical. In high school, Keith’s brother gave him a copy of Metallica’s legendary black album. That was when he knew he wanted to play guitar.
Since those humble beginnings in West Virginia, Wallen has earned a reputation as a dynamic guitarist and vocalist, a passionate live performer, and a diverse songwriter. As guitarist and backing vocalist, he’s brought his tireless enthusiasm to Breaking Benjamin since the multi-platinum rock band’s 2014 reformation, appearing on Dark Before Dawn (2015) and Ember (2018) as well as countless worldwide tours.
As solo singer, songwriter, and performer, Keith explores everything from melancholy balladry to inventively reimagined pop music. He draws upon a deep well of experience and inspiration. His mother, a professional dancer, met his father while performing. He heard big band and swing standards arouse the house. Quite simply, music and the arts are part of his DNA.
After high school, he left West Virginia for the University of Tennessee, where he formed Copper with a friend he’d known since first grade. Wallen first enjoyed Active and Modern Rock radio success with the Knoxville based band, who made three albums and shared stages with Thirty Seconds To Mars, Shinedown, Saliva, and Wallen’s future band, Breaking Benjamin. (It was during that time on the road when he first befriended Breaking Benjamin bandleader Ben Burnley.) During his four-year stint with Las Vegas rockers Adelitas Way, which included two full length albums and three co-writing credits, Wallen found himself rubbing shoulders with tour and festival mates like Guns N’ Roses and Deftones.
Wallen has lent his songwriting chops to Pillar, Fuel, and Saving Abel, always in a spirit of collaboration that best suits the individual artists.
When Burnley decided to reform and reconfigure his band, he reached out to Wallen and asked him if he would be interested in the gig. Breaking Benjamin’s powerhouse comeback album Dark Before Dawn debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, with a cowriting contribution from Keith on the song “Never Again.” Ember, which arrived in 2018, featured several more: “Feed the Wolf”; “Red Cold River”; “Tourniquet”; “Psycho”; “Blood”; and “Close Your Eyes.” Dark Before Dawn was quickly certified gold by the RIAA. “The Diary of Jane,” one of the singles from 2006’s Phobia, was certified triple-platinum in the fall of 2019.
Beginning with his 2014 debut EP, Allies, Keith has used his solo work as a vehicle to explore his multifaceted passions, moving seamlessly from the smart pop of his ‘80s favorites like Tears For Fears and The Police to the big and moody riffs of Metallica and Alice In Chains.
The acoustic/piano-oriented Allies demonstrated a different side to Wallen’s musical persona. Since the EP, Keith has stunned audiences with a string of singles. Atwood Magazine described the lovelorn and confessional “Summer Sunday” as “intimate and ethereal,” writing that it “envelops listeners in heavy waves of warm, snyth-glazed alt-pop.” A music video accompanied “Four Letter Words,” which dropped just a few months later. The political and dark “Crows” is a grungy stomper with acoustic and electric layers. Wallen surprised yet again with his somber reimagining of “The Look,” a massive pop hit for Roxette back in 1988.
As guitarist for Breaking Benjamin, a solo artist, and songwriting collaborator, the common threads through all of Keith Wallen’s work is honesty, authenticity, and heartfelt spirit.
Q & A
KEITH WALLEN: I’m a child of the ‘80s. I grew up listening to Tears For Fears, Genesis, Phil Collins, The Police, Depeche Mode, all of that stuff. I love the big guitars of Metallica and Alice In Chains. I can see the influence of all of it in there but it’s more of a subconscious thing. It’s a really good question. But I try not to think about it. It just sort of comes out.
KEITH WALLEN: Time management is probably the biggest difficulty. Breaking Benjamin spends a lot of time on tour, writing, and recording. I squeeze in the solo stuff during whatever time off we have. It can be tiring, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than playing music. I like to feel productive. I’m incredibly grateful to have a career with Breaking Benjamin and for that to allow for some time to do the solo stuff. I don’t have to worry about clocking in anywhere with a 9 to 5 job. Breaking Benjamin allows me the space and free reign to manage my free time. I’ve become more disciplined about sitting down and working on solo stuff.
I released a couple of singles in 2018, which was the first new music I’d put out in about four years. So that was a big deal for me. There have been subsequent singles following that. I’ve played a few solo shows here and there, which is another cool challenge, going up there without a band.
KEITH WALLEN: There’s so much new stuff coming out every day, especially with streaming services, so I’ve tried to release a new single every few months. I feel like it’s a better way to stay in the public eye right now, as opposed to the traditional album release schedule. I do plan to have another EP or full-length sometime in the future. But at the moment I’m very excited about having a new song out there every few months.
KEITH WALLEN: Each song is definitely kind of a timestamp. I also like that the songs are all across the board, rather than focusing on having this or that sound for a full record. I’m not put in a box. I may put out songs that are heavier rock, or piano driven, or poppy. It’s whatever I’m feeling in the moment. I recently released a cover of “The Look” by Roxette. I took some liberties there; it sounds nothing like them. I saw the whole process as a challenge. ‘Surely I can make a dark acoustic thing with this.’ I’ve always wanted to cover that song I just needed to figure out how to do it.
“The Look” single (2019)
“Crows” single (2019)
“Four Letter Words” single (2018)
“Summer Sunday” single (2018)
Allies EP (2014)
Dark Before Dawn (2015)
w/ ADELITAS WAY
Home School Valedictorian (2011)
Adelitas Way (2009)
Take My Chances (2008)
Fragile Fall (2003)