Given the chance to be on MTV, playing your guitar, hitting that perfect rock star pose, searching for your own 15 minutes of fame - most of us would take that opportunity in a moment's notice. Just imagine you and your buds putting together the premier cover band to take on MTV's "Ultimate Cover Band" Contest. Now just imagine winning the contest and the phone starts to ring - from record labels.
Welcome to the world of Aaron Fink, former lead guitarist of Strangers with Candy (that was the cover band's name) turned Lifer, which was the name they were signed under, by Universal Records not long after the MTV event. Aaron took a few minutes to share with Guitar.com, why he left Lifer to join up with Ben Burnley and Breaking Benjamin, the music scene in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and why Ben doesn't own a guitar. Also be sure to watch Breaking Benjamin perform on "The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn" on April 7, 2003, on CBS.
Guitar.com: Hey Aaron, great show - first, let me ask you, are you familiar with Guitar.com?
Aaron Fink: Nah, I'm not what you would call Internet savvy.
Guitar.com: Well, I'll spare you the details but there's whole bunch of guitarists and blah, blah, blah. However, I think many of our Guitar.com readers will be interested in your musical career path. They're either going to be insanely jealous or they'll think you've completely lost it. If I understand correctly, you went from a signed, touring band, to an unsigned, unknown band, in a matter of no time. Let me synopsize: You hail from Wilkes-Barre, PA; you enter MTV's ultimate cover band contest (under the name Strangers with Candy), which you win; end result, you get signed by Universal, under the name of Lifer. That must have been surreal. What led to the decision to bail on Lifer after just getting signed?
Fink: Well actually we hadn't just gotten signed. We got signed about 18 months before I quit.
Guitar.com: Oh really - I didn't realize that much time passed. So you had already toured with Lifer?
Fink: Yup - there were a lot of problems within the band. It felt like if we weren't going to be successful, right away, the band was going to explode, you know what I mean. Everybody was so different. It was weird because we weren't trying to get signed at the time, you know.
Guitar.com: So were you just your basic cover band?
Fink: We did the cover band thing but we also played our own stuff. And then we did the MTV thing, which was pretty corny. After that, the record labels started calling and asked if we had our own disc. We put it together and when it came out, it was #4 on the charts in Pennsylvania so we got signed not long after that. We got a small deal on Universal and they are so huge. They're like the biggest company. Their roster is so huge. We weren't a band that had a lot of hits so, there were obviously more important things for the label to do. They kinda caught wind that there were problems in the band so they didn't want to push it, I think. It's hard. Our first single didn't hit. LA was very hit oriented. If you didn't have a hit - we couldn't even get our manager on the phone and you know that's a bad sign. So Mark (James Kelpaski - the bass player) quit.
Guitar.com: Your current bass player (with Breaking Benjamin), right?
Fink: Yeah, right. So like, we tried to replace him and it just didn't feel right. Didn't feel the same to me. The tour stopped and I was sitting at home for like two months. So while all this is going on - I've known Ben (Burnley - lead singer/songwriter/guitarist), we all went to high school together. His band used to open up for us and I always thought he was like this genius songwriter. He's written over 500 songs.
Guitar.com: And he's a pretty good player. I watched him during the show.
Fink: Yeah, he is. Well, they'd open up for us and I'd sit in with them when I was home from being on tour. I liked his songs and I could really see them going places. Plus I like hanging with them. I've been a big fan of Ben forever so these two things are going-on at the same time. To me, it looked like the grass was greener. So one day, I was sitting at home and I was like, tired of watching TV (laughs). This thing with Ben seems like it's gonna break and I love the tunes. So the deciding point was I went and sat in with them one night. Usually I would just play Ben's guitar but this night I brought my own rig with me. When we played together, it sounded like a motherfucker. So the next day I just called the dudes (in Lifer) and said "Hey look, it doesn't seem like anything is on the horizon for us, so." It felt like there was nothing on the table for us. No tour - record sales were down to fifty a week. And not to put this band down or anything but that ain't gonna pay the rent. So this thing with Ben really felt like the right thing to do. With Lifer, it felt like a dick move but it was something that I had to do to get to where I felt I needed to be.
Guitar.com: Now was Ben already touring at this point?
Fink: No, not then. They weren't even signed. They had some label interest. They were a three-piece then. I saw them live and I thought that they needed just a little bit more. We always say that the three-piece was the "cake." And when I came along, it was the "icing." It completed the package because Ben has to be a slave to the mic - I added all the overdubs and harmony vocals where I could. We got signed like two weeks after that.
Guitar.com: That's perfect timing. Well, you have great songs and the band has strong presence onstage.
Fink: Yeah, there's a lot of bands that have good songs but it's like we try to make songs you can remember. Hooks.
Guitar.com: Well I saw a review online for a date you did in California with 3 Doors Down. And it was all about the reviewer going to see 3 Doors Down but being blown away by Breaking Benjamin's live show. The reviewer was really impressed with the energy you poured into the crowd as an opening act. So much so, they thought that 3 Doors Down as a little bit of a let down that night.
Fink: I like that band. They have good hooks, good melodies. I dunno...
Guitar.com: I just thought it interesting given the nature of being a support act. Usually an act is brought it to help support ticket sales and...
Fink: Usually the support act blows (laughing)
Guitar.com: Right (laughing) - and in this instance, that clearly wasn't the case. Is there a tale to tell behind the song "Home?" (a song off of "Saturate" with a strong Wizard of Oz theme)
Fink: No, not really. Ben writes all the lyrics. I know he likes the movie a lot. He doesn't really stick to any one topic. He's more - more like painting a picture but a bit more abstract. And then sometimes people formulate things about his songs in their own head. Very similar to like Nirvana or Bush. Ben can be a more cohesive than Gavin Rossdale, I think.
Guitar.com: So it's Jager Tour for the next two months. That oughta keep you busy. What do you do in your downtime? Do you play your guitar, ski, what?
Fink: Well (pauses) I've been playing guitar for like 13 years and I've been getting bored with playing. I just wanna write and use the guitar - it's more of a tool. I don't think I've gotten that much better over the course of that time, unfortunately. Probably shouldn't tell Guitar.com that, I guess (laughs). I got to where I was good enough for what I needed to do. I never really expanded on that. I've been the same player for what seems like a long time. It seems to work, I guess.
Guitar.com: Well, that's a good thing.
Fink: I feel that I'm good enough for what I need to do. But I still enjoy listening to shredders though.
Guitar.com: Who do you like to listen to?
Fink: Steve Vai, the most. Although I don't like the solo guys as much as the bands that have great players. Players like Marty Friedman - he's phenomenal.
Guitar.com: He's got a new solo album coming out soon.
Fink: Yeah? Oh, and Nuno Bettencourt. I like more of the band thing. Eddie Van Halen. Oh what were we talking about? Oh yeah, in my sparetime - I play the drums a lot now. I've been trying to teach myself how to do that. And I have a kid and a house so there's plenty to do there.
Guitar.com: And you still live up in Wilkes-Barre?
Fink: I live right out side of Wilkes-Barre.
Guitar.com: Is there a good music scene there?
Fink: Yeah, you know - it's coming along. Not to sound cocky but I've kind of ended up being a part of all that happening. First there was the "Strangers with Candy." They were kind of like the biggest band out of there. And then there was Lifer, which was the next biggest band and now with Breaking Benjamin, it's even bigger. It's weird. I've kinda been a part of all that.
Guitar.com: Yeah, absolutely.
Fink: A lot of bands there can play their own music in clubs and get paid for it, which is always cool. There's a couple cool bands coming out of there. There's a lot of cool clubs.
Guitar.com: What's the guys from Lifer doing now? Is he still at it?
Fink: Uh, they're still together. Actually they just changed their name to My Downfall. Cause it's really not the same band. There were only two dudes left. And they're not playing the old songs at this point. They're shopping. Trying to get the band signed. We all hang out.
Guitar.com: So what about after the Jagermeister Tour? You must have plans for spring/summer tour?
Fink: It's almost final but I don't think I should say as of yet but we're close.
Guitar.com: I'll check with the label to see if anything has been finalized before we go to print (as of yet nothing was nailed down). - Okay just one more question - who's the gear junkie in the band?
Fink: Me - no doubt.
Guitar.com: You are?
Fink: Yes, Ben doesn't even know what treble is or does (turning to Breaking Benjamin's Guitar Tech).
BB Guitar Tech: He doesn't have to, does he?
Fink: I like to say when I joined the band - he had this shitty little amp.
BB Guitar Tech: He had like one cabinet with one speaker working and an old Music Man that barely worked.
Fink: I said Ben, you write the songs and I'll take care of all the gear. I'll set 'em up. He doesn't even own a guitar. He plays all my stuff.
Guitar.com: Those are all your PRS guitars?
BB Guitar Tech: Yeah, but he doesn't need to own one. He just keeps writing. He could write on a fuckin' banjo (laughing).
Fink: We take care of him.
Guitar.com: So do you work with PRS?
Fink: I used to. I'm working with Hughes & Kettner now for my amps.
Guitar.com: Yeah, I saw you had the two half stacks - one on each side of the stage, very nice. What else is in your rig?
Fink: I keep it pretty simple - stomp boxes. I have a Dunlop Cry Baby. MXR Phase 90. The new Digitech delay pedal, the Digidelay. It has seven settings. I have this old and pretty rare - there used to be this company called Way Huge - it was an all hand-built overdrive. Sounds great, works great. Like I said, I try to keep it simple.
Guitar.com: Well that's the way to do it. Less things to go wrong on the road. I know you got stuff to do. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to us. Best of luck on the Jager Tour and we hope to see you out later this summer.