Walk Away

Weekly art director Ben Froehlich was a real-life rock star once

He's 29. And apparently his band once toured with Creed.

Yeah, the 10-million-units-selling, arms-wide-open Creed. And Scott Stapp? As if you needed any further confirmation: total douchebag.

But otherwise, he's just the guy that works around the corner in the production department designing stuff for the paper.

As the art director for the Weekly, Ben Froehlich seems pretty average—clean-shaven, friendly, no sleeves, no piercings, a wardrobe of solid-colored polo shirts. But he was also once the bassist for a rock band that finagledthe seventh largest record contract for a new artist in rock & roll history (at the time, at least).

And then he left that life behind—the screaming girls, the touring, the fat paychecks, the hobnobbing with C-list celebrities—and he's fine with it.

Ben walked away from the rock-star lifestyle, with maybe a bit of a scarred sense of dignity and a strong disillusionment about music in general: the guy's totally jaded about something that used to mean so much to him.

His band, Mad at Gravity, didn't exactly have your typical OC-band-gone-gold background story. For starters, they weren't four longtime school chums.

"We put together a band Lou Pearlman-style," says Ben, referring to the once-famed mogul responsible for cut-and-pasting together such bands as the Backstreet Boys.

Ben convened with drummer Jake Fowler (whom he had met when their respective former bands had shared a bill) and guitarist Anthony "Bosco" Boscarini (introduced through his brother). And then came the cutting-and-pasting: the three put out Internet postings and newspaper listings, and ended up trying out more than 75 guitarists. Once they found James Lee Barlow, the same routine was followed in their quest for a lead singer—except this time, they tried out over 150 prospects. They discovered one in J. Lynn Johnston.

Their name was apparently inspired by an early poem of Johnston's that went something like, "Sometimes when you're in love/You're mad at gravity/Because you can't float away." And within the first 30 minutes the band spent together, they had managed to pen their first single, "Walk Away."

"We decided we had a radio single," Ben remarks simply.

Mad at Gravity then recorded a couple of acoustic tracks and posted them on MP3.com, the late '90s and early '00s equivalent of a MySpace band page. And before they knew it, they became one of the top played bands on the website—all before even playing a live show.

The rest of the story isn't really important—just know it involves record company bidding wars; contrived and prescribed video shoots involving flying dragons and Zoolander camera gazes; Fred Durst showing them pictures of the girl he bedded the previous night; getting quarters chucked at them when opening for Jerry Cantrell; and touring with super fun bands like Creed, Our Lady Peace and Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd's brother's band (or, uh, Audiovent).

"They thought we were the Backstreet Boys of metal," says Ben.

And then there was the sound. "Our band didn't even know each other—the guitarists thought we were Radiohead. The singer sounded like Rob Thomas meets Brandon Boyd and Scott Stapp." (Otherwise known as the holy trifecta of all that is bad commercial radio rock.) "We were totally a delusional band—we did odd-time stuff, not 4/4, but we'd done it in a way that could be played on the radio. We thought we were Radiohead but we really just sounded like Creed," he continues. (And they really did sound like Creed.)

But despite the rampant commercial success, the band butted heads—pretentiousness reigned and even religion became a factor when Johnston insisted on infusing Christian messages into the lyrics.

So somewhere between witnessing a director attempt to make Johnston actually look tough for once in his life for the "Walk Away" video ("Get pissed and throw something!") and taking Yellow Jackets to stay awake all night, Ben realized something: he didn't even like the music.

"I pretty much realized rock musicians are babies: self-centered, egotistical. Especially when you make it. You think you're God's gift, but really all you do is just play an instrument.

The whole experience, while he's grateful for it, seems only to have hardened him. But the dilemma still stands for Ben: that fine line that bands have difficulty with—the line that separates compromising your artistic integrity for commercial success. (And girls. And money. And blow.)

"You think you're in a situation where you're doing what you want to do in a band doing well. You make money and go on tour—but everyone wants to be in a band they like. So at what point do you say 'Yeah, it's worth it' and what point is it not?"

Perfect example: the band was even asked to be featured on the soundtrack for Blue Crush, the 2002 Kate Bosworth surfer-chick film. They declined.

"I knew what kind of band we were. We weren't a Blue Crush band. But if they were asking us, then we hadto be a Blue Crushkind of band," Ben says. "And then it ended up being one of the biggest hits of that summer."

But through all the artificiality, Ben just wanted to play music. Something he would spend hours and hours dedicating himself to—listening, practicing, playing—just isn't the same for him anymore.

"I loved music. I don't even really listen to it anymore. Very rarely does a band come along with a unique sound and commercial appeal that's really worth listening to. There's just so much regurgitated crap because people are idiots and don't want to think about things."

He even has radio singles mathematically broken down into a formula:

"All songs can be under two minutes now. The main chorus has to be 16 to 30 seconds. You can't go on too long without the first chorus. Usually after the chorus, there's the 'dog dick' that leads back to the verse. Chorus. Verse. Chorus. Bridge. Chorus. Outro. All songs are in 4/4. Maybe 6 for the emo stuff."

He blinks.

"I just don't have an emotional response anymore. It just took all the emotion out of it."

The last album Ben bought and enjoyed was Death Cab for Cutie's Plans. Surprised, I ask him if he thought it was a little overproduced.

"It probably was. But I'm okay with that. I'm finally starting to go back to not thinking about it," he pauses. "I'd rather just make fun of it. I'm not really offering a real message here. I used to think you could get epiphanies while listening to music. But people just sit down and write something. Maybe sometimes some actual emotion is behind it."

So now, three years after the demise of Mad at Gravity, Ben's sitting here with me at the Weekly, perfectly content with himself and his job. The band actually has a post-mortem MySpace page, perhaps started by Johnston—Ben doesn't know. The page has four songs up, 2022 friends and an almost daily stream of comments left by faithful fans.

"I'd rather be putting sunglasses and zinc oxide on [the logo for] ¡Ask a Mexican!," Ben remarks as he pushes himself away from the table, headed back to his computer.

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