Former Members of Big Orange Cone Back Together

Benjamins Bring ‘Passion, Soul’ Weekly to Joe Pop’s

By SANDRA WEYANT | Aug 23, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

It was “all about The Benjamins” on Thursday night at Joe Pop’s Shore Bar on Long Beach Island, where the band has been jamming every week for the entire summer. The live-music act formed in 1999 and has become very popular among LBI locals and visitors alike. Many listeners appreciate the band’s covers of punk-pop songs and ’90s alternative rock songs from groups such as Blink 182 and Third Eye Blind, in addition to its repertoire of today’s hits and classic melodies.

The Benjamins’ current lineup includes founder and lead vocalist Joe Degennaro, who also plays drums and guitar; lead vocalist, bassist and production crew member Ben Degennaro; drummer and vocalist Dennis Zimmer; lead vocalist Jenni Spiro; and lead guitarist and back-up vocalist Andrew Alfano. Since 1999, the band has undergone some member changes, but two of the original members are still going strong – the Degennaro brothers. Zimmer and Joe used to be in a band called Big Orange Cone together, but in reversed roles: Joe was the drummer and Zimmer was the singer.

Zimmer signed on with The Benjamins last year, and for the past nine months, he and Degennaro have been enjoying swapping roles and keeping things interesting on stage. “My last drummer was lefty and our new one is righty, so now after all of these years, I can play drums, too,” Degennaro said. “We wanted to do something cool where he comes out to sing and I go behind the drums.”

Alfano also recently joined the band about a year ago, and Degennaro feels that all of the pieces finally fit together. Spiro has been the lead singer for six years, bringing her intoxicating voice, edgy look and fun vibe to each performance. Coming from a family of musicians, Spiro has devoted her life to writing music and singing for both original and cover bands. Spiro’s father is a keyboardist and vocalist who goes by the name “Mongo” for the renowned cover band The Nerds, and her mother is a bassist and vocalist for several New Jersey cover bands. Naturally, it made sense she followed in their footsteps and wound up as the frontwoman for The Benjamins.

Joe Degennaro has been playing drums and singing since he was a kid. He picked up acoustic guitar later in life, around age 20, and “built himself up from there.” He was a member of a couple of original bands while he attended high school, one of which was signed to a branch of Sony for a couple of years. Degennaro takes inspiration from various artists, including New Jersey’s own singer-songwriter Jon Bon Jovi, “as cliché as it is.”

“I am a Bon Jovi freak, and not for all of the songs that everybody knows. When you like an artist, you enjoy their deep catalog,” Degennaro said.

Degennaro is a fan of ’90s alternative rock bands, and one of The Benjamins’ highlights over the past 30 years occurred when it was fortunate enough to be the opening group for the Goo Goo Dolls’ show at Jenkinson’s Beach Pavilion stage. The Benjamins have also shared the stage with Third Eye Blind and Lifehouse.

“We have a style that we have been sticking to for a while, but we have to keep current. Everyone is trying to do the same songs, so we have to change it up and try some other things people aren’t doing,” Degennaro said. “You never know if a song is going to work or not for the crowd, but you try it anyway and see what happens. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Every once in a while, the band likes to include some country hits in its set list to shock the crowd and give its performances an unexpected twist. “A lot of people gravitate toward country music now because it is being played so often and there are not many rock stations on the radio anymore,” Degennaro said.

Aside from cover songs, The Benjamins self-produced and released its debut album, Go, back in 2004 and its second original album, Chronicles of the Garden State, in 2007 via Core Records. Degennaro revealed that Chronicles was extremely successful and appeared in almost every record store in the country.

“I’ll never forget going into Best Buy and seeing our album next to Bon Jovi’s album because of the name of the band – BE next to BO. If anything, a separate, non-performing highlight would be that. That might be the biggest and best feeling I’ve ever had,” he said.

In 2011, the band’s original guitarist, Anthony Picone, quit and moved to Florida, and bandmates spent a few years in limbo trying to find the right person to replace him. This also led to a halt in the songwriting process. But now, after six long years, The Benjamins got its creative juices flowing and has finished its first new original track.

“It’s a new sound and we weren’t inspired for a while, and we had some people in the band who weren’t gelling with what we wanted to do, but now we’re writing again, and we’re headed in the right direction. We’re really excited about it,” Degennaro said. “The song, chorus and mixing are all done, but we’re just waiting and trying to decide on a name for it.”

Degennaro explained that being in a band is like having a second family, because it’s “four, five or six people you spend the majority of your time with.” It’s important that everyone is on the same page and gives their all for each and every performance. Playing five to seven shows per week and up to 300 shows a year, as The Benjamins often do, can be exhausting. During those tired times, Degennaro is thankful for the production team that sets up the band’s equipment so each member can basically show up and plug in.

“When you step on stage, you want to have all of your energy. Sometimes when it’s not there, you have to dig deep to get it. Once you get on stage, though, adrenaline usually picks you up. A couple shots of Jameson or a Red Bull, you get over it and you’re ready,” he said.

“Every night on stage is amazing and a highlight for us. A lot of people don’t get to do what we do. Even if it is a smaller crowd, it doesn’t matter. Just being on the stage and doing what you love, that’s what it’s all about,” Degennaro said.

“A lot of times, people are in bands and they are just going through the motions, and they aren’t giving it everything they’ve got. That means you don’t really want to be there. If there is anyone who isn’t giving it everything they have – passion and soul – you shouldn’t keep them. At the end of the day, if there is no passion, how can you be an artist and create?”

Visit thebenjamins.net to learn more about the band and see a full schedule of upcoming events. The Benjamins return to Joe Pop’s Shore Bar on Aug. 24, so “come the hell out and see us,” Degennaro said.

 

Set List Snippet:

“Mr. Brightside,” The Killers

“Slide,” Goo Goo Dolls

“House Party,” Sam Hunt

“You Belong With Me,” Taylor Swift

“Party in the U.S.A.,” Miley Cyrus

“What’s My Age Again?,” Blink 182

“The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World

“Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” Shania Twain

“Santeria,” Sublime

“Dance, Dance,” Fall Out Boy

“Angel,” Shaggy

“Fly,” Sugar Ray

“Good Riddance,” Green Day

 

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