Dissection of a Hero – One-on-One with Andy Black

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The dissection of a hero… The one thing you won’t find at any corner store comic is the Man Of Steel constrained and on display, slowly being taken apart, piece by piece…to discover what is at their core, their essence, and makes them a God in mere mortals eyes.  Andy Black however, decided to take this journey in his latest album The Phantom Tomorrow to try and answer the question: What makes us look up when things are looking down?

Before he was known across the world as Andy Black, he was Andrew Biersack, a boy with a vivid imagination and creative spirit trying to write his own story in Cincinnati, Ohio.  With a cast of local characters dubbing him an outcast for his interests, Biersack often found himself drawing and creating his own characters and singing along to his own tune.  A tune that he had heard from the first two heroes in his life… his parents Chris and Amy Biersack.  “My dad was the first influence I had.  He was a singer in bands before I was born, so music was always just a thing in our house,” Biersack says reflecting on his first taste of rock n’ roll music.  With the classic rock sounds of Aerosmith, KISS, Motley Crue, and W.A.S.P. consuming this young boy’s mind – it was apparent at a very young age that rock music was simply part of his existence.  His father also introduced him to the rock n’ roll culture as a whole from the larger-than-life live performances on stage and TV to the music collectibles, and visual aesthetics that stole his heart.  Though this is where his admiration for rockstars began, his mother introduced him to the b-side of the record.  “My mom let me listen to things like Bruce Springsteen and Tracy Chapman, things that were more singer-songwriter oriented, which got me interested in songwriting,” Biersack recalls.  It wasn’t long before he would begin writing music of his own and designing the band of his dreams, but he had to meet another hero before his journey continued.  And that hero was David Roth, the head of the drama department at Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts, where Biersack began his acting career.  “He was one of the first people in my life, outside of my own family, who didn’t treat me like an idiot for thinking that I could do this,” Biersack explains while mentioning that other teachers at the school had their doubts about his dreams.  “When you say ‘I’m going to grow up and be a rockstar’ they look at you like you’re a fool, because ‘that’s not how it works’ and ‘that doesn’t happen to people from here.’  So, I will always credit David Roth as being someone who, on an emotional level, was hugely influential to me.  And then trusting me with the opportunity to be the lead in plays and learn how to be on stage in front of people.  You know, I always believed in myself, but I had a little bit more confidence knowing that somebody else did too.”

Andy “Black” Biersack

Although Biersack originally auditioned and was accepted to become a vocal music major at SPCA, he quickly learned that there was no lead singer of the choir.  Which meant his minor in drama would be stealing the show…literally.  After the lead in the school play was dropped, Roth approached Biersack to audition for the role.  With a little white lie that he had acted before and a dramatic performance of the lyrics to a Misfits song in lieu of a monologue, Biersack landed his very first lead role and would eventually attract the attention of talent scouts from the City of Angels.  One trip to Los Angeles to audition for roles and he knew that he was destined to follow his heart to Hollywood, but not before returning to his teenage life back in Ohio.  When Biersack wasn’t singing into the mirror and believing that he had an audience, he was frequenting local clubs and realizing that the seemingly untouchable rock god stardom that he desired could begin with playing attainable shows right in his hometown.  This realization couldn’t have come at a better time, because with the change of creative directors and an issue with school credits Biersack was thrust back into the public school system.  “And that’s why I dropped out of school.  Ultimately in many ways, I suppose everything happens for a reason. I started touring as a teenager, because of the fact that I was no longer in school.  So, I could just jump right to working on my dream,” Biersack reminisces.   

Black Veil Brides

Hell-bent on following in the footsteps of his musical idols, Biersack made the move to L.A. just before his 18th birthday.  After a fleeting connection with director Patrick Fogarty, the pair would soon create something that would be the trajectory for the rest of Biersack’s career; the debut music video for Black Veil Brides Knives and Pens.  Despite the holdup of having no band and no budget, Biersack was in debt to the director who believed in him.  Accompanied by the hard-hitting drummer Sandra Alva, and expressive guitarist Chris Hollywood, Biersack told the tale of a tortured teenage outcast trying to escape the mundanity of his everyday life.  For teenagers growing up in 2009 surrounded by the rock sub-genre characterized by the emphasis on emotional expression in sound, lyrics, and dress, this video was so relatable that it broke the internet with thousands of views.  One of those views being accounted for by Standby Records; the independent rock/metal label from Cleveland, Ohio.  The label was quick to sign Black Veil Brides, forcing Biersack to form a proper band and allowing him the opportunity to embark on his first tour, the On Leather Wings Tour.  For Biersack, It didn’t matter if the venues were basements, bars, or clubs as long as he was getting his art out into the world.  This was his chance to combine every element that inspired him from his own personal heroes and finally be in his “favorite band.”  Their devotion to performance was key in creating the power that Biersack harnessed on stage.  What little money they made out on the road they would sink back into the show to perfect every little detail from handmade stage clothes to the proper gear.  “When I was younger, I used to have a bit of jealousy in some ways for the rich kids that grew up with everything and then were just given an opportunity because their parents could afford to buy them a tour bus,” Biersack confesses.  “But the reality is, the longer you do this the more you realize that the playing field is leveled when the work is involved.  We busted our asses and worked harder than we thought the people next to us were doing.  We tried our best.” And their best, even if it was from the crowded confines of the bass player’s four-passenger Durango with a U-Haul trailer in tow, proved to eventually pay off for the young road warriors.  “I think the big thing is…it never occurred to me that it wasn’t going to happen for us.  I think that’s probably true of a lot of people.  And then for some, unfortunately, they allow the world to decide that that isn’t the reality.  You can’t be afraid to have people say that you suck.  You can’t let anybody else’s opinion of you affect what you do with your creativity and your art.  You just have to continue to work harder than you think you even have to, because chances are the person next to you is willing to work harder if you’re not” Biersack explains.  “Whether a band has five fans or five million fans, there is a tremendous amount of hard work involved in being successful in this industry.  We have been incredibly fortunate to have an audience that took to us right away, even when the rest of the music world didn’t care about us and didn’t think we were worth a shit.  We had fans who propped us up, bought our records and t-shirts, came to our shows, and allowed us the opportunity for all of this.  So, as much as I would credit us for all of the hard work, we’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have people that cared enough to allow us this opportunity.”

An opportunity that continued to grow upon the release of Black Veil Brides’ debut album We Stitch These Wounds, which quickly pushed to number one on Billboard’s Independent Charts thanks to the cult-like following the band had created.  From there Black Veil Brides went on to sign with Universal, release multiple charting albums, have a top-selling design in Hot Topic stores, and make a name for themselves in the industry all before Biersack even turned 30.  Much like the character Johnny Faust that he would eventually play on the Amazon Prime movie American Satan, Biersack was challenged to navigate adulthood and find his authentic self after growing up in the entertainment industry.  “In many cases, you go from being an adolescent who was unpopular and scorned for the way that you look, or the things that you like to then being, in some sort of capacity, famous.  And the expectation is that you know how to deal with that,” Biersack explains. “It’s just simply not true when you’re that young and you have such limited experience of other people.  You’re trying to assimilate to the world around you. So much of who I was in those early days was an amalgam of personalities, ideas, and things that I had seen and was mirroring because people who were older and successful acted this way, did this thing or said this thing.  I think it takes everybody time to find their true self, let alone somebody who is doing so in the public arena.”  Fighting through the struggles of identity and addiction in the public eye, Biersack was able to decipher the heroes from the villains in the industry and his personal life.  “I’ve been very lucky that through the course of my career I’ve had good people around me and the people who weren’t so good I’ve been able to get out of my life for the most part,” he says with audible gratitude.  There were even some characters from the very beginning of his story that would never know the impact they had on him like Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, or Nikki Sixx; the multi-faceted artists whose artistry surpassed their music.  Their success in creating films, graphic novels, autobiographies, and photography careers were blueprints laid out for a young Biersack to follow.  And he did under the moniker, Andy Black.  He has published his memoir They Don’t Need to Understand: Stories of Hope, Fear, Family, Life, and Never Giving In, acted in both film and television, conceived the graphic novel The Ghost of Ohio, authored graphic novels to tie in with his solo music project, co-created The Andy Show podcast, and had his directorial debut with the music video for Fields Of Bone from Black Veil Brides’ 6th full-length album The Phantom Tomorrow.  With an artistic ambition that exceeds most of your popular artists today, there isn’t much that Biersack cannot accomplish.  This is why, from an artistic standpoint, his latest album The Phantom Tomorrow is extremely inspiring. 

The combination of growing up listening to concept albums and an infatuation with bringing his imagination to life was the ignitor in sparking the motivation to create a parallel universe to the socially-distanced world that we were living in during 2020 when the record was conceived.  “I started drawing these characters and the idea of creating a hesitant or ill-equipped hero,” Biersack colorfully explains.  “I love comic books, but the comic book storyline is always consistent with the idea that the heroes are born of injustice and they have to avenge it.  And even if it’s a sardonic character, there is still injustice.  Even if they have caused something bad and have been negatively affected they now have to save the day.  I wanted the idea of creating a character who is themselves kind of a piece of shit, or their moral compass is broken, and they are then thrust into having to be a hero to atone for a life of being a piece of shit.  And that was kind of the impetus for the jumping-off point.  And then as the world kind of became what it became over the course of the early part of 2020, that started to move into ‘what do we do with heroes?’ and this sort of avatar-ism that we have culturally; where we ascribe all of our own thoughts, ideas, and interests to these kinds of monalifs, these people that don’t know us or care about us, that don’t know our family or our struggles, but we build a narrative for them.  And when they stray from that narrative we can be shaken to our core, because that’s now what we believe them to be in this made-up reality we’ve made about them.  And certainly, this became true with the political landscape over the last year of how people’s entire personalities were centered around a politician or someone else’s ideas.  And so then the stories started to really delve into ‘what do we do with heroes’, ‘why do we make heroes?’, ‘why are we afraid to be our own hero?” and ‘what would you do if the hero that you made let you down?’ That’s kind of where it all started.” 

The Phantom Tomorrow was released on October 29, 2021, through Sumerian Records.  Upon listening to the rock opera you follow the tale of the main character Blackbird and peer into a dystopian society that so many listeners can unexpectedly relate to.  As a songwriter, it can be difficult to find the balance between telling a story and sharing your own experiences and emotions.  “I like to think that it’s both,” Biersack notes on the delicate balance.  “I think that the trap that a lot of people fall into with concept records is that you get so bogged down by the story that you cease to write anything that means anything to you anymore.  And I think if you’re just sitting down as a songwriter and writing something then it doesn’t mean anything to you, so in return, you sort of lose the plot.  My ideas are always being filtered through the lens of what the story is.  As a lyricist, I have to be able to say something more meaningful.  Even if it’s a more high concept to me I know what the impetus for the idea was in the first place, so I can go through and tell you genuinely what the idea is above everything else involved in the story.”  Typically when an artist is writing a single song they have the freedom to create beyond many confines and this affords the ability for the listener to tie in their own memories and personal attachment whenever that song is heard.  However, in the confines of writing a concept album, there’s a definitive beginning, middle, and end in both the album itself and in each individual song.  This can sometimes prevent the listener from imprinting their own memories and emotions to the song since they’re tied to that finite story created by the songwriter.  For most artists, this would be a fearful proposal that most would never touch, but for Biersack, it was a challenge eagerly accepted.  “That’s the trick as a modern songwriter,” Biersack confidently explains.  “You’re trying to tell a grander story, but you live in a world where increasingly people listen to individual songs over listening to a full album.  So, you have to be mindful of that and be able to give somebody a moment within each individual song.  I believe we made a pretty concerted effort to try and make sure that these songs could stand on their own without needing the full context of the other 10 or 11 songs to have it make an impression on somebody.”  Which was proven in the release of the single/video Scarlett Cross, which was viewed over 8 million times, became the band’s first-ever US Top 10 Active Rock single, and became the band’s most successful charting song all before the entire album was released.  So how did the band manage to bring all of these otherworldly ideas to life?  In the studio with Biersack, lead guitarist Jake Pitts, rhythm guitarist and composer Jinxx, bassist Lonny Eagleton, and drummer Christian “CC” Coma.  “I almost always write the lyrics after the music has been completed, because I like to be able to have some idea of the tone.  Regardless of whether the song starts with a melody or a riff, it just comes down to having an understanding of storytelling and wanting to have a beginning, middle, and end,” Biersack describes.  “As a band, I believe that we are well equipped to be able to do that because of the unique skill sets of everyone involved.  Jinxx is a classically trained violinist and composer who has done movie scoring, Jake has done extensive production from EDM to metal, and CC is the kind of percussionist that is well aware of what plays well in a song.  So you’ve got those dramatic elements that are playing out through the course of the record.  Just kind of innate within the skill set to what the band is bringing to the table.  I think that we are able to achieve things like that in a way that maybe some bands aren’t because we are story first in a lot of ways.”  In their earlier years, Black Veil Brides released their first concept album Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones, and proved that their “story first” method was garnering quite a bit of attention and success.  This is why The Phantom Tomorrow faced the challenge of evolution through its release.  “I believe that as records go that [Wretched And Divine] is one of the most beloved by our audience and certainly one that made the most impact for our career.  So the goal was not to do another Wretched And Divine,” Biersack explains. “A lot of my favorite bands growing up would always promise that their next record was going to be even better than their best record and I think that’s kind of a foolish thing to get into.  So the goal was to take what we had learned making the concept record Wretched And Divine and to center a concept record that’s more based on telling the story with the music than overtly telling the story through spoken word vignettes as we did previously. I think that we learned a lot of lessons there.  We tried to apply it both positively and negatively with what to do and what not to do in order to make something that we felt was its own entity and wasn’t a follow up to the album.  It isn’t meant to be a competitor to it either, but rather its own piece that we hope fans can enjoy on its own merits.”  This leaves listeners with 12 tracks that can be enjoyed from top to bottom, or one single at a time.  “The goal for every record that we’ve ever made is to be able to have people have a moment of joy and escapism from whatever it is that’s going on in their life, whether it’s work, school, or whatever.  Just to be able to put their headphones in, put it in their car or wherever and close their eyes…well maybe not close their eyes if they’re driving a car, but you know what I mean,” Biersack laughs.  “To feel like they’ve been able to disconnect from the problems and drudgery of day-to-day life and have a moment to escape into something else from their own imagination.  To take them wherever they want to go and create their own versions of stories and facilitate ideas of what the song means to them and how it affects them.  You know, I would say that the job of the artist is to allow an opportunity to not have to live in the shit.  There are certainly artists who write about topical situations and say important things, but even then it’s generally to galvanize an emotion and to feel like the thing that’s affecting us doesn’t have to affect us forever.  And that is the goal…to give someone a moment where they feel as if the things that they’re dealing with in their life don’t matter so much, even if it’s just the time spent listening to that record.” 

Unraveling the truth behind the hero may take more than an auditory journey. Discovering why we have a need for heroes may make us realize what we don’t want to see in ourselves. In his work,  Andy Biersack paints a story that helps us try to find an answer in the darkest of times, so that maybe one day, with hope-filled eyes, we can all look up again.

Stay Connected with Andy Black / Black Veil Brides
Black Veil Brides Website 

Black Veil Brides Instagram 

Black Veil Brides Tour Dates 

Black Veil Brides Facebook 

Black Veil Brides Twitter 

Andy Black Music 

Andy Black Instagram 

Andy Black Merch

The Andy Show 

Andy Black Memoir 

 

13 thoughts on “Dissection of a Hero – One-on-One with Andy Black

  1. It is an amazing article.
    My daughter introduced me to Black Veil Brides music several years ago and the first time I heard the music I fell in love with music. The lyrics and the meaning of each songs is incredible

    • Hey Kim, I love it when a parent and child can share the same passion for music. Thank you for your comments and for reading Screamer Magazine.

  2. I love this and as I’m reading somehow I can hear Andy’s voice in my head saying all of this. His music not only gives me hope but he also gives all of his fans hope in knowing that they are not alone. We are all outcasts and we should never feel alone.

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