How Andy Biersack Embraced His Love Of Pop
The Black Veil Brides frontman returns with his pop alter-ego Andy Black
Right now, Andy Biersack is in the perfect mindset to release his solo debut album.
He’s feeling more secure than ever in both his band Black Veil Brides and his personal life, and when Team Rock calls him to talk about his Andy Black project, he reveals that his five-year relationship with singer-songwriter Juliet Simms was an inspiration for some of the new material, as is the fact that he’s spent the last decade of his life fronting the Black Veil Brides.
“Being able to write about romantic love was a lot of fun for me, because it’s something I don’t really get to do in the context of my band,” he admits.
The music underpinning Andy’s lyrics on his solo debut The Shadow Side is all rousing melodies, cuddly synth strings and boyband choruses; he knows it’s going to be polarising – but he’s left fans under no illusion that it’ll be anything else, previously describing The Shadow Side as ‘more U2 than Megadeth’. Heartstring-tuggers like opening track Homecoming King might be more accurately described as more One Direction meets Bon Jovi, with Andy’s signature gravelly tones holding it all together.
His previous assertion that ‘there are no guitar solos on the record’ isn’t altogether true, so before you break a sweat that he’s gone full Harry Styles – there’s one in the opening track. That's one more than on Metallica's St. Anger...
The Shadow Side is completely removed from what you’ve done before with Black Veil Brides.
Andy Biersack: “Did you hear the whole record?”
"Fantastic. That’s the way it has to be. I don’t like these conversations I have with people who’ve heard one or two songs and are judging the complexity of the entire record. I think that as an artist, you try to put together something that feels like a cohesive piece, and I’m very happy to say, whether people agree with me or not, it feels like a complete album that I’d really love to listen to."
The pop and electro influences are very clear, but there are also other things going on there, like old-school power ballads...
“As someone who comes from a rock world, it was going to be hard to do a record that didn’t have electric guitars."
There’s a romantic theme running through it. Were any of the songs written for specific people or as a cathartic exercise for your feelings?
"There are certainly moments of romantic love which is very literal. I’ve been with the same person for five years and have a very healthy and happy relationship. When I look back at it now, I see the trials and tribulations that come with being with someone for half a decade, so there are certainly moments on there that are about that. At other times, romantic love is used as a reference to other things. I’ve been in a band for 10 years, that’s it’s own relationship and emotional journey with three other adult men. I always say that the most interesting thing about being in a band, for me, is the assumption that you all have something in common other than the music you play. When you meet someone and you’re really young and you say you like Led Zeppelin and they also like Led Zeppelin and you decide to jam together, it’ll be three or four years before you find out that the person you started a band with also likes to, say, kill kittens. Those little secrets you find out, that’s also something that’s true in a relationship. You don’t really know somebody for a few years. The same is true in a band, and in terms of me being in Black Veil Brides, we’ve reached the ‘stay together for the kids’ part of the relationship. All of us are more amused by our idiosyncrasies than mad about them. We don’t fight; we get along better than we ever have. Because of that, I look back at not only romantic relationships I’ve had, but also band relationships and friendships."
How did you get some of your collaborators on board? Was it just a case of calling them up and asking?
"To be honest, it all started with not having a band. I wanted to make this solo record and I thought, ‘well, am I going to put together all the music in ProTools digitally and hire a band to come and play it note for note, or am I going to make it a collaborative thing where I have people come in and put their flair on it?’ And it just seemed way more attractive an option to have people come in who were friends, to write or sing something. It just snowballed from there. It started initially with Patrick Stump coming in, we had him and Quinn Allman come in on the same day and Quinn really enjoyed the project. He was just riffing around and then Patrick came in later in the day, and we were talking about feelings and emotions and stuff. We’re both kind of misanthropes, and that’s where We Don’t Have To Dance came from."
Were there any songs that wouldn’t have been possible if these people weren’t involved?
"Yeah, like Stay Alive with Matt Skiba. It was complete and ready for the record, but I had a feeling that I’d love to have him sing on it. And luck would have it he joins Blink 182, and they start making a record with John Feldmann [who also produced The Shadow Side]. John’s in the studio with Matt every day, and I just happened to throw it out there, ‘Hey, I wrote this song and I’d love you to sing on it, do you want to do vocals?’ So that’s how that worked. Louder Than Your Love with Gerard Way; that song wouldn’t happened without Gerard. That was me and him outside for six hours drawing in a notebook, writing and talking about life, coming up with ideas and singing stuff to each other, and playing guitars. So that song doesn’t exist without him.”
That sounds very poetic, almost like how you’d imagine a creative process to be in a movie. Were there any other memorable moments from behind the scenes?
“I’ll just give you a side story real quick. There was a member of Black Veil Brides who was only in the band for about six months. I remember him turning to me in my shitty old 87 Cadillac Eldorado, farting along the freeway right before that car died forever – we were making our first record at the time, and he said that he didn’t think our record was very good because there wasn’t much of a story to it. The funny thing there is that we were a bunch of people living in a fucking Cadillac and completely poor; the poetic nature of it wasn’t lost on anyone who’d ever read poetry or ever heard a story, but someone without the foresight didn’t see it. So to you, as a writer, it might sound like an interesting story, but other people just go 'Oh yeah, people got together and made an album', and it sounds like it isn’t artistic. I always find it interesting how people perceive a record being made; how some people find the story interesting, artistic or cinematic, and others see it as people making a record and that’s the end of it. The reality is that is sits somewhere between the two.”
So what was the experience of making The Shadow Side really like?
“Because of the day and age we live in and the budgetary constraints we have, we kind of sit there and make a record and you get there at a certain time every day. I’m not on a French beach sipping mimosas and writing lyrics, I’m driving through heavy traffic in LA in the middle of the summer trying to get it done. But you do have those moments of complete clarity where someone comes down and there’s an artistic spark; you might walk around the neighbourhood together, you have lunch and talk about what makes them [a collaborator] tick and what you enjoy. It’s a bit of both and I like that. I’m a very practical person. I try not to romanticise the idea of being a piece of shit like so many people do. So many of my peers love the idea of being a complete asshole and getting fucked up all the time, and they romanticise the idea that the less you know and the less you do in terms of practicalities the better you are as an artist. I’ve always swayed the other way and tried to be as on top of my shit as possible, and understand the business. That takes away from the romanticism unfortunately, when you have an intimate knowledge of your record deal and what your tax situation’s going to be. It takes away the romanticism of a guy in a rock band and on the road. But I think what you can define is that the more on top of your shit you are, the more opportunities you have. Long story longer… it was a little bit of both."
There's a kind of ‘starving artist’ trope that’s romanticised, when in reality, as you said, it isn’t always that great.
"I’m incredibly disappointing to people. I just did a film, and the people involved in the movie were so interested in me being a 'rock star', asking what that’s like, and my tattoos and all that. I find myself disappointing people time and time again with how disinterested I am with the excess. I think I’ve aged at a rapid rate, I’m about 85 years old in my heart. I tried to get tattooed the other day, and I used to love it, I’d get drunk and get tattooed, now I got tattooed for about 25 minutes and it hurt too bad, I had to tell the guy to stop and I left. I don’t know what’s happened. The point that I’m trying to make is that I’ve advanced so far beyond finding any of that romantic that I have a kind of distaste for it now."
What would you say to people who might moan about the album being so pop?
“Well, I mean, if anyone listens to it, in this day and age, it’s because they found it on the internet and on social media. 85% of the time that’s out there, it’s in conjunction with me saying that it’s my pop-based solo project. So if you read that and have a knowledge of it, and then you listen and get mad that it is what you read it was, then that’s on you. I’m not trying to trick anybody into saying it’s the heaviest record I’ve ever done, I’ve been quite clear about the fact that this is something that’s very different and might not be for everyone. If you’re a hardcore fan of Black Veil Brides then you might not love this. But I think you will, as I think most people enjoy melody and a song with a structure that’s sing-along-able. I think, if you’re a fan of Black Veil Brides and you like my voice and my lyrics, this will be something you’ll enjoy. And if it’s not your thing, there’s another Black Veil Brides record coming. The response has been so positive, I’m almost amazed in a way; because of how mean the internet can be, I anticipated so much more negativity. But people are saying things like they don’t like Black Veil Brides, but they like this. I read some hardcore metal website saying ‘I hate Black Veil Brides but this is tolerable’. It makes me laugh, you never know what the public’s opinion will be. You try your best to make something great and if people love it, that’s great. What’s really odd for me right now in terms of sales is that We Don’t Have To Dance is already out and it’s doing better than anything I’ve ever done in my whole career in terms of charting. In terms of charting positions previously for first-week sales, In The End was our highest charting song, and We Don’t Have To Dance has beat that by about 10 or 15 spots in the charts in the US [In The End peaked at 39 in the Billboard Hot Rock Songs, while ...Dance currently sits at number 23]. That’s interesting in itself because this is a passion project and something that’s an alternative love. But it’s going so well I can only hope it continues this way.
And finally, what do your Black Veil Brides bandmates think of it?
"They’ve all been really complimentary. Since the inception, I’ve been so focused on making sure that I keep the band and Andy Black [separate] and not allow the band to feel like I’m not present. They didn’t even know about the first single and when it came out. They didn’t know I had a festival show and I had to fly straight over. I was always working, but I always made it to Black Veil Brides shows. If anything it’s more of a surprise to them that the video’s out and it all came together so quickly, because they’ve been seeing me at Black Veil work all the time. They’ve been really complimentary and nice and I really appreciate that."
Andy Black's The Shadow Side will be released on May 6 through Universal/Island. For tour dates, visit his Facebook page.