Andy Biersack is only 27 years old. Yet backstage at a February tour stop in Atlanta, the Black Veil Brides singer sounds like a grizzled veteran. A few months before his band would embark on the final Warped Tour ever – and the future of Black Veil Brides would be called into question – he takes a moment to reflect on the potential end of a scene. “When I was a kid, my dream was not to win a Grammy,” he says. “My dream was to play on Warped Tour. Now I don’t know what’s gonna happen without it – our safe place as a genre is going away.”
When the singer left his hometown of Cincinnati for Los Angeles in 2008, he was a high school dropout living in his car, sleeping in vacant lots among other lost boys. As he began recruiting for the revamp of his teenage garage band, Black Veil Brides, the formula was simple: Take the momentum of late-2000s metalcore, but draw in the technique of classically steeped shredders like Randy Rhoads, then channel the high drama of hard-rock heavyweights like Mötley Crüe and Kiss.
Yet at the same time, Black Veil Brides tapped into themes of bullying and alienation, striking a chord with a generation of outsider teens. (Their era-defining clip for 2009’s “Knives and Pens” follows a punk cherub with a shag cut and bandana, who tears away signs that say “emo,” “fag” and “kill yourself” to get to his locker.) Their 2010 debut, We Stitch These Wounds, struck a chord, climbing to Number One on the Independent Albums chart and Number 34 on the Billboard 200. The band has never been nominated for a Grammy, but their sales numbers remain consistently positive in an industry overtaken by digital streaming. Following their debut, every consecutive Black Veil Brides album has cracked the Top 20 – including their most recent offering, this year’s Vale, which peaked at Number 14 and topped the Hard Rock Albums chart.
Following the album’s January release, Black Veil Brides’ momentum seemed steady. On June 21st, the band embarked on a series of Warped Tour dates, revisiting the setting that had helped break them. But the day before, breakup rumors circulated after bassist Ashley Purdy let slip in a podcast, “You better see us before you don’t see us.”
When Biersack meets Rolling Stone in the green room of the Atlanta venue Tabernacle, there are subtle hints that the singer is gearing up for a new chapter. He once donned face paint, but here he arrives dapper in a T-shirt, jeans and leather jacket a few hours before the band goes on. Now sober to the point of instating a dry bus on the tour, he’s been finding mundane ways to unwind. Before the interview, he has just finished watching yet another episode of The Office in his bunk. “I’ve watched the entire series three times on this tour so far,” he says. “Including non–Michael Scott seasons. It’s this weird like comfort blanket. I’m not even watching it, or listening to it. It’s just there.”
His low-key demeanor obscures the fact that his band is thriving. The previous night saw Black Veil Brides play a sold-out show at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory, a feat they would repeat in Atlanta. The following day, together with their British counterparts Asking Alexandria, the band would announce three more weeks of shows. “We’re selling records, we sell out shows, our record hit Number One on the [Hard] Rock chart,” Biersack’s bandmate Purdy tells Rolling Stone outside the green room. “The numbers speak for themselves!”
The singer, on the other hand, seems resigned, not only to the potential twilight of his band but to the decline of rock music as a whole. “[Rock culture] is nostalgia,” says Biersack. “If I were a young kid, I could choose [between] these hip-hop artists who are doing such interesting and cool innovative things, or I could choose a genre that is largely antiquated and steeped in things that our grandfathers did.”
Yet despite Biersack’s ambivalence, it’s clear that Black Veil Brides fans remain as pumped as ever about seeing their guitar heroes. At shows, both parents and children cry out the names of their favorite members; Andy’s toothy grin alone elicits jubilant screams. And online, members of the “BVB Army” commune over the band’s selfies and author fan-fiction stories, which continue to circulate throughout Tumblr. “In the early days, people used to write them analog, pen on paper,” says Biersack, “and they’d give them to us at shows. I remember one in particular where we were foxes having sex with each other? I don’t know that it’s for me, but if I inspire [their] creativity, I’m emotionally supportive of that.”
John Feldmann – frontman of Goldfinger and coveted producer of hitmakers such as Blink-182 and Five Seconds of Summer – took a chance on a different kind of band when he produced Black Veil Brides’ 2013 rock opera, Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones, and later Vale. “There’s so many hard-rock bands that come and go,” he says. “But Andy is a true leader and a true superstar. A lot of bands think it’s not their job to connect with their fans unless they’re playing a show, but [Black Veil Brides] understand the value of building a relationship with [their] audience.”
Outside Philadelphia’s Electric Factory, 30-odd fans in black hoodies stand doggedly in the rain next to the tour buses, chanting the names of band members behind a barricade of metal fences. Roadies say it’s a typical scene after a Black Veil Brides show – but among them is a teen daring to stand out in a Pooh Bear suit and glasses. (“I wear this so the band will notice me,” says Emily, 19. “Go big or go home!” ) Nearby Cierra, 20, and Taniya, 19, admire her bravado; “I’m feeling her look,” says Cierra.
“[Tonight] was the first time they’ve played ‘Knives and Pens’ in forever!” says Taniya. “You remember when MTV was cool? I saw that video in sixth grade and they’ve been my favorite band ever since.” Cierra adds, “That song really changed my life. They’ve been doing different things now, but I will always stick with them because of that.”
Throughout the Resurrection Tour, the Brides sated their audience by revisiting the song for the first time in years, as well as some other fan favorites. Yet today’s Black Veil Brides are less focused on internal turmoil of their youth, and more on the concepts they first explored on Wretched and Divine, and again on Vale. Black Veil Brides play the Wild Ones, a band of rebels and hackers facing down a nebulous authoritarian government called F.E.A.R. (For Every and All Religion). At their Philadelphia show, Black Veil Brides project images of the White House surrounded by tall barbed wire fences – an unusually politically charged move for the band, though ambiguous enough to fit the narrative of the Wild Ones.
“How do I fit in my personal feelings without political heavy-handedness?” asks Biersack. “People [undergoing] daily drudgery don’t need any more drudgery. But, I also don’t want to be silenced and complacent. … So when it came to developing the concept record that we did, and using those characters on this most recent record, it was a way of saying, ‘We feel bad right now, but let’s remove ourselves from that feeling and escape into a story where we can defeat it.'”
But can the band power through their own real-life demons? On a recent episode of Another FN Podcast – now wiped from the Internet – Purdy said, “We are going to do eight [Warped Tour] dates through the Southern California area. And that is where you are going to see Black Veil Brides for the last time ever in your entire lives. So, you better fucking go, because that’s gonna be it.”
The band declined to speak to Rolling Stone about the breakup rumors. Biersack, however, swiftly countered Purdy’s account in an interview with Loudwire. “As far as I know, there are no plans to break up the band,” he said. “I spoke to the band this morning, and that seems to be echoed by everybody.” In fact, he added, “The plan is to do an entire re-record of [We Stitch These Wounds]. We recorded it for just a few thousand dollars in a studio that didn’t really have the capacity to do that big of an album. We always felt it wasn’t representative, sonically, of the rest of our catalog.”
Perhaps the move cements the band’s capitulation to a nostalgia-driven rock industry. Or maybe it’s a special gift to their loyal fan base, who have continued to resist the fleeting gratification of streaming by buying their records. Feldmann, who will play a consulting role in the project, chalks it up to perfectionism. “When [Black Veil Brides] first started,” he says, “Andy didn’t know how to sing the way that he sings now. Plus he’s got much better musicians than before. If nothing else, they need to prove that their first record is better than it may have aged. It’s a combination of having better players, having better recordings and owning it for themselves.”
Biersack’s feelings about rock nostalgia aside, the band seems prepared to milk their legacy for all it’s worth. The 10th-anniversary We Stitch These Wounds redux will be supplemented by new music, a live DVD and never-before-released songs from their early days. In addition, the band has teased assorted side projects in the works: guitarist-producer Jake Pitts and his wife, Inna, are recording music under the name Aelonia. Meanwhile, Biersack is writing a memoir, as well as material for his synth-punk solo venture as Andy Black.
“I’m fascinated and thrilled that we have a career and these kids are so excited for what we do,” says Biersack, turning back to the pros of his band’s longstanding popularity. “Whatever the future holds, the only thing that any rock artist can hope for, is that [we] still make people wanna throw up their fists and kick ass.”
Black Veil Brides’ fan base seems more than happy to oblige. “I feel like [Black Veil Brides] care about us,” says Taniya. “They write songs that relate to us. When they perform for us, they are performing a service. And when a band develops their sound, you don’t just leave them. If you really are dedicated fan, you will stick with them through their journey.”
Adds Cierra, “The least we can do is show them we’re with them until the end.”