Unlocking the Truth's Teenage Metal Maestro Transcends Novelty - Rolling Stone
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Unlocking the Truth’s Teenage Metal Maestro Transcends Novelty

“It’s real music and it actually means something,” says guitarist of his chosen genre

WHO: The members of Unlocking the Truth might be young — singer-guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse and bassist Alec Atkins are both 14, while drummer Jarad Dawkins is 13 — but don’t call them a boy band. Rather, the Brooklyn-based three-piece specializes in grinding, thrashy jams that are more Metallica than One Direction. Brickhouse, who began playing guitar at seven years old, says he first got into heavy metal through, of all things, professional wrestling. “Jarad and I loved all the intro music the different wrestlers had,” he says. “That led us to check out bands like Disturbed and Linkin Park.” The two began jamming together, eventually adding their friend Atkins on bass and holding practices in the basement of the Brickhouse family home in East Flatbush. “We were doing covers for a long time, stuff like [Disturbed’s] ‘Down With the Sickness,'” Brickhouse recalls. “Then around 2012 we started making our own songs.”

STREET SONGS: Unlocking the Truth first came to public attention after Brickhouse’s father, Tracey, filmed the boys performing outside a Times Square subway station and uploaded it to YouTube. The clip, appropriately titled “Brutal Breakdown,” quickly went viral, and has since registered close to 2 million views. In the aftermath, the band became something of a phenomenon, opening shows for the likes of Motörhead and Guns N’ Roses, performing at festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo and on TV shows like The View, and even landing a much-publicized (and scrutinized) multi-album deal with Sony worth a reported $1.8 million. It’s all a long way from the streets of Times Square. “Those days are pretty much behind us,” Brickhouse says of playing on the sidewalk for tips. “And that’s good. Because we would stay out all day, Saturday and Sunday, doing it from 12 in the afternoon to 10 o’clock at night. It was fun … but it wasn’t that fun”

THE REAL THING: Brickhouse, Atkins and Dawkins were all in middle school when Unlocking the Truth started gaining popularity; while the singer says that his classmates like and support his band, he also admits that, for the most part, none of them listen to metal. “They’re all into rap,” he says. “I like rap too, but I’m just into metal more.” As for why he’s drawn to the heavy stuff? “Metal is, like, true. It’s real music and it actually means something. I feel like the lyrics are more personal and I can relate to them. Also, it’s fun to listen to different instruments.”

IN CONTROL: Unlocking the Truth have yet to release a studio album — they were set to issue their debut through Sony last year, but the project was shelved after that deal fell apart. They’re currently in the studio with Disturbed producer Johnny K, re-recording some of those tracks alongside several new ones for an upcoming EP, which Brickhouse hopes to have out in early 2016. And while the band began as a strictly instrumental outfit — “It was mainly because of our voices; I didn’t think anybody wanted to hear little kids singing” — Brickhouse takes the vocal reins on their new songs. As for what he’s singing about? “We have our empowering songs, like ‘Free As You Wanna Be’ and ‘Take Control,’ which are about not letting society choose how you feel,” he says. “Then we also have some heartbreak songs. And a few of the others, I call them our evil songs, because they’re about demons and fictional stuff like that.”

NO NOVELTY ACT: While the band members’ ages (and also, admittedly, their skin color) have helped to garner them plenty of attention — “The first thing is always, ‘Oh, my God! They’re black and they’re young and they play metal,'” Brickhouse says — that sort of recognition has its downsides. “A lot of people think of us as a novelty,” he continues. “Especially when they watch the old videos of us in Times Square, because we weren’t so good then.” Though Brickhouse acknowledges that there are those who “will always look at us as a gimmick,” he also believes the band’s new material will go a long way toward changing minds. “When this album comes out, people that think we’re just a novelty are going to be proved very wrong,” he says assuredly. “Because this album is amazing.”


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