Eight years ago, Andy Black was living in a car. Having just left his hometown of Cincinnati, the young punk was broke in Hollywood, subsisting on visions of what would become his wildly successful glam-metal outfit, Black Veil Brides. "I was barely 18," says Black, neé Biersack. "I figured I could sleep in my car in 24-hour lockout places. There were other dirtbag, broke musicians sleeping in their cars there. That's how I was able to cultivate a Rolodex of local musicians… It's how I put the band together."
As the frontman of Black Veil Brides, Black would captivate audiences around the world with thrashy anthems for young outcasts of the metalcore persuasion, scoring three Top 20 albums since 2011. Notorious for donning heavy makeup and acquiring gnarly stage injuries, he was named one of Revolver's "100 Greatest Living Rock Stars." But this month, Black took another type of gamble with his solo debut, The Shadow Side, honing a twisted, synthpop edge with help from members of Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Blink-182, Alkaline Trio and more.
On the eve of his album release, Black and his wife, singer-songwriter Juliet Simms Biersack, emerge from an Escalade in front of Brooklyn's Knitting Factory, where he would preview some new songs at an exclusive party. A small crowd amasses outside, hours before the show: impassioned teen girls bearing signs and Black Veil Brides hoodies. As the newlyweds quietly slink into the venue, their fans are sure to pair their acknowledgements of Black with high praise to his other half, who is often seen peeking from behind the curtains at his shows. Rolling Stone met Black backstage, plopped down on a shredded leather couch with lozenges in hand.
You just kicked off your first solo tour. How's it going so far?
I blew my voice entirely in the first three days. I've been trying to medicate my voice with every Chinese herbal secret in the world. I went to a guy in Toluca Lake who calls himself the Voice Doctor. He's very eccentric, he even wears a white lab coat. I don't think he's an actual doctor because he just sells vitamins and lozenges, but he calls himself a doctor. I don't feel any kind of high, just the menthol numbing my throat. I'm all about not solving the problem, just pushing the pain away. I'm working the callus in my throat.
Like a guitar-player does.
Yeah! Having a baritone rock voice, I don't need it to be a well-oiled, finely-tuned instrument; it needs to roughen up like the calluses on a guitar-player's fingers. The rasp has to get to the point where it's no longer uncomfortable.… Otherwise I just wind up sounding like Dicky from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Now that you've gone solo — will you ever record with Black Veil Brides again?
I started this project when I was 15. It's been my entire life for the past decade. Because of that, I can't imagine a world in which I would end [Black Veil Brides] because I'm interested in something else. One of the things that always disappointed me as a kid growing up, was when you could tell the singer had a fancy for something different, and turned the band into something else. I knew that my love for the Sisters of Mercy, Lords of the New Church and that kind of stuff, was never going to lend itself well to a direct interpretation in Black Veil Brides. But still, I always wanted to make music similar to those bands. What, we've done four records and an EP in the last five years? I think the band's earned some time off.
So with Black Veil Brides on break, what's your set-up like as a solo act?
It's a three-piece on stage. I got one guy, Josh, he's like a mad scientist. He sets up loops on the keyboard and plays guitar over it, plus he sings. I met my new drummer Bo at Warped Tour a year ago, he was drumming for Bebe Rexha, who shared a tour bus with my wife. So while I was hanging out in that bus a lot, Bo was the one walking around, picking up the cups and throwing stuff away. I saw him and was like "That's my guy. If I need anyone on tour that's my guy." He's a great drummer and singer, very smart guy. And after all the debauchery and craziness that was touring with Black Veil Brides, my biggest interest is having a very calm tour. I cut out drinking almost entirely in the past year. Maybe I'll have a glass of wine or two, but no hard liquor.
You worked on your new album with the pop-punk mastermind, producer John Feldmann. How would you describe the process of writing The Shadow Side with him?
John Feldmann produced Black Veil Brides' third record, which was our most commercially successful record. When we first met, he asked me to list 10 records that I liked. I mean I always loved classic rock, like AC/DC and Metallica. But you wouldn't find a Megadeth record, or an Anthrax record on there — whereas my bandmates might prefer that heavier, thrash metal stuff, my interest has always been in punk rock. So me and Feldy's conversations were all about Generation X, The Damned, Sham 69, all these old punk bands.
We got together about two years ago to write — nothing specific, just to write songs. A lot of them were terrible. We were like, "Hey, let's write a Psychedelic Furs song" and we'd make a Psychedelic Furs song. It's nice to write a song that Molly Ringwald could dance to, but I didn't think it was the best thing for my voice, or what I was feeling emotionally. But we thought, if we really focused ourselves on a concept and incorporated more of my style into it, wouldn't it be a lot of fun?
You had an all-star cast of collaborators, from the Madden Brothers to My Chemical Romance. Did you work with them in studio?
Yeah, we had the mid-2000s all-star team. Plus my wife came in, Rian Dawson from All Time Low, Ashton Irwin from 5 Seconds of Summer, Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. When you're working on a solo record, but you're used to working with a band you think … "I could build these songs and fake it, in Pro Tools and have session musicians come in and play it perfectly — or, I could get everybody I've ever wanted to play on something to come in and jam and write with me and build it organically." It was like having a different band every day. On "We Don't Have to Dance," we had Ashton come in and drum on it. But then we had Travis Barker come in and say "Hey, I'd like to drum on this." We had so many interesting vocals on it too, like Patrick Stump and Gerard Way.
This sounds like the pop-punk Justice League.
My friend and I started calling it the Feldyverse. We were embarrassingly rich in talented people, and I wanted to use all of them. It's not a very subtle record because I don't do "subtle" very well. If I can have all the sprinkles on top, why not throw all the sprinkles on top? If you can have a saxophone on it, have JR from Less Than Jake play sax on a thing, I don't care.
The people in this universe seem especially supportive of each other.
There's an interesting thing you realize when you get behind the curtain: All the angst you feel as a kid.… It just feels really dumb. When I was a kid it was so important to listen only to band nobody had ever heard of. I missed out on so much interesting music because of my need to listen to a psychobilly band that only two people knew about…. Because I thought I was cool. As you get older you realize you're not that cool. You also realize the people you called posers are just people like you.
Your new album gets pretty club-friendly, for somebody who wrote a song called "We Don't Have to Dance."
No, I hate clubs. That's why I wrote that song — I hate anyone telling me that I'm supposed to be having fun. I even have a stupid tattoo, it says FUCK FUN. I don't wanna be told that this is the best time I'm ever gonna have. I don't really think that everybody being wasted and trying to fuck each other in a tiny sweaty place is that great. I've tried it but I can’t make it great. I immediately hate it.
If there is one song that would make you absolutely lose it on the dance floor — or at home, wherever — what would that be?
Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself." I won't totally lose it, but I'll probably do a fist pump.