BLACK VEIL BRIDES – “There’s A Point Of Pride In Being Different”
October 27, 2021, 11 months ago
Black Veil Brides offered up “Scarlett Cross” as the first taste of their impending sixth album, The Phantom Tomorrow, nearly a full year ago on November 13, 2020. Now, on October 29, 2021, the elaborate and intriguing concept album, based upon characters created by vocalist Andy Biersack, will finally be released via Sumerian Records.
“Truth be told, the record wasn’t complete when we released that single and video,” begins Andy. “We were in a position where we knew we couldn’t tour (because of the pandemic), and we were excited about where this record was going. We were in the finishing stages, but we still had some writing to do. We felt like, let’s get something out there and introduce this world that we’re building. Because now we have the course of this next year to further flesh it out and do additional music videos. And to get what we thought was a pretty detail-oriented vision across to our fans.”
The video for “Scarlet Cross” has been viewed over eight million times in just under a year on YouTube. “We feel extremely fortunate to be 11+ years into our career as a band that people know about. To still have that level of support, and people who are so dedicated… this tour that we’re on right now (in The United States), we’re playing bigger venues than we’ve ever played; it’s a pretty humbling experience to know that, regardless of anything else, the audience for the band has grown over the years.”
The lyric, “The world will stain us with a scarlet cross,” immediately brought Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel from 1850, The Scarlet Letter, to mind. “I was always really interested in the branding idea,” admits Andy. “There’s something about you that is innately and societally unclean, or different, or wrong, and making sure that everyone can see that, and how f*cked up and bizarre that is. But also, culturally, the way we are nowadays, there’s a point of pride in being different that didn’t exist when Hawthorne was writing that book. The idea that the things about us that are seen as less than or off-putting, are so much more celebrated now. I wanted to be able to speak to the idea that, regardless of what anybody else thinks, the person you are, the aspirations you have, and who you want to be, both from an interior and exterior perspective are the most important thing.”
It was a long time ago when that book was published, and the world has certainly changed since then. “Absolutely. In some ways for the better, and some ways worse. We live in a world right now where things are changing so quickly and evolving so rapidly. For me, as a lyricist, to try and take some moment that I’m seeing as the world unfolded into what it did over the course of 2020, and mirror it through the song, I think that is, as an artist on any level, something that you always aspire to be – a channel for things that you’re experiencing and turn them into escapism for people.”
Biersack is blending reality with a fictional element, by creating a concept and characters that are new to all of us. The Blackbird is depicted on the cover of the album, but who is this mysterious individual? “Well, in our story of the record, it’s not known. Within the context of the album, it’s about this kind of, almost a legend. This idea that there’s this character, that in death, someone who is innately flawed, or morally kind of ambiguous is… their penance in the afterlife is to be the savior of the people, kind of an unwilling savior. I always liked the idea of developing a story where a hero is not born of trying to right a wrong. But rather righting a wrong, or being a hero is something that you must do. And to learn to be empathetic. The whole idea is to try – for all of us – you try to be less of a piece of shit than you were the day before. For all of us, it’s a journey to try to be a better person. Inevitably, there are some people where that is not the case. But for most of us, we want to try to be a better person through life. So, I like the idea of making some sort of almost pseudo-religious parable about the idea of being good to one another, and the afterlife. As we go through the course of the comic book, we reveal that the character’s name is Dennis Kane. He’s this scientist who’s obsessed with his work, and is doing some questionable things, and doesn’t care who he hurts. Ultimately, he is killed for it and that has him become this character.” The Phantom Tomorrow comic book series, published under Incendium’s music-focused Opus imprint, “is going to be six issues, broken into like a trade paperback. There’s a Blackbird action figure, t-shirts, all kinds of goodies,” confirms Andy.
It’s somewhat surprising that the title track to The Phantom Tomorrow is a 93-second instrumental introduction. “Honestly, the idea was… I’m a big musical theatre fan; I’ve always loved that. A lot of times in theatre, you will have the introductory song, which is the overture of the musical feature of the show, will be simply named the title of the show. So, I like the idea of kind of taking from the world of naming something that way and having it be an introduction into what you’re about to hear.”
Conversely, looking back at iconic albums such as Master Of Puppets by Metallica, or Slave To The Grind by Skid Row, those title tracks are so vital. “I think for this, it was the right choice. But we’ve done that. Our (second) album, Set The World On Fire, the first single was ‘Set The World On Fire’. Wretched And Divine was our highest-selling record of all time, one of the most popular songs on that record is ‘Wretched And Divine’. Nearly every record has had a song that is either a single, or successful song, that is the title track. We’ve certainly travelled down that road, but six albums in, I didn’t feel like it was an absolute necessity,” explains Andy.
It’s also quite remarkable that of the six BVB albums, three are concept records. Normally, if bands choose to do a concept album, it’s one and done. If that record is successful, they may do two; and in the case of Meat Loaf, there’s three. “The truth of the matter is, I’m a big Jim Steinman fan, and Meat Loaf in general; that’s a reference point that I love. It just comes down to, for us, we have done both; we made a record with Bob Rock that had no concept, it was a traditional rock and roll record. We’ve made records that have a loose concept, our only full-blown concept record is Wretched And Divine; Vale was kind of a loose concept. With this one, it just felt like we really wanted to do something that felt grand. We started writing, and the songs really lent themselves to this style. It really felt very natural, and at the end of the day, the identity of this band and who we are, is based upon the people that are in the band, and what our interests are. You’ve got Jinxx who’s a classically trained violinist and composer, you’ve got Jake who’s an incredibly gifted producer and works with EDM artists, CC was in the drumline at school and he’s a very musical percussionist. You’ve got a bunch of different people that are predisposed to very theatrical, dramatic styles of playing. Then you shove Lonny into the band, who is a longtime fan, before ever being in the band, reminding us of the things we loved about the band in the past, and what we can revisit and go back to, and improve upon.”
Bassist Lonny Eagleton played in Andy’s solo band. “Yes, that’s actually how I met him. It was a complete chance situation. It’s kind of a funny story. I was about to do my second solo tour, about to start rehearsals. I needed to hire a good guitar player, because the guitar player I had on the previous tour had a conflict. My friend said, ‘I know this guy, Lonny, he would be a great fit for you.’ Then I had appendicitis and had to have my appendix taken out. Laying there in bed, the first thing I watched on my phone when I came to, was this guy’s audition tape. I thought, wow, he’s great! I remember thinking he had kind of a Steve Stevens way about him when he was playing guitar. Then I met him at rehearsal, and I thought, this guy is the nicest person I believe I’ve ever met. Maybe it’s cause he’s Canadian, who knows? Immediately, I loved this guy. We hit it off and started touring, every day got a little bit closer. Then it came to have someone fill that position, I introduced him to the band, and everybody loved him. At this time, I had no idea that he was such a dedicated BVB fan. Later, after I had already asked him to be in the band, he goes, ‘I’ve actually got a Black Veil Brides tattoo. I never showed you cause I didn’t want you to think I’m a super fan.’ I thought, well, it’s definitely meant to be. It’s pretty cool. And one of the most fun things about him is, we’re on stage and I look over… it’s just fun to see this guy who was once in the crowd at our shows, playing these songs and having the time of his life! It really picks all of us up. When you have something like that, the dynamic is just so exciting that we’re sharing these experiences with this person for the first time, playing in front of 40,000 people opening for Metallica last week. We look over and see Lonny’s face – all of us are obviously excited, but for him it’s just an unbelievable experience! For the mood and the feel of the band, it’s been just incredible.”
The Phantom Tomorrow is the first Black Veil Brides album on Sumerian Records. Andy talks about his new home and how the band landed there. “Well, we were in a situation with Universal where there were no hard feelings, but like many major label deals… the reality is, when you sign a major label deal, quite often, within two or three years, all the people that signed you are gone. You don’t know anyone there anymore. It just didn’t feel like we had a home there. Our contract had come up and we had the option, so we decided to go out in free agency, so to speak. One of the first people we spoke to was Ash Alvidsen (CEO of Sumerian Records), because he’s been such an ardent supporter of ours from the beginning. He was our first booking agent, just a big cheerleader of the band. I’ve always been somebody who’s been very interested in working with people who are interested in working with us, somebody who really cares about the project and wants to be involved with the band. From the beginning, he expressed a huge level of interest, so it just seemed like the right move.” BVB is certainly in some good company on Sumerian Records – Nita Strauss, Jonathan Davis, The Smashing Pumpkins. “Yeah, exactly. And the label has really done a huge… it was originally known as the home of prog metal stuff, then very hardcore death metal. They still have those bands, but they’ve really grown so much over the years; it’s a very eclectic group.”
Widely respected artist Eliran Kantor (Testament, Hatebreed, Soulfly) created the cover art for The Phantom Tomorrow. “He actually did my second solo album cover (The Ghost Of Ohio),” recalls Andy. “He had met my manager, Blasko, in passing a number of years ago. My idea for the solo album cover was to do something like the Dutch masters, like Vermeer. But to have this image of this character, and Blasko goes, ‘I know the guy. I know exactly who we should get.’ So, I looked at his website and – I know this album cover, and this album cover. We built a relationship there, and when this record came about, we were in the studio, and I told the band, ‘I think I know exactly who should do this.’ I showed them his work, hit him up and said, ‘Here’s what the character looks like, go wild! Take your vision and run with it.’ And that’s what we’ve got. It’s a combination of the character that I designed, and his vision.”
The Blackbird went through “a fair number” of modifications from Andy’s initial vision to final edit. “The very first drawing I did of it probably looked a lot more like Sting from WCW than it does now; there’s still a little bit of that, but it was an evolution over time. I would draw things, then I would take it into Photoshop and apply different things to it. Ultimately, it really started to come together when I sent different drawings of mine to some comic book artists that I knew and said, ‘Here’s what I think the character looks like, redraw this in a comic book way.’ I got some different stuff back and started looking at that… I see I can make this jacket a little bit bigger, add these wings on the shoulders, that kind of thing. When I put together and made the costume for the character for the music videos, it was just me sitting in a room with a sewing machine and glue and feathers, paint and blood. That was when I was really able to nail down exactly what I thought the look was.” It’s no secret that Andy’s a big Batman fan, naturally that influenced play into the character of The Blackbird. “Oh certainly. But I believe that the influence of Batman plays into literally every aesthetic choice I think I’ve made since I was three years old. There’s not a lot in my life than isn’t Batman adjacent in some way.”
Earlier in this interview, Andy mentioned “pseudo-religious parable”, and the religious aspect of The Phantom Tomorrow can be heard in the song, “Shadows Rise” when he sings: “I believe that I was born to make them see. Some praise the son and the holy belief, my God has given up on me.” Powerful lyrics conveying a sentiment shared by more than would care to admit. “I was raised Catholic, and religion has always fascinated me,” reveals Biersack. “I’ve always been interested in theism and studying historically what the significance of theism is. There are moments in my life where I feel connected to some sort of power, then there’s other moments in my life where I feel entirely non-theistic and atheist. Admittedly, I walk all around, as most people do if they’re honest. You have moments of doubt. Those moments of doubt are either times where you galvanize your faith, or if you’re like me, you kind of stray from whatever that faith is. I’ve always been fascinated by it, and it creeps into my writing quite a bit.”
But not in an abrasive way. Listeners certainly hear that, and take notice of it, yet there’s no missionary intent whatsoever. “No, because to me, one way or the other, it’s pretty inconsequential whether how I feel about the world is shared by somebody else. It’s not my job to try to evangelize, or the opposite, to somebody. If I want to write a song that is from a purely secular atheist perspective, that doesn’t mean that someone who is a Christian can’t listen to it and enjoy it. And inversely, that should be true. If I’m writing a song that is about struggling with the idea of faith or a god, someone who’s an ardent atheist doesn’t have to listen to it and think, ‘Wow, this guy’s trying to tell me what to do.’ It’s not really my job.”
“Crimson Skies” contains another notable lyric: “And they worship a liar.” That could be applied to politicians as well as religious leaders, so many people. “Absolutely, and it is meant to be all those things. That song was written during 2020 when everyone that I knew, made a part of their personality centered around someone else – somebody else’s ideology, someone else’s way that they saw the world. It became so much of the world was seen through the eyes of politicians or heroes or celebrities. Increasingly, I noticed a lack of personal accountability in a lot of people I knew. And I’m not saying I’m completely free of that, we all fall prey to that from time to time. But I found it interesting that so much of our culture became so centered around the opinions and ideas of people who have never met us, and in all likelihood don’t give a shit about our families or our lives.”
The term “Spolier Alert” isn’t necessary, seeing as the animated video for “Crimson Skies” came out in June, which was followed by the video for “Torch” in August, and it’s almost Halloween. In “Crimson Skies”, it appears as though The Blackbird dies. Then in “Torch”, viewers witness The Blackbird’s funeral – with a twist. Yet two questions still linger – was he really dead, and is he dead now as a result of the explosion? “I like to think of him like Michael Myers (from the Halloween movies), where you can never really be sure. The next thing we’ll be releasing video-wise is a live video from this tour for ‘Crimson Skies’. Cause we are a rock band that plays rock and roll shows; we want to be able to show that side of us. It’s fun to do the high concept stuff and play with the art of it, but sometimes it’s good to show kicking ass on stage.”
BVB is on the road in The United States until pretty much the end of November. As expected, the band will break for Christmas and New Year’s in December. But touring doesn’t resume until May 2022 in Australia, followed by Europe. Andy sheds some light on plans for the first four months of next year. “We’re working on it right now. We’ve got something pretty big planned. The truth of the matter is we are not sure whether we’ll be able to go overseas yet. Restrictions being what they are, we’ve not got the thumbs up, or the thumbs down, in terms of whether those tours will be able to happen as scheduled, or whether they’ll be postponed. In the interim, we do know we’re planning something for North America to fill that gap, and potentially beyond if we can’t go overseas. We’re going to keep touring. We’re excited to be out on the road. We plan to keep it going until it’s time for another record.” Seeing as The Phantom Tomorrow is a concept piece and such a visual entity, playing the album live in its entirety would certainly be an exciting proposal. “Yeah, absolutely! I think it would be a lot of fun if we could do it in a big, theatrical way. To bring a stage show that’s complimentary to the album would be really awesome.”
Looking back on everything involved with The Phantom Tomorrow, Andy shares a personal highlight. “I love the whole record, like anybody would who makes something like this; it’s incredibly important to you. But if there’s a highlight on the record for me, just because of how much time we took on the song and its creation, that would be the final song on the record, ‘Fall Eternal’. It’s everything that we wanted it to be. We worked really hard on it. We chipped away at it for weeks and weeks, added parts and tried different stuff; it was a real passion project for everybody in the band. We’re really happy with how that one turned out. We wanted to have that really dramatic end to the story, and it does it really well.”