“Part of the reason I listened to Bruce Springsteen as a kid was not because I thought he was writing about me, but because he wrote about himself and I related to him.”
This is at the core of what Andy Black does. His job is to write honestly, without pandering to the perceived duty to inspire people – that would be disingenuous. The fact many can connect to the work he does is just history repeating itself in a sense; a music fan finding an affinity with someone laying it bare in song.
Debut album ’The Shadow Side’, his side-step from Black Veil Brides, is packed with these moments that make you feel ready to take on the world, wrapped up in a dark-pop parcel. Life can throw a lot at you, but you can overcome it; the world can’t keep you down.
“I think that when I’m writing, regardless of what I’m writing about, the feeling that I have is essentially [that mantra] at all times. That’s what music represented to me. I came from a town of about 2,000 people with one stop light and I was told that nothing I ever wanted to do, I would succeed in. I was a little chubby kid that no girls ever talked to, I had little chance of becoming an internationally known rock star. Music was my escape and my belief system. Whether I’m trying to or not, I have this inherent feeling that music is uplifting, it makes you feel victorious, and that makes you feel like you can take on the world.”
This manifests itself in many ways, and the gear shift from harder rock has allowed him to try something new. “One of the reasons for doing this is that I wanted to be a bit more, not honest, but a little bit more open,” he says. “I feel there is honesty in anything that anyone writes, but to be more open about context and giving people a more insight to how I feel about things.
“That just comes from the music. When you’re writing a hard rock song, the kind of passion just rides up inside – that’s just the nature of the music, what lends itself to what I do when it comes to Black Veil Brides. The more melancholic, or even the happier pop-based stuff on this record, emotionally, it just hits me in a certain way.
“Whether it is writing about ‘Beautiful Pain’, that is about the death of my friend Chris Holley, or even about my relationship with my girlfriend [now wife, fellow musician] Juliet Simms – writing about being in love for half a decade, the problems you may face, but the happiness that you ultimately find in a song like ‘Paint It Black’, it’s a very personal outlet.
“I think what’s interesting is that I played a few songs for my parents when I went home, and I didn’t talk to them about anything really. I just wanted them to hear it. One of the things that my mother said is, ‘Oh, you’re really opening up.’ I didn’t really think about that until she said it, and I suppose I am in many ways. I’m talking more directly about things involved in my life instead of shrouding them in metaphor.”
It became the perfect time to explore the kind of music that soundtracked his formative years and not just the realm he’d found himself in. “Part of what I discovered over the last couple of years is that if you asked me my top ten favourite records of all time, I wouldn’t put a single metal record in there. If you asked me when I was 15 years old what kind of bands I listened to, they were punk bands or goth bands or new wave bands, everything between Dropkick Murphys, Alkaline Trio, the Sisters of Mercy. I never owned an Anthrax record, I never owned a Megadeth record, I never owned a Slayer record – that was never anything that interested me when I was young.
“I got into that type of music because of meeting [Black Veil Brides bandmates] Jake and Jinxx and CC – they loved to play it. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we combined my love of melodic punk rock and new wave and put it in the context of this double kick guitar solo madness?’ But part of me always yearned to make a record that was like those influences. Over the years, I have felt a deep love for bands like Slayer and Pantera because I had found something that I really enjoyed in it. That’s why any music we make in Black Veil Brides, it’s not that I am being disingenuous, it’s that I discovered that music a little later in life.
“I’ve always wanted to make a record that when I was 15 years old, if you asked me what kind of record would you make when you are 25, this is the record I would have thought. In that way, the influences range mostly from things that were influencing me at my most formative stage – anywhere from Bruce Springsteen to Depeche Mode.”
Andy worked with an near-endless string of quality creators throughout the making of ‘The Shadow Side’. “One of the things about not having a band is that you don’t have a group of people to bounce ideas off of, and you don’t have guys to play all the instruments,” says Andy. There’s two ways to go: do it electronically and have someone play it as you wrote it, or bring in people to collaborate. He went for the latter.
“Having Travis Barker come in and play drums – part of the joy of it is I go, ‘Here’s the song, what would you do on it?’ and you have him do a take, and we go ‘maybe do it like this’, and that’s really how we do a lot of the instrumentation. Other people like Quinn Allman from The Used were intrinsically involved with the guitar writing. He would come in and start playing something and that would wind up being a song I’d write a melody over.
“Part of the fun of doing something this way is that although it can be an isolating situation when you’re doing something in a solo capacity, we had so many cool people around, it didn’t feel that way at all. It felt like having a new band to work with every day. The single ‘We Don’t Have To Dance’ came from working with Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. I had never met Patrick prior to that day; he came in and we both really hit it off and the single came from a conversation that we had about things we just mutually hated, and just kind of laughing about things. We just started writing things down and riffing it and it just came together.
“I had never done that before, where I just sat with someone I had a kindred spirit feeling with and just wrote in that way. Some of the songs, I would just sit down and try to get some stuff off my chest, and others that were about personal situations in my life that I don’t think I could have written in a collaborative way. But there’s others: the song ‘Louder Than Your Love’, I wrote with Gerard and Mikey Way and that song wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Gerard coming in and saying ‘I have this idea, let’s roll on this’. It’s all different, but what I guess is the surprising element, is how much fun I had doing it.”
The record has been sitting with Andy for a few months before release, and he’s had time to live with it, and feels perfect, in his own way, about everything on there. “Listening to this record, I feel this is the best representation of how my solo project is going to be, and I really think people are going to like it. You know, I tried my best and I’m really proud of it.” P
Andy Black’s album ‘The Shadow Side’ is out 6th May.