It began simply enough — a gothic vision first summoned in a small town by an isolated kid fascinated with death, rock, theatricality, and monsters (both real and imagined). Over the past decade and a half, Black Veil Brides sprung from the creative ether and established itself as a heavy metal institution with a worldwide presence. In the hearts and minds of their dedicated fanbase, Black Veil Brides (and its members Andy Biersack, Jake Pitts, Jinxx, Lonny Eagleton, Christian Coma) represent an unwillingness to compromise and a resistance to critics (personal and professional), fueled by the same fire as the group’s heroes, the iconoclasts whose creative output, once dismissed, is now canonized. Over the course of their career, Black Veil Brides never shied away from taking risks and weathered their fair share of storms. Through it all, Black Veil Brides frontman Andy Beirsack continued to fearlessly chart the band’s course through the ever-turbulent waters of the music industry.
In Fall 2021, the latest and most exhilarating chapter in the band’s ever-evolving story arrived with “The Phantom Tomorrow.” Their ambitious sixth album finds the band pushing their music forward without sacrificing their beloved signature sound. Built around a thematically rich and captivating story, the brainchild of Andy Biersack, the album combines imaginative world-building with undeniable riffs and anthemic songwriting. Recorded in Los Angeles, with producer Erik Ron (Godsmack, Bush, Dance Gavin Dance), “The Phantom Tomorrow” ushers in a glorious new chapter in the band’s storied career and serves as an incredible foundation for the future that lies ahead.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Andy Biersack to discuss “The Phantom Tomorrow.” In the interview, Andy offers insight into his creative process, his evolution as an artist and the lessons learned along the way.
Since the moment I first crossed paths with you, I don’t think I’ve seen you take your foot off the gas when it comes to the art you create. How did you end up with such a strong work ethic and creative drive? Was it something you worked to develop or an attribute you were born with?
Growing up, my dad was always an influence on me working hard. I played sports growing up. As I’ve gotten older, we’ve had conversations and he thinks he may have been a little too hard on me. Maybe in ways he was but he always pushed me to be really good at stuff. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it well. If you’re going to play hockey, be the best player on your team. If you’re going to play baseball, hit the ball the farthest. If you’re going to play football, be the best you can be. All of those things, as a really young kid, led to me saying, “If I’m going to do something, I’m not just going to kinda do it. I’m going to put every part of myself into this and make it worthwhile.” Even as a kid learning to play bass or singing in my room, I would go to my dad and ask, “How does that sound?” He would be honest with me. I believe that was a huge motivating factor for me to not just accept mediocrity but to push myself always.
What lessons did you learn early on that continue to impact the way you approach your career?
When you’re as young as I was when I first started, so much of what you are is piecing together a personality based on things you see, heroes that you have, or the way you’d like to see yourself in the world. The thing that I’ve been fortunate enough to have is that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown into the person I’m most comfortable being, while still having all the lessons I’ve had from being on the road. Lessons such as learning the responsibility that it is to have an audience and people that are looking to you as an inspiration, as well as learning how lucky and fortunate you are to get the opportunity to do this for a living. I would say that the most informative thing is knowing that I’ve had a huge impact on other people’s lives. To me that means that I’m not willing to give up on anything because I know what I do has a level of importance to people. I don’t mean to have that sound as self-serving as it might sound. I mean it more in that I have great respect for the opportunity that I’ve been given.
That is an amazingly levelheaded way to look at things. It also speaks to your authenticity as an artist and the opportunities that have come your way. What are the keys to longevity when it comes to what you do as an artist?
It’s going to sound really simple but I think it’s really caring about what you’re doing. I think people can get complacent when they start to feel like they’ve already climbed the mountain and want to keep the status quo. The truth of the matter is that everything we do is fleeting. The audience or public’s interest can be fickle. If you’re not delivering something that’s worthwhile, then why should they dedicate their time and money to what you are doing? So, I would say the biggest thing is giving a shit and making sure what you are doing matters. Even if not everyone loves it, you’ve put your whole self into it so that somebody knows it’s genuine and you’re not being disingenuous just to make a dollar.
How difficult a process was it for you to put yourself out there in that capacity early on?
I think it’s an ever-evolving journey for everybody. I don’t think there is a time where you ever feel totally comfortable. Somedays you ask yourself, “Am I any good at this?” [laughs] Or you might think, “Is anybody hearing this?” I don’t mean this to sound as melodramatic as it’s going too. Just two days ago, I was exhausted. I’m fuckin’ dead. We did 17 shows in 18 days. I was feeling rundown. Someone sent me a video that a kid had posted online about their experience with us and all the stuff they had gone through in their life. They mentioned how something I had said and done, privately and not looking for any adulation, had given them some hope and how much it meant to them. The combination of the exhaustion and feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing, coupled with hearing this very genuine thing, honestly brought me to tears — just knowing that what we do has an impact. I think that anyone who says they have it all figured out is lying. There is just no way to!
Black Veil Brides just unleashed “The Phantom Tomorrow.” Tell us about the spark that lit the fuse on this amazing concept album.
I was interested in the idea of heroes. I obviously grew up as a comic book fan and I’ve always been interested in origin stories. Something I had never seen represented, but I was interested in, was taking someone who was not virtuous and is inherently flawed and forcing heroics upon them. It’s the idea of a guy who is an asshole in life and, basically, his penance is to be a savior and the emotional conflicts that come from that. That was the jumping off point. As time progressed, and as the social and political changes in the year we were living in unfolded, I started to think more about heroes in general. I began to look more closely at what we do to heroes and how we feel about them. I always think about being in England a few years ago. I don’t know if you remember Susan Boyle but she was a singer on “Britain’s Got Talent.” She was an older lady who didn’t look like a pop star but she got on the show and she sang beautifully. She was a huge story for a year or more. I remember being in England for the first time, going into a supermarket and seeing a National Enquirer type magazine with the headline “All the sorted details of Susan Boyle’s secret life!” I remember thinking, “Wow! It was so quick that we picked this person up and their life was changed and now, as a society, we feel like we have to completely destroy it and tear the whole thing down.” It’s inherent within us; this idea of hero worship, creation and removal. I like the idea of specifically writing about this kind of obsession we have with other people being avatars for us and our feelings and ideas. Political people for example; a politician has never met you or your family but you have a flag with their name out in front of your house and you wear their hat and everything about them is you. It’s a bizarre thing that I think a lot of people fall prey to. All of us have heroes. I wear a Cincinnati Bengals jersey every Sunday with a player that I’ve never met’s name and number on the back. There is this thing about us that we want to have these avatars to represent us in places we can’t go, to serve as dreams that we have that were unachieved, or as ideas that we wish we had had for ourselves. I wanted to write about what we do to those characters that we create and how inherently flawed the idea of hero worship is.
With that said, this album has a lot of moving parts and is very ambitious. How does mapping this endeavor out compare to records you’ve done in the past?
You have to be a little more conscious of the moments that you are getting within the songs tonally. You’ve got to say, “OK, we have to be able to represent this part of the story, so let’s make sure this song feels a certain way.” When we did “Wretched and Divine,” there were a lot of constraints on things. I feel it made a great record but I also feel that it made a much less fun creative process. With this one, because we had the time, I wanted us to write and write and write. I figured that if we did that, we would be able to get everything we needed just because we were all familiar with the story and we knew what we were trying to get. That way it didn’t have to be in chronological order but, eventually, we got every beat we wanted to get naturally.
In many ways, “The Phantom Tomorrow” showcases what the band does so well but also steps up your game and gives a glimpse of the band’s future. Was the sound and direction something you planned or did it come more organically?
I think it was more organic in the sense that we were just writing as a band and with our producer and developing sonically what we were going to do day to day. I think that there is certainly always a level of wanting to move in a certain direction but it wasn’t like we had lunch and said, “Let’s make a record that’s more commercial!” Or, “Let’s make a record that’s more heavy!” A lot of that just comes from the day to day feeling. Whether you want to write a song like “Crimson Skies,” which is a ripper, or you want to write a song like “Fall Eternal,” where it’s got a minute-and-a-half cinematic soundscape in the middle of it, those are the things that come naturally. We’ve been doing this for awhile, so we really know each other’s styles.
Black Veil Brides is firing on all cylinders these days and you all formed a deep artistic bond. What do these guys bring out in you creatively?
I think when you are in a good place, as a brotherhood or whatever you want to call it, it lends itself to a more fun and open creative place. You are enjoying each other’s company and laughing about stuff. You feel comfortable so you’re more inclined to say, “Hey, what about this crazy thing I just thought of?” Things like that lend themselves better to that kind of environment. If things are tense, it’s a hell of a lot harder to come up with anything interesting because you are guarded in the way that you are communicating with people. I think a lot of it comes down to the renewed positivity within us that has allowed us to be able to create on a more prolific level. We’ve certainly been writing a lot more. Even when we got done with this record, we started working right away on even more songs.
Each one of these guys left their mark on “The Phantom Tomorrow.”
Absolutely and I think that’s what makes it good! When a record falls to only one person’s interest, it no longer is the band that people enjoy. I think it takes all of those elements for a record to be what it is and for a really good record you need everybody to show up and bring their A-game! I think unequivocally, whether someone enjoys it or not, it would be hard to deny that every member of this band was present and trying their hardest.
You mentioned your producer Erik Ron. What did he bring to the table for a project like this?
So much! We’ve been really lucky to work with some incredible producers. A consistent thing with all of them is that they brought an element to the band that we didn’t have or that we needed. Whether that’s Bob Rock or John Feldman, having that extra piece that really brings it all together has been paramount. Erik was really the glue that made it all happen. This record couldn’t have happened without him; these songs wouldn’t be the way they are without him.
You’ve lived with these songs for a while now. Now that you’re out playing live again, which of the new tracks surprised you the most in terms of crowd reaction?
I would say that I’m actually surprised how well “Torch” does live. Ya know, it’s a slower tempo song with a more low key chorus but people have just gone off every night when we’ve played that one. I expected “Crimson Skies” and “Scarlett Cross” to do well but I’m really surprised, playing “Torch,” just how great the audience reaction has been!
What are the standout moments when you think back on the making of the album?
Quite honestly, it was day one. Day one is when we wrote “Scarlett Cross.” It came together so quickly. The relationship of gelling with Eric was a big part of it. There was small talk for 25 minutes and then, all of a sudden, we’re writing this song! Jake has this riff. Jinxx has an idea. I have a title and some lyrics. I go outside with my pen and paper and I’ve got all the lyrics. I tell everybody and we go into the studio and get CC (aka Christian Coma) to track drums. By the end of that day we had a demo for that song. That really set the tone! I don’t love to subscribe to the idea of magic or whatever, but there was an intangible thing that was occurring in the course of making that song where we said, “OK. This is going to work! This combination of people together is going to result in something cool!”
“The Phantom Tomorrow” has come a long way since that initial idea. In fact, you’re also fleshing out the world even further in comic book form and there is even a Blackbird action figure. That’s got to be an incredibly satisfying feeling!
Absolutely! It’s fun for me to be able to speak a different language other than rock-guy-language. [laughs] So much of my life is talking about that kind of stuff, but then getting to speak to comic professionals and action figures makers is great because these are also things I know a lot about. I’m so excited to get to be on phone calls talking about those things. So much of this is dreams on top of dreams! To have a figure of a character I designed on a sketch pad in my kitchen is just incredible! It’s the coolest situation that can happen to someone who is a lifelong nerd! [laughs]
Speaking of the art involved with this record, the artwork for the album was created by Eliran Kantor, known for his work with Testament, Hatebreed, Havok, as well as yourself. Tell us about your experience working with this modern master.
One of the things about working with him is that it is a completely pleasant and unremarkable experience. By that I mean, working with artists can sometimes be a bit of a back and forth. You might ask for a change and that leads to a huge conversation about why it needs to be changed and all of that. He is someone who goes, “Oh yeah, that’s cool. I’ll do that.” Then he nails it and you’re like, “Well, I don’t have any notes!” [laughs] This guy just knows his stuff, he gets it and delivers the best fuckin’ thing! Maybe it comes back and you say, “Oh, can you make that one hair a little bit longer.” Then he does it and it’s done! It was a great experience.
What’s your creative process like in terms of logging your ideas as you start to bring a project to life?
For every album we’ve ever done, I have a notebook. I start it on the first day and I date every page. I write my lyrics in there, do my drawings and include all the stuff that surrounds it. I also keep notes on my phone, just like anybody else. I mean, if I’m in a hotel room like I am today and I happen to have an idea pop into my head, I will write it down. I think it was 2018 or 2019; I was laying in bed and just happened to have the phrase “The Phantom Tomorrow” pop into my head, so I wrote it down. I didn’t think anything more about it. Cut to two years later and I’m sitting there writing this story. I was like, “What is the title for this? I think I had an idea.” So, it all comes back around!
You mentioned already writing new material to further expand on the world you’ve built with this album. Any timeline on when we might see the next chapter?
Fairly soon! We’re just about done with Part Two, which will be kinda like an extended version of Part One. We have a handful of new songs that we’ve written for it. The idea is to show the other side of the coin and write some stuff from the villain’s perspective this time around!
How have you most evolved as a songwriter and storyteller over the past decade?
I think a lot of it comes down to being able to tell stories in a quicker and better way. When you first start writing lyrics, you’re sometimes trying to figure out how to tell a story and you can’t quite get it down. You are saying 100 things when five things would do the job. For me, I’ve really tried to make a concerted effort to get better at saying what I want to say in a way that’s more effective and works better in the context of the song. I think “The Phantom Tomorrow” has a lot of that.
You’re an artist with many irons in the fire. Is it difficult to maintain a balance?
I think it’s just an exhaustive effort at all times to try and constantly be doing something. Maybe it’s because of the issues I have to deal with mentally and my need to constantly have something to fill the voice of impending doom that I constantly feel! [laughs] I just like to make stuff and it makes me feel better. So, when I’m sad, I’ll make something and it keeps me from being sad. It’s a lifestyle I suppose.
I appreciate that you continue to push your creative boundaries. As you fill those voids, it’s resulting in so much great art for the rest of us to enjoy.
Thank you! That’s incredibly kind for you to say. I’ve been extremely lucky that I’ve gotten to do this for my entire adult life and people give me a chance to make cool shit. There really isn’t a more lucky situation I could have in life than to call this my career.
What is your biggest takeaway from making “The Phantom Tomorrow” and the period of time in which it was created?
I suppose the biggest realization I’ve had is how important this band is in my life. It’s not to say that I didn’t know that before, but it was so pivotal to the year. By that I mean, just being able to live within the context of this band, to know the impact of the band and to know how different my life is if it isn’t in my life and present every day. I’ve always known I’m synonymous with this and it’s been a part of my life since I was 16 years old but it gave me a new appreciation for how fortunate I am to have it in my life!
Thanks for your time today, Andy! Thanks for all the hard work you all put in to bring this album to life!
Thank you, Jason! Always a pleasure. Talk to you next time!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.