May 31, 2019 Interview – Andy Black
You know Andy Black, but do you know Andy Biersack? As the lead vocalist of the hugely popular Rock band Black Veil Brides, he has released five albums over 13 years—including 2018’s Vale. Meanwhile, in 2016, he opted to stretch his creative wings and step outside of the confines of the genre that made him famous. His first solo venture, The Shadow Side, proved to be a new beginning for the singer, songwriter, and pianist, one that has allowed him to soar to new heights, musically speaking.
Recently, he delivered his second solo offering, The Ghost of Ohio, an often autobiographical collection that serves as a companion piece to another of Black’s myriad of artistic projects, a graphic novel by the same name. Collaborating with Z2 Comics, he has authored a superhero slash ghost story that travels through the annals of American history to champion the underdog and fall happily on the side of what’s right.
So, how does a boy from Ohio cull together an album and a comic that work as a cohesive unit and yet also stand perfectly on their own? Black recently sat down to allow us to pick his brain about both facets of The Ghost of Ohio, history, being a lost soul, and much, much more.
Cryptic Rock – What inspired the idea to release an album and a comic book simultaneously?
Andy Black – Well, quite honestly, just the timing. I had written a song in the studio that was called “Ghost of Ohio.” Two days later I went home and I was just sitting in my kitchen, and I started sketching something—this thing that was kind of essentially a pirate-looking, kind of Punk Rock Adam Ant-looking character. He was digging a grave in the rain, and I just wrote ‘The Ghost of Ohio’ over it. I went, “Oh shoot, that sounds interesting!”
So, I showed my wife and I was like, “Hey, look at this thing. What do you think of this? Should I keep doing this?” She was like, “That’s awesome!” Maybe this is what the record is and this will be the story that I write.
We have these white wooden planks that are sitting in our utility closet downstairs. I took out a bunch of paints and I painted this famous monster, this Misfits-looking The Ghost of Ohio cover. The character was similar to how you see him, but it was admittedly a bit Tim Burton-looking.
Maybe two days after that I got a call from a buddy of mine who was working with the Z2 Comics company, and they said, “Hey, would you be interested in doing a comic book, and do you have any ideas?” I kind of just laughed and said, “Well that’s serendipitous!” In that, I had literally just developed this whole character and I had written a synopsis for what the character would be. Essentially, we got on two or three phone calls after that and we were off to the races. We found a creative team for it, and I gave them all of my story notes. They took the ball and ran with it, and it became a collaboration from that point forward.
That happened while I was recording a record. So it was just kind of a thing where we said, “Well, let’s just put these things out together.”
Cryptic Rock – That is quite serendipitous, that’s the perfect word for it. In the future, would you ever consider doing another comic but doing all the drawing yourself?
Andy Black – You know, I don’t have any experience with that. I feel like one of the things that would be the biggest difficulty for me would just be the timeline; I’ve never done art at that great of a speed and with that much output. What Eryk was able to do with the time frame that we had for this thing was just incredible to me; it’s a skill that I don’t possess. You know, maybe one day I’d be able to if someone gave me a year to finish it.
Cryptic Rock – That could be an intriguing project for the future, though. However, let’s talk more about the comic’s actual story and the character, The Ghost of Ohio, who is very much a champion of the underdogs. Are there parallels between him and yourself?
Andy Black – One of the goals was to create a character that was rooted in my own experience but not me. I felt like it’s a little too self-indulgent to say, “Here’s me as a superhero.” Not to say that that hasn’t worked before with Alice Cooper or what have you. I wanted to create a character that was influenced by my experiences, but not necessarily me. This is an amalgam of twenty different thoughts and ideas that I’ve had throughout my life, and things that I’ve experienced on a daily basis.
Cryptic Rock – It’s interesting and he is a unique character. In effect, you’ve written something that is part ghost story and part superhero tale. So, do you believe in ghosts?
Andy Black – I don’t know. That’s usually my answer for most things: it’s just to let you know that I don’t know. Things like the afterlife and everything else—I just don’t know and if I did I would tell you.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, let’s rephrase that: do you believe in the possibility of ghosts?
Andy Black – If you ask me from a logical standpoint, no, but not everything is logical. So, just, I don’t know. I’ve had things happen that I thought were really scary, but I’m usually able to explain them away logically. Anything I wasn’t, I just go, “Well, maybe something weird happened. I don’t know.”
Cryptic Rock – Fair enough. Aside from a ghost, the story involves quite a bit of American history. Are you into American history?
Andy Black – I’m into essentially all old, creepy things. I love reading about choices that were made, historically, that are bizarre. I love folklore. I love the historical aspects and many of the elements.
Obviously we have things that are socially relevant in the time frames they are put in, whether it’s using electricity as a weapon or the issues with openly dealing with racism, things like that. That’s not to say that there’s not racism now, but the characters that we are using are dealing with things that socially, at the time, were unfortunately almost acceptable. That’s why it was important that we put this character in the context of someone who wanted to be on the right side of history; to help people who needed the help.
I’ve always been interested in the past. At the risk of sounding too cheesy, obviously the past shapes where we are now.
Cryptic Rock – That is not cheesy and very true. But to switch to speaking about the album, one of its strengths is the fact that it’s not merely a soundtrack—it stands proudly on its own. Was it difficult to find that balance of accompanying the written tale but also being an entity unto itself?
Andy Black – Because things were being done kind of concurrently, I don’t know that there was much thought of one being able to stand on its own over the other. It was more—these things are their own entities, but they share a theme and a name. When I was writing the record it wasn’t about the character so much as my own experiences and how to, potentially, build a soundtrack that was influenced by the creation of the character. The pressure wasn’t necessarily on me, it felt more like it was a companion piece.
Cryptic Rock – You found that balance perfectly. Now, you mentioned that there’s a shared theme throughout both the album and the comic, and that seems to be that of redemption. Is that something that is personal to you at this point in your life?
Andy Black – My motivating factor from the time I was like six-years-old was revenge. I loved revenge: I loved the idea of all of these people who fucked me over and treated me poorly for being different getting to see that they were wrong. As I got older I realized that, realistically, in life you don’t really get those revenge moments—you maybe get five of ‘em in your entire life.
By and large, those things don’t really come the way that you think they’re going to. You want fame and success if you’re someone who’s different: you want it so that you can show the people who treated you like shit that they were wrong—and that’s a really crappy reason to want something. I think most of the time as we get older and we achieve things, those motivating reasons that you thought you had, of revenge and getting back at people who screwed you over, those things can only go for so long. Then you either choose to become lonely and sad and without purpose, or you find your purpose—which is to regain yourself and regain the joy in life.
That has really been my biggest motivating factor: to find who I am. I think over the last four or so years, I’ve really made a concerted effort to discover myself in that capacity—and I’m a much happier person for it. So, the feeling of redemption and regaining myself and the quote-unquote direction of my soul and who I am inherently, that’s the most important thing.
Cryptic Rock – It definitely seems fairly normal to want revenge in our twenties, but as we move towards our thirties that shifts and we begin to search for something much more. But that’s neither here nor there, so let’s discuss some of the songs. “The Promise” shows a man trapped between the youthful memories of his hometown and the promise of hope offered by the big city. It’s bittersweet. This kind of ties back into what we just discussed, but have you made peace with Ohio and your youth?
Andy Black – I just think it’s a different experience than it used to be. When I was a kid, you go, “Oh fuck, I’ve gotta get out of here and I want to do my shit. I’ve gotta be a big star”—all this stuff that you want. You ultimately vilify the place that you spent the most time, because that’s the place you haven’t achieved those things in. All of us have a complicated relationship with where we’re from, whether it’s the big city or a small town, because all the good stuff that happened in your childhood happened there, and all the bad stuff in your childhood happened there. I think I’ve come to terms with growing up where I did, and feeling comfortable in it and with who I am.
Cryptic Rock – It’s definitely part of growing as a person to be able to embrace the good and the bad of our youth and our hometown. Now, on the album, “Know One” and “Feast or Famine” feel the closest to your previous solo release. What went into the writing of each song, and did you intend for them to be somewhat like ‘gateway’ tracks?
Andy Black – I think “Feast or Famine” and “The Martyr” are probably the most similar to The Shadow Side, personally—at least in terms of the mix and the way that it was written and everything. I don’t know that it was a conscious effort to say, “These songs will be like the last ones,” but in any writer’s life you have things that are bridges to the next piece of work. If you have any understanding of who you are, I think you kind of go, “Okay, this will be kind of the bridge to the next piece.” So I would say the answer would be that you’re not wrong in saying that, they certainly fill the gap.
Cryptic Rock – “Soul Like Me” is a fully infectious anthem for those that feel like lost souls. We’ve already kind of covered this, but do you feel like a lost soul?
Andy Black – From the time I was little, I just knew that I was a little different from the other people around me. I think a lot of us have those experiences where you feel isolated, not because you are but because you foresee yourself to be. A lot of us find later in life, we find a lot of people that are like us—but some of us never really do. To me, I’ve spent most of my life just feeling like I was very close to being like everyone, but just never really quite there. In the capacity that the Ghost is telling his story, he’s looking for someone to talk to, to hang out with, and sometimes that is easier said than done.
Cryptic Rock – Because of that, there’s a definite relatability for many people to both the Ghost and “Soul Like Me.” Which leads us to “The Martyr,” where it seems like you are hoping to inspire your listeners but, in a way, also reminding yourself to put Andy first. That said, do you ever feel like a martyr to your career?
Andy Black – You can make yourself that way by taking certain elements of what you’re told about yourself and your career and turning it into something where you feel like you’re so affected. In some cases, and this is not to disparage anyone else, artists get lost in the feeling that they are affected by their audience, because their audience has expectations of them that are unrealistic.
If you know who you are, I feel like you can deal with the unrealistic expectations or the negativity, or whatever else, and try to see things for the positive. At this point in my life, I’ve certainly existed in a universe where I was upset by the things people would say and the expectations that were put on me, but anymore I think I know who I am. If people don’t see eye to eye with that, then that’s really their choice. All I can do is just try to be a good person for myself and others, and entertain people the best I can.
Cryptic Rock – That’s very true and not just for entertainers. Last question. At Cryptic Rock, we cover music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. We interviewed you quite a few years back, and you had stated that you are a fan of Horror. Have you seen any good films in the genre recently?
Andy Black – Actually, the real truth is that, no, I’ve been on tour and I’m not watching anything. My wife is obsessed with Horror movies, so she’s got a whole queue built for us to watch when I get home. So, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a new movie, but I swear to god when I get home it’s going to be on! I think Mandy (2018) was the last one I watched before I left for tour.
Cryptic Rock – Did you like Mandy?
Andy Black – I did, quite a bit.
Here’s the thing: my expectations for it were, “This is going to be ultra-weird and lack a plot, but I hope that the visuals are good. And I hope that it is an enjoyable watch for a couple of hours.” I went into it that way, so I wouldn’t put it in my favorites by any means, but I thought it was good. I thought it was interesting and visually stunning. I could have done without the naked guy standing in front of the camera for way too long. Ugh. I got that they wanted to make the audience uncomfortable, but it really felt like, “This is going on for a really long time.”