[Photo by Jonathan Weiner]
After previewing the making of it a year ago in our special issue AP 343 (Feb. 2017), Black Veil Brides’ much-anticipated album VALE is released today. Similar to the allegories the band created on their 2013 release, Wretched And Divine: The Story Of The Wild Ones, VALE furthers BVB’s agenda to create the most sweeping, grandiose gestures, while giving something to kickstart the headbanging of melodic metalheads all over the world.
Produced by John Feldmann—and whipped into shape by guitarist Jake Pitts who was very hands-on for the engineering and production duties—VALE doesn’t stray from BVB’s masterplan. An entire blockbuster good vs. evil fantasy movie could be created from the widescreen “Dead Man Walking,” replete with tight guitar leads and guitarist Jinxx’s stentorian orchestral arranging skills. The power ballad “When They Call My Name” constructs the persona of a mighty hero with a psyche as fragile as bone china, and the furious “My Vow” is the album’s revved-up live-young-die-fast war cry. Fronting all of this is vocalist Andy Biersack, whose vocal prowess never takes a break from engaging listeners. Biersack is never afraid to go over the top, and his vocal personas radiate from proud rebel, wounded hero and that guy who peels you up off the ground after life has beaten the hell out of you.
Jason Pettigrew spoke with Biersack prior to BVB’s performance in Denver last night (Jan. 11). He was candid about his art, his attitude toward it and how his obligations to fans are much different than the demands and expectations of critics. Biersack still is philosophically wiser than most people twice his age with a charisma quotient three times as bright. Neither hard guy or doormat, proselytizer or pundit, he takes what he does very, very seriously.
I was surprised that VALE sounds the way that it does. I’m not even being condescending: The last time we spoke, you felt very passionate about the state of the country. I thought the angst and rage you were feeling were going to manifest into something more vicious sounding. Your intentions remain on point, but I expected something less nuanced and melodic to mirror the frustration you were feeling.
ANDY BIERSACK: I think [the record is] an accurate description of how I handle things artistically. Anytime I’ve had any real struggle in my life that I’ve been involved in, whether it’s a more personal or societal thing, I tend to want to write a story about it. Wretched And Divine was a response to that feeling of being a schtick band that for five-and-a-half years, people considered an afterthought, as well as the amount of criticism that we faced. That faded into this weird, dreamy, ethereal concept record. My emotional stimulus to societal issues is to write a story, something that is a bit more narrative-driven and not so punch-you-in-the-head. It’s probably a reflection of my personality, anyway. Unless I’m inebriated, I’m not really yelling at people. [Laughs.] To me, a song like “Dead Man Walking” is very aggressive, but it’s more about content and less about the guitar crunch.
I think an alternate title for the album would be Battle Hymns.
[Laughs.] It’s our new genre! “Hey, what do Black Veil Brides sound like?”
You did say VALE would have that allegory of the Wild Ones from Wretched, but with the political state of the country, I thought it would be framed with a stronger warning of “Hey people, shit got real.”
“The Outsider” is about the fear some people have of losing their guns and their rights and the kinds of things that dictate elections. “Wake Up” is a very clear message in terms of the split and divisive nature of the previous election and the lack of any kind of united feeling as people. It’s pretty well-documented that people don’t often vote in their best interests; they kind of vote for a concept or an idea or a team. To me, I don’t think a song needs to be the most heavy and aggressive way to deliver that message. I also think that the band traditionally have been a hard rock band, and the songs we’ve had the most fun playing live are the ones that have that mega-sweeping chorus that’s kind of our trademark. It’s very hard for the five of us to write songs that don’t end up there. We didn’t want to hit people over the head with it.
I don’t want to write songs that make people feel alienated from the connection they’ve had with the band. But I also don’t want to sit back and not say anything.
It’s all about how you want to further an agenda. Hard rock and metal have always had those tropes of “us vs. them” underdog status and “we have the power to take it all back” inspiration…
But it’s not just heavy metal. Most angsty pop music—whether it’s rock ’n’ roll in its early beginnings or hip-hop—has that feeling of rebellion…
Sure. It’s all part of tribalism. But VALE is very subtle in its delivery.
I’m 27 years old, and it’s been a long time since I was a guy in high school getting shoved into a locker. At some point, you have to stop writing about other people’s experiences because you had them previously. I’m not going to say that so many bands are disingenuous. It just felt for me that it would be disingenuous to write about the experiences of a 19 year old as a 27 year old. The problems I face in my life now, while many are the same emotionally, on a daily basis, I’m not dealing with the drudgery of being a different kid in a normal world.
What I do have are those feelings of rebellion and angst and wanting to get out from under my station and reach for something greater; those things still exist in me, constantly. The hope is that when I write a song about being disenfranchised or getting out of what you’re dealing with, that’s coming from a place of me being someone who struggles with anxiety every day trying to mitigate any kinds of pains and anxieties I may have [by] creation. You have to find a way of doing that which doesn’t feel like writing a love letter to the lonely, but rather trying to empower them, and it doesn’t make you feel like you are insulting their intelligence.
All you can do is create the art and see what the response is. So straight up then, what do you want people to take away from VALE?
I just want them to like it. I think when I was younger, I wanted to dictate how an audience would enjoy something. When you make a concept record when you’re 20 years old, you’re completely certain that everyone is going to hear all of the ideas and they’ll totally get it. And then you’re like, “Oh fuck, they didn’t. What’s wrong with them?” It’s not about that. Once you make the record and it’s out there, it’s up to the listener how they feel about it. Really, it’s a pretty indulgent thing for a songwriter to think, “No, this is how you should hear this…” I just want people to enjoy it. And if they don’t, I apologize. I did my best.
I don’t think it’s my job to inspire someone to do different tasks. It’s my job to inspire people to have a good enough feeling about themselves that they may want to better themselves. When I write a rock song, it’s escapism, an opportunity to give people a feeling that the drudgery that [they] deal with every day doesn’t matter as much. And maybe that puts them in a position to think, “I’m going to do something I’ve never done before because I feel great.” I think that’s my job: To inspire in a way that I know how you should live your life.
I’ve never written a song that specifically said in the lyrics, “stop self-harming.” But I have for the last decade—and I will again today—meet 10, 20, 30 people a day on the road who will bring us letters, show us scars and say that our music has unequivocally stopped them from doing that. Who am I to do that? I’ve never self-harmed. All I can do is write about the perspective I have. Thank God that our music and the music of other bands in our world has inspired people to put down negative behaviors. That is the best thing to come out of this—to write a song that would make people turn away from darkness. Alt