Like a phoenix from the ashes, Andy Black broke out of his shell as the lead vocalist of Black Veil Brides to become a successful solo artist. Now, he’s fresh off the release of his second solo album, “The Ghost of Ohio” and has proven he’s not a one-trick pony. We sat down with Black at our New York headquarters to learn more about his new music, as well as his impressive collection of tattoos.
Your newest album pays homage to your home state of Ohio. What about Ohio has made such a lasting impression on you personally and as a musician?
I think if you’re from a small place, it sounds almost cliche to say, but those things become ingrained in you. There’s a mentality, both positive and negative, from being in a place where people are born and die in the same five-mile radius. Everyone they know is everyone they’ve known for their whole life. People’s lives tend to be at a slower pace and other things that could be negatives, but it’s also easy to romanticize them for a person that’s from those areas. This is one way to live life and it’s not necessarily the path that I took, but I have such an affinity for the reality of the town that I’m from. I think it’s built something in me that I wasn’t necessarily aware of when I was a kid. A lot of who I am is shaped by where I’m from, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that more and more. It was important for me to write about this because sometimes as an artist, you build a version of yourself that you’d like the world to see and sometimes it can overtake the reality of who you are. And for a long time, I felt that I was putting out a version of myself that was still true to me, but it was more of a pose. I wanted to be more honest about my upbringing and from an ethical standpoint, what shaped my moral compass.
In the 13 years that you’ve been in the music industry, you’ve gone by many names. Take us through your different stage names and where you were in life when you went by each of them.
My first stage name was an accident. I didn’t ever intend on being called Andy Sixx. Like many people in their mid- to late twenties, the first social media that I was ever involved in was Myspace. I didn’t know that if you called yourself something on one of those sites, it would become your name. To me it was like a screen name, we had AOL instant messenger and you could change your name all the time. I went by like 30 different names on Myspace. I used Andy Sixx as one of my screen names because I loved Mötley Crüe and somebody told me that I looked a little bit like Nikki. Then people started calling me that and it kind of snowballed. I realized ‘Oh crap, I have someone else’s stage name as my name.’ It felt bizarre and by the time we did the first Black Veil Brides record, I had made sure the name was changed to the number six. And then by the time we did the second record, I established it as my own last name (Biersack). For a while, it was kind of confusing because people would call me both and you can tell when someone got into the band by what name they call me. Then later, when I did the solo project, I wanted to differentiate it from everything else. So having a different name felt like the right thing to do.
From the beginning of BVB, bullying has played an important role in your What personal significance does bullying have to you and what message do you hope to send to your fans about it?
I think my perspective on bullying comes from growing up and being the subject of people’s ire. But, by the same token, as a kid I took that and let it create a sense of revenge in me that I’m not fully comfortable with now. I lashed out a lot more as a high school kid because of people’s treatment of me that I almost became a bully in my own right. I would engage in fights because I wanted to defend myself and I had such a chip on my shoulder that I carried into the early part of the band. I was notably starting fights on stage and yelling at people — a lot of that came from feeling that it was unjust that people were treating me this way or saying things about me. When I wrote, I wanted to convey that message but in a way that was more positive than I was capable of being. Even in the early days, I wrote about standing above these things and not reacting to them. And then I would go out and do them wrong, even though I’d written the song. It was about building up an opportunity to be a better version of who I was.
In many of your music videos, nonconformity plays a major role. What did it mean to be nonconforming when you began your career in 2006 and how has that changed in 2019?
I remember when there were so many visual signals that you could give to show the things you liked and listened to. It was funny because jeans, like the ones I’m wearing, or Converse were almost like a flag that you wore to say ‘I listen to punk music.’ Now it’s really ubiquitous and it’s probably cooler this way that there doesn’t have to be so much division in terms of genre or people wearing certain clothes. Sometimes people get frustrated when hip-hop artists wear metal shirts and I think it’s the dumbest thing. Because to me, if art, whether it’s tattoos or clothing, is so common and can reach everywhere, it only stands to help every one of those subgenres.I will say that it’s weird with tattoos, how commonplace they are. I started getting tattooed when I was 16 and it was still an aggressive statement in a way. In high school, people would be uncomfortable because I had a bunch of tattoos. Now, I was literally just in an elevator at my hotel this morning and the bellman goes ‘Sick ink,’ and started talking to me about my neck tattoos. I don’t dislike it, but it’s such a change for me in the last 10 years how acceptable tattoos have become.
In 2014, you announced to Kerrang! Magazine that you would be pursuing a solo career. Five years later, you’re about to release your second album as Andy Black. How have you changed as a musician in this time?
Well, I hope I’ve gotten better. That’s always the hope, that whether people like a new record more than an old one, the goal of every artist is to improve your craft. I think that a lot of times artists are better songwriters and musicians, but their early work speaks more to people. My goal with this has been to give people another style of music because it isn’t my goal to constantly try to make the same record over and over again. I feel that would be boring and I’d be missing the point of the opportunity I’ve been given. People allow me to make records and a certain number of people want to hear them, why not do everything in the window of time when people give a shit?
What’s the biggest difference being a solo artist, as opposed to part of a group? What do you miss the most about BVB?
It’s a very different experience. When I started Black Veil Brides, it was essentially a revolving door of people back in Cincinnati. It wasn’t until 2009 that I was living full-time in LA and met the members that we turned it into a band. We split everything evenly and would make the same amount of money. I’d experienced two versions of being in a band, where it’s a band with me and people, and then the version of the band where five people have the same goal. It’s certainly a whole different animal for me to go solo and it’s essentially just my project. I certainly respect the musicians that I’ve hired to play with me, but it’s not a band. We can have fun and jam, but it’s not the same thing. I would say that the biggest difference for me is being able to go on tour and be able to do whatever I want on stage. Selfishly, I think it’s a lot of fun to do that. But there are certain things about being in a band that you can’t really replace. The feeling of, particularly when you’re first starting out, that you’re in this together and all have this common goal. But at this point in my career, I don’t think that I have a preference. I can enjoy them both for different reasons.
As this is INKED, we’re here in part to talk about your tattoos. What was your first tattoo, your favorite tattoo, and your most recent tattoo?
My first tattoo was the Alkaline Trio logo with the skull on it. I got that when I was in high school and my dad signed the waiver for me to be able to get a tattoo when I was 16. And then my favorite and most recent tattoo are the same. For Valentine’s Day of last year, I got a comic book-style portrait of my wife as Sailor Moon on my arm. This girl in Eastern Europe did this amazing portrait of her as Sailor Moon because that’s her favorite fictional character. I thought that was the coolest thing and I had the girl send in a high resolution photo of it. A week before Valentine’s Day, I was in Baltimore and this tattoo artist that my security guard knew came and did it in my hotel room. I had to keep it a secret and because I’m on stage every night, I started wearing a big, black arm band to cover it up. It was getting pretty gross underneath that but I couldn’t have any photos taken with it because I wanted to surprise her. It was not the way you should treat a new tattoo but I had no choice and it actually healed amazingly.
What is your most memorable tattoo experience from your time on the road?
Oh my God, I got tattooed on the road so much. I have so many silly tattoos that I got on the road, like 9/10ths of the ones I got are something dumb. I have “FP” tattooed on my knuckles to represent what we thought my genitalia looked like in leather pants. My tour manager and I used to call it front poop because it kind of looked like a big pile of dog shit. So we would do front poop checks before I went on stage because I’m not interested in the eighties hair metal guy showing off his junk, I thought it was inappropriate. The silliest tour tattoo I have is the sentence, ‘Guns are for soldiers,’ on my back. And it sounds like a cool statement but in reality it came from watching the third direct-to-video “Lost Boys” sequel. In the film, they go close into Corey Feldman’s face and he says ‘Boats are for sailors, guns are for soldiers.’ We laughed so hard and my friend Jessie who tours with us was like, ‘We should get that tattooed,’ and we did. I was somehow able to convince him that we each get half of the sentence and he has the words ‘Boats are for sailors’ tattooed on his back.