Andy Biersack has been musically ambitious from the start. The Delhi native posted classified ads in CityBeat when he was 16 to assemble the original version of his Gothic Metal outfit Black Veil Brides. After two years of local gigging — and just months from graduation at the School for Creative and Performing Arts — Biersack relocated to Los Angeles. There he lived in his car and worked relentlessly to revive Black Veil Brides, resulting in a new band, a record contract and a 2010 debut, We Stitch These Wounds, which topped Billboard’s Independent album chart.
Since then, Black Veil Brides has released four more albums, including last year’s Vale on Universal’s Republic Records, and promoted them with grueling tour schedules. A few years ago Biersack created his solo persona, Andy Black, and released 2016’s The Shadow Side, an homage to the darker Synth Pop of the 1980s.
“I try not to do anything half-assed,” says Biersack, freshly recovered from emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. “I really wanted to take it seriously. To do that, you have to perceive it as something legitimate. The reception that the (solo) record and tour got laid the groundwork for me to go, ‘This is sustainable as a supplementary piece in my career, something I can do on a consistent basis.’ ”
True to his nothing-half-assed philosophy, Biersack has gone to epic lengths for his sophomore solo set, the semi-autobiographical The Ghost of Ohio. The story’s original lead character was obsessed with the past and largely based on Biersack’s experiences of being told his Rock star ambitions were unrealistic. But the tale then veered heavily into supernatural territory.
The songs on The Ghost of Ohio detail a young man at the dawn of the 20th century, in love with a girl whose father belongs to, as Biersack describes it, “an ancient order of terrible people.” The father kills the young man, forcing his spirit to roam the earth searching for vengeance and release. Biersack researched haunted locations in his old West Side neighborhood, including the Dunham Recreation Center (which had been the site of a tuberculosis hospital), its attendant cemetery and an old church on U.S. Route 50 — the scene of a murder/suicide involving a priest and a young boy that is identified as one of the country’s most haunted locales.
All of this became grist for Biersack’s chilling ghost story, set in a fictional version of Cincinnati.
“He finds he can be an assistance to people who are being mistreated,” Biersack says of his lead character. “He goes through this 100-year journey, involved in the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage and he’s there in Cincinnati’s great flood. He’s not able to physically effect change, but he can inspire or help in ways. So it’s really about someone who wants to do good but can’t connect with people, which I think people like myself, who have social anxiety, feel all the time.”
To expand the album’s narrative, Biersack, renowned comic artist Eryk Donovan and writer Scott Tuft collaborated on a graphic novel version of The Ghost of Ohio; the album was released on April 12 and the graphic novel streeted five days later. Biersack had been vaguely developing his character’s graphic representation from his initial songs when he received an interesting opportunity.
“You know when you get home security and they give you those signs that say, ‘We’ve got home security. Don’t fuck around in here?’ ” Biersack asks. “We had (extra signs) in the kitchen and I turned one over and drew a picture of this Horror Punk character, and wrote ‘Ghost of Ohio’ over it and was like, ‘This is it.’”
Serendipitously, his friend Josh Bernstein, who works for online music magazine Loudwire, emailed Biersack two days later to tell him that graphic novel company Z2 Comics had expressed interest in collaborating with him.
“I said, ‘It’s funny you contacted me, because not only do I have some ideas, I have the idea I want to pursue,’ ” Biersack says. “The record was probably three or four songs at that time and I had a theme, but not the overarching idea. That’s when I started to focus my writing.”
The delineation between Black Veil Brides and Andy Black is obvious. Both entities are Biersack’s creative brainchildren, so their common root ensures that fans of one should theoretically be fans of both. But Biersack clarifies the stylistic differences separating his twin pursuits.
“Black Veil is a Hard Rock/Metal band, it’s aggressive and meant to be larger than life,” he says. “Andy Black shows are intentionally more intimate. Between songs, I’m not yelling, ‘How the fuck are you doing?’ It’s a conversation, I talk to the audience, I make jokes. I try to be as much of my true self as possible. That’s not to say the big, verbose version isn’t me — I’m just tapping into a different part of myself.”
The Ghost of Ohio’s current tour, featuring multi-instrumentalist Lonny Eagleton and Point North drummer Sage Weeber, offers intriguing production possibilities for the material, which will also include songs from The Shadow Side and covers that date back to Biersack’s earliest musical endeavors. The album/graphic novel’s themes are echoed in the stage atmosphere, which includes projection imagery from Biersack’s childhood (and Cincinnati in general), spectral lighting and, as Biersack notes, the “accouterment of the graveyard.”
With Black Veil Brides’ momentary hiatus and the interest surrounding Biersack’s solo venture, he’s fielded questions about BVB’s next steps — even its very existence. He dismisses speculation about the band’s nebulous future with a familiar conviction.
“People ask if the band is done. It’s kind of a ridiculous question,” Biersack says. “Black Veil Brides has been part of my life since I was a child, it’s almost like oxygen to me. My name’s Andy — I know those sounds (in the name) represent me, but if a character on a television show is named Andy, I don’t get confused about who they’re talking about. It’s a series of sounds that indicate me. Similarly speaking, from the time I got into music, the noises that sounded like Black Veil Brides were a second name for me. I don’t see a world where that wouldn’t be a part of me.”
Likewise, the message that Biersack is imparting with The Ghost of Ohio is not substantially different from the message that he’s been projecting through Black Veil Brides, from its earliest incarnations to the immediate present.
“I am living proof you don’t need to be shat down from the sky by God to be a Rock star,” he says. “I like to entertain and inspire, but I struggle with the same things as anyone else and that’s a message often missed culturally. A lot of times, when people find success they pick themselves up to the point where they are greater than human, and that’s not my position. I present my music and dress in crazy outfits and makeup, but at the end of the day, I am one of the people who comes to my shows. I have terrible social anxieties, bad social skills, not many friends and I’m a nerd about my hobbies and collecting. That’s who I am.
“I spent a great deal of my career trying to escape the fact that I’m not cool, and I’m OK with that. The message is be who you are, you can achieve great things, but don’t lose yourself in the process.”
Andy Black performs April 25 at Bogart’s. Tickets/more show info: bogarts.com.