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Andy BLACK's 'The Shadow Side' Through Producer John Feldmann's Eyes: Track-By-Track

We had producer John "Feldy" Feldmann break down Black Veil Brides' frontman Andy Biersack's solo debut

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"Homecoming King"

John "Feldy" Feldmann: Sometimes you have a gut feeling about songs. I knew "Homecoming King" was going to be the first song on the record. At one point I thought it was going to be the name of the album. If you look at Andy's face, and you look at who he is, he's a Homecoming King for a generation of kids. I had the concept. For all these misunderstood, darkened kids, the new goth, he has been a spokesperson for them. I thought it was the coolest idea, imagining a scene out of Carrie, with the pig's blood and all that—he's fucking owning all the blonde hair, tan jock kids. 

Simon Wilcox, my favorite lyricist—when I bring in other lyricists, she's just an unbelievable woman—I brought her in. The energy is always so great with her in the studio. We started writing the song on the piano. Andy came in with the idea that he wanted to make a record that was somewhere between Depeche Mode and Bruce Springsteen. That was the vision for the album. My job was to make sure he stayed on course, you know, when the artist tries to pull it away like a 'Oh, no, let's do an Avenged [Sevenfold] kind of thing,' to keep it in line with the original vision of the record.

Simon started playing this Meatloaf sort of thing. The song wrote itself. Andy started writing lyrics as I was playing piano. I think Ashton [Irwin] from 5 Seconds of Summer started playing drums on that song. It could be my favorite song on the album because it's so unique. It keeps the essence of goth Springsteen in it. 

The idea is "fuck the Homecoming King, I am the Homecoming King, but fuck the Homecoming King." It's the global message of, Who am I, what does it all mean, something everyone struggles with. Juliet [Sims] sings on it too.

It has this almost Pink Floyd b-section in the chorus as well that's so ethereal-sounding. I knew it was going to be the first song only because it's so weird, almost like a prog-rock song because of the structure of it. It's such a weird song. If you can get through that song, you can get through the rest of the record.

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"We Don't Have To Dance"

Feldy: I had Quinn [Allman] from the Used out here for a week, week-and-a-half of writing this record. I think Quinn is the best guitar player I've ever worked with and an unbelievable writer, really creative guy. He had that guitar riff that starts the intro of the song. We put the song together, the track of the song to see if Andy liked it. It just so happened that I brought [Fall Out Boy] Patrick [Stump] in the same day I was putting the song together to play for Andy and Patrick was like, "That one! Let's work on that one." We just started talking, Patrick, me and Andy. Andy was telling a story: "I went to some random party and Steve Miller Band was playing..." and this story unfolded of what became the song. [It's] the idea of going to a party and everyone is drunk and Andy's not drinking at the party, it's a work event and he's hanging out. They [the other partygoers] start dancing to some cheesy EDM or whatever, and he's like, "I don't belong here, what am I doing here?" Everyone I know feels like that. You're at some event you don't want to be at and you're not really a dancer, and I don't drink, so dancing is a funny thing for me...it came together organically for Andy. 

I had Mikey Way come play bass on it. The energy on that song, when you come bring those people together...I had Ashton from 5 Seconds of Summer play drums, Mikey on bass, Patrick co-wrote the song with us, so there's Fall Out Boy influence with a My Chemical Romance bass player with this high-energy pop-punk drummer on the song and the original post-hardcore guitar player playing guitar on it, a classic group of people singing on a song with Andy's voice and lyric—it makes sense towards the end of the record that this is what symbolizes what Andy BLACK is.

The programming is cool. It reminds be of the [Bauhaus'] Peter Murphy solo record. It has all the essence of that pop-goth '80s shit that happened back then, like The Cure, but it still has the rock element that Andy wanted to keep.

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Feldy: I brought Simon [Wilcox] in. I think the great thing [of that lyric] "Nothing in the cage / Of my ribcage" [is that] basically you've got no heart. It took a minute to settle in, because it's such a weird, unique lyric. But once I got the gist of who Andy is, his heart is on his sleeve, it's not in his ribcage, the idea of this really handsome guy with the most unique voice of this generation, no one sounds like that kid, this lyric really encompasses who he is. It's this really Dead Or Alive, the '80s goth dance band, it has that element to it. When we programmed the beginning of that song I was really influenced by "Doomed," the first song on the new Bring Me The Horizon album, That's the Spirit. I found out that the intro to that song was influenced by this Used song, something from In Love & Death. We used that influence to do the opening of "Ribcage" so it became this tip of the hat to a tip of the hat. 

Ashton played on that song, too, but that song is a lot of programming. We wanted to keep it very electro, darkwave-electro, even though the bridge breaks down into this ambient bridge. To me, that song feels like a real alternative single.

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"Stay Alive (ft. Matt Skiba)"

Feldy: We honed into that Bruce Springsteen-meets-Depeche Mode idea midway through the process. In the beginning we were just experimenting with what this is. Me being an '80s kid and growing up on '80s new wave, that's still my favorite kind of music, ever. We were talking about The Alarm's "68 Guns," it's a pop version of the Clash. You have the Clash, you have U2, what if we try a U2-style guitar, an Edge-y style guitar for a chorus? Andy had just gotten off the road, he had a few tragedies happen to him, and we were talking about the idea of life, the meaning of life, why we tour, why we keep going back on the road. It's so hard, you lose your voice, you don't sleep, you're sick all the time, people want things from you all the time--why you keep going back to this lifestyle that's so difficult to entertain. We do it for the good times and the bad times. It encompassed everything, the lessons we learn by following our dreams. 

We came up with this chorus, "Stay alive for the good times and the bad." We built it ourselves, no one handed it to us, we followed our dreams. We keep going no matter what. Lyrically we came up with that idea. I had the lyric "Stay Alive" and he came in and made the chorus true to his life. He came up with this epic melody in the verses. 

We talked about [Alkaline Trio's] Matt Skiba so much while making this record. He's the clear standout influence on Andy's life. It's so weird how the universe works out. The Blink-182 record fell into my lap. I never knew Matt before then. We're mixing "Stay Alive" while we're making the Blink record, and Andy just goes, "Is there any way you could play Matt 'Stay Alive'?" And Matt's the sweetest guy, he says, "Of course I'll sing on it." Immediately yes. It brought the song to a whole new level.

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"Love Was Made To Break"

Feldy: That song was later in the process. We were experimenting with a bunch of different sounds, trying to make sure we had an album that was a complete package of styles and sounds. [Good Charlotte's] Benji [Madden], I think that's one of the Benji songs. Benji had this kind of concept, and Andy and I were already programming this mellow thing. We were wondering what a ballad would look like on this record. It wouldn't be [Poison's] "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," it's not going to be that kind of ballad. It's going to be something moody and dark.

"Love Was Made To Break" is an ambient, modern version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," almost. It's just a very moody song. I don't know if there's any live instrumentation on that song. I think it's all programmed. My engineer Zakk Cervini took the lead on that. Andy and I filled out that concept. Andy has this little zone outside my house that he goes to every time, this little corner where he goes and smokes cigarettes and he's got his pen and his piece of paper and he goes and he writes like he's living in 1923 without any electronics around, and he writes every lyric by hand. He came back with this lyric, it is this idea that we live in this world where people don't really have lasting relationships a lot. A lot of people don't stay married or together. Andy has been with Juliet for a really long time and they have this bond that doesn't really exist in bands or in the music business. The idea that you're starting out in a relationship and you're already doomed, you're already saying, "This isn't going to last, our love was meant to break" and that Andy says "I don't believe in that," it's a great thing. They [Andy and Juliette] were planning their record while making this record, that's what that song means.

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"Beautiful Pain"

Feldy: "Beautiful Pain," I'm going to classify as the best song on the record. It's got this really singable, anthemic, unique chorus. It's got the twist of a lyric. "Beautiful Pain" is the anti-lyric. When you think about the word "pain," "beautiful" isn't the adjective that comes to mind. It's the opposite. It came from a real place. Andy told me the story about losing [his good friend] Chris and what happened for him. We just talked about it. That's how the best songs come—they're from real-life experiences that emotionally matter to you. We're talking about doing the song and how emotional it is. I have this friend of mine, this Estonian DJ that I became friends with online. I sent it to him and he re-did the whole beginning and it came out almost like tropical house, the intro to that song, the way it's programmed. 

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"Put The Gun Down"

Feldy: This woman who co-wrote "Safety Pin" on the 5 Seconds of Summer album, this woman Emily Warren—she came over, Andy and I had done the music, and she came in and asked, "What do you think of the idea, metaphorically, of 'put the gun down'?" You wake up and ask, 'How can I beat myself up today? What can I do to think of some shit that went wrong, some relationship that went bad, what can I do to punish myself all day?' At any point in your life, happiness is a choice. I'm going to choose to be happy. Put the fucking gun down, it's your choice. It's really you holding it to your own head when you're out there being negative and talking shit or remembering how many mistakes you've made instead of looking towards the future and being hopeful. The impotence of that song started with that idea.

When we were writing it [we realized how] apropos it was with where we're at, with Trump and everything, the future of politics in this country. A friend of mine, Martin Johnson from Boys Like Girls, he texted me today and said, "This is the best song I've heard in five years!" 

It has a really singable chorus. Rian [Dawson] from All Time Low played on a bunch of stuff [for this album]. I think he played on this one, too. 

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"Drown Me Out"

Feldy: Like everyone else on the planet, I love Katy Perry. She's so lovable and cute and has such great voice, an incredible lyricist, in the public eye she's been through this really tough breakup. How do you not love Katy Perry? I've always wanted to write with Bonnie McKee, who wrote a bunch of her biggest hits. I became friends with Bonnie and we've written a bunch of songs together. She's really good friends with this girl Sarah Hudson, who wrote "Dark Horse" for Katy Perry. One day she asked if she could bring Sarah over to meet me and work on a song. I was playing piano and had this idea of a chorus and I had the melody and the chorus written, a song about drowning and waking up... it was an idea about depression. Sometimes you have one thought of, 'What's the point? This isn't going to work out,' and it penetrates everything. When you start drowning, it gets worse way quicker than it gets better. 

We gave Andy the song and he re-wrote the chorus and most of the verses and we kept pretty true to the melodies that were there. Rian played the drums. [In one version] Ashton sang, in the bridge, that ghost vocal. He might be a writer on that song as well. That song is very Imagine Dragons-y modern.

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"Paint It Black"

Feldy: Back in the day, it felt like you had to pick sides and I was always a Beatles kid because of the songwriting. Because of that I was like, 'What the fuck are the Rolling Stones?' Mick Jagger is clearly a great frontman but I love that song title "Paint It Black." I have no idea how that song goes, I just know they had a song called "Paint It Black." Almost as like a sly "Fuck you, I love the Beatles," I wanted to write a song called "Paint It Black." Ultimately we have Andy BLACK, we have Black Veil Brides, we have enough of the color and the name "black." The whole thing is painted black. "Paint it black" just makes sense as a lyric.

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"Break Your Halo"

Feldy: We had another song on the record called "Halo," and we had to pick between the two. At Andy's wedding there were a lot of toasts about how they met on Warped Tour and all that. When Andy's new father-in-law, Juliette's dad, got up there and talked about her growing up as a kid and what she was going to do with her life and all this kind of stuff. His first impression of Andy, the singer of this metal band with all these tattoos, he's so goth he can't even look at the sun, he's just thinking, "Who is this dude? Why is my little girl marrying this guy?" On the outside if you didn't know anything about him and you're a dad you're going, "Oh shit!" The idea of who he really is... I don't know if I've met a more loyal guy. He's so well-spoken and so intelligent but sometimes when he's around a bunch of people he doesn't know he's so shy and doesn't say anything so he can come across as arrogant. 

For the music business in general, for all the snakes and weasels and thieves who are only interested in money and fuck the artist, Andy's the opposite. The idea of him singing about the upside-down cross, and you'd think he's singing with the angel and the devil on his shoulder, but he's the opposite. He always does the right thing by his friends and his band. He's got the most integrity of any artist I may have worked with. This song encapsulates who he is as a really good guy.

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"Louder Than Your Love"

Feldy: Like many of Andy's generation, My Chemical Romance influenced leagues and leagues of dedicated and loyal followers. That band informed so many people. We were listening to Black Parade and I think that's where "Homecoming King" gets that piano. I hadn't talked to Gerard [Way] in so long and [famous A&R rep] Craig Aaronson had just passed away. Bert [McCracken] from the Used discovered My Chemical Romance and brought them to Craig and I was just at Craig's funeral and [Gerard] was at the forefront of my mind.

Listening to My Chem and hearing Andy talk about how much of an influence he is, I hit up [My Chem's] lawyer and Gerard called me. He so graciously came over and, you know, he doesn't do this, he doesn't co-write. He came over and he's a one-of-a-kind guy. He's this comic book nerd superhero rock star. There's no one like Gerard. 

He comes here in Woodland Hills [California] in 10- degree weather in his trench coat like he's coming from a Clockwork Orange remake. He came out and had this guitar riff. He had a bunch of melodies and ideas and I let him do his thing because who the fuck am I, recording Gerard Way, just fucking go, man! The crux of the song, he had "Louder Than Your Love," he had the music and he had the guitar riff and Andy and I wrote that post-chorus, catchy sing-along bit and Andy wrote the verses. It was a true collaboration. Andy and I wrote the bulk of the record and this song stands out as a unique, different style.

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"Broken Pieces"

Feldy: That song could be the most interesting song on the record. Ashton played drums on that song, especially at the end where you hear those four bars and it breaks down into this ambient section. Quinn had this guitar riff. We got into the studio and I knew I wanted to do a 6/8 [time signature] song, a song in a different meter, something that has that dark, deathly waltz feel to it. I handed him a guitar that has a MIDI bridge in it, so when he plays the guitar whatever instrument I have in ProTools it changes the guitar into that instrument. I had a piano sound and I had him play guitar and I turned it into a piano. It came out sounding so unique. Benji and Joel came in and started singing these melodies and it became really unique-sounding and reflected the essence of who Andy BLACK is...he reminds me a lot of the Used and that era, 2004 [modern] screamo.

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"The Void"

Feldy: When we were reworking "Drown Me Out" to turn it into an Andy BLACK song, I brought Sarah and Bonnie back over and we only spent about an hour rewriting "Drown," because Andy rewrote a bunch of lyrics and we kept a lot of the melody so we had a bunch of time. This is a song that almost didn't make the record, by the way. It was cut off the master and it wasn't listed on the album. We have a 13-song album and the label demanded it be 12 for whatever political reasons. 

I couldn't imagine "Broken Pieces" being the last song on the album. Juliet sang on it. It has all this personal meaning to Andy. Bringing in such a heavy-hitter like Bonnie, who is such a legend, to not have it on the record would be such a slap on the face to her. 

I wrote this song on piano. A lot of this album was written on piano because I wanted to do it differently than how I do Black Veil Brides, which is usually guitar-driven. I wrote the chorus and brought it to Bonnie and Sarah. They were stoked: Typically they're in sessions for three-minute pop songs, [and] this was so much weirder, writing a four- or five-minute-long song that takes you on a journey. They were super pumped. They set up a blanket on our front yard, they went to the store and made sandwiches and made a picnic in my front yard [outside the studio] and started writing ideas for lyrics as Andy and I worked on getting some vocal takes down. It was great working with Bonnie and Sarah, they brought this [feminine] energy. They love being women. Writing a song with them two and me and Andy makes for better music. That energy, you can't replace it, you can't fake it.

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