INTERVIEW WITH ANDY BLACK BY ALYSON STOKES
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEREMY SAFFER
The Ghost of Ohio only has one eye and one hand. He doesn’t have a cool cape and he doesn’t have superpowers found in any DC or Marvel comic book. In reality, The Ghost of Ohio doesn’t really seem like a superhero at all. The brainchild of Andy Black is on a deeper mission—to do good in the now. To be present in the moment. To have an ear for people and be by their side when they’re in need.
When we speak to Andy Black, he’s on show number 23 of The Ghost of North America Tour, and his distinguishable voice is even deeper than usual. His vocals are fatigued, but he’s not slowing down. We discuss his busy schedule, The Ghost of Ohio, the official comic book of the same name, his lead role in the American Satan spinoff TV series Paradise City, and the upcoming Black Veils Brides’ 10 year anniversary album and how he balances it all.
How is the release of The Ghost of Ohio going so far now that it is out in the world? What is the response you’ve been getting?
It’s always interesting when you do a record. I tend to get lost in the process of doing the mixes, and every day, something might sound a little bit different. I’m driving around listening to the record in my car every day, not for self-enjoyment purposes but for work related purposes. I’m trying to make sure that the record is as good as possible. I always think once it’s out there, you breathe a sigh of relief because the work is over. Once it’s out, you can’t really go back and take it off the internet and go, “No, wait, wait, wait, I need to change this part. “ It’s always nice to be able to go, “Well, it’s out there now. I don’t need to stress about this anymore. “ I feel very proud of it. I feel very happy with the record that we wound up putting out. A lot of people seem to like it as well. It’s a nice feeling when you spend that much time on something and there’s a positive reaction.
How do you manage perfectionism with all the things you have going on and making sure everything is right—the album, the comic book, and how that all ties together? Was it a huge process to get everything just the way you wanted it?
When I was younger, I had this feeling that I need to be so overbearing on everything that I do in my life and career. Sometimes I would let things accidentally fall through the cracks. I would be so hyper focused on this thing or that thing, and I was unable to delegate. Things wouldn’t get done. When it came to things like the comic book, I was very happy to be able to be surrounded by people who were overly qualified and tremendously talented and could help see my vision through while I was working every day on the record. It wasn’t as if I was not involved in that respect, but I wasn’t sitting in the room. Eryk Donovan was doing all of the illustrations. I did the original sketches for the character design, and he took the ball and ran with it. He would send me daily updates, but it wasn’t as if I had to micromanage early on. I think ultimately being able to delegate to people who are better at things than I am is probably the thing that I’ve learned to be the most useful element in terms of working.
Was that hard to do?
I think there’s a part of me that always is a little bit worried about what if it’s not exactly what I think it should be and all that kind of stuff. I don’t really work in many situations where I’m not involved in every factor. Even if I’m not the one who’s literally drawing all the pages, I was seeing everything every day. I was pretty much up to date on everything that was going on.
“I AM CONSTANTLY AFRAID OF EVERY BAD THING THAT COULD GO WRONG”
What is the overarching theme of the record?
I’ve always been someone who’s had really bad anxiety and fears. I call it main character syndrome. It’s self-diagnosed. I tend to put myself into the main character in every scenario, which sounds more egotistical than it really is. The truth is that it makes it feel I am constantly afraid of every bad thing that could go wrong because inevitably the worst things always happen to the main character. While it might be ego driven, it’s certainly not a self-aggrandizing thing. It’s more so, I’m constantly afraid I’m going to be the center of the worst possible scenario. Throughout my life, I would try to satiate those things by drinking and trying to get my mind off all the fears that I had. I just feel like I lost myself. Over the last four or five years, I’ve been really trying to make a concerted effort to get back to feeling like who I really am. Just dealing with the fact that I have all these fears and anxiety. This record is a lot about creating folklore out of these fears and thoughts that I have about who I am.
As far as your hometown in Ohio, it’s a big part of where the record came from. How did your upbringing really play into the story?
I have a unique relationship with where I’m from. I think a lot of people do. It’s a bizarre thing, because everything that’s good that ever happened to you in your childhood and also everything bad that ever happened to you, it sometimes happened within a one mile radius of the same place.
It’s a unique thing. As someone who travels for a living, I have good and bad memories, usually not in the same place. You go, “Aw, fuck, remember that time that we were in Pittsburgh and had a great dinner or whatever.” Then you go, “Oh, remember that time that we were in, whatever the hell America, and it was a terrible day. Our bus broke down, whatever.” It’s very rare that those situations happen in the same place. When where you’re from and where you were born and raised, your whole beginning dynamic, everything that comes from the beginning of your life, starts there—fear, scary things. That creates a unique situation. People can feel very proud of their hometown, feel connected to it, and also feel like, “Oh, fuck that place. That’s where something bad happened.” I think that those feelings are not mutually exclusive. It plays a big part into how I feel about myself, growing up in the southern part of Ohio and not being from a major city but a secondary market. When it comes to the grand scope of the United States, it’s not necessarily a place that is often looked at as the biggest metropolis in the world. Certainly not a place that is a country road and no street signs or anything. A little bit in between, and I think that’s what has shaped my feelings. I live in Los Angeles. I live in a place that is very bustling and crazy. A big part of me feels alienated there, but by the same token, I’ve always grown up in a city environment, so it puts you in that middle place.
“I WAS TERRIFIED OF THESE PLACES THAT I SPENT TIME IN. THEY WERE ALWAYS THESE SCARY AND WEIRD OLD PLACES”
Was thinking back on all of that emotion the spark for this story?
Yeah, certainly. I spent a lot of time there. Both my parents worked full-time, so I would go to day camp and summer camp and all that kind of stuff. More often than not, I was terrified of these places that I spent time in. They were always these scary and weird old places that were turned into rec centers or children’s centers or whatever. I started doing research into a lot of them recently. I just happened upon all these crazy stories of hauntings in all these spots. One of the places that I spent a great deal of my childhood is one of the top five most haunted places in the United States. All this kind of stuff, it blew my mind. I’m a big fan of the podcast Lore. I listen to it pretty religiously. I thought it be fun if I wrote my own folklore about this place that I grew up in and use these characters in the story and created my own narrative based around my town, as opposed to it being based around 17th century Germany or whatever your average folklore is.
And you had no idea about any of these ghost stories, and once you started to uncover them, you were like, “I want to turn this into my own story?”
Yeah, and I always felt there was something amiss. I’m not someone that really subscribes to the supernatural. That’s not to say I disagree with those that believe in it, it’s just not something that ever has really resonated with me. It was more interesting that I had these eerie feelings as a kid and couldn’t really place it. I had to find out, and lo and behold this is something that people have experienced this kind of crazy activity in. As someone who’s a skeptic, it was fun to write from that perspective because I find it to be a little bit easier to write a fictional narrative when you’re not speaking from a place of a definite situation that’s going down. You have a little bit more artistic license.
Your dad is a huge supporter on social media and always encouraging you. How has your family played into the story, since they’re so tied into your hometown?
My parents are tremendous. They are coming to the next two shows on the tour. They are coming up, driving all the way to the next two shows. I just always had a really good relationship with them, and I think that when you have something like that, it’s able to ground you and can give you very positive feelings about your upbringing. I was fortunate in that regard. It’s been a friend-like relationship in many ways. My parents were my whole life. I am an only child, and I never felt like I didn’t have socialization because they always treated me like I was one of the grown-ups in a way. They never talked to me like I was a kid or like I didn’t know things. I think that helped me a great deal. Even just from an intellectual standpoint, I was able to comprehend quicker because I was never treated as if I wouldn’t get it.
“I NEVER FELT LIKE I WAS A SUPERHERO AS MUCH AS I FELT LIKE I WAS SOMEONE WHO WAS A VERY NORMAL PERSON IN THE SENSE THAT I DIDN’T HAVE ANYTHING ABOUT ME THAT WAS EXTRA SPECIAL.”
Back to The Ghost of Ohio character. He’s the same character throughout the album and the comic book. He doesn’t have any superpowers, right?
He doesn’t have any superpowers. He works in a very spirity, nonconforming spirit way in a traditional sense in that he harnesses energy and can use that to actually help people. He does not have superpowers. He’s not flying and going over buildings or anything. He’s just a spirit that appears to people. There’s a certain type of person who he can appear to and just help them in various capacities. It was very important to me to not write a superhero story. I grew up loving superheroes, but I never felt like I was a superhero as much as I felt like I was someone who was a very normal person in the sense that I didn’t have anything about me that was extra special. I just really wanted to do something. For me, when it comes to being a musician, I think that one of the great injustices that’s done to the younger generation is that oftentimes artists are portrayed in a situation where they are an unattainable god or goddess. Something that is out of the realm of possibility to achieve because he’s been sent from heaven to rock your world. I feel like that’s the opposite of the message that I would like to give out. I would like people to know that I am not, in any way, more remarkable than they are. I just wanted things as much as I possibly could and I tried really hard. They always say that the person who is the luckiest is the one who works the hardest.
Does The Ghost of Ohio appear to people fighting for something in particular? How do you think people can take that mentality in regards to our culture today? Would you say that we as normal, non-superhero people can give off energy to fight for certain rights and be like The Ghost of Ohio?
It’s an interesting perspective because I am not someone who has any deistic religious beliefs. I grew up Catholic and I was an ardent atheist by the time I was your average eighth to ninth grader—fuck all this stuff I grew up with. Then as I got older, I became much less aggressive about atheism and got more into the idea of spirituality. Because I don’t have a faith that I prescribe to, I don’t necessarily believe in me, as me now, going to an afterlife and experiencing all of this again and getting to be with my pets and Abraham Lincoln and everybody else. It’s not something that resonates with me. Because I feel that way, I feel like the time that I have here is of the utmost importance. People will ask, “Well, if you don’t believe in heaven, what is the purpose of your life here?” I think that’s probably the most ridiculous question you can ask, because if you don’t believe that you get another shot, it’s imperative that you are good to people around you now. You only get the opportunity to be here now. I feel like the more that I think about that, the more I find it something that I can apply to my life. The idea of being of assistance to those around you, being a good person, being an ear to have people speak to, and being a person that can be around when someone is in need, those are the things that are the most important. You can make that something that’s actionable in terms of political ideology or whatever else. If you believe in something and you want to help the world, you should do it now, because you’re not guaranteed that there’s going to be another opportunity somewhere north of where we are.
I love that so much. I think people can definitely take that idea from the album and comic book with this character. Let’s do good now.
As someone who grew up in a religious family, I actually don’t have a negative experience with the Anglo-Saxon Christian religion. I don’t have the thing where people are like everybody’s crazy or whatever. I love my family and all of them, for the most part, are people who subscribe to that. To me, it’s not about feeling as if you can’t believe there is an afterlife to be good now. I just think if you are here, why not take the time to live the fullest life you can and not worry about the next one.
I really want to ask about the artwork. I noticed the character’s different eyes on pretty much everything—promo photos, the album artwork, and the comic book. What is the significance?
The eyes? Like the missing eye and all that stuff?
“YOU HAVE TO CUT OFF THEIR HAND AND REMOVE ONE OF THEIR EYES, SO THEY CAN’T SEE YOU OR TOUCH YOU IF THEIR SPIRIT COMES BACK.”
In the story, early on when I wrote the bible, so to speak, for what the character was, I had written that in this world that this character exists in, there was this folklore tale about how if someone is murdered, they are to be properly executed so their body can’t haunt you. You have to cut off their hand and remove one of their eyes, so they can’t see you or touch you if their spirit comes back. The character has his eye removed in the comic book by the bad guys. His hand is cut off. I’m always wearing a glove on one hand and have one of the eyes X-ed out.
I love that everything connects and all goes together to make a bigger story. It’s really cool.
Thank you, I appreciate you noticing that.
With everything that you have going on—the album, comic book, TV show, which we’ll talk about, too, and Black Veil Brides—how do you balance everything and prioritize while keeping yourself focused on all these different elements?
I don’t know. I think both my wife and I, we’re workaholics. We really enjoy the process of working on stuff. Our house is just full of working. We’re not particularly social people, so we get plenty of time to just hang out and watch TV and do that stuff. It’s very likely that in the middle of an episode of Game of Thrones we might pause it and both be emailing for 15 to 20 minutes. It’s just the way that it is for us. It’s always been that way my whole life. I was looking into an interview with David Lee Roth recently. Everybody talks about, oh, he was crazy and whatever else. Truth is that a lot of what he says, and what a lot of the older entertainers say about showbiz, really resonates with me, about how he is a little bit more of a getting ready type of guy than an actual show type of guy. David, his favorite part of everything was planning the tour and getting the costumes ready and doing the rehearsals and planning the set list and all that. By the time the actual show happened, while he enjoys it, it’s not as much as the enjoyment of the planning. I think I agree with that a little bit. While I do enjoy the shows, I love making stuff. I really like taking something that wasn’t there before and making it a reality. Whether that’s costume pieces or a comic book or a record or a stage show or whatever it is, I really like planning stuff. If I could just spend my life planning things and then seeing them to fruition, that’s a pretty good life.
This is your second solo album as Andy Black. With the further this goes and the more you have everything else happening, do you feel that it’s taken away from Black Veil Brides? Or pulling your focus elsewhere?
No, I think if you are smart about it and you really apply yourself, it’s not impossible to do multiple things at once. I think it’s really just about being willing to put in the work. I think people tend to get lost in their new projects when they are unable to apply themselves to multiples things with the same ferocity. As long as I’m willing to do the extra work, I don’t see why there’s a reason why I couldn’t do this and other things.
And email during Game of Thrones if you have to.
Yeah, you never know what might come up.
Speaking of TV, how has working on Paradise City been? With your previous YouTube videos and acting, does it feel like going back to acting is a full circle moment for you?
I went to an arts school and I was a drama major there. I was kicked out of the vocal music department pretty early on. I was a vocal and drama split major. I was asked to leave the vocal music department. I did get to visit that school a couple of years ago. Went in and saw the people that kicked me out.
Well, I have to ask why you got kicked out.
Yeah, my voice just didn’t fit what they wanted, I guess. I was able to walk in and say, “Hey, you’ll never guess what I do for a living.”
The part of my life where I was acting was always a real joy for me. I never really thought about acting until I went to that school. My first day there the head of the drama department, David Roth, came to me while I was sitting at the lunch table and said, “Hey, you ever thought about doing any acting?” I said, “Well, I’d like to. I don’t know if I’d be any good.” He immediately put me as the lead in one of the shows that they were doing at the school. Just kind of trial by fire, I figured it out. I wound up going to LA when I was about 15 and I did some commercial acting and stuff like that. Then I wound up going back home to Cincinnati and forming the original version of Black Veil Brides. It was always something that was in the back of my mind. Actually, David Roth came to our show in Cincinnati a week or so ago. It was fun to see him and be like, “Hey, I’m doing movies and TV now.” Kind of nice to go full circle like you said.
How was filming the show as a continuation of the movie? Are you looking to do more acting?
I’d love to pursue it in different capacities. It’s fun for me to be able to do stuff that’s close to home, literally. A lot of stuff films in Los Angeles. For a person that’s spent most of my life touring, admittedly it’s a lot of fun to be able to perform and to have a stage so to speak that’s, oftentimes, just down the road from my house. That’s a lot of fun, but the opportunity to do it is just a huge platform for me. Ash Avildsen was the one who wrote and directed American Satan. It was also the same for Paradise City. It’s just given me such a gift in my life. It’s been such a wonderful thing to add to my repertoire as an entertainer. I’m just open to continue to improve. I think, looking back at my body of work from the movies and what I’ve seen and stuff of the series, I feel like I’ve improved as an actor. I hope I get to continue to grow in that craft.