Guitarist Jake Pitts talks to Joe Goggins on headlining the Kerrang! tour, concept records and embracing chaos
“It’s crazy, man. We’ve been rushing around all day, every day so far.” Jake Pitts is reflecting on the whirlwind of the Kerrang! tour, which he’s headlining with the rest of the Black Veil Brides. “We just got back here from a signing across town. Three hundred kids showed up, which is pretty mad.” The day’s hectic atmosphere is only amplified by the Academy’s backstage press room already being occupied by one of his bandmates, forcing us to conduct one of the least rock n’ roll interviews of all time in the adjoining bathroom.
Black Veil Brides is the brainchild of frontman Andy Biersack, who claims to have had the initiative, imagery and ideas for the band since childhood. “The inspiration was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but the actual band that is Black Veil Brides really came together in Los Angeles.” Pitts articulates. “We all met through mutual acquaintances, and bonded over all the obvious influences; Guns n’ Roses, Metallica and the rest. The first record is just $7500 and a lot of favours.”
The subtly-titled Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones is the band’s third record, released last month, and as the name suggests, it’s a clearly-defined concept album. “We were really in the very early stages of coming up with ideas for this record; we hadn’t been off the road long,” says lead guitarist Pitts. “The whole concept was Andy’s idea – he brought it to one of the first meetings we had with producers. He pitched us all these images he already had in place, and we loved it, we were on the same page from the get go. We brought people in from outside the band to work on the story too, so in that respect it was a really collaborative process.”
The release is accompanied by a film adaptation of the story, Legion of the Black. For a band as obviously concerned with the visceral nature of their work as Black Veil Brides, you’d be forgiven for assuming – as I did – that making a movie would’ve been planned from the outset of a record as closely tied to a single concept as Wretched and Divine. “Actually, we never intended for that to happen. It just seemed totally unrealistic at the start, so we forgot about it, but everything started to fall into place and it kinda came together at the eleventh hour, which was awesome.”
The challenge of making a concept album also forced a change in musical direction. “I suppose the main way it’s been reflected sonically is that we’ve increased the focus on the lyrics and the vocals – we’re making music, on this album, that’s more anthemic and more centred on singalongs than what we’ve done in the past. We haven’t gone for the huge heavy drums like we used to. A lot of that is down to bringing in John Feldman to produce for us.”
One aspect of the Black Veil Brides experience that the story of the Wild Ones isn’t currently extending to is the live show. “We’re not focusing on trying to replicate that onstage, ” Pitts says, “We still want to play a traditional rock show, in our eyes at least.” The Kerrang! tour lands right in the thick of two runs of U.S. dates, and the shorter slot afforded on this jaunt has forced the band to rethink their approach to setlists. “In the States, we’re doing ninety minutes, but we’re only getting an hour here, so on this tour we’re focusing mainly on the new songs. It’s actually been a lot of fun to play them ‘out of context’, as it were; I think, all the concept stuff aside, they really stand up well on their own.”
It’d be impossible to talk to the band without the topic of their image coming up; there’s no question it’s their defining feature, especially in the current rock climate, where any attempt to be visually striking doesn’t usually extend any further than a deliberately dodgy haircut. “We’ve actually toned it down a little now,” Pitts tells us. “In the early days, we were covering ourselves in black paint. I think the difference is that now, we’re trying to stand out, because that’s who we are as people, and the fact that we have this shared image is just reflective of our shared interests. I guess a few years ago, we were more in-your-face about it than we are now.”
Historically, image has been intrinsically tied with rock music, and it’s no surprise to see the likes of Kiss and Motley Crüe mentioned as influences where Black Veil Brides are concerned. “Musically, they’re definitely an influence, but I think the image thing is as simple as just wanting to stand out from the crowd. It meshes together well because we’re all into the idea of having our names on our leather jackets and of having some stage makeup, but it’s not like it’s an homage to anybody – it’s just what we’re into. And I suppose we enjoying polarising opinion,” he laughs.
That seems like a major understatement, given the band’s Marmite nature; Kerrang! editor James McMahon received as much abuse as he did praise when the lineup for this tour was revealed last year. “We don’t give a shit about the criticism, man. If people hate us, great. All the more exposure. It definitely never feels too intense.”
As I made my way down Oxford Road towards the Academy, I was forced to navigate the sort of absurdly lengthy queue normally reserved exclusively for boybands. I was struck by how many amongst the crowd had styled themselves after their heroes, and I had to ask Pitts what he felt it was about the band that bred such loyalty. “It really all comes down to a sense of belonging. The truth is, we all felt like outcasts when we were in school, I know I was bullied and beaten up and it fucking sucks. A lot of kids who come to our shows are there to be somewhere where they feel they belong, and that’s not lost on us – it’s incredible to have that connection.”
The consistent support of Kerrang! has culminated in the endowment of one of the magazine’s most hallowed accolades in the form of this headline slot, and Pitts says they’ve been behind the band from the off. “The first time we came over to the UK, we were opening for (Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison’s) Murderdolls, and we noticed that a lot of the crowds at those shows seemed to be there just for us – Kerrang! played a big part in that, I think. Six months later, we were coming back to headline those same venues. The whole thing’s moved so fast that I don’t think I have an outside perspective on things yet, but their support’s been huge for us over here.”
As for the future, there’s no timeframe yet for another album, despite the fact that the band are currently on three records in almost as many years. “We’re gonna be on the road for the rest of 2013, for sure,” says Pitts, with obvious relish. “We’ll be back over in Europe for festivals, but we’re really trying to keep up the momentum back home for now – every show seems to be selling out at the minute, so we want to take advantage of that. It’s total chaos,” he smiles. “But that’s what we’re all about.”
Black Veil Brides headline the Kerrang! Tour until February 15. Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones is available now via Lava Records