The hair-metal revivalists recruit legendary producer Bob Rock for their shred-emo release, Black Veil Brides IV.
Since their formation in 2006, Black Veil Brides have made image as much of a priority as their music. They unabashedly smeared on macabre metal makeup, teased their hair to the skies, and wrapped themselves in black leather and metal studs. “We wanted to be larger-than-life rock stars, whereas with every other band you couldn't tell that they were a band—they looked like they might be working at Best Buy," says guitarist Jake Pitts. Co-guitarist Jinxx (born Jeremy Miles Ferguson) adds, “We grew up watching bands like Kiss and Mötley Crüe on MTV. That was the image of the rock star to us."
It wasn't long before Black Veil Brides became the darlings of the Hot Topic set—and one of the most polarizing bands on the scene. For every doe-eyed fan, there was a hater or two 'round the corner. At the 2013 Revolver Golden Gods award show, the band was met with ear-shattering boos from the audience after winning the Song of the Year award (they'd already won various other GG awards for three consecutive years, including Best Guitarists). They didn't take the hostility lying down, though: With middle fingers raised, the Brides made their way to the stage and singer Andy Biersack lashed out with a vitriolic, profanity-laced acceptance speech. Some bands would've cowered at the less-than-warm reception, but BVB is used to it. “We were picked on for just being weird or different," says Jinxx. “I would carry my violin or guitar to school, and I'd get beat up for that. Now it gets me chicks."
Were it all a case of style over substance, you might be excused for writing off the Brides. But these guys can really play. Listen to the excruciatingly tight playing in “The Shattered God" or the warp-speed alternate picking in “Goodbye Agony"—both from the band's latest album, Black Veil Brides IV—and you may very well consider trading in your axe for an application at Best Buy. If that's not enough to convince you BVB has arrived, consider this: The Brides' latest was helmed by legendary producer Bob Rock—whose work on Metallica's own eponymous album and Mötley Crüe's Dr. Feelgood hugely impacted countless guitarists over the years, including Pitts and Jinxx.
What was it like working with Bob Rock on the new album—were you intimidated at first?
Jake Pitts: When you think of a producer being a rock star, that's Bob Rock. He's the nicest dude ever. He's a Canadian who lives in Hawaii. The thing that's so cool for me is that the “Black Album" was really the first heavy metal record I ever got—and it wasn't necessarily just because of James Hetfield and the guitar playing and all of that. It was how big everything sounded—the guitar tones and the sound of the kick drums. I wanted to have that guitar sound, and being able to spend a few days in the studio with him and every amp you can imagine was just a really cool moment in my life, period. We had four or five guitar cabinets all miked up with three different microphones, and we just spent days getting guitar sounds.
Jinxx: It's awesome—once you get past the initial shock of, like, “Wow, that's Bob Rock! He's done some of my favorite records growing up." He was really chill and laidback, and just kind of let us do our thing instead of trying to make us sound like something we're not. Although he did have us do things we hadn't done before.
Jinxx shredding on his Schecter Jinxx Recluse-FR signature model in Royal Oak, Michigan, on November 15, 2014.
Photo by Ken Settle.
Jinxx: We sat in a room and jammed out an idea as a band. We'd never done that before—we never just jammed. He wanted to capture the best possible sound from all of us. We feel like this album is the definitive sound of Black Veil Brides. This is what we've been trying to achieve, and we haven't been able to with previous efforts.
Pitts: Honestly, he let us be the band we wanted to be. He was kind of like a director. In the chorus of “Walk Away," that riff was his idea. When we had the demo of that song done, it didn't have that cool riff. He was kind of mouthing out this idea, and I would translate it into what I thought he was doing. Even with it being a ballad, he brought a heavy element into it and we were able to put heavy guitars into a song that isn't necessarily a heavy song. He did little things here and there that would really make a song happen. Everything from changing a kick-and-snare pattern in the chorus to saying, “Play less notes." Like, in the chorus to “Faithless," he had us play less notes and it really opened things up and made it really big. The little things he did ended up being very big things.
Does Black Veil Brides IV reflect musical growth in the band's writing?
Jinxx: Sure, we're always trying to better ourselves and grow as writers, and as a band in general. We're getting better at writing catchier songs and writing more mature music. It's definitely showing that we've grown—and grown up as people, as well. We've been through a lot in life. On our earlier records there was almost juvenile angst, like we were ready to take on the world. And this record is like, “All right, this is what we've been through. This is what we're dealing with as people." It deals with more personal stuff, like inner emotional battles.
Pitts: I'm getting into the production side of things, too—I have been for a while. I have an engineering credit for the first time on this album. I'd like to get more involved with that, but the ultimate goal for me has always been to be a rock star. To perform, tour, record, and play in the band and be the dude.
Who wrote the string parts in the opening of “Crown of Thorns?"
Jinxx: I did—I'm a string player, as well. It was kind of my masterpiece with the strings. Actually, on our last record I did that also. I picked up the violin a few years after I picked up guitar. I started violin when I was 7 years old and took classical training off the bat. I played with the symphony when I was in high school. On the last record, I played all the string instruments—violin, viola, cello. I did all the symphonic sections.
BVB's lead guitarist Jake Pitts slamming on his Schecter Jake Pitts C-1FR signature model in Royal Oak, Michigan, on November 15, 2014.
Photo by Ken Settle.
Given your passion for shred, did you take violin lessons because of Yngwie Malmsteen [an ardent fan of Italian virtuoso Niccolò Paganini], or was it totally unrelated?
Jinxx: Totally unrelated to Yngwie. Actually, what really got me into classical was Randy Rhoads. My brother got the tape of [Ozzy Osbourne's] Tribute, and that was the first time I heard him. I listened to it all the time as a kid and I learned all the riffs off of it. Randy was really obsessed with classical music—he was so serious that he would find a classical instructor and take a lesson in every town that he went to with Ozzy. When it came time to pick an instrument in school, I chose the violin. Actually, my grandfather played the violin, as did his father. My grandfather said, “If you start taking lessons, I'll give you this violin." I took it very seriously. At the time, it was the grunge era and I just wasn't into it, so I got into classical music. I'd learn a Bach partita on the violin and try to play it on guitar. I found different techniques that I wouldn't have discovered before, just playing metal riffs.
What would you suggest for guitarists who really want to improve their technique?
Jinxx: We grew up before YouTube. Now there's a wealth of knowledge—it's really good for players out there who want to get started and see how it's done. I didn't have that growing up. I would take my favorite band like, say, Metallica, and sit down with the record and lock myself in my room until I came out knowing all the riffs and the leads and everything. A lot of times I was a little bit off, but it's kind of cool. I see kids out there doing that with our songs. There are YouTube videos out there with covers of our songs and they might be just a little bit off, but they're pretty good.
Pitts: The biggest thing for me was, back around 2004, I really started getting into shred guitar and wanted to learn how to become a better player. I was playing guitar for five or six hours every day. Paul Gilbert is my favorite guitar player, and I've kind of taken a lot of techniques that he does and tried to incorporate them into my own style. Sometimes I don't even realize that I'm doing the technique until I sit there and try to explain what I'm playing—everything from alternate picking to riffs where I'm doing inside-the-string picking. It all just comes from being a nerd sitting in the room and playing guitar, figuring it out. Just hours and hours of practicing. You gotta put in the time.
Also, my mom played piano and was just an amazing musician—she knew everything about harmony and theory and all that stuff. It just blew my mind. She was the one who taught me, like, “How do I play a harmony to this line that I'm playing here?" She explained it and would show me on the piano. I still don't fully understand all the theory and everything, but she was the one who really helped me develop that skill. I give all the credit to her.
How do you guys decide who plays a specific part?
Jinxx: There isn't a real systematic way of how we do things or how we create songs. Usually Jake or I will have a riff idea, and we just put our heads together and go back and forth. Like, if Jake has a verse riff or something, then I can hear it going into this pre-chorus or chorus progression. We just pass off the guitar until we get the structure of the song down. A lot of times it's like we're finishing each other's sentences. At times when we're writing together, it's like we share a brain. Jake handles the majority of the solos, but we do a lot of dual-lead stuff. Either I'll have a melodic idea or Jake will have a melodic idea, and then we'll figure out the harmonies from there. We'll find interesting ways to do the harmony as well, so it's not just always parallel thirds or whatever.
Parts of the solo in the ballad “Walk Away" have an almost Steve Lukather-like vibe.
Pitts: I'm not too familiar with him, but basically the solos on the new record—especially that one, which is one of my favorites—I kind of imagined in my head first. Before I tracked it and wrote the solo out, I had this idea for the first bend that I do. I just didn't know when to do it, and then I decided, “Why not just hit it right off the bat?" After that, I added a lot of quick little speed flourishes into the different parts. I came up with that and tracked that first solo in the song, and I waited to do the end one up in Vancouver. That was one of the last solos that I did and it took me a couple of days to write out.
What sorts of considerations come into play when you're planning the architecture of a solo?
Pitts: My approach to solos is that they've got to be melodic. It's a moment in the song where you don't want it to be a noodle-y shred fest—because then it's, like, “Okay cool, that was impressive," but you don't remember it. I think of it like a vocal part, a melody. I like to be very melodic, but then have the shred part too. And then when you think it's going to get ridiculous, go right back into the melody. Honestly, I don't know where my head's at when I'm doing it. I just hear things in my head and I try to translate it to guitar.
Photo by Jonathan Weiner.
What are your main guitars?
Jinxx: My main guitar is my Schecter signature called the Recluse. It's a brand-new design and I designed it with the company. I was at the factory and somebody there just kind of Frankenstein'd a guitar together, and I was like, “That's cool. I want that." Then we worked together and kind of made it what it is now. It's a pretty solid guitar, man. The balance on it is just right. To me, it's like an SG without the off balance-ness—it's not top heavy.
Pitts: I've been playing Schecter guitars for about 13 years now. I record all the guitar parts that don't have a whammy bar with my 2001 C-1 Elite. It has EMG 81s in the neck and bridge. I turned Bob [Rock] on to Schecter guitars and he's a fan now. He basically said my studio guitar is like the Ferrari of guitars. When it comes to dive bombs and stuff, I have my signature Schecter guitars that have a Floyd Rose.
Most metal players use an EMG 81 in the bridge and an 85 in the neck. Why two 81s on the C-1 Elite?
Pitts: To me, it just felt like it had a little more high output. The thing I like about it in the neck is that, for sweep-picking parts, it gives more of a fluid sound that's not so harsh. I don't like the neck pickups getting too bluesy and bassy, because you lose all the high gain and high output. Though on my signature guitar, I have the 85 in the neck.
What amps do you use?
Pitts: We just got hooked up with Marshall. We've got the JVM head. For the recording, we used so many different amps—from Bogner Uberschalls to Mesa Road Kings. We also used another really cool-sounding amp, the Steve Stevens signature amp from Friedman. We just blended them, and used the Kemper Profiler, as well. I layered the guitars more than I ever have before. All the guitar riffs are quadruple tracked, and all the choruses are tracked eight times, as well as certain parts here and there. The breakdown in “Faithless" is tracked eight times. That's the reason the guitar tones are so thick.
What about effects?
Jinxx: We don't use a lot of effects—it's pretty much just straight up.
Pitts: I've never really been a big effects guy. The only thing is we might have put a little chorus on the [Roland] JC-120 clean stuff.
Did you use the JC-120 amp in the intro of “Goodbye Agony"?
Pitts: That was a combination of a few different amps, but yeah, the main thing there was the Jazz Chorus.
You guys grew up in the '90s. How did you get turned on to '80s glam metal?
Pitts: An explanation of it that we haven't really talked about before is that, when we started the band, not many of us had very many tattoos—if any. We thought that, to have that rock-star persona, the tattoos would go with the image. That's a reason we would cover ourselves with black paint and makeup.
Groups like Mötley Crüe and Ratt grew out of the Sunset Strip scene. By the time you guys hit L.A., the scene had a totally different vibe.
Jinxx: At that point, the image of the rock star had been lost. The bands seemed boring, and all these new bands coming out just didn't get it. They were going up there in their jeans and T-shirt, and looked like they just got out of the office or just got done working on cars. They didn't look like they were in a rock band. It's like, “Who wants to pay money to go see that?" When you pay to see a band put on a show, you want to see a show—you want the whole package.
What about Metallica—they look pretty normal.
Jinxx: [Laughs.] Back in the day, Metallica had the hair and everything. They weren't so image savvy but still, they looked like a band.
Did you face resistance when you first came on the scene?
Pitts: Yeah. When we first started, we got shit from everybody and from other bands. It was either people got it or they didn't at all. There was no in between, and that started the whole thing of either people loving or hating us. It was either, “They look like emo fags" or “They look like rock stars."
Jinxx: Right off the bat, they were put off and were, like, “They're just image—there's no substance," without bothering to listen to our music. They were just prejudging. If you listen to our music, you can see that we can actually play. We're serious musicians.
You guys often talk about being bullied. With your success, do you feel a measure of revenge?
Jinxx: Of course. All five of us went through a similar thing growing up. It was like, “Fuck you—one day I'm gonna be a rock star." And here we are and they're all, like, fat or homeless or whatever. The ultimate comeback is to just be successful. That's what we offer to our fans—never mind the bullshit, just keep at it, keep being who you are and don't give up.