Writing an autobiography detailing the highs and lows of a rising rock star, from the days of living in a car to touring the world and writing life-changing albums, is one thing; reading it all aloud for an audiobook is another. Andy Biersack, the creative mastermind behind Black Veil Brides and Andy Black, accepted the challenge of a recorded narration of his book, They Don’t Need To Understand: Stories Of Hope, Fear, Family, Life, And Never Giving In, as another string to add to his stylistic bow.
Covering the band’s illustrious career to date and deeply personal events, Biersack’s autobiography extensively covers events throughout the theatrical musician’s life and times on each end of the emotional spectrum. To celebrate the recording’s release this week, Alternative Press caught Biersack to find out just how different audiobooks compare to tracking vocals, the difficulty of reading out certain chapters of his life and how the narrative experience has fueled his desire to write more in the future.
You’ve been behind a mic for the majority of your adult life, but narrating an audiobook is a whole different ball game. What was your overriding emotion when the idea of an audiobook came to the table?
It’s a dream come true for me. People don’t know this, but I have loved and been obsessed with audiobooks since I was a little kid. I used to rent the CD audiobooks at the library when I was a kid because I love that format. I love narration and voice acting as an art. I was extremely excited to go into the studio to do it.
How long did the recording process take?
Not to toot my own horn, but when we originally sat down to do it is a funny story. The companies that make audiobooks are doing 100 in three weeks. The engineers are overworked and super-nice people, but they don’t know or necessarily care what the books are. You’re just coming in and reading it, so they edit it and move on to the next one. I walked in on the first day, and they told me it would take six days. I straight away said, “I don’t think so. There’s no way. I know what I’m saying.” They said even the professionals don’t get it done in less than four days. I said, “I probably wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t my book, but these are my words and everything. I feel pretty strongly that I’ll be able to get through this quicker than that.” They pooh-poohed it, and then we were able to get it done in about two-and-a-half days, and I was very proud of myself for that. That’s just a little brag there. It’s not even a humblebrag—that’s just a straight-up brag. In the months leading up to the recording, I had listened to 15 different audiobooks of different kinds. I had tested it and read the book aloud all the way once before. I did all kinds of prep work because I really wanted it to be great, and I’m also very obsessive about everything. I’m very happy I was able to get it done really quickly, and it came out great. I got a compliment from the engineer, and they said it was great, so I’m very pleased with that.
How much different was the recording process from how you usually work in the studio?
We started at 8 a.m. every day, and I’d go until about 6 p.m. The reality is, the reason why it takes so long is because the pacing is something you’ll never get used to. I’m talking right now in a way that’s conversational, and I’m bouncing from word to word, and some might say I’m even talking too fast. In an audiobook format, you have to slow your pacing down. Also, you have to do the characterization of a certain person. If it’s me narrating and I’m talking about having a conversation with somebody else, I have to find at least a small way to decipher their voice from mine without doing cartoon characterized versions of them. All that stuff takes time. Plus, it’s five-and-a-half-hours long, so you’ve got to imagine that takes a while to do when you’re doing multiple passes and takes. Even when I listened back to it, I find a few things where I go, “Man, I really put the emphasis on the wrong word there. I shouldn’t have done it that way.”
Which chapters did you find hardest to read aloud?
Reading the parts about my family, my grandmother being ill, my grandfather passing away, reading about Chris Holley’s death. Then also just from an emotional perspective, reading about the positive things, reading about Juliet [Simms], the things in my life that can get you a little choked up. The hardest thing to get through was the chapter where I talk about Chris Holley’s death and other things like that because it’s such a sad situation. There are other things which were difficult, not because of emotions or anything else, but just because you want to deliver it correctly. For example, where the beginning of the book starts with the Golden Gods [Awards] in 2013, I wanted to deliver that as if you were there and listening to me onstage giving that now-infamous speech. It’s just about taking your time on it.
Another chapter you’re reading aloud is your disconnection from Black Veil Brides’ album Set The World On Fire because it doesn’t feel truly yours. How has that affected each effort as you’ve all worked together to make sure that doesn’t happen again? How does that reflect in your upcoming record?
It goes as a huge credit to the guys that there’s an understanding of what we do that works and the dynamic that works because we’ve tried all the different ways of doing things. When you’ve been a band as long as we have, you’ve done a record where it’s a complete democracy, one where it’s a dictatorship, one where nobody cares about the record, all those different iterations. Because of that, we’ve been able to home in on whose skillsets work best in what areas and how to delegate. On The Phantom Tomorrow, every one of us is absolutely invested in every part because we’re giving the thing that we’re best at to the record. It’s all being utilied and acknowledged and feels like it’s part of the overall work.
How weird did you find listening back through the recording? How have all your loved ones reacted to it?
I only heard it for the first time yesterday, and it was a lot of fun. It’s so exciting. I was playing it on my phone, walking around the house, just so happy. I don’t think I’ll revisit it because it feels a little too indulgent to listen to my own voice—I already have my own voice in my head. Juliet [Simms] is absolutely going to listen to it because she’s very excited. She’s started really getting into audiobooks recently, too. My parents called when they were listening to it. Everybody’s read the book already, but it feels like a whole new one because now I’m talking. I’ll say this to everybody I know personally: I’d be happy to call anybody and read the book so you can have a free audio version, and we can re-release it as the live version.
How have the fans reacted to the audiobook so far?
I saw an interesting conspiracy theory yesterday on Instagram where someone said that it wasn’t actually me reading the book but rather a robot voice. You know, like an old-school computer voice where they take a bunch of different noises and build a voice that sounds robotic. Someone has a theory I didn’t actually read it, and it’s just an animatronic version of my voice which I find to be, while untrue, exceedingly entertaining.
Having this chance to reflect on your life through your own words, do you see yourself writing another book in the future?
Being able to have the opportunity to speak at length about my life and the myriad of influences on me is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I want to keep doing it. I feel like at this point, I’ve got other books and other ideas in me, so I’ll probably start working on another one before too long.