Andy Biersack appears on the Zoom screen surrounded by black walls and collector’s items — action figures, masks and sports uniforms. Seated in what he calls his “Batcave”, his glow is palpable, a trait that carries over into his recent performance in his new series Paradise City.
Biersack is at the centre of the show as Johnny, a rockstar trying to navigate his newfound sobriety while dealing with mistakes from the past. Created by Ash Avildsen, Paradise City expands on the 2017 film American Satan, of which Johnny was a central character. Now, the long-awaited TV show gives viewers the opportunity to dive deeper into both Johnny and the characters who surround him.
The series is packed with familiar faces — Bella Thorne plays a seductive bassist (Biersack was particularly impressed by a scene where she sings in the studio with him); Olivia Culpo is Gretchen, Johnny’s loving girlfriend; The Sopranos star Drea de Matteo takes the role of Johnny’s charismatic agent; and his manager Elias is played by Mark Boone Junior, with whom Andy also bonded off-screen.
While the series only released at the end of March, Paradise City has already found considerable success. Still, any talk of a second season is overshadowed by the enormous heartbreak over Cameron Boyce, one of Paradise City’s stars who died of epilepsy at just 20 years old. “He just was such a light on the set, and the times that I was in his presence, he was just such a wonderful person,” Biersack explains. “He gave such an incredible performance and, in the show, so much of the storyline hinges on his character. If we do a second season, which I think everyone wants to do, I know that Ash will treat his character with great respect — however that can be done moving forward. I hope it will be done in a way that is extremely respectful to the memory of Cameron.”
In the series, Cameron portrayed Andy’s biggest fan, a run that ends with them taking a picture together — sadly, their last. Cameron’s character embodied with perfection what Rock and Roll used to be to the public consciousness, rekindling a nostalgia for the genre among those who watch the show. In a modern music landscape where Rock has taken a backseat, a spirit like that can reignite mainstream attention for such iconic music, says Biersack.
“I know it’s possible for our Hard Rock and Heavy Metal world to find the prominence that has been lacking for a number of years.” After all, Rock is the genre that never really went away, according to Biersack’s biggest inspiration, Alice Cooper. “I think Hard Rock will see its day in the sun again, and I like to think that Paradise City is one step in that direction,” he shares.
While Rock and Roll is often linked with drugs and sex — temptations viewers observe Johnny deal with over the course of the show — Biersack lives a healthy lifestyle; he runs every morning and is many years sober. Before his sobriety, he used to cover up his anxieties and OCD with drinking, he details. “I was newly sober when we shot American Satan, and Johnny was getting addicted to drugs. Now, Johnny is sober, and I’m in a different place of sobriety,” Biersack recalls. “But I could really tap into the feeling of that first year of being sober, how vulnerable you feel and how difficult decision-making can be, and how cloudy you can be because you’re coming back from years of trying to cloud your own judgment. In some cases, at least for me, that was intentional, because I had so much anxiety and I was kind of trying to mask that.”
“There are certain things that are similar [between me and Johnny], but I like to think that I’m not as openly deceitful as Johnny is. Also, I’m someone whose humour is a big part of their life. He doesn’t smile as often as I like to,” Biersack laughs. “But I certainly think that there are similarities. Ash [Avildsen] knew me for years when he wrote the series, and he put a lot of me into that character. But there are a lot of divergent paths, and it’s sort of fun to play this darker version of myself.”
The difference is obvious. Biersack exudes more optimism and confidence than Johnny. He knows where he is going and appreciates the magic of it. Like Paradise City’s emphasis on synchronistic moments, he agrees that his life is full of coincidences. “I think one thing that a lot of people who succeed on any level are willing or ready to recognise is the coincidental nature, or the lucky nature, of success,” he starts. “Yes, hard work is a huge element and the most important element of it…but you have to be fortunate, and you have to have these — whatever you want to call them. Magic moments.”
“I met Ash when I was 17 years old and, you know, we hit it off right away,” Biersack remembers. “But I wasn’t on his level. I was just somebody who was in the family, so to speak. Then, all these years later, I’m walking around in San Diego about to play a show. I see Ash and he goes, ‘Hey, I wrote this movie, and I got you in mind for the lead role.’ Had I not gone to art school, studied drama, come out to LA in the first place to do some acting stuff — there are all those moments that make you go, well, what else was in play here? There are just so many coincidental and fortunate things. I think on any level, success stems from some level of other-worldliness, in some way.”
In his private life, Biersack has been married for five years to Juliet Simms, who is also a musician (recently reinvented as Lilith Czar). Simms is also part of the Paradise City family, playing Sheva, the singer of The Mavens. “We’ve always enjoyed working together because, you know, that’s my favourite person in the world.” The past year has seen the two spending a lot of time together; Biersack normally tours nine months of the year with his band Black Veil Brides, so being at home meant reinvention and renewal of his songwriting and creativity — naturally, with some relaxation thrown in. “I’m a homebody,” Biersack admits. “I like being at home, and if I’m ever not working, my biggest goal is to be watching a movie with Juliet, just lying in bed.”
Speaking of creative renewal under lockdown, Biersack shares that he’s had about 35 new tattoo ideas over the past year. The next one might be something Batman-related. “My friend Shaun Kama who works in Vegas has done most of my work from like, 2013 on. Prior to that, my tattoos were just random stuff on the road,” Biersack says. “I have some really silly tattoos. I have a koala bear dressed as me drinking whiskey, wearing sunglasses.” Biersack laughs, and his humorous personality comes out even more. As his collection of oddities indicates, he likes to be surrounded by things that make him smile. “It’s funny, because it’s sort of antithetical to the Punk Rock ethos of ‘you don’t need stuff’. I like to have collectibles and pins and buttons. I wasn’t a very social kid, so I would kind of lose myself in these toys or drawings.”
Biersack’s distinctive look and personal style served as inspirations for costume designer Dawn Ritz, who brought elements of Biersack’s fashion sense to both American Satan and Paradise City. Some of Biersack’s personal wardrobe pieces were even incorporated into the show.
“I grew up as kind of a Punk Rock kid — making my own clothes, cutting up things with scissors and safety pins.” As he got older, he started to collect streetwear and sneakers. “I know that is not very Punk Rock of me. I’m definitely not a minimalist,” he notes. In his day-to-day life, Biersack mixes three-dollar vintage T-shirts with brands like Fear of God. Importantly, he emphasizes the importance of always looking for the perfect fit, not the brand. “I think a lot of times people get really into the labels and they wear clothes that don’t fit their silhouette,” he observes.
Looking into the future, Biersack just wants to continue on his current path. Maybe he’ll write a Batman project — he’s a big fan of the superhero series and just worked on a voice over project for DC. Maybe he’ll just see where his life naturally takes him. “I just want to do more of the shit I’m doing now,” he states. “I honestly feel like I have such a fortunate situation in my life that if I get the opportunity to do season two of Paradise City and to get to do another record with my band, or to do another book, or write more comics or whatever it is…If I could get another ten years of that, then I would be very, very happy.”
At the end of the day, Biersack simply hopes to inspire his audience to do what they want. “I think one thing we’ve gotten to culturally is that, because of social media and brand identities, many people look at a politician or person of some sort of stature and apply their own beliefs and principles onto this other person, like it’s an avatar of their life,” he notes. “That’s a way that you can get burned, because you’re not building up your own self-esteem and your own self-confidence. My biggest mission is to try to get people to understand that you are the most important person to you, and being a fan of yourself above everything else is what’s most important — not even me or my music. If it can help you towards that path, that’s great. But find the hero within yourself, and eliminate the need to live vicariously through others.”
Paradise City is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.