Can you talk a little bit about the bullying that you experienced as a kid and how you handled it?
When I was growing up in school, I wasn’t the archetype of the classic American nerd; I was just different. I had a certain kind of disassociation from the other kids because I had more interest in sociology, ideas and trying to communicate those ideas to the kids around me. It wasn’t that I thought that I was better than them; I just didn’t associate with them in any way.
Because of the kind of music that I liked, and the different way that I dressed, it was kind of a perfect storm, creating a situation where I existed on my own throughout my schooling. And the times when I wasn’t on my own, I faced some sort of derision from someone around me. This was due either to the way that I dressed, or because I was a little bit overweight when I was a kid, so I would get made fun of for being chubby.
Wow, that’s shocking! I never would have guessed that you would have been overweight.
I fluctuated in weight all through my adolescence. From 4th grade to 7th grade, I was overweight, and the kids would say that I looked like Chunk from The Goonies. They would always ask me to do the “Truffle Shuffle.”
It was a great cause of pain for me, and because of that, I didn’t really get the chance to talk to girls. I was a straight boy with hormones kicking in, and I wanted to talk to girls, but they weren’t interested in talking back to me, so there was a real sense of loneliness.
Did you end up resenting the girls for ignoring you?
Pretty early on, I just started to believe that they didn’t understand me. There was something intrinsic to me that they just didn’t get, which was ok. It didn’t make me hate them though.
It’s interesting that you had the awareness at such a young age of having something to offer that others just didn’t get it.
There have been a number of artists who have written songs about bullying, but your songs seem to be more about empowerment. Do you find that your songs have been especially helpful to your fans that are being bullied or feel like outcasts?
Absolutely! I think that it’s important to note that you touched on how a lot of artists are writing songs about bullying. That is something that causes great concern for me.
I feel that there is a culture being built that is a celebration of agony. There is also a celebration of being an outcast, to the degree that you are segregating yourself in a negative way from people who may want to be your friend. I never advocate that you should be lonely, or come to my shows and bring me your razor blade to show me that you don’t cut anymore.
So, what is your advice to your fans?
I would advocate that you show me your smiling face, and how happy you can make your life. I know that isn’t always easy and that there is self-harm in the world. Sometimes it’s hard for people to rise above things.
Last year, you guys did a special shirt for the song “Unbroken,” and donated all the proceeds to The Bully Project. How did you get involved with The Bully Project, and how much did you end up raising for them?
I’m not entirely sure about the actual amount that we raised off the top of my head, but I know that it was quite a bit, and we were very happy to do it.
What happened was, one of the kids in the bully documentary had expressed interest in our band, and it was really touching. His parents reached out to our management about autographs and stuff, and I thought that it was a logical thing to try and get involved with their whole project.
It was beneficial for us because it showed that we wanted to get involved with a good cause and beneficial for them because we raised a lot of money for the organization.
The powerful video that you made for the song had all of your fans wearing the shirts. Were you able to include everyone, or were there just too many submissions?
I wish that we could have included everyone. We tried our best, but there’s only so much time in the song. We were able to get a lot of fans in there though.
Can you share a story or two about a fan who credits your music for helping to get them through tough times?
It would be very hard to specify a particular story because we get them all of the time. Unfortunately, the stories are often all too familiar. I’ll hear the same tales from Dublin, Ireland that I hear in Louisville, KY.
More than anything, I think that there is a common thread that runs through everything. We have been able to strike a chord with people who have their own sense of self, but were unable to access it. Our music helped them to feel something positive.
A good example of this would be this kid in London. He’s been covering our songs on YouTube from the time that he was around 12-yrs old. It’s been a lot of fun to watch someone who was an awkward, kind of shy and introverted kid, end up in his own band with a record deal.
Can you talk about the inspiration and meaning behind “Heart Of Fire?”
“Heart Of Fire” is essentially the idea that time and circumstance changes how you see things.
We like to believe that when we’re young, and we have this idea that we want to fight for something, that it will be that way forever, when in reality, sometimes it will change.
It would be weird for me to be raging against all of the bullies in my life because it would be disingenuous at this point in time. I’ve gotten through all of that and I’m living a wonderful life now, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t mean to me. Every day, people say crappy things about my band or whatever, but I live a positive existence. I got through everything by virtue of having that same passion that I’ve had through the years.
“Heart Of Fire” is about holding onto that fire or passion that you had when you were a kid, even though you may change as a person or your circumstances may change. It’s saying that even though I’m more weathered and stronger now, that I still have that feeling of wanting to be that passionate individual that I’ve always been.
Thanks for taking the time to talk today, Andy. You’ve given some great insight into how to rise above being bullied, finding your passion and living a happy life. Best of luck with the new album. I’m looking forward to reviewing it for Hard Rock Daddy and speaking to you again in the near future.