Paradise City on Amazon Prime Video might be the rockingest TV show you haven’t seen yet, and if you’re a music fan, you should. But don’t expect a Guns n’ Roses bio. Set in Los Angeles and filmed at clubs around L.A. including Boardners and The Roxy, the drama weaves together the wicked journeys of two fictional bands: The Flux (upstarts struggling to make it) and The Relentless (established rockstars newly reunited). Infidelity, absentee dads, drug addiction and sobriety, and basic ego-driven band drama are all a part of the soapy narrative, and there’s an occult-y twist too.
The series is a sequel to the 2017 film American Satan which chronicled the struggle and success of a Midwestern rock band who came to Hollywood and sold their souls to the devil (literally) in exchange for stardom. The brainchild of Ash Avildsen (the man behind metal label Sumerian Records and the new owner of Hit Parader– which he’s re-branded from a magazine to a production company) both titles are based on his experiences in the music world.
The film and the show features loads of real life musicians, and the series, which premiered a couple months ago, added some biggies to the mix too: actors Cameron Boyce (it was the former Disney star’s last role before he passed away due to epilepsy in 2019), Bella Thorne, Drea de Matteo and Fairuza Balk to name a few; alongside rockers from bands such as Slipknot, Lamb of God and more. As The Relentless’ lead singer Johnny Faust, Andy Biersack of the band Black Veil Brides serves as the moral/amoral center in Avildsen’s audacious universe. We caught up with the star about the project and more.
LA WEEKLY: How did you get cast in Paradise City and did you have any concerns about being a rocker (in real life) and playing a rocker on TV?
ANDY BIERSACK: In the summer of 2015 I was approached by Ash Avildsen about a movie project he was working on called American Satan and he told me that he had me in mind for the lead role of Johnny Faust. I was immediately interested and ultimately I was extremely fortunate to get that opportunity in the film and now to be able to reprise the role in the spin off series is an absolute honor. As far as any concerns go, I would say no because Ash knows this world, he himself is a musician, he has owned and operated Sumerian records since its inception and has been heavily involved in the live music and rock scene since he was a teenager. He gets it. He wrote characters that are grounded in the reality of what it means to be in a rock n’ roll band in 2021. So as a jumping off point you know with certainty that the source material is being treated with the reverence and respect that comes from a lifetime of experience.
How are you like the character you play and how are you different? Did you have input into your character’s personality?
I would say that the key similarities between me and Johnny would be in the original journey. He is from a small town in the Midwest, dropped out of school and moved to L.A. to try to achieve his goals and that pretty much mirrors my experience. However once he got to L.A. our lives took divergent paths to a large degree. I can definitely relate though, to the “figuring it out” that Johnny has had to do at a young age and the isolation that can come from touring and the life of a musician. As far as input I try to remain as true to the material that’s written as possible, as I said, Ash really knows these characters and how they all come together within this story but I do my best to infuse whatever idiosyncrasies and flourishes that I can, to bring Johnny to a place that I feel represents this young guy who is trying his best and often making questionable decisions while attempting to cultivate this career and deal with how it’s changing him and the circumstances surrounding him.
Pretty much since Spinal Tap came out, there’s always been big challenges bringing the rock n’ roll lifestyle and band dynamic to the screen. It is so easy to come off cheesy. How do you think Paradise City achieves a balance of conveying over the top aspects of being a rockstar with the real-life feelings and issues that are often experienced?
Obviously every rock band that’s ever toured experiences their own Spinal Tap moments from time to time, so while it’s certainly a broad comedic version of rock on the road, there’s definitely some pretty spot-on moments that enter into the equation. With Paradise City though, these people’s lives are so intertwined and the struggles that they face live off stage. They are at the absolute peak of their career in terms of viability and popularity and that brings in a whole other element and has its own unique challenges. The excess and extravagance certainly plays a part in The Relentless story, but it’s the conflict and turmoil that these people face as flesh and blood individuals that is really the heartbeat of the show and I think that alone removes any of the potentially campy or silly elements. This is a band whose lives are concurrently joyous and agonizing and the audience gets to follow that push and pull, and I think the cast does an amazing job of making you give a shit about these people and their struggles.
The supernatural subtext (as seen in the movie American Satan and in this spin-off show, almost makes the realism impossible, though. What are your thoughts on these aspects of the show?
I don’t think the religious allegory removes its realism. We exist in a culture where so much of our day to day life is (whether we are aware of it or not) is influenced by religious dogma. If you sneeze in line at Target someone will quickly say “bless you.” Now of course that person doesn’t believe that the sneeze is actually a demon trying to escape your body as was the case with the origins of that practice, but that’s kind of the point. It’s second nature and so easily accepted. I myself do not subscribe to a theistic faith, but I was raised Catholic and we are told about things like the sacred heart and how it could appear to you while you’re sleeping and stuff like that. I don’t mean to say that the portrayal of angels and demons should be qualified as realistic by any means, but I also don’t think it changes the narrative to a degree that these musicians and people who are trying to get by in the industry aren’t portrayed as realistic. Also if I’m honest I think it’s fun, as a viewer I love the concept of mixing truth with mysticism and wilder shit. It all comes together to make a sort of heightened reality and one that I think fits the universe of the show really well.
Tell me about the cast and what you think each brought to their roles? I’d love to hear about Bella (Thorne), Fairuza (Balk) and Drea (DeMateo) in particular.
The cast on this show is incredible and getting to work with every single one of these amazing actors was a gift. I have known Ben Bruce and James Cassels for years and got to know BooBoo Stewart really well in the years since doing American Satan and they all absolutely kill it [as band members] in The Relentless. I had never met Bella Thorne prior to shooting this and I was so impressed immediately with her range and abilities. The first scene we shot together was the scene in the studio where we are crying and singing to one another and I remember meeting her a few minutes before the first take and then just being blown away with her range and presence in the scene. She’s great as Lilly. I was really lucky to get to work quite a bit with Mark Boone Jr. in the film and then, in the series and he’s really the backbone of the show in so many ways, his performance is flawless in this show. Drea and Fairuza were both new additions to the world of The Relentless and are both such pros. For me as an actor with limited experience, to get to watch Drea and Fairuza come in and completely own these characters was inspiring and a real thrill. I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of this and to have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people.
A few words about Cameron Boyce and what his passing meant to the show and the show’s potential future?
Cameron was such a special talent and while I didn’t get to interact with him much on the show he was in the time I spent with him as kind and genuine and sweet as you could ever imagine. He had that star quality that you can sense when someone enters a room and it’s absolutely tragic and heartbreaking that he was taken so young. You just know he had so much ahead of him and to know he won’t be able to continue on and make more art for the world is so sad and unfair. My heart goes out to his family and his friends. He was undeniably special and it shines through in the show. As far as moving forward I don’t think I am qualified to speak on what comes next for his character or how it plays out in potential future seasons. I can however say that if we are able to make a season 2 of the series that Ash will handle the Simon character with great respect and honor Cameron’s legacy.
What about the music in Paradise City? Did you have input? Was that you singing?
I know “The Relentless” have been releasing music. I think the music for the show is fantastic. I was not involved in the writing or production of it and was not able to contribute to it as a vocalist, but I think that the songs are amazing rock n’ roll songs and Ash’s lyrics on The Relentless songs really help push the narrative along in a unique way. The artists that contribute throughout the entire soundtrack are incredible whether that’s Remington Leith and Lee McKinney on The Relentless tracks or Lilith Czar and Starbenders for “The Mavens” [all-girl band on the show]. It’s all real rock n’ roll done by great artists who understand the music and themes on a deep level.
So what’s up with your band Black Veil Brides and/or any individual musical pursuits?
Black Veil Brides have a new record called The Phantom Tomorrow that drops on October 29th worldwide; our single “Scarlet Cross” is doing great at rock radio right now and we are just having such a wonderful time as a band. This is my favorite record we have done and it’s the closest we have ever been as a band on an emotional level. We head out on a co-headline tour through the US with In This Moment starting in September and we will be releasing a bunch of new things between now and then.
Any other acting gigs coming up for you?
I’ve been involved in the development of a remake of a classic horror property for a few years and trying to get that off the ground, I have been fortunate to be able to voice Batman for the DC Comics Dark Nights Death Metal series which has been an absolute thrill, but apart from that, my main focus right now is BVB and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting to return to playing Johnny Faust in a second season of Paradise City.
Rock is not the dominant music genre on the charts right now, but I loved how the show created a world where it was. What do you think about that and who do you think the show is for in terms of music fans?
I think rock has always had its audience and while it’s certainly true that hard rock has not been the flavor of the month in the Top 40 for some time, I think many people don’t even realize the viability and strength that rock has had for years. The Warped Tour and other hard rock and alternative festivals ran (or are still running) for years to massive crowds full of people who live and breathe rock n’ roll. Oftentimes someone will claim rock is dead and inversely someone else will claim to be the savior of rock music. To me both of those perspectives aren’t based in any reality but rather a self aggrandizing perception that stems from a lack of knowledge or any actual research. People around the world pack into arenas and buy rock records and have sustained the careers of countless artists regardless of whether or not the mainstream was paying attention and honestly that’s just fine. Should hard rock find its way back in the universally accepted consciousness then that’s wonderful. If not, then rock bands and rock fans will continue to fly the flag and keep it alive. Rock can’t die because it’s a spirit, not a format.
Season 1 of Paradise City is on Amazon Prime Video.