Artist Spotlight: Boy Becomes Hero talks prequel album, working with musical heroes and finding hope in a world of negativity
Boy Becomes Hero, the post-hardcore project of Andrew Brittingham, returned last month with an incredible new album. Escape Artist serves as a prequel to 2019’s Reverie and further explores themes like loss, regret and atonement for past mistakes. Atlas spoke with Brittingham about creating this concept world, working with a plethora of collaborators and finding hope and positivity in a world dominated by doom-scrolling.
How did you get started as Boy Becomes Hero?
Boy Becomes Hero really started about 10 years ago- just me and me and acoustic guitar, my MacBook and writing sad love songs. I didn’t really do too much with it other than release it on Facebook or give the songs to old girlfriends. Boy Becomes Hero really re-jumpstarted [during] my first year into sobriety when I decided that I had all this music equipment that I really needed to do something with, finally, and prove to myself that I could still write music and see what I could do with it. I really just jumped in full band on it- just multi-instrument. One song turned into four turned into 10 and turned into the first album Reverie. And then it’s just been taking off from there.
Now you’re releasing the second album and it’s a prequel to the first, correct?
It is, yes. Escape Artist is a prequel. It follows the father in Reverie as his story unfolds, taking place beforehand. Then there will be a deluxe version of the album that will come out that will have some songs reduxed from the initial album that will show where both characters meet.
How did you come up with these characters and themes for both of these records? Where did that inspiration come from?
That’s a good question. I think that what really happened was when I first started Reverie, I wasn’t in a place where I normally was when I was writing music in the past. Like I mentioned, I was normally writing more about my feelings or a breakup, or how much in love that I was with someone. I was really just completely happy and I don’t think I knew how to write a song that would just say ‘I’m happy’.
It really just evolved into writing a story and a concept. It really just started with one song to begin with, and then evolved from there and the story just began to expand. It just ended up being that for Escape Artist, my sobriety had a little bit lost its luster. I haven’t lost my sobriety by any means, but the high from being sober was a little bit lost and I’m dealing with depression and anxiety [again]. This album is now much more talking about my feelings as well, but placing those into the characters’ world also.
You have some really interesting collaborators on these records, too. How did all of that come about?
When you think about creating these characters, I can only do so many of them before people are like, ‘okay, this is the same voice over and over and over again’- which is certainly fun to do for one to two characters [and] is doable when a scream is maybe one character and a singing voice is another character. So as the story began to expand, I just really realized that I was taking on a little bit too much. I wanted to be able to have the fun of separating those characters into other people’s voices. I really reached out to a lot more people that are on the album to begin with through Instagram and Facebook, and people that I admired in music. A lot of people didn’t jump on board or just simply didn’t respond- some people are pretty hard to get a hold of.
But it ended up that some of the people that I would have wanted most on the album were the ones that responded, and the people that I respect the most as musicians and they really hold a great place in my heart because they had a lot to do with my upbringing in music. Like Aaron Gillespie for example- Underoath was one of the first bands that ever got me into post hardcore or screamo. So it was really cool to have him on and Garret Rapp, of course, is unmentionably influential as far as positive lyrics goes in the scene. Then Kurt Travis, of course, is great. I really wanted to be able to reconnect with him, especially since his time with Dance Gavin Dance was over and he’s doing so much on his own. So it was cool to have him do something like this again. Garret and I really connected, and we’ve been able to create a bit of a friendship over these past two years now that we’ve been working together. So it was super natural to have him on the album again this time and reprise his role and be able to go even deeper into it. He’s on many more songs on this album than he was on the last.
Jonny Craig was someone that I had reached out to- we had already come up with the idea to do this. And then of course, it was like the next week [when] all the stuff went down in the media about him. I was really highly advised from a lot of people like, ‘hey, maybe this isn’t the best idea, people might kind of write the album off or not want to really speak with you about it’. I had a couple of other people that were actually supposed to be on the album doing some extra instrumentals that backed out.
I reached out to Garret because I really look up to him for guidance and asked him how he felt about it. He said pretty bluntly, ‘I just like to sing so I’m still in’. I was like, ‘okay that makes sense’. Right now we live in this world of cancel culture. And I think that, especially with the message that I’m trying to get across with what I’m speaking to people about in the conversation I’m trying to have is like, I’ve definitely done some things and hurt some people that I wish that I didn’t. Maybe not in the same ways that you hear from other people, but I’ve done everything that I can to follow a path of restitution and just try to give back to my community and be the best person that I possibly can be.
Through having some conversations with Jonny, I really felt like he was being honest with me. I think moving forward, that’s what he’s really trying to do is be better. I tried to place myself in his shoes- if the roles were reversed, how would that feel? If I was asked to be a part of something that I felt was so positive and was excited about it and expressing interest like he was about it- and then for somebody to just take that away from me. I think how damning that would be to my sobriety and the changes that I was really trying to make. So I felt like it was the best thing to do. He’s not a part of the project- he’s on a song and we had a lot of fun doing it. I don’t condone anything that he may have done in the past, nor am I his mother. It’s really great to be able to have these people to be a part of this project but [have] it still be my baby.
You’re working with To Write Love on Her Arms and you’ve always been very vocal about mental health. What does all of that mean to your life and your music?
It just means that it’s another way for me to try to give back, especially on that topic of mental health. I really grew up with the mindset of like, why would you need someone to talk to, to get these things out? I always thought when I was younger if you asked anybody that I surround myself with, I’m a pretty generally happy-go-lucky person. But deep down, I had really a lot of things to work on from my past and family experiences, and especially when it came down to really understanding what I might have been abusing substances for as well.
Once I finally started working with the counselor, I really was able to realize how much of a benefit that that was- whether most of my time spent with the counselor is really just me talking or not. Having that unbiased opinion and being able to have that guidance from a professional is so important. And I think it’s something that once again, in our society right now, people say that they’re struggling with something and people just want to shoot them down. It’s just negativity left and right. So I think the more that we can keep the conversation going and continue to share our stories about our path through this, hopefully the more that people will be willing to do the same if it is something that they really need.
That’s such an important conversation, especially with the pandemic and the isolation that’s come with the lockdowns. It’s so important to talk about that and have the bigger conversations so people know that they’re not alone.
I think you’re right, especially with lockdowns. It’s no secret [but] I struggle with mental health, for sure. I’m doing everything that I can to work on it and to continue to be better and better, but quarantine hit me hard. Especially in the fitness industry here in Michigan, we experienced some of the toughest lockdowns. Our gyms were shuttered for six full months.
I experienced two really rough mental breakdowns during the time. It was really quite the experience to have something like that happen. But I think too, it helped me to realize how important that the conversation is to really continue to have and make that public. I’m not afraid to say those things. And I don’t think any of us should be ashamed of the things that we experience, because our experiences are what are able to make us better in the long run.
Every artist has a different relationship with music. You’ve touched on this a little bit already, but how would you characterize your own relationship with music and that impact on your life?
I think it’s important to start from the beginning of my relationship with music. I think as a kid, music was just something to listen to. Then it became something that became much more important in my life into my teen years, because it was something that I was able to feel passionate about. I started writing music in a band as a teenager, and it was something that I really enjoyed. It was what I would have wanted for a career at the time, and it just didn’t really work out that way.
My next 10 years of experiencing music was really a roller coaster. I went to a lot of shows when I was in college and I was drinking at the time, and I would continue to have those thoughts. It would get to a point where I was like, ‘I should be up there, that should be me’. And it would cause me to just drink way too much. That was definitely not a positive outlook.
So music started to become a negative thing for me for a while. I really felt like I was observing that people were better at music when they were using [or] at least minimum drinking. So that’s what I thought of music-I thought that I needed to drink to be able to write. That’s when things got really bad. I would drink so much, just in an instant. So music really became a negative thing for me.
Moving into sobriety, I had to take a huge step back from music. I couldn’t play. I didn’t touch an instrument for my first year of sobriety until I started writing Reverie. Now it’s something that’s extremely positive for me. I take it in waves once again. When there’s not a lot going on with my mental health and things are pretty even keel, I listen to a lot of concept albums. When I’m low, sometimes I listen to the low kind of stuff, too.
I think my relationship with music now is much more healthy. I think I have a much more balanced understanding of what that can do for me. That’s why it’s so important for me to share a message through my music, because we have so much music out there now that’s on the radio waves that’s just about selling drugs or doing drugs and partying. That’s what kids think that life is, and that’s not reality. I think going from positive to negative to positive with music has helped me be able to really appreciate it for what it is even more.
What else is coming up for you with this project?
There’s a lot of content coming. There’s hopes to do an animated music video for one of the tracks. It’s not a guarantee, but I would love to do that and I’m going to continue to work towards that.
There’s an instrumental version of the album coming, which is so necessary with some of the people attached to this thing. Just stripping some of the vocals away really allows you to hear what the music has got to it, too. And then a deluxe version of the album, too….and then also a B-side from the album coming out as well. So hopefully a good bit of content to be able to just keep things fun and keep things moving so that people can dive a little bit more into what the story is about.
Is there anything else that you would like people to know about you or this project, or is there anything that you wish you could talk about more that you may not get asked?
The only thing that I would really want for people to know is not necessarily something about about myself, or the album, or really even about music would just be to have people really take a moment of self reflection and think about what they really want in their lives and how they could continue to be a positive impact in their own communities, and use their passions for a positive impact. I think that our communities and our young people could really use an overwhelming amount of positivity with all this overwhelming amount of negativity that’s really surrounding us.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Story by Olivia Khiel
Images courtesy of Boy Becomes Hero