It’s a warm Wednesday afternoon. Fifteen year-old Malcolm Brickhouse skates one of New York City’s East Village streets. His fellow bandmates Alec Atkins, 15 and Jarad Dawkins, 14; strut behind the sound of trucks on pavement and Brickhouse’s leather trenchcoat covering his DGK skateboard, giving him a floating appearance. People are quick to notice as Japanese freelance photographers begin shooting the boys being themselves on a Summer afternoon.
The attention and aura the kids give off is interesting. Passerby don’t seem to worry about it, being used to all sorts of things that bustle through the bowery; but they do glance here and there (and they should) as these are no ordinary Brooklyn high-schoolers.
Brickhouse, Atkins and Dawkins are Unlocking The Truth – a young heavy metal band who only a year ago had gotten out of a monumental deal with Sony and have been slowly but surely taking the world by force after being discovered by Eric Clapton’s drummer Steve Jordan during a 2012 Washington Square Park performance. Tonight marks the first of several intimate release shows for their debut album “Chaos” (available now from iTunes, Spotify and other online retailers via Tunecore) at The Studio of the one and only Webster Hall.
The boys are clam, cool, collected and hungry. They’re more concerned about what to order from the Chinese food menu than how many friends, family and fans will come to see them. They’ve already mastered the art of crowd control by playing to tens of thousands at Coachella, Vans Warped Tour and one-off gigs with the likes of Metallica, Guns ‘N’ Roses and Marilyn Manson (who the boys find extremely funny; had the most beneficial backstage advice for them, offering life lessons, business tips and visited them regularly instead of the usual “don’t do drugs” cliche’).
“He was much more open with us,” Dawkins said. “He would come in our dressing room here and there and talk about what he went through and what we should watch out for in this business. He’s really funny.”
Backstage, the young rockers hang out in the empty venue, messing around on their phones and jokingly teasing one another as teenagers do. Tired of sitting, Brickhouse busts out the 8.5” DGK (his other weapon of choice due to the artwork and company vibe) and skates around the venue to scope the place out for a minute before event staff inform him it’s not permitted to be on a board inside. While he doesn’t remember what got him into the action sport initially, skating calms his nerves. His favorite pro is none other than the multi-champion son of a comic Paul “P-Rod” Rodriguez, who is known for pulling off flawless contest runs and has one heck of an inward heelflip; Brickhouses’ favorite trick. The opening band’s sound check starts up and the guitarist heads back to the dressing room to rejoin his friends before they take the stage.
The openers are decent – a cross between Alice In Chains, Nirvana and the Stone Temple Pilots. No one remembers their name, but they do well and show a good amount of energy and charisma. The fans in attendance are not for them, but for the boys. Family and friends are catching up and piling in until the set comes to an end. Annette Jackson, Brickhouses’ mother and Unlocking The Truth’s co-manager stands in the back and hustles the boys merchandise – a bevy of T-shirts, stickers and posters to the adoring public. A strong but tiny fireball, Jackson is a Supermom in every sense of the word.
“It feels good supporting our son Malcolm and his goals of becoming one to the best bands and a music producer,” she says. “It’s very expensive, very time consuming and a thankless job, but we always say our prayers and thank the good Lord for blessing him and to never let us take our blessings for granted.”
One piece of “Truth gear” is noticeably absent, however. There are no physical copies of “Chaos” present as Jackson doesn’t want to risk an individual leaking the album two days before its release. The boys have worked too long and too hard to let someone else let the cat out of the bag.
When the Brooklyn metal band signed a whopping $1.8 million, five album deal with Sony in 2014, things changed immediately (because of their ages, they had to get the Supreme Court’s approval to ink the contract). At the request of producers, the band decided vocals would be essential to their then-instrumental arsenal. There were talks of auditions with various singers, but they never surfaced when Brickhouse stepped up to the plate shortly after the decision was made. After taking lessons to this day from Melissa Cross, a vocal teacher for major label artists better known for her “Zen of Screaming” DVDs; Brickhouse now performs double-duty on guitar and vocals simultaneously.
“Someone has to sing. You can’t be a big band and not have a singer,” he said . “We were thinking of getting a girl singer, but it just didn’t happen. We even tried him (Atkins), but it didn’t work out, so I just said “I’ll sing.”
In addition to the new sound, a plethora of publicity, commercial spots and dream gig offers knocked on the boys proverbial doors. In the blink of an eye, they’d made it to the big leagues well before graduation. While they were still treated the same by their peers, the rest of the world was another story. Everything was happening all at once for the trio and the instant fame was more than they could handle at the time. After an intense legal battle, Unlocking The Truth would be released from their contract with Sony roughly a year after their initial signing.
“A lot of it was between our parents and laywers. It wasn’t the contract that made us leave. It was the pressure of dealing with fame. It was just a thing of too much too fast. I miss it now, but we’re trying to get it back at our own pace,” Brickhouse says.
During the Sony days, a six song EP (titled “Free As You Wanna Be”) was recorded by Disturbed producer John “Johnny K” Karkazis that eventually got scrapped after things didn’t work out. This would be a blessing (and omen) in disguise as Karkazis would be a necessary contact the boys needed to make when they would record “Chaos” with him over the course of a week.
“We were in a rush, but it worked,” Dawkins said. “He (Karkazis) is very fun to work with, a very good guy. He has over 20 years of experience, he’s wonderful at what he does and he’s passionate.”
The house lights fade to black and Unlocking The Truth take the stage to a screaming horde of Truth Seekers commissioned by the Metal Gods. For the next 45 minutes, the lads initiate phase one of their plan for world domination. It’s their night and everything goes down like an ice cold beer after a hard day’s night. Brickhouse and the gang come out of their offstage shells alive with songs like “Monster,” “Take Control” and the album’s title track, “Chaos.” Brickhouse sweeps away on various ESP guitars– an endorsement he’s absolutely ecstatic about while Atkins and Dawkins lay down the heavy semi-latin grooves that make for a strong musical core. They call for mosh pits – which on any other evening would already be in full swing, but with the amount of family and friends in their Sunday best (despite the actual day of the week) the demand goes mostly unheeded. A sign of respect for the maturing monsters of rock.
After a wildly energetic performance, the boys take the time to thank everyone in attendance for their support, tell jokes, goof around and even bring close friends onstage. The crowd roars their approval – the loudest being Brickhouse’s devoted father Tracey, who travels with the band and never misses a gig. As the house lights come back on, the boys celebrate their achievements with their adoring public.
“Our son is giving everything he has to reach his goals and make his dreams come true,” said Jackson.
As Unlocking The Truth take their leave, the joy in their eyes tells the whole story. Three rockers from Brooklyn with a vision who’s shared identity is not just a name – but a manifesto.
“I plan on doing this my entire life,” Brickhouse says. “It’s what I love. I can’t picture myself outside of making music. I don’t like school and I can’t have an office job.”