When YouTube and social media viewers first saw Brooklyn heavy metal outfit "Unlocking The Truth" wailing on a New York City sidewalk in their debut viral-bound video two years ago, everyone was instantly beguiled by the young trio.
The enthusiasm and obvious skill of the three teenaged musicians instantly made fans of the hundreds of thousands who viewed their busking clip. Everyone agreed, the boys were destined for the big time.
But it’s when the band finally got their big break in the form of a much-publicised $1.8 million contract with Sony Music Entertainment that their name became oddly prophetic and the true nature of the music industry revealed itself.
In the lead-up to the release of, "Breaking a Monster," Luke Meyer’s new documentary that chronicles how three young, metal-loving black kids from Brooklyn attempted to navigate show business, the boys sat down with The Daily Beast.
“It was pretty difficult at times with these meetings — especially with this one particular lady at the label, who had a meeting with us once where she was just talking at us for six hours,” says bassist Alec Atkins, 13.
“We were pretty young at the time so we were pretty restless and wanted to get up and do something else, but she just had us in this meeting for six hours.”
This became the boys’ reality after their famous signing – long, drawn-out meetings with label representatives who each had an idea about how to best market the boys, regardless of their cooperation.
“It’s all about branding,” their label rep tells the nonplussed boys early on in Breaking a Monster, before displaying a mock-up of them transformed into Boondocks-like characters for an accompanying cartoon.
“The guys are such a blank slate,” says Meyer. “They wanted to jump into the world and wanted to be rock stars, but they had no idea what it was going to be about.”
“When people meet the guys, they usually meet them with their idea of who they think they should be — like a Boondocks cartoon, or these cute metal-heads. It’s a place where you can see this divide between the guys’ intentions and the label’s intentions.”
Naturally, the endless meetings took a toll on three teenagers who just want to play music and Grand Theft Auto. In one scene, guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse, 14, snaps at a label rep, “I’m not tired, I’m aggravated.”
“There are so many different types of meetings,” says drummer Jarad Dawkins, 13. “Sometimes we have meetings at our lawyer’s office, sometimes we have a meeting with a company. It depends on what the occasion is.”
Contrary to the general public’s perception, which would dictate that a contract ramps up your career, the band’s signing has left them in a stalemate with Sony. The boys are desperate to leave their contract and are in the midst of negotiating their egress.
“It’s been very difficult. We’re speaking to our attorneys about leaving Sony, and it’s very complicated,” says Alec. “The album is ready, but because our attorneys are talking about us leaving the record label, it’s going to be a whole process of getting our music back.”
The contract itself isn’t even as lucrative as it sounds. “The $1.8 million is what happens if you add up all their advances for five records, and it increases in amount with each successive album,” says Meyer.
In order to go beyond their advance, Unlocking The Truth need to sell over 250,000 copies of a single album, which is a near impossibility in today’s music industry.
“That’s what everyone says about the music industry,” adds Meyer, “it’s got all this glitter on it, but it’s always less flashy than it looks.”
At one point in the film, Malcolm demands to see some evidence of the $1.8 million, refusing to leave a van until he does. The band’s contract, of course, was a 360 deal that covered five albums, as well as a cut of touring, publishing, merch., etc.
The growing feelings of resentment amongst the band’s members culminate in Malcolm turning to the band’s manager and asking if the only reason they were signed was because they’re these young, cute black kids who are into heavy metal.
“You think Malcolm’s making this big discovery, but then you realize that he’s known this all along,” says Meyer.
As well as cartoon pitches, at one point Sony attempt to convert them from an instrumental outfit to a group with singing, hiring a vocal coach to train and deepen Malcolm’s barely pubescent vocal chords.
Despite the debacle that their contract has become, the band have not only retained that infectious enthusiasm first displayed on that New York street corner, but they feel palpably optimistic about their careers.
“I like the excitement of performing,” Jarad says. “How people feel entertained, and look at you, and get excited. We’re trying to become one of the best metal bands out there, and I believe that really shows in our performances, and how excited we are to perform for different crowds, people, and cultures.”
“Our whole lives changed after we were signed,” he continues. “We can’t just go out and ‘do things,’ we have to get everything approved. But we realize that we’re not normal kids anymore and we have a career ahead of us, so we don’t want to mess that up.”