Unlocking the Truth, eighth-grade metal band, signs five-album contract with Sony worth $1.78 million


Alec Atkins, Malcolm Brickhouse and Jarad Dawkins of Unlocking the Truth at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 12, 2014 in Indio, Calif. (Photos by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

When you listen to the members of the heavy metal/hard rock band Unlocking the Truth, they tick off a list of goals that sound perfectly normal for a band that’s opened for Guns N’ Roses and performed at Coachella: They want to return to Coachella, be a main act instead of an opener and have an album out.

Then you remember that the Brooklyn trio of Malcolm Brickhouse, 13, Alec Adkins, 13, and Jarad Dawkins, 12, hasn’t even started high school yet — and that compared to them, you probably look like an underachieving slouch, especially since that album is coming sooner than you think.

Unlocking the Truth just signed a deal worth a potential $1.7 million, with two guaranteed albums and another four in the pipeline if the label chooses to make them, which put Brickhouse, Adkins and Dawkins in firm contention for the title of Coolest High School Freshmen Ever. Sony confirmed the deal to the New York Daily News this weekend.

The record deal is a significant upgrade from last summer, when Brickhouse, Adkins and Dawkins were making as much as $1,600 playing Times Square for 10 hours on the weekends. Steve Jordan, Eric Clapton’s drummer, discovered them in Washington Square Park in 2012. “Welcome Back, Kotter” co-creator Alan Sacks co-manages the group with Brickhouse’s mother, Annette Jackson. According to the New York Post, which spoke with Sacks:

The seven-figure Sony contract was submitted for a Manhattan judge’s approval Friday because the musicians are minors.

The deal includes 16 to 17 percent in royalties, a fee that’s slightly above the industry average, said entertainment attorney Richard Wolfe.

The deal is particularly impressive for artists without a track record, added Wolfe, who has repped Mariah Carey and Marilyn Manson.

But there is a hook on the exclusive five-album deal — the boys will only see the real money after an initial $60,000 advance if their first album sells over 250,000 copies.

TMZ obtained a copy of the contract and published the details: $60,000 for the first album, $325,000 for the second, $400,000 for the third, $450,000 for the fourth,and $550,000 for the fifth.

INDIO, CA - APRIL 12: Musician Malcolm Brickhouse of Unlocking the Truth performs onstage during day 2 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 12, 2014 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)
Guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse of Unlocking the Truth crowdsurfs at Coachella. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

It’s definitely unconventional to hear head-banging music and look up to see three kids from the birthplace of hip hop rocking out with a ‘fro, a fro-hawk and a high-top fade, but it’s totally normal for them. Brickhouse and Dawkins told AXS.com they met at a birthday party, and Brickhouse knew Atkins from preschool, where they were presumably playing air guitar between naps and graham-cracker breaks. The two became interested in heavy metal watching Japanese anime such as “Bleach” and “Naruto,” which both feature metal, and used to go to wrestling matches where metal is dominant as well.

Brickhouse and Dawkins decided to form a band and invited Atkins, promising to teach him how to play bass guitar. While Brickhouse has been playing guitar since he was six, and Dawkins has been drumming since he was two, Atkins had never picked up a bass guitar until he hit double digits. They’ll be slaying at this year’s Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn where they performed last year, too.

At first, the band didn’t sing – “Our voices are not strong enough,” Brickhouse said in an interview with Studio 360′s Kurt Andersen last year, but that could change soon. Brickhouse said they have lyrics for the songs they’ve written, mostly about “drugs and relationships and stuff. And being free.” Now that their voices have dropped, they’ll be able to record them. They’re taking voice lessons between touring on the Vans Warped Tour and studying.

“School work comes first,” Jarad’s mother, Tabatha Dawkins, told the Daily News. “If their school work is not done, they don’t play.”

The band has become accustomed to descriptions as The Youngest to Do X. Unlocking the Truth was the youngest act to play the main stage at Coachella and they are the youngest people Andersen has ever interviewed.

Plenty of acts have early starts — think Another Bad Creation, Tevin Campbell, the Jackson 5, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. It’s no surprise that young kids can sing and play instruments, but this is metal, not the Mickey Mouse Club. There’s an inherent precocity in mastering such a serious genre. It is, after all, characterized, perhaps unfairly, by Black Sabbath and its leader, Ozzy Osbourne, who once bit the head off a bat in a live performance. So much of it is shrouded in a reputation associated with blood, satanism, and all things macabre. But in interviews, Brickhouse, Atkins and Dawkins sound pleasant and well-adjusted. They patiently explain that, no, their music doesn’t have satanic themes, and that at least one of them is Christian.

Maybe it’s because they started so young that they were free to develop technically without scaring the pants off people. They rock black nail polish and Wiz Khalifa T-shirts and look like regular Brooklyn musicians — just in miniature. Their music however, will, as one fan put it, melt your face.

“To me, we have our own customized genre,” Dawkins told the Village Voice. “Our music is different than other types of metal bands. I would put it as ‘custom metal.’” It’s not kiddy metal, but sounds like it could have been composed by musicians twice their age. The band counts Metallica, Disturbed and Slipknot among its influences.

“During the week we do our homework and go to school and at nighttime, I would say around 5 o’clock, we would practice our instruments,” Atkins said. “And on the weekend, we would have serious, hardcore band practice.”

Watch Unlocking the Truth’s last performance in Times Square, below:

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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