An In-Depth Interview With The Members Of BAD WOLVES On Their Latest Album, ‘N.A.T.I.O.N’, Touring, Social Media, Politics and Much More!
Bad Wolves released their sophomore album, N.A.T.I.O.N. on October 25, via Eleven Seven Music. (Purchase Link- https://badwolves.ffm.to/nation)
“We’ve honed it in and really delivered a more focused version of Bad Wolves’ sound,” says front-man Tommy Vext of this new material. “Basically, it’s like pouring steroids on everything we love about the first record to create an album that’s a roller coaster of emotional experience.”
Bad Wolves have proven to be the unprecedented global breakthrough rock act of 2018 and aim to continue that momentum with N.A.T.I.O.N.,the stunning 12-track follow-up to their debut album, Disobey, which featured the singles “Hear Me Now,” with label-mate Diamante, and the soaring ballad “Remember When,” which both reached #1 at Active Radio, as well as the band’s monumental viral cover of The Cranberries‘ “Zombie,’ which is now platinum in the U.S. and Sweden, double-platinum in Canada, gold in Australia and IMPALA Diamond in Europe. The track has topped charts worldwide, including the U.S. iTunes overall and rock charts, Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart, and Spotify’s Global Viral 50 chart, while also reigning atop the Active Rock radio chart for three straight weeks.
Bad Wolves hit the road with Five Finger Death Punch and Three Days Grace in November, with a few headlining dates sprinkled throughout. They head out on the road again with FFDP on their 2020 European tour with Megadeth!
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Learn more about Bad Wolves in the following All Access interview-
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this group together? Was it hard to think of a name that you could all agree on?
Tommy: Oh yeah, it was brutal. What was the original name [John]?
John: It was originally called I of Tongues, which was like the me, myself and I, I of tongues.
John: Not the ocular eye.
Tommy: However, it was also the name of an Indian restaurant in Silver Lake, California, so we were forced to change the name.
John: There was a moment, I remember, that I knew that Tommy was the one for this band, because I had been trying to put this thing together forever, and Tommy sent me a version of a song that I gave to him for his band. I didn’t think I wanted it, but I was on a bad ecstasy trip in Vegas, and I went into my room by myself because I didn’t want to be around anybody, and listened to it 10 times, and I was like, “Oh my God, it’s so good! He’s going to be in my band and this is all good.” It was a very intense moment, and I kept listening to it over and over, and I knew that when I got off this trip or whatever, I’m going to call him. A couple of days later I called him and “I think we should probably do this together.” Then we fought over the band name for a while, and it’s funny because now in hindsight, I couldn’t imagine us being called I of Tongues. It just wouldn’t have worked.
How would you say that 2019 has treated the band? What have been your goals as a group this year and how close are you to reaching them? How excited are you for 2020?
Tommy: Well, 2019 has been crazy. We went back to Europe, we played Rock Am Ring, Rock Im Park, and Download festival, all these.
John: We did a whole tour this summer and we made a record.
Tommy: Yeah, we made a record! Went to Australia with Nickelback. We haven’t stopped working since the band came out. It’s kind of weird.
John: This September and October has really been the only time we’ve had off in almost two years, and I enjoyed it. I went on vacation, spent some money, and finally got a place to live. It was nice to get back to normal routine for a bit, but other than that, 2020 is just going to be the same thing as usual. Good luck, boys, and go to work.
Tommy: I’m looking forward to it, though. Because as the band gets bigger, touring gets a little bit easier. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not hard, but as the band grows, there are things we can now afford, such as a hotel room or having a dressing room. Because the whole first year, it was real sparse.
John: I’m looking forward to touring with the crew that we have now. We have just the right guys. Those are things that take a while to get, and we’re fortunate enough to have even gotten that far within two years.
How do you think your hometown has influenced this sound and how you carry yourself in this group? How has the music scene there changed over the years?
Tommy: If it wasn’t for LA, we all wouldn’t have met and we all wouldn’t be jamming together.
John: I kind of owe everything to Los Angeles. LA has brought all of us together. Tommy moved here first, I think, then me.
John: Yeah. You [Tommy] were here first, then me, then Doc. Kyle was from here, and Chris is from Iowa. This town brought us together through so many strange intertwinement occurrences. Here we all are now, being in the biggest successful rock band, metal band, that all of us have been deep in into probably combined. So, LA, thanks.
Tommy: The scene has changed. It’s been almost 13 years since I moved here, and there’s not as many places to play. And as a result of losing the Key Club and losing the House of Blues, I feel the Sunset Strip has gotten less and less traffic, foot traffic, and people going out. Steel Panther used to sell out the Key Club every single Monday night for years. It was a thing to do on Monday. Celebrities would hang out, and then The Roxy and The Whisky always had shows and there were people just kicking it. If you didn’t know what was going on, you could literally just go up, go to the Strip, and you’d run into 30 people you knew. And now it’s a little bit died down. The vibe is a little more tame.
John: Every time I go to The Rainbow I have a good time, except for the last time I got a little crazy. But in general, I don’t hang out on the Strip. I don’t hang out in LA that much, so when I do go to Sunset, it’s still fun.
Tommy: I just don’t go out anymore. I’m like, yeah, I’m boring.
Let’s talk about your newest sophomore album. What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
John: There wasn’t too much surprising about the process. It was very, very, very similar to our first record. Tommy and I produced it. Mark Lewis did the drums on the first one. He did them on the second one. Max Karon did a lot of the engineering with the guitars.
Tommy: Joseph McQueen did mixing and mastering.
John: The writing process is very similar, where Tommy would bring stuff to me, I bring stuff to him, and then we would chop it or not. The only thing that was surprising is there was less tension on this one because we already knew what our boundaries were so much more than on the first record.
This record became yes, a lot less of yes and no and no and yes. This was more, “How do you feel?” “I feel this.” “Okay, cool. Then let’s take a vote.” It’s a little bit easier than, “This is not happening.” Those moments happened at peaks of aggravation about passion, of course. I feel so passionate about … I have to get angry about this. In general, this was a lot smoother than the first record because we weren’t fighting each other, and we knew where the band needed to go musically and vocally. Anything else?
John: I learned how to pick and choose my battles a bit more, too, because I know his style and he knows mine. So it’s like, “Do I really want to say something about that right now? Why don’t I sit, see how I feel about it in two weeks?” And a lot of times you don’t care. Then you listen to back the demo and you go, “I can’t believe I was sticking to my guns so hard about something so dumb.”
Tommy: Yeah. That’s the most annoying feeling. I was so angry for no reason. No reason.
You are quoted as saying that this new album is “basically like pouring steroids on everything we love about the first record to create an album that’s a roller coaster of emotional experience.” Can you elaborate on this?
Tommy: Pouring steroids on everything that you love about Bad Wolves.
John: That’s a good sentence. Whoever put that together … was that you [Tommy]?
Tommy: Yeah, I said that in an interview. If you look in the track listing, I think there’s also definitive differences of what I consider heavy. One of my favorite riffs that John’s ever written is on a song called “No Messiah.” The whole song is such an amazing composition to me because it has all the things that I love about bands like Faith No More, Metallica, Pantera, Deftones. But it sounds like us.
And then you have songs like “Sober” we did from a narrative perspective. There are so many songs about being a drug addict, the artists are, “Oh, I’m tortured.” It’s like, no one ever is. No one ever gets out of their own self to write about what it’s like for the people who are affected by the alcoholic or drug addict. It’s a disease that affects the whole family. So going into making a song that illustrates a greater issue and being able to do it in a way that is transferable and people get it right off the bat – that’s, that’s really huge too.
And then there are songs like “Foe or Friend,” which are super-brutal. Lyrically it’s about my experience of being in the witness protection program after my brother hired someone to murder me. And there are actual excerpts from threatening phone calls my brother had made that were used in evidence in the case that got him convicted of attempted murder.
So no, we don’t really have boundaries with our music. We don’t have boundaries with our subject matter. There were songs like “Crying Game” and “Killing Me Slowly” that could be perceived as relationship songs, and one has nothing to do with romantic relationships. It becomes about the way that we respond to interpersonal relationships and the struggle of dealing with people who gaslight, or people who refuse to accept responsibility for their own part when things go wrong and resentments happen.
Yeah, we just hit the nail. When we decide we’re going to drop something, we go all in on it.
John: Yeah. If we’re doing a ballad, we’re doing a fucking ballad. If we’re doing a heavy song, we’re doing heavy song and it’s fine. Pours the gasoline all over it.
Generally, how does this group go about writing your music? Do you write together or separately? What is the first step in your music-making process?
Tommy: Separately first.
John: The only thing that changed from the first to the second record is that now Chris and Doc are a bit more involved. Even though Chris had been in the band, he was just too busy to write being on tour all the time with pop acts and stuff, and Doc came in a little bit late. So they were able to contribute too. That’s the only thing that changed about the process. But in general, everyone writes on their own, brings it in, and then Tommy and I are “yay, nay, yay, nay” on each other’s stuff and the band’s stuff, and we build it from there.
How long did it take to write the album?
John: Well, we usually write songs in batches, at least I do. But we can take one of the worst-case scenarios, let’s say “The Consumerist,” where I wrote it, and Tommy didn’t like the music. So I rewrote the entire music, then he recorded vocals over it, and then we ended up going back to all the original music. Talk about killing me slowly over here. And then there’s songs like “Sober,” where him and Drew Fulk worked on that, and that was done in a day, and that’s how it goes.
Tommy: Some stuff just happens. Like “Learn to Walk Again” was like done in September, but it wasn’t truly finished for 10 or 11 months later.
John: Yeah, we finally paid attention to it a bit more. Some songs are a pain in the ass and some songs are just boom, done.
Do you have any songs that are left over?
John: Yeah, there’s songs left over. There’s still songs left over from the first record. There’s tons of riffs always left around, but I tend not to start with those. I just bought a new guitar to write and record my parts that I want to contribute. I always start fresh. I don’t want to just go, “Okay, let’s go back to the ones no one really liked before.”
I’m curious to know why you decided to cover the hit song “Zombie” last year. How long have you been wanting to do that? What was it like being able to donate $250,000 in proceeds to Dolores O’Riordan’s four children?
Tommy: I think originally “Zombie” was demoed in early 2017, late 2016, and I brought it to John and was like, “You know what song is really heavy? ‘Zombie’ from The Cranberries.”
John: Yeah. He already had it done and everything, brought it to the band, and I was like, “That’s cool, let’s put it on the record.”
Tommy: We weren’t sure it was going to go on the record, because I was insecure about it. We wound up getting in contact with Dolores through Dan Wade at the U.K. office, and she loved it and wanted to sing on it. That was the final stamp. And, as everyone knows, we never got to see that through because she passed away the day before she was scheduled to record. It was like a real emotional roller coaster. When we got to meet the kids, and her ex-husband, and they came to New York and we presented them with the check …
John: It was strange, that’s the way I could say it. It wasn’t a high five moment, “So good to meet you,” because it’s over terrible circumstances, and we’re also giving them money that they don’t want.
Tommy: It was just a very bittersweet situation.
John: I think the photo says it all. There’s a photo of all of us with a big check. Do you remember those big checks reserved for prize moments? We didn’t know how to act or if we should smile. And clearly one of Dolores’s kids doesn’t look like it’s a very happy moment. It’s a weird question to answer, and it’s hard to explain unless you were there.
Tommy: I think the upside of it is the kids have been able to use that money to start their own businesses and further their education, and I think that’s what the goal was.
I always like to ask bands if you all hang out socially apart from the music? In other words, when you aren’t working on music, do you guys enjoy hanging out for fun?
John: Yes, we do.
Tommy: Yeah, we kick it. I feel like you [John] and Goose [Chris] hang pretty tough.
John: I would say Doc and Kyle. Kyle works a lot, and he lives further out. But me, Doc, and Chris tend to hang out quite a bit. But also our nightlife style isn’t really cohesive to his [Tommy’s] sobriety.
Tommy: I don’t really go out at night. I miss out.
John: He’ll come out for some things, but it’s not like he’s hanging out until 4AM.
Tommy: I’m pretty much like, “Hi, I’m here, okay guys,” and I’ll wave my hand that I’m here, and then just as quickly it will be time to leave.
John: Yeah, I’ve been there too, and I don’t drink all the time. Sometimes I go out and I try and drink, and not drinking. But by 11:30 it’s time to leave, and then you wonder, “What am I doing here?” So it’s not that much fun.
Tommy: It’s also from getting up early. I’m just like, “Oh, it’s the morning.”
John: But we do hang out and enjoy each other’s company. We’re not that big yet.
Tommy: Yeah, right. Everybody needs his own bus. I don’t even want to smell your socks ever again.
How do you feel that this band has grown through the years? What has remained the same?
John: The way we roll has grown. We were in a van, now we’re in a bus with a full crew, so that has changed. The expansion of the band in terms of ears on us has grown globally. We went from playing our first show at The Foundation Room at House of Blues Anaheim in Orange County to 50 people, with one song on the radio that, thank God, Jose Mangin was helping us out with, to now we’re out with Three Days Grace and Five Finger Death Punch, and then Five Finger Death Punch and Megadeth. So much has changed for us …
Tommy: We frickin’ opened for frickin’ Nickelback!
John: Yeah, we opened up for Nickelback. The past two years would be any freaking band’s wildest dreams in terms of projection and acceleration and overall salute to the biz. It has been a wild ride.
Where do you think you are all happiest – in the studio recording new music, onstage performing, or elsewhere?
John: One hundred percent writing music. Not even in the studio recording it. Just writing it is the most rewarding part of this job for me. That’s when I’m the happiest. That’s when I don’t feel conflicted about anything. I’ve escaped at that point. It’s like taking a drug that numbs you out. I’m not thinking about anything but that. It’s really easy for me.
Tommy: I don’t know. I feel like I have really lucid moments from being onstage, but it also can go terribly wrong, too, like when things don’t go right on a technical level. So it’s not really consistent. I mean, consistently the gym is like my safe space. It’s where I go. It’s a moving meditation. I’m somebody who has a lot of resistance to life, and so it actually helps me to surrender more to circumstances and ideas and compromise to physically exhaust myself.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for this band? What have been some of your favorite shows and venues over the years?
Tommy: Germany, Rock Am Ring, Rock Im Park, Spokane.
John: One show that really sticks out was when we opened for Three Days Grace in Prague. I felt like we were Metallica in 1988 or something, I don’t know. The crowd was so responsive. A lot of energy. It was big night.
Tommy: There were some shows on those tours where girls were passing out in the front row like we were Michael Jackson. In Poland, in Prague. We were like, “What is going on here?”
John: There were some fun ones.
Tommy: Spokane, Washington was really great.
John: Worcester Palladium in Massachusetts.
Tommy: Oh yeah, that was so good.
John: That was a really good show we had this past summer. But there’s never one place you repeatedly go to. You can have a great show somewhere and go back and you’re like, “Hmm. It’s a little different from last time.” So it’s more about just memories of holding on to places, and that one time it was really good.
How has your arena tour with Five Finger Death Punch, Three Days Grace, and Fire From The Gods been this fall? What about your 2020 European tour with FFDP and Megadeth?
John: You can’t ask for a better way to drop a record and then hit an arena tour with Five Finger Death Punch, Three Days Grace, and Fire From the Gods. You can’t line that up any better in our genre. There’s no bigger band you could go out with besides maybe Slipknot or Metallica. It’s a grand slam.
John: Sometimes I feel like the band can’t loose, but we can’t be happier with the status of our touring while this album dropped. Thank you, Zoltan and Ivan and everyone. And our headlining dates with Fire From The Gods is just a couple of extra dates we added to hang with the homies and make a little extra money to help pay for the production that we’re doing.
Are you getting the chance to perform at some venues that you have never been at yet (as a band)?
John: Oh yeah, for sure. We’re always hitting new territory.
Tommy: In Europe we’re doing countries and cities that we haven’t done as a band before. Should be real cool. Helsinki and …
John: Are we doing Scandinavia?
Tommy: Scandinavia, Denmark, Sweden, I think Gothenburg.
John: It should be cool, because in Sweden, “Zombie” is gold. It’s really, really hard to go gold.
Tommy: Doc and I have gone and done press there alone, but we haven’t played a show.
What touring band-mate do you think you have learned the most from since you began touring?
John: I don’t spend enough time with other band members on tours to learn too much from them. I’ve learned a lot from our manager, Zoltan, but internally I’ve learned a lot from Tommy.
Tommy: I learned a lot from you, too, though.
John: I learned a lot from Tommy in terms of … don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re one hell of a person to give someone advice. He’s a life coach. He can do that stuff. He may not always take it on himself, but in general, if I really have a serious family, personal, or problem like that, and if I ask Tommy about that, his advice is always spot on, and I respect it, and I take it.
Tommy: Yeah. I come to the table with post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m sober, so I have alcoholism and addiction. And I think I really have come to understand how John is an incredibly compassionate, empathetic person in a way that I am oftentimes shut off to, because I was not allowed to have that space in my adolescence and childhood because I grew up in a very violent home.
John has had similar experiences, but he’s done work that I haven’t done. And so as partners and as friends, there’s an unconditional-ness that he brings into the dynamic of our friendship that softens me, and that has helped me grow out of the need to always have these very coarse boundaries with people.
There’s a belief system ingrained in me that I’m actually working through in therapy that people will betray me, and it’s really been nice that we’ve been able to evolve as business partners and as friends and as a band and allow me to bring my guard down. It’s very gradual, but I’m not always a walk in the park to deal with, so it’s humbling.
John: But knowing that we’re both not going to betray each other too, because I came from certain things where I thought people were always going to end up leaving or betraying me, but not as harsh as you do, though. But I always try to remember there’s a lot of love out there for you, bud. Not everyone is out to get you.
Tommy: It helps. It does. You never really understand why a lot of times it’s very easy in life, when things go bad, to surrender to that, and a lot of us are survivalists. Bad things happen in our careers and, “Oh, now I’ve got to go do this,” or bad things happen in our family lives, or our personal lives, or our relationships, and you just accept it and then do the next indicated action.
I think in Bad Wolves it’s been an interesting experience for most of us to have to surrender to the fact that maybe the war is over. And maybe we’re okay. It’s such an interesting concept, in retrospect, to be, “Oh wow, we might be okay. We might be able to do this till we’re old and gray and have a good time doing it, and maybe we can let go of some of the fucking fear of things not working out.”
John: Yes. Good point.
How has social media impacted this band? How often are you all on your different sites interacting with fans? How have you been able to utilize it through the years?
John: We could go to school for that question. In general, I think everyone knows social media is a must. If you’re in a band, it’s a must. If you’re creative, if you have a creative output and you have a yearning for other people to see it, it’s a must. Some people treat it more as a daily routine, like, Tommy’s very reactive to every single person with him. I’m a bit more casual. I’m trying to work on that. You have to, if you want to connect, and because that’s how millennials connect.
It affects your release. It affects constant contents. Labels have to up their game with video content and getting more and more and more and more. Now you need a lot more of the little things to release a record, whereas before, it was three videos at most and dropped the album and “Phew, we’re done.” The press really had to do the work after that. It just seems like it’s ongoing now with content, content, content.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time, so I am curious to know how you all think being musicians and in this band still gives you the most joy in life today. Do you find that your music is an escape from all the current events?
Tommy: No, it’s not an escape. I mean, we are involved in current events. Songs like “Sober” wouldn’t be as relevant if our country wasn’t amidst the greatest opioid crisis epidemic in the history of opioid prescription use. “LA Song” is a song about being a musician in LA, but it also touches down on the reality of there’s 175,000 people on the verge of homelessness in Los Angeles alone every year. And the number increases, I think, something like 18 percent.
Doc and I have spent time volunteering downtown at the Monday night mission, feeding the homeless. There’s a lot of veterans down there. There’s a lot of people who fell on bad times, and there’s a lot of people that are suffering from mental health and addiction. It’s the ugly underside of the city that nobody wants to look at.
John: One hundred percent. It’s becoming a problem everywhere, and especially in Los Angeles.
Tommy: Yeah, Venice is overrun at this point.
John: Even Trump said it. Trump said there is a big problem with homelessness in LA. It’s getting a little crazy because they’re busing them out and spreading them around the city, thinking that that’s going to change now. There’s a lot of petitions going. I’m not the one to ask, but in general, I’ve seen it firsthand where I just moved. I’m like, “This is not what this place was like two years ago.” They have different security systems in my building now. All kinds of stuff.
Tommy: You live on the west side and you pay $4,000 a month rent, and there’s just like people sleeping in front of your building.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
Tommy: I hope that people come to our shows and enjoy our music, and I hope they meet each other. I hope that we’re a band that makes people feel like they’re less alone. Because even though we live in this time with so much access and potential for connectivity, I feel like people become disassociated from each other. We spend more time on social media than we do actually being social.
We talk about a lot of issues, and we have a pretty strong anti-suicide message. I created a family outside of my family. My family wasn’t a safe place. And so I had my friends, and then I had a band, and I went to concerts, and I had this community, and you had to go outside to do that. And so when people come to our shows, we encourage them. I stop the show and have people hug each other, and then I have them hug people who they came to the show with that they love. And I asked them to hug a stranger. I think that that’s what ultimately what bands like Pantera and Korn – these artists made records that made me feel like my issues weren’t so terminally unique. That’s what I personally would like for our contribution to be to the genre and the scene.
John: Yeah. I couldn’t have said that any better. Just to throw one more in there: You know those songs that you throw on and you’re like “Damn, those times”? It just takes you back. I want, hopefully, some of our songs do that to some people 15 years from now. Throw it on, remember when it dropped, and it brings it back to a time in their life when an important thing thing was happening and the music just connects to it. I do that with a lot of music.