Without question, the breakout metal band of the first half of 2018 is Bad Wolves, with their cover of the Cranberries’ classic “Zombie” rocketing into the mainstream. Despite outward appearances, the success has not come overnight. All the band members—vocalist Tommy Vext (Divine Heresy, Snot, Westfield Massacre), guitarists Doc Coyle (God Forbid) and Chris Cain (Bury Your Dead), bassist Kyle Konkiel (In This Moment) and drummer John Boecklin (DevilDriver)—have spent years grinding it out as part of the metal scene, and they’re not taking what’s happening now for granted.
Filling a gap between a spring arena tour with Five Finger Death Punch, Shinedown and Starset, and a massive summer amphitheater run with Five Finger Death Punch, Breaking Benjamin and Nothing More, the band is co-headlining the “What’s In Your Head Tour” with labelmates From Ashes to New and special guest Diamante. When that tour came to Baltimore Soundstage in Baltimore, Maryland, Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down before the show with Boecklin to discuss the success of “Zombie,” the debut album “Disobey,” how they landed 5FDP guitarist Zoltan Bathory as their manager and more.
LIVE METAL: First, I just want to say congratulations on all the success so far.
JOHN BOECKLIN: Thank you.
All of you in this band have been doing this for years in other bands. Do you think that has allowed to appreciate this a little more?
Yes and no, ‘cause it was a lot of hard work to get this done. So yeah. I’ve never had a hit single, so to speak. So that has just opened up my eyes to when things are really moving, what that actually entails, how much work it takes from the label’s side and management’s side, and on this side. We’re just a busier band than most right now on a day-to-day and an annual schedule.
But definitely each day, I’m soaking this in as much as I can, because who knows if tomorrow there’s another radio single for Bad Wolves like this. Probably not. It’s been a really fun ride. It sucks to say it’s been a fun ride out of something so tragic, but you know the details of how we decided to release this song—I’m hoping you do, donating the money to Dolores’ three children and stuff like that.
(NOTE: The band recently donated $250,000 to the children of late Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan.)
It’s hard to say it’s been a fun ride, ‘cause it’s not really the right thing to say. But to be honest, it has been. (laughs)
Have you heard the song in any unusual or unexpected places or anything like that?
Just such a huge influx of friends that are wherever they are. (laughs) Friends in bands or whatever. Maria Brink just texted me the other night—she’s in In This Moment—she was on the way to the movies—”You’re on the radio!” Just a lot of that stuff. A lot of high school friends coming out of the woodwork now, wanting to come say hi. To be honest, most of your friends, they’re not hardcore heavy metal (fans). They were supportive but not completely a real fan of what I used to do, and I think a lot of them actually really like this stuff.
And it’s not just that one song. People are buying the album and other songs.
Correct. It’s going well.
I’m sure you must’ve been confident in the material, but did you expect things to take off like this? Probably not like they have, right?
Not even remotely. I had my plan. I expected to be where we are right now in like two and a half, three years. And we did it in like two and a half months. I always manage my expectations with anything I do. Just because it sounds good doesn’t mean it’s gonna go well. There’s plenty of bands that we all like that are successful that are terrible (laughs) in someone else’s eyes, or there’s plenty of bands that we just love that can’t catch a break. So there you go.
How did this band get together? It started with you, right?
Correct. I left DevilDriver, and I started doing this, and it started off completely different. I was so done with metal. Then you do your little musical journey that you do, and you realize maybe that’s what I’m best at, and then try and incorporate little bits and pieces of the experimental stuff I was doing. Then Chris became involved second. He was part of the project when it was really something different—which those will never see the light of day. And then Tommy came in, and when Tommy came in, that’s when Doc’s interest kind of became more solidified.
I had been passing demos with Doc the whole time. He was well aware of what I was doing, but I figured I wouldn’t ask him to join the band, because I figured he would present himself if he wanted to. So when Tommy joined, then he heard some of the vocal stuff with Tommy. That’s when Doc said, “Hey, if you ever need a guitar player.” I was like, “Alright.”
And then Kyle came in last minute during the “Learn to Live” video shoot. He actually called Doc and said, “Hey, do you know anybody that needs a bass player?” He was like, “Yeah, us. Right now. We have a video we’re shooting right now.” We had decided to do it without a bass player, because we just needed to get the ball rolling. So it worked out.
Had you all known each other for a long time?
Yeah. I’ve been touring with Doc since 2004. I’ve known Tommy and toured with him since probably 2007 or 2008. Chris Cain, we toured together in 2009 and stayed friends. And Kyle, I managed a band that he was in briefly. He was a member of that band briefly; I managed that band for maybe two years. Kyle’s probably the one I knew the least.
So the album came out last month. What was the writing like? You had started writing before the other guys came in.
Most of this record was written by myself and Tommy. And that’s not because it’s a hoggish writing situation. It was just pretty much done when everybody joined up. Chris would’ve contributed more if he wasn’t so damn busy. He’s a tech, and he was traveling the world with The Chainsmokers and Christina Perri and all this stuff. So he lives in that pop world, and it’s a busy schedule out there. It’ll be cool on the next round to have more of a collective effort.
There’s a pretty broad range of heavy to ballads, so what kind of things inspired the writing?
Kind of what I was mentioning before. When I was doing a lot of different things, I let some of it in. (laughs) And I will let some more of it in. To be honest, it started off like a strange, ‘80s pop-rock kind of band with really trying to keep some Danny Elfman in there and stuff like that. And it just wasn’t really working. It was cool and all, but I don’t think there was a market for it. There’s still tons of riffs that are hanging around that I think will work here and there. But then once I did a couple heavy metal tracks, it was just kind of like that’s what I feel comfortable playing, and that’s what I miss. Sometimes you’ve gotta step away from what you love and see if it comes back to you.
I’ve been a fan of your drumming going back to the DevilDriver days. Listening to this new album in particular, what I admire is that you’re not overplaying. You’re doing what the song requires. You’re a songwriter, so the song comes first. Is that your approach?
No. (laughter) It’s not. To me, it’s very strange, ‘cause this album is harder for me to play than DevilDriver stuff. And it’s because it’s a completely different tempo pocket feel. That’s what I was going for, ‘cause I didn’t want to repeat myself. A lot of DevilDriver is two-step, fast and kind of what I like to call “white drumming.” It’s fast as fuck, but—that was another thing, too, with speed. It’s just gotten out of control. There’s always gonna be a kid in a basement who can do it faster than me on YouTube now, so I’m not being competitive in that nature. So I wanted to slow it down, and a lot of the tempos for these songs were different feels for me, and they’re very non-DevilDriver.
Yeah, there’s a lot of those grooves.
Grooves, yeah. Actually have to think about what you’re doing a bit more. (laughs) It’s interesting because to a listener, if you don’t play, you’d probably think that DevilDriver was a harder gig. But to me, this is a lot harder. It’s hard to make it sound good.
But then there’s songs like “Remember When” and “Hear Me Now,” where correct, that is 100 percent honest, you can’t overplay those songs. The songs are simple themselves, and they’re rock ballads, so to speak. We just chose a simple direction to really drive home a point.
“Remember When” is the new single and video. Tommy went to a very raw and personal place on that. What was your reaction when he brought that to the rest of you?
I was like, “Right on. This is awesome. This is what songs are made of.” (laughs) Yeah, we’re not just singing about how hard life was working at McDonald’s. So yeah, I was 100 percent supportive of him, happy that he was doing it and talking about it and taking that chance. I still don’t quite know what really goes on in his brain about the song, ‘cause we don’t have long heart to hearts about it. But it’s a pretty intense story, and I don’t bother him with it—”So tell me more about all this.”
(NOTE: Vext wrote “Remember When” about his experiences with his twin brother, who is serving a 17-year prison sentence after trying to kill Tommy during a home invasion in 2010.)
So the album title, “Disobey.” That’s a pretty strong word, especially when it’s by itself, sort of open-ended. What are you guys saying with that? Or are you leaving it up to interpretation?
For me, it personally extends back to most of the advice I would get was wrong (laughs) by a lot of people, except for my family gave good advice. But in general, I maintain my own gut feeling in the decisions based around that and have done well with that and have found success. Leaving DevilDriver was really hard for me. I shouldn’t have done that, by like 99 percent of people. But I did, and goddamn, it was a really hard three years to get to here.
Circling back to “Disobey,” I just don’t listen to many people and their advice, and that’s where that title means something to me. Now attach it with a police officer—I think that’s just an image to go along with the word. But it’s not anti-police or something. A lot of people think “Officer Down” is anti-police. It’s just imagery, selling a product, and (laughs) that’s about the extent of it. The word disobey means a lot of things to me that it might not to you.
How did you get hooked up with Zoltan as the manager of the band?
Tommy. I had known Zoltan for a while, played some shows here and there. But Tommy had a closer relationship with him. Tommy expressed interest about approaching him. I was like, “Yeah. Do whatever you want, man.” So when we made that video for “Lean to Live,” we let it hit the streets (laughs)—whatever. We released it, and it let gain some traction, and he showed him it, and he really liked it. That’s when things started formulating. That’s when things really took shape for the entire band. Once Zoltan agreed to manage us, he brought us in to Eleven Seven, presented us there. He was able to strike a deal there. That’s when everything fell into place, and that was around July of last year.
Death Punch has taken you out on tour with them. What has it been like to see their whole production firsthand? Does that motivate you more to try to get that level?
I wouldn’t say motivate. I’ve done those big arena tours. I’ve seen their production before; I know it’s big. It more of just perks the question. We are living in a radio world a little bit, this band, and we do have the similarities between us and Five Finger in terms of having heavy songs and ballads and whatnot. Your wheels start turning like, man, could we eventually get to that point? But like I said before in the beginning, I really work on managing my expectations, ‘cause I think being a loose cannon with high expectations is how you fall apart out here—”Yeah, man, everything’s fucking great! We’re gonna be huge!” (laughs) I’m always more leaning towards half empty. I’m kind of a realist—not total pessimism.
So how’s this tour going?
Great. It’s pretty much a small club tour. A lot of the clubs are sold out. For a band that’s been out for two and a half months already doing a co-headlining kind of thing, I was really nervous about it. But it seems to be going well. We’re having a great time.
On the earlier tour, you had Diamante out with you to sing “Hear Me Now,” and she’s doing it with you again on this tour and also has her own band out.
Yes, she’s doing it with us tonight and every night for the rest of our lives! (laughter) It seems to be the case. Yeah, she’s an Eleven Seven partner. They presented the idea of her singing a song with us. The song was already recorded, but Tommy always thought a female voice would be good on it. He had been searching for a bit, and then she kind of presented herself through management, ‘cause she’s on the same label as us. So all this kind of stuff worked out. Now we’re with her on tour, she was able to do those Five Finger dates, and her record just dropped. I think it’s called “Coming in Hot.” Check it out.
You’ve got the big tour coming up this summer. Are you looking forward to that?
Yeah, we’ve got a lot of stuff coming up. The big tour is with Five Finger and Breaking Benjamin and Nothing More. That’ll be consecutively one of the bigger tours I’ve ever done. That’s kind of long. It’s a good seven, eight weeks, and besides an Ozzfest or something—it’s all the same venues as those. So it’s gonna be fun, big, long and a real hot summer.