Latest release: Disobey (Eleven Seven)
To borrow a phrase from Mick Wall and Joel McIver’s excellent Dead Rock Stars podcast, Bad Wolves exploded onto the scene last year via the unexpected crossover success of their cover of The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’. The accompanying narrative, whereby the late Dolores O’Riordan was set to contribute guest vocals to their version, afforded the Los Angeles melodic metallers a sizeable leg–up over most new bands. The cover was released in honour of O’Riordan, who was scheduled to record her vocals on the song the day she died.
Consisting of vocalist Tommy Vext (ex-Divine Heresy), drummer John Boecklin (ex-DevilDriver), guitarist Doc Coyle (Vagus Nerve, ex-God Forbid), guitarist Chris Cain (Bury Your Dead) and bassist Kyle Konkiel (ex-In This Moment), Bad Wolves recently headed to Australia for their first run of shows Down Under. While in Sydney, Sony representatives presented the band with gold certification plaques for ‘Zombie’ in Australia.
Sitting in their dressing room at Sydney enormodome QUDOS Bank Arena, a few hours before playing a successful set opening for mega-selling rockers Nickelback, Loud chatted with Coyle (who will also join Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton’s band on his upcoming solo tour of North America) about arena-rock, following up their debut full-length Disobey, his The Ex-Man podcast and more.
Q: It must be a thrill to be playing arenas. However, does it keep your ego in check, the thought that, ‘hey, there’s 11,000 people here tonight, but we’re the opening band’.
A: I don’t think you can act like an opening act. You have to, I think in many ways we really approach it with a high level of intensity, that we have to go out there and kind of…. In many ways it’s like a staring contest with a dog. You have to show dominance. And a crowd is like that; if you come out there and you’re not, if you’re not acting like you own the stage… We have a lot of people that are here to see us, but I’m sure 70, 80, however many per cent of the crowd might not even know us until they hear ‘Zombie’. But you can’t worry about that.
This is a pretty mainstream crowd. We’ve been doing it for so long; when I mean so long I mean for the past year (laughs). But we just went out with Three Days Grace, who isn’t really any heavier than Nickelback and a very mainstream band. Once we did that, we were like, ‘we’ve done really well with this crowd, so we’re not worried that we’re too heavy or anything’. I think, especially here, people like heavy shit here. Even if they like a band like Nickelback, it’s not like they’re not into Slipknot or Lamb of God. And obviously you guys have a lot of heavy bands from here, that’s a big part of the rock culture here. So we’re not intimidated. But it is true though, any time you go to a new market, you’re like, ‘I wonder if they’re going to give a shit’. You just don’t know until you go out there and play in it, and it felt pretty natural.
Q: Having played clubs, theatres and metal festivals with God Forbid, did it take a little while to adjust to the prospect of having to project to an arena crowd and fill those larger stages?
A: Well, literally our first tour, we were playing festivals and arenas with this band. It was insane. We’ve been spoiled in that regard. You definitely just, (start) understanding how to command the stage, understanding that there’s a way the room sounds and kind of being able to judge the intensity. Sometimes in an arena you don’t feel the intensity the same way. Whereas we did these ampitheatres, like outdoor venues with seats and like a big lawn. And in those you’re able to judge the intensity a little better because of how the venues are set up.
So it is kind of a calibration. But while we did that we were also doing club dates, and then we did our own headline tour of clubs. And some clubs are small and only hold 300 people or something. So we’re fine with either. But I think for us to tour with these kinds of bands and (play) these venues is very aspirational for us, because we would love to get to that place, and we want to create music that can appeal and work in those environments. And that’s really filtered into how we’re putting together the new material. Listen, I’ve seen bands in arenas that I like, whereas I was like, ‘yeah, they didn’t really own the room’. The sound didn’t really carry, the music didn’t necessarily come across. And we don’t want to be that; we want to be the band where it can make sense in an arena and we feel comfortable. And we do.
Q: What can you tell us about the new Bad Wolves material then?
A: It’s diverse. There’s stuff that’s probably heavier, as or more heavy than the last record. We have four or five songs that are really trying to bring the beef, the shit you can throw weights around to (laughs). And then there’s some really catchy, kind of more mainstream stuff to cover that end of it, and a lot of stuff in the middle.
For us, it’s so great that we were able on our first album to be diverse out of the gate; have a lot of ups and downs, and have a ballad. Because that way you don’t have to kind of warm your audience up to it; they already know what to expect. So we can kind of do whatever we want.
But I’m really excited about it, I think it’s really going to penetrate in a way… ‘Cause the truth is, we have a lot to prove on this next record. There’s a lot of people who are not familiar with our every day and our inner workings, who think that we’re just a band that had a cover, and that’s how deep it goes. But I know, being in this, that we do have a lot of dedicated fans. There are some sections that more favour the lighter stuff, and there’s people who prefer the heavy stuff. But I think basically this whole year, we’ve toured with all these bands and understand the record we made and playing all the songs live, it inspires you. Like, ‘this is cool, but I know we can take it a level or two up’.
So that’s really informed how we’re working on the next record, but we’re not done. We have a lot of work done, but we still have a lot of work to do and it’s like that raw piece of clay, or a sculpture where it’s slowly coming into form. But we’re very committed to making this, because if this album is right, then it takes the band to that threshold to where we’re headlining the arenas hopefully one day.
Q: Do you feel there is that misconception about the band among some critics – that you’re merely “the ‘Zombie’ band”? And that perhaps the next album can eliminate some of that criticism?
A: I’ll say this – it’s better to be ‘the ‘Zombie’ band’ than the band no one’s ever heard of (laughs). So it’s better to be known for something than nothing. But I had a rant on my latest podcast, and the theme of it was, the internet is not the real world. If the internet was the real world, we would be playing a shack right now with Nickelback. Because Nickelback is the most shit-talked band that people love to hate, but every show is sold out and there’s 12,000 people there. So why do those things not equate? How is that in this realm, everyone loves to talk shit about them, but when you go to the show it’s sold out? And you see the record sales and they’re through the roof. So who are the people buying the records and going to the shows and buying the T-Shirts? There’s a disconnect there; the two realities do not match up.
And now we’re one of those bands. Like, I was looking at this website, The PRP, which I like and has a lot of metal news. They picked up something about our new record. There was literally like 40 comments, and I swear 39 of them were people just shitting on us. It was all about ‘Zombie’. I’m like, they’re only really upset because the cover was successful. Let’s say we would have done the same cover, but no one really cared. It would have been a non-story. It would have just been like, ‘oh, that band did a cover, whatever, they’re a pretty cool band, they’re pretty heavy, whatever’.
But it’s this idea that success attracts a certain type of attention, that in that environment is overwhelmingly negative. But the truth is, there’s a much bigger… It’s a response to the fact that you have a pretty big audience. I think it would be really bad if everyone’s talking shit about you, but then no one showed up to the show, no one is buying the T-Shirts and the CDs. The truth is the band’s doing really well, so you can’t, I really don’t take it personally. And I think the more crap you’re getting, the bigger you probably are. I think it comes with the territory. It’s like, when you get rich you’ve gotta pay high taxes. With the success comes a lot of ire. Being the kind of band we are, we are not going to be some band that just wants to play the most technically, scream the most or be the heaviest. We’re making the kind of stuff that inspired us… It’s the Panteras, Metallicas and Slipknots, all those bands are massive. And they do a lot of different things.
But I think any new band that comes along that has those aspirations basically gets shit on out of the gate. They want you to be humble, they want you to want to play in the basement in front of eight people and be happy.
Q: Jamey Jasta refers to concepts like “punk rock guilt”.
A: Well, there’s punk rock guilt, but it’s more elitism. So within the metal side of it, you’ve gotta remember, a lot of those people are other musicians, and there’s a new culture… I wouldn’t say a new culture. When I saw new, I mean the past ten, 12 years, of a big part of the metal community, that it’s musicians playing and writing for other musicians. And the truth is, most of the audience is not going to be musicians. Now there’s some bands, like if you go and see Dream Theater or Rush, there’s probably going to be a lot of musicians. But that is kind of not what totally fascinates me. I’m much more fascinated by a band like the Foo Fighters or the Beatles, where you can create music that has some depth and some richness to it, but you don’t have to be a musician to get it. It’s framing interesting music in a way where… I think it’s a pretty deep skill, to be able to connect to the regular Joe.
And I think most musicians don’t understand it. They think it’s easy. They think, ‘oh, anyone can just make that Godsmack song’. Well, alright, go do it. And I think it’s because (say) you can do it, but then, how do you market it? How do you get on the radio? Do you know how to do that? Oh, I bet you don’t (laughs). And it’s not like I knew (laughs). Even now, if I started a new band, I don’t know if I would know either. Things just happened to have worked out for us and we’re in a great position to take advantage of this exposure.
But you can’t take the negativity personally, because it’s not real. It’s an illusion. This is real – we’re in the reality. That’s why so many people I know, the more successful they get, they stay off social media, they get off the phone, because it mostly poisons you.
Q: You’ve commented to the effect before that you didn’t expect to “get my shot as I’m approaching 40”. When I reviewed Disobey, I wrote that Bad Wolves seemingly represents an opportunity for the band members, who have all enjoyed a certain degree of success previously to embrace another chance at being a major act. Is there a feeling that this is somewhat of a reward for those years of hard work, and now you’ve been afforded this opportunity you’re going to pursue it to the fullest extent you can?
A: The thing is, I joined something that Tommy and John had kind of started, and these guys are some of the most driven people I’ve ever seen. So for me, I was more coming from it like, ‘I’m going to hitch onto this wagon and see where it goes’, with not that much expectation. So I was more going at it with a blank slate, I wasn’t thinking this was gonna happen. But I think my general vibe was like, I’ll do music here and there, I’ll try and make a living in other ways, but I’m not going to be angry or upset if I don’t re-enter that world of touring full-time and doing the album cycles. Because that in of itself can be its form of difficulty… A lot of people get stuck, they’re kind of in the middle-class musician problem where you have to tour eight or nine months out of the year, and you have to put a record out every two years. And that can be a grind as well.
I definitely don’t feel I was owed this, but I definitely have seen a lot of people come out of the woodwork to say, ‘hey man, if anyone deserves this, it’s you guys, because we know how hard you work’. For me, I just feel lucky. It was the right people, certain things developed, the ball bounced this way and suddenly we were able to skip a lot of steps.
Q: That proverbial skipping of steps is probably what has elicited jealousy from some other musicians.
A: We probably thought that we’d be in a van, hoping to get a second of four on a Killswitch tour or something like that, and we’re just going to grind it out and see what happens. But yeah, things changed, and you just have to kind of roll with it. And it was scary. Trust me, I’ve had some nervous days (whereby) me and Tommy would be in a radio or TV station and you have to play acoustic at 9am. It’s like, ‘hey, don’t screw up, only everyone is watching and listening to this’ (laughs). But yeah, as it gets bigger the stakes get higher, but it’s great and it’s new experiences.
Q: Speaking of new experiences, what can you tell us about the growth of your podcast, The Ex-Man?
A: It’s been organic. Recently, I was trying to keep it going while I was on the road, and it became increasingly difficult because I was just exhausted. So by the end of the touring cycle, the end of the year, I was maybe doing two shows a month and kind of finding people on tour – ‘hey you, come here! We’re doing a podcast’. So it was great to get off the road, recharge and I started to get new ideas. Lately I’ve been mixing it up and trying to find different topics to talk about, and different types of guests. For me, it’s just a great outlet. I can bitch about whatever I want to (laughs), or talk about whatever I want. It’s nice to have your own mental space to express yourself, and then have hopefully compelling conversations with interesting people.
I’m all about staying busy. I’m not the best with idle hands, I kind of have to have little projects and things to keep me occupied. And it’s fun, ultimately it’s just fun. If you see me with my ear buds in, I’m listening to some podcast. I’m a podcast junkie and you tend to gravitate towards the things that entertain you. And it’s good to pay that forward… There’s been some ups and downs with the listener ship. But I think (with) some of the changes I’ve made recently there’s been a bump in the interest, and that’s what’s kinda cool about this environment, is you’re only as good as your content. If you put the time, effort and energy in, hopefully people will find it and connect to it. But I can’t half-ass it, I’ve realised.
Q: There’s so much content out there competing for people’s attention that if you release a couple of dud shows, there’s plenty of other avenues where they could potentially invest their time.
A: Attention is the most valuable commodity that we have in this environment, because everything is more or less ‘free’, or cheap. Like Netflix is ten dollars a month, or Spotify is ten dollars a month. These things are relatively cheap, but people only have so many waking hours of the day where they could listen to your song, watch a YouTube thing, play a video game or watch sports.
The truth is, we have infinite entertainment options. And in a way it’s kind of turned all these things into a meritocracy, where nine times out of ten the best stuff moves up the ladder. It doesn’t always work that way; obviously there’s a lot of hidden gems out there in any field. (You can have a case of) oh yeah, this famous person does a podcast, of course people are going to listen to it, or things that have backing or the marketing comes into it. But yeah, content is king, and if it’s good, hopefully it’ll find an audience. But there’s no guarantee – you can be doing something great and sometimes people just don’t find it.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Famous last words? I’m not dead, motherfucker (laughs). Just really happy to be in Australia, it’s been over 11 years since I’ve been here, and I barely remember it because I was sippin’ too much back then (laughs). So it’s been a real pleasure, and so much fun.