Bad Wolves’ Tommy Vext: It’s a Really Exciting Time for Rock Thanks to Five Finger Death Punch’s Efforts
Bad Wolves have emerged as a lean, mean rock machine over the last couple of years and with one album under their belt and some true momentum building, their second album, N.A.T.I.O.N., is set to drop this Friday (Oct. 25).
In advance of the release, we spoke with singer Tommy Vext shortly after one of his visits to the gym and got some insight on the upcoming record, some of the social issues feeding into the music and the impact that Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Zoltan Bathory has had on their career. He also spoke about what FFDP are doing to help grow the hard rock and metal genre. Check out the chat below.
I saw the thing with Steve Kucio, the bodybuilder, using your music for the Mr. Olympia competition. Given your respect for physical training, how cool was it to see your music used that way?
It was epic, man. I've been an amateur fitness enthusiast since I was in my late teens, I used to be 320 pounds, so I lost a lot of weight and really got into it.
Saturday night I was feeling bad by myself, and my phone started blowing up and I had like 20 friends who were at Mr. Olympia and they were like, 'Dude, they're playing you right now.' And then I reposted it. Then Steve reached out and then we started messaging and now he's going to come to our show with Five Finger Death Punch in Dallas. He and his wife are going to train me and some of the guys.
Now that you've got a full album under your belt, was the approach any different going into this record? Can you talk about the process you and John [Boecklin] went through writing for this album?
It's interesting because we started working while we were still on tour. We had 10 or 11 days between the European tour that we did with Three Days Grace and then going back out with Five Finger and Breaking Benjamin in the fall of 2018, and I went into the studio with Drew Fulk, who's a producer buddy of mine who also worked on "Remember When" on the first album. I went in and I wrote four or five songs. I think three of those made the record. Then, over the Christmas break, John just went into the studio and there were all these ideas.
Chris [Cain] and Doc [Coyle] had little recording rigs in their places, so by January there were already like 20 different ideas of song ideas and what we wanted to do. Then we just went through the process of finishing them off and deciding which would be on the record. We played around a bit after. I wound up doing a couple of covers, and then we decided to not put a cover on the record because we didn't feel it necessary, especially coming off the back of the success of "Zombie." We wanted to focus more on our original tracks. I think all in all, my experience of making the record with everybody, it was way more focused.
I think that we had defined a sound. John really buckled down on the first record to define the sound he wanted to achieve. Then after touring and doing 200 shows in 13 months or 14 months, I think we realized what we're about and what goes over live. So we went in and made a record that we felt was what we would want and what we want to do now. They say the sophomore record is the hardest record to make, but this one was much easier than the debut. Much easier.
"Sober" is a very important song. It really captures both sides of the coin, dealing not only with the person trying to get sober but how it affects those around them. You've been on both sides of that with the work you've done helping others get sober. Can you talk a little bit about what it took to get that song down for this record and what it means to you personally?
It's not like addiction is something that artists used to talk about. But in recovery and also being a sober coach and working with families and having an alcoholic father and a drug addict brother, and being myself — a recovered alcoholic and addict, there's a lot more compassion and understanding for all the people whose lives are touched by the suffering. There's a lot to be said about that. To me, that's an untold story. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are affected, if not millions, by the disease of alcoholism that don't actually experience it firsthand. I wanted to illustrate their story and what their recovery looks like, you know?
To me it's telling the mothers' stories and the boyfriend or husband or wife or even the coworkers and friends. It's a very hard place to be when you're trying to set a healthy boundary for yourself. You have someone who is sick, and they can't see to stop compulsively destroying their own lives. To me, it's a very original message and a way to decriminalize and de-shame what addiction is. I want to create empathy for people who are essentially surviving, dealing with loved ones who are sick.
Speaking of compassion, listening to "L.A. Song," there has been a growing homeless situation here in Los Angeles. As someone who's been homeless at one point and familiar with the L.A. area, do you see any solutions as to what's going on and are there things we can do better for our homeless population?
I think it's a major issue. There's a really great organization called Monday Night Mission that I used to volunteer for, and I actually used to bring Doc. So me and Doc would go down, along with Emma Zander who did guest vocals on 'Foe or Friends.' There's this whole crew of people who go down and volunteer, and we did this thing called name recognition. People lined up to get food and they get sanitary products to help them get clean and they raise money to do a mobile shower for Skid Row so people can get access to clean water [and] soap to shower.
But, what I've learned is that so many of us don't acknowledge homeless people. We don't acknowledge them. We step over them, we ignore them. We don't ask their name, we don't talk to them. Our society, we tend to blame them.
I work out at Gold's Gym, and the Venice Skid Row is the street behind Gold's. It's like two like storage areas. So a lot of the homeless population in Venice and Santa Monica are just in tents on that one street. I think it has a lot to do with mental health. I think it has a huge deal with rent control. In Los Angeles, what people don't realize is that aside from the homeless population, every year about 175,000 people are on the verge of homelessness. Regular people, you know.
I'm going to Skid Row and I meet veterans, I meet people who are just down on their luck. They say, 'I go to work and I live in my car and I shower at the gym because I, you know, I just hit some rough times' and then they're trying to get through it. Then there are people who really need psychiatric help or medications. With all the nation's health care system you'd think there's a way that we can deal with mental illness in this country. I don't know what the solution is. I travel around the world and there's countries like Sweden or Switzerland that, they're not socialist countries, but they have socialists programs for people who can't take care of themselves.
There's major cities in Europe and there's no homelessness. What are they doing different? That's the question. Is there government subsidized housing? How is that regulated? Who pays for it? These are questions that people don't really want to talk about.
It's kind of like the addiction thing, too. Everybody is sad when a celebrity dies of addiction. But every single day, regular people are suffering and dying. We're living in a time of war. This is the highest opioid crisis in the history of the world. People are dying at massive rates and pharmaceutical companies and doctors are not being regulated by the FDA for providing prescriptions that could kill people. People get addicted to it and they can't find it, so they have to go find this stuff on the street, which means it either gets imported from another country and sold by a drug dealer or it falls over a truck and get sold on the street.
I've buried over a dozen people in the past two years in relation to opioid relapse, at all levels, and that's just who I know who I've come into contact with. So it's a huge, huge, huge issue. Just like the homeless issue is, and it's why people don't want to look at things. It only matters if it's somebody we relate to. If a celebrity relapses and dies everybody's sad, but every single day thousands of people are overdosing and dying, and it's just not fashionable.
The #MeToo movement was such a powerful movement, but it didn't include [homeless] women. I volunteered at battered women's shelters and women's shelters in LA. The statistics: it's a 98 percent chance that if a woman is homeless she will raped within the first six days of her being homeless, but no one cares about them. Everyone cares that an actress or a celebrity is treated inappropriately or spoken to or touching them in an inappropriate sexual manner by a man of power, which is completely unacceptable.
However, there are people who are completely defenseless and innocent that cannot help themselves, that are living in poverty [and] are victims of rape on a regular basis. But the news doesn't want to report about this. They want to report about Donald Trump tweeting. That's not news.
With the new album coming out and lots of touring ahead, anything that's standing out to you from the new album that you can't wait to get out there live?
"No Messiah" is one that we played twice on the Papa Roach tour just to test it out. It had a really good response, and it feels really good to play live. It's one of my favorite tracks on the record cause it reminds me of an amalgamation of Korn and Metallica and also a little Faith No More—with a little bit of a Pantera-y vibe.
Doc and I are also working on doing an acoustic version of "Sober" that will be included in the set list. So everyone will be able to take a breather, and we'll like come out and we'll talk about what the song means and then we'll do that and then check back in.
It's just going to be fun to play new songs for us. Disobey came out like 18 months ago, but we wrote it in late 2016 and early 2017. So we're had those songs way longer than everyone else.
Bad Wolves have the relationship with Five Finger Death Punch and Zoltan Bathory. Anything that you've picked up from him that you kind of put toward your own career?
To describe my relationship with Zoltan is to understand the dynamic between someone like Dr. Dre and Eminem. Zoltan saw in Bad Wolves a level of raw talent and musical capability and the message that we were coming out with and he kind of helped us mold the band into a unit. It's almost like kinda militant the way that we approach the business aspects. He connected us to 10th Street and into Eleven Seven, which we're on a Rolls-Royce of record labels. We came onto the scene like the little baby brothers of all these great bands like Papa Roach and Motley Crue, Nothing More, Five Finger Death Punch and In Flames. We were embraced by all those guys and given a leg up.
Now there are new bands coming onto the label like Islander and Fire From The Gods that Zoltan is helping move along, as well. To understand what Five Finger and Zoltan are trying to accomplish, they're investing time that they don't need to in finding artists to reinvigorate the rock genre. They care so much about the meaningfulness of the music. It's like they go beyond the responsibility of making sure their own records are great and now they're at a level where —it's kind of like how Metallica traditionally have taken bands out to expose them — and they take it a step further than that [to] taking bands and getting them record deals.
That's right in line with where I want to be. I hope that our band becomes that level where we can come to the table and decide, 'Hey, we played with these guys one time in a bar and they're really great and they've been working on this stuff. I think this could be the next band,' and then help them the way that Zoltan helped us. I think that's really the difference. It's how artists help other artists. We're music fans and there is essentially a way better meter for an artist to look at another artist and understand what has connectivity. Even all those parts and components of a label and management are absolutely necessary, but what's going to happen?
I see people who would not normally get a chance getting a chance because they're getting this thumbs up from an artist that has the capability to push them to the next level. There's unmentioned bands that have been signed that I'm really excited about, because I'm on the inside track, so I know all that stuff that's going on. But I can't say any of that stuff. You'll see there's going to be an onslaught of new records coming out from some new artists and from some artists that are already familiar. And it's really cool to be a part of Eleven Seven. It's a really exciting time to be a part of that team, and it's a really exciting time for rock.
I remember when Korn and Limp Bizkit came out and things just blew up. There was a little bit of a lull and everybody was really into pop and R & B and grunge and gone away. There were boy bands and all these teenage girls and then, here comes Korn and the Deftones and Incubus and Limp Bizkit blew up and P.O.D. and the rap metal thing happened. It really is about rock and we're looking forward to seeing that happen again.
Thanks to Bad Wolves' Tommy Vext for the chat. The band's new album, 'N.A.T.I.O.N.,' arrives Oct. 25, and you can order the album or get a merch bundle here. The band has a couple of festival dates this weekend, followed by a tour with Five Finger Death Punch to finish out the year. See all of their tour dates and get ticketing info here.