Interview: Bad Wolves vocalist Tommy Vext opens up about music, lyrics and honoring Dolores O’Riordan
Video provided by Eleven Seven Music

Saturday night, AXS had the opportunity to talk to Tommy Vext, lead singer for Bad Wolves. His thought-provoking lyrics combined with John Boecklin, Doc Coyle, Chris Cain, and Kyle Konkiel thunderous metal music have led to the Bad Wolves explosion on the hard rock scene. The band is currently on the road with From Ashes to New and Diamante (AXS tickets available here).

AXS: Let’s talk about your debut album Disobey (purchase here). During summer 2016 John Boecklin and Mark Lewis (Trivium, All That Remains) tracked the album. How and when did you get involved?

Tommy Vext: John started recording the songs at Audio Hammer Studios in Florida with Mark and was looking for a singer. I was in a different band called Westfield Massacre and he managed my band. Sometime around summer of 2016, a buddy hit me up and needed a song for a BMW commercial. I called John and asked him if he had any throw-away tracks that he wasn’t using on his album. I said it just has to be really heavy. He sent me “Learn To Live.” The format was different, so I took the song and went into the studio with Joseph McQueen. We recorded the vocals and chopped up the song, put it into an arrangement to submit to BMW but I never sent it in. I sent the song to John and we decided we needed to be in a band together. He sent me five songs and in five days I recorded five more

AXS: You have mentioned in the past that John’s creativity and experimentation offered you the opportunity to explore new realms vocally. How so?

T.V.: I would definitely say that. They took a lot of creative risks that were inspiring to me. If you look at our previous bodies of work in the bands that we have been in, God Forbid, Devil Driver, Divine Heresy, Westfield Massacre, old In This Moment and Bury Your Dead are all sort of in that Metalcore world though may lean in different directions. For me, as a singer, I felt that I never worked on anything that allowed me to grow. This time I was forced out of my comfort zone.

AXS: Do you enjoy the singing part?

T.V.: I love it! Screaming is a natural form of expression when it comes to anger and pain. Melody is like a box of crayons or a pain pallet, there are so many more colors to paint with. It allows more emotional lyric topics and more creative ideas behind what the band would sound like. I actually had to go back to vocal instruction and worked hard to be in this band. That is how I knew I was involved in something challenging. I think it became apparent about five songs into Bad Wolves that this was my thing.

AXS: Lyrically you delve into very personal material and have even called it a diary in a way. Is it difficult or cathartic to unleash those feelings and memories night after night?

T.V.: I think it is always emotional. I was always a huge fan of Korn. When they first came out I thought Jonathan Davis was fearless in his approach and his vulnerability in tackling things that had gone on in his personal life. I saw him be moved to tears on the stage. I think Dolores from The Cranberries was another one as well, Chris Cornell was one of those singers, Janis Joplin. For me, I have always idolized those performers and I think there are parts of the set where I feel that in me. I have cried a lot on stage singing “Zombie” or “Remember When.” The weight of it, sometimes I don’t get through the whole song and I have had to rely on Doc and Kyle to sing the backup vocals because I have to catch myself. It is a cathartic process. Having Zoltan as a manager, who is also an artist (Five Finger Death Punch),a record label that understands the necessity for art to be real.

The “Remember When” music video just went gold yesterday, it has a couple hundred thousand views on YouTube already. There have been amazing messages from people in situations where loved ones have succumbed to drug addiction and from people who have come back from it to find reparation in their own homes and families. The issue of mental health is one people don’t like to talk about but this became a good platform for people to start discussing it. Some of the crew guys were telling me over lunch that it was very brave what I have done. It is not brave if you don’t have fear.

AXS: Bad Wolves’ cover of The Cranberries’ single “Zombie” has been dominating rock and metal charts. Whose idea was it to donate all proceeds from track lead singer Dolores O’Riordan’s three children?

T.V.: It was a collective. Initially, the morning we got the call about her passing, our knee-jerk reaction was we have to shelve the song. We conferenced with Dan Waite, he is the managing director for the UK office of Eleven Seven. He has been friends with Don and Dolores for over 20 years. He is the one that connected us to her. Allan Kovac, our label owner, managed The Cranberries through the height of their career. We were at this kind of precipice of trying to figure out if there was any way we could make something positive out of this situation. One responsibility was that we were the last thing she was meant to do before she died. She was so excited about it. We felt a responsibility to memorialize her and make the song available for a younger generation of people that may have not known her. It wasn’t about money. We didn’t want to capitalize on the tragedy. We are not ambulance chasers. The only thing that made sense was for her children to be the benefactors of the proceeds. We contacted the family. They thought it was a good idea and gave us their blessing. We didn’t know what was going to happen but it ended up going viral.

AXS: The music video for “Zombie” (watch above) is a beautiful homage to in O’Riordan. In the video, the play between you and Dolores with the golden handprints is very powerful. How did that evolve?

T.V.: Wayne Isham (Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Metallica, Pantera, Avenged Sevenfold, Megadeth, Motley Crue) directed the video. He is a legendary director. When they told us he was on board we didn’t believe it. Brian Ewing was our creative arts director and the two of them just came up with this idea. They did a magnificent job.

AXS: What drew you to the song to begin with?

T.V.: I have loved the song since I was a kid. I come from a military family. I really attributed the line “tanks and bombs and guns” to Desert Storm. As a kid, I just assumed that is it was about. I rediscovered the song while writing for the Bad Wolves. I was writing a song in the coffee shop and “Zombie” came on. I got on the computer and looked up the lyrics and learned about the IRA bombings in England and the two little boys that got killed. Dolores message about collateral damage, how even one life is too much to lose, was so strong and seemed so relevant. In the current climate of terrorism where we have seen terrorist attacks at concerts and in America seeing this morality of copycat gun violence. I think it was a no-brainer. My only insecurity was are we good enough to carry this message a second time. We sent it to her for her approval. When she got back to us and said she wanted to sing on it, that is when I knew we did a great job. The whole thing has been beyond an emotional rollercoaster.