Interview: Bad Wolves’ Tommy Vext talks about new album, Dolores O’Riordan, the music industry and more

Posted by on May 31, 2018

Bad Wolves recently released their debut studio album Disobey via Eleven Seven. It’s the record that includes the chart-topping cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” Late vocalist Dolores O’Riordan had given the group her blessing to record the song prior to her death, and was set to sing backing vocals on the song the day after she was found dead. Between the massive success the band has achieved over the last few months and their extended touring cycle, frontman Tommy Vext has taken his time to speak with us to discuss the new album, missing the iconic Cranberries vocalist, the music industry and more.

You’ve came a long way to create Disobey. How has the overall experience been for you?

To create the album? I think that was the easier part. I mean, Disobey was a labor of love, you know? I think that where our band is, we’re a band of friends.We didn’t really put a band together, it all just kinda happened. And I think John started writing the record in 2015. He was just demoing, and him and Chris had some stuff goin’, and then he really kinda got serious in 2016. He was also managing one of my other bands. And then I heard, “Learn to Live,” and I asked if I could use it for a commercial that I was doing music for. I recorded the song and sent it back to him. He was like,’Dude, you gotta sing in my band’. And I was like, ‘Okay. How many songs do you have?’ He was like, ‘I got a bunch.’

​So we went into the studio and it was like we did not go into this record with any other intention than let’s make the record that we would buy if we were 16 years old again. And that’s what we did. And that was so cool to not have any pressure. We self funded it. The record was done before we were signed. And as members came, we wrote more songs. We wrote 24 songs total and, it just feels really good. It feels really good to make something that is really pure.


How do you want your fans to react to the album?

I don’t know. I don’t ever think of how would I  want someone to react to this record. I’m really terribly hard on myself. I think all of us are. And we will get on each other. If I sing something and it’s not that good, John will be like, you need to fix this. Or Doc will be like, you know, ‘it would be cool if you did that.’ And vice versa, you know? I think that not so much on what we want the fans to respond. I think we’re just very excited how fans have responded, and that we have fans, the industry is really excited about us,and our friends bands. I think we tested out some of the material with some of the bigger bands ,and like the guys at Killswitch heard it, and All That Remains, and Five Finger, and obviously as a result of that we wounded up signing Zoltan as our manager. It’s just been kind of a, it feels good to be supported by our peers and by people who we respect.


When the world lost Dolores O’Riordan earlier this year, not only was her death shocking but it was also shocking to hear that she was scheduled to be part of the recording session with you guys for the “Zombie” cover song.

Yeah, I know.


I know you spoke a great amount about her, and you’ve done a lot for her kids and everything. I just want to know if there’s anything else that you can add or say that you haven’t felt that you said enough yet.

My sentiment at this point is now, is one of gratitude. And I think that it’s important, this thing is bigger. It has nothing’ to do with me. I think there’s a few things as a fan of the Cranberries, it was very, and still is a heartbreaking thing, right? I will be sad about this for a longtime. I’m still sad that Chris Cornell passed away. I’m still sad that Chester Bennington passed away. I think that my experience of this as a positive one is this: The song “Zombie,” our rendition of it, has broken records in a lot of ways. It’s the first song, it’s the first time a heavy metal band or a hard rock band has ever been number one on iTunes in the history of iTunes. We knocked artists like Kelly Clarkson and Drake off the charts. This song has peaked at number one in more countries than I know have names.

It has a lot to do with the fact that the rock community knew we were trying to do something good. I think we did a good version of the song. Mostly, only because Dolores approved of it.That’s how I knew we did something right. I think people really understood and got behind, the necessity to kind of memorialize her body of work, and show what a timeless artist she is. Because the song, 23 years later is still, I mean,that’s her song. The Cranberries wrote that song, you know? We just, we put a spin on it and it just goes to show you the kind of artist she was.

​I believe in our community, the rock/metal community. and I believe a lot of these interviews I’ve done in the mainstream press are, kind of ignorant, where a lot of these major press outlets are like, ‘Well, how does it feel to be, just single handedly bring rock back to the charts in America?’ and blah, blah, blah. I am part of this culture, and my friends go to the shows and play the shows and festivals, and live this thing. And it’s always sold out. And it’s like we’re the ones who don’t get any coverage on the big red carpet events. We’re the ones more politicized, we’re the ones who don’t have a category for the awards.

We do fine in our own little bubble. I think, if anything, it really is a testament to the power of our lifestyle. It’s still here, it’s still strong, and we’re good people that do good things. And the stigmas against what people would consider metal in the mainstream are utterly false.You would never see a rap artist or a pop artist do anything like this for anyone else because it’s not the way that they are.


When you first decided to put the modern twist to “Zombie,” was there ever a moment wondering how the Cranberries fans would react to it?

No. The trepidation with changing the lyrics is that the song was a massive hit to begin with. You also have to be brave in a certain sense of, are you willing to take something that’s perfect and slightly alter it to make it yours? And I think that the decision was really driven by current events. This is a song that, while I was writing the record it came on in a coffee shop, and it was during the post Presidential election in 2016, and, we had seen this sort of rise in terrorist attacks in Europe, and obviously the continual, never ending war in the middle East. And the destabilization of governments, elector polarization in the country where people almost started taking it almost like people were identifying their politics as a religion where it was like this life or death identity and ideology. We were seeing online, people hating each other over their political beliefs, which is absolutely preposterous and ridiculous because quite frankly, no politician gives a shit about any human life in my experience.

The song lyrics are talking about collateral damage, and it’s talking about this mass problem we have with school shootings, and gun violence in this country. And it’s, Dolores’ message is one of collateral damage. Dolores wrote this song as a protest to the IRA bombing in Warrington where two little boys were killed in a gas factory explosion because of peoples’ political agendas. And to me, it’s the same, and if the lyrics that she wrote were relevant then, they’re like almost 100,000 times relevant across the board of the entire world. And I think that everyone knows it. That’s probably why the song was such a massive hit to begin with.


Well said. My last question about the Cranberries, despite the different style their music was, has the Cranberries had any influence on your overall career?

I think they’re one of the first bands I really like listened to. I think, you know, in my very early years, I’ve been in bands since ’96. I was 14 years old in 1996 and, so by ’96 I was a full blown metalhead, but it was a walk up. From being like 11 and 12 and listening to bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, the Cranberries, Garbage, to moving forward to, Stone Temple Pilots to getting into bands like Nine Inch Nails and Pantera and then KoRn came out and, Machine Head, Fear Factory, Slayer, Metallica, and then kinda going, you know, discovering Metallica and then going into their back catalog. And then learning about bands like Testament, and you know, Skinlab and Sepultura. It was kind of, for me, that was the early stages of those rock records bridged the gap, you know, as I was growing in what music I liked. And then now, I’m just obsessed with all kinds of music.


I can relate. (laugh).

​Those were some heavy, yeah, that was a long list.


Can you elaborate about your departure from both Snot and Westfield Massacre?

Sure. In Snot, I mean originally, I mean not, what am I saying, I just turned nine years sober, so Snot, in 2008 Sonny left the band. We did the 10 year reunion tour, and then Sonny kind of, I don’t think his heart was in it. He wanted to do other things. I don’t think he wanted to tour as much anymore, and he decided to step down. I was struggling pretty badly with drugs and alcohol, and I checked into rehab, and then I quit the music industry for a year. I left the music industry, for my first year of sobriety to have a regular job and focus on my sobriety, and kind of, putting my health first. Then ultimately that’s kind of why the reunion only lasted as long as it did. And then we came back five years later, and we just did some shows here and there.

My departure with Westfield Massacre was a little weird. There was a lawsuit and we wound up settling out of court. I  don’t have any beef with the guys. I think the band was very jealous of Bad Wolves. Westfield Massacre also, it’s the debut album, I wrote that record, and funded it with Bill Hudson from Trans Siberian Orchestra played guitar. Kris Norris from Darkest Hour played guitar on the record. Tim Yeung from Divine Heresy played drums and Kyle Konkiel played bass on the record.

No actual members of the performing live band, Westfield Massacre played on the debut album. And when I was in South America working, they had kicked me out of the band. Not really understanding the law or copyright law. Eventually we had a Kickstarter and about 500 people had raised $35,000 and we finished an album. And everything was printed and ready to go and it was supposed to be shipped out, and they just didn’t do it. And replaced me.

We almost went to court and then we settled out of court, and I agreed to, if they promised to fulfill the Kickstarter, and reimburse me for the money I had spent on tour support and for their personal … I bought all their instruments, I bought their clothes. So I just basically brought ’em receipts and I said if they reimburse me and make sure everyone gets their, the album that they paid for, and that’s it.

It’s hard for me because I was financially funding all of my projects. So for someone to tell me I can’t do another project was strange considering that they were financially incumbent upon me to support them and their efforts to be creative. So it was very, very strange.


It must have been. Since you’ve battled with addiction, how was it for you to step up for Ivan last year in Five Finger Death Punch?

I think in that circumstance, it’s hard to enjoy something, knowing that your friend is sick.


Of course.

​I was just texting with Ivan this morning. We’ve been friends for like 12 years. And, I kind of battled with my stuff and got on the other side of it, and, and, I think the hardest thing is watching people not understand, or saying negative things about people I care about. Alcoholism and addiction is not a joke. It’s the only disease where if you have it everyone’s pissed off at you. Like if somebody has cancer, for example, if, God forbid, a singer got cancer and then had to finish, couldn’t stay on tour. However they’re in a big band and they have to finish the tour, right, so that the band can pay for them to get chemo. Right? And then if I went and just stood up there and just sang my friend’s songs so he could get chemotherapy, everyone would be like, “Oh, that’s great.” But a lot of people said not nice things because they’re ignorant and don’t understand.

It kind of goes back to what I was saying. This is the strength of our community. We do what is necessary to help one another. We lift each other up. I got the call. I showed up. And those guys have been nothing but amazing to me and my band ever since, and even before then. You know, Zoltan was already managing me, so it already made it easier, you know? And now, as obvious to everyone, Ivan’s doing the best he’s ever been. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.

Like that’s a different story, you know? The story of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and die at 28. That’s old. It’s fucking boring. It’s boring. How many more rock stars do we have to bury? You know, there’s not enough, this is a different story. We show up. We turn it around. We get back out there, and everything’s good. That’s more rare and I think that’s cool.


We want to see people survive and be there instead of watching them destroy their lives.

Yeah. Except on the internet where everyone, they hate troll. (laugh).


How was the tour?

We just came off three weeks opening for Starset, Shinedown and Death Punch. It’s been amazing. I’ve been jumping’ up and doing’ a song with Death Punch here and there. It’s been great to watch Shinedown, and Starset are really nice guys. It’s been remarkable. I mean, we’re playing, you know, the concern is always, oh we’re goin’ on first, and in an arena it’s only gonna be like a quarter full or a third full. And, every single night it’s 90% full by the time we get onstage. And we’re playing “Zombie” last in our set, and it’s usually, between,the venues are 7,000 to 18,000. One of ’em was 18k or something’ like that, people. And it’s just packed.

There are two things. The house lights go down and everyone puts their lighters up, and they literally light the entire venue with just their cell phones and lighters. You can hear a pin drop. And then as soon as the vocals happen, the entire venue is singing. And it’s this amazing feeling, emotional process that the band is kind of coming to terms with what happened as the fans are coming to terms with what happened, and we’re kind of all bridging the gap together and having this experience. And keeping Dolores’ spirit alive. I think it’s a beautiful thing.


I agree. Are you interested in covering more songs as well and giving them maybe more of a modern spin?

Yeah. I don’t know if it’s something’ that I feel compelled to do immediately, but I would be totally open to doing it. I think it’s a good thing. A lot of bands do. For example, Death Punch did “Bad Company” and “Gone Away.” And I think they do amazing renditions of those songs. They really honor and extrapolate on what was originally done. I think “Simple Man,” Skynyrd is an untouchable band. And for Shinedown to go and take “Simple Man” and do it, dare I say better than the original. I hope no one kills me for this, but it’s like, you know. Metallica does it. Lots of bands do it and they do it great. Killswitch has done some great covers. Yeah, we’re about it. It’s cool. ​It’s fun for us. Playing covers live is like being able to be a little kid again for us. It’s fun. We’re open to it.


It was awesome that you said earlier is how Dolores approved of  “Zombie,” ​which, it must have more meaning than it did then now that she’s unfortunately gone.

Yeah. It’s how I knew that we did the right thing, in the recording studio. That’s how we knew. We didn’t know what was gonna happen, but, her saying it was okay, was okay enough for me.


Is there any last thing you want say to your fans?

We just wanna thank everybody. First week sales came in and I think we landed at 22 on Billboard. And we sold 19,286 copies the first week we were out. For a metal band on it’s first record, that’s unheard of, you know?


Yeah. That is really good.

And what it’s doing is, because people are buying the record, it sends a message, and it reverberates throughout the industry. It is important that, and what I say is like, look, if you don’t download it, if you download the record for free, like whatever. But it costs like a beer at a festival.You drink a beer and it’s fucking gone, and it’s trash, you know, a plastic cup.

But if you buy a record, it makes noise. When you pay, every time you pay for an album that you love, you literally are making noise in the industry and voting. It’s like if you care about the President, you gotta go vote. If you care about an artist, you have to go vote. Unfortunately, voting isn’t free in the music industry. And it’s not like we’re out here tryin’ to be millionaires. I think most artists who are lifers, we’ve given up the idea of being rich off of making music. But it really is us versus them. It’s our genre versus all the other genres, because I’m sure that pop, and hip hop and electronic would be very, very happy to see us gone and out of the way. So thank you guys for buying our record and I encourage you to buy the records that you love. You know, it’s not about me. It’s about the greater good of the greater whole and continuing to keep rock music alive. So thank you.

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