DATE OF INTERVIEW: 2nd October 2018
Forming Bad Wolves after quitting DevilDriver, following a twelve year stint behind the kit, John Boecklin subsequently recruited other known names from the metal scene to complete the lineup for his new band, including Tommy Vext, the onetime vocalist for Dino Cazares outfit Divine Heresy; as well as former members of In This Moment, Bury Your Dead and the now defunct God Forbid. But, despite the personnel's established credentials within the scene, it still came as something of a surprise when they ascended to meteoric prominence as emphatically as they did. Following the utterly tragic and untimely passing of The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan in January this year, Bad Wolves released their cover of 'Zombie' as a tribute to her memory, and admirably donated all funds raised by the release (which was said to be $250,000) to her children. It propelled them into the global spotlight, and their debut album, 'Disobey', released in May this year, exceeded all expectations engendered by the hype - an unpredictable blend of music, with metal and rock at its core, but refreshingly different.
Metal Discovery met up with John before the band's second ever UK live performance, at Nottingham's Rock City, to discuss his new outfit and their raging success thus far, including the circumstances around Dolores' wish to sing on their version of 'Zombie', which is something that sadly never came to be...
METAL DISCOVERY: So, then, first time in the UK for Bad Wolves… one show down, so far, last night in Portsmouth… how were the fans there?
JOHN: We didn’t know what to expect, so the first night with Three Days Grace was very awesome. It was much like an American show. Everywhere we go is the first time we’ve been and it seems that, by the end of the set, we’ve won the crowd over. But it’s definitely not the vibe of, when we take the stage, it’s completely our show or something. I think we’re definitely getting over here to introduce ourselves to the world.
(John Boecklin on sales for Bad Wolves' debut album compared to those of DevilDriver)
"...we sold as many records in our first week as it took my previous band I was in seven years to do."
John Boecklin, backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, 2nd October 2018
Photograph copyright © 2018 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: You have a much heavier thing going on than Three Days Grace, so…
JOHN: We do, so that’s another thing which is interesting - we weren’t really sure how that’s gonna work; if we’re gonna vary our set. But we start off pretty heavy and it seemed to go over just fine. It’s not the violent stuff that I think all of us are used to with our previous acts, but that seems to be the case with the band in general.
MD: I looked at the setlist you’re touring with and you’ve got the second track from the album in there, ‘Learn to Live’, where you have the whole Meshuggah kind of thing going on, so that’s pretty heavy stuff.
JOHN: Yeah, I would imagine for a Three Days Grace fan, we’re pretty heavy! But, since I was a kid, and in general in touring, it seems like if you’re the heaviest band on the bill, it’s a good thing. You know, there’s a certain energy that you bring that some of that softer rock stuff can’t have because that’s not what they do.
MD: The media generally describe Bad Wolves with the “supergroup” tag? Is that something you’re comfortable with? Supergroup often implies something ephemeral, like a side project or something, but this is a fully fledged new band, of course.
JOHN: I would prefer not to have it because there are certain guidelines that I’ve always seen as a supergroup. In general, there’s someone who’s massively famous in the band already, or multiple people. We’re all known musicians, but it’s not like one of us really… you know, there’s no Slash in this band or someone like that.
MD: Yeah, it’s not like Chickenfoot or something.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s a supergroup, to me. Bands where each member, collectively, have sold millions of records… and we’re kinda all just friends, you know. Chickenfoot, that’s a great example, not to say that they’re not friends, but it just doesn’t feel like that.
MD: Maybe people will start separating those two words and start saying that you’re a super group!
JOHN: [Laughs] Yeah, but if someone wants to call us that then so be it.
MD: You’ve kind of exploded onto the scene this year - obviously, members, as you’ve said, are already known from other successful bands, but has this widespread buzz taken you by surprise?
JOHN: Absolutely. Putting this band together… I started this band four years ago, directly after I quit DevilDriver. And even a little bit before that, I was doing stuff, musically, on my own. As it came together, in my brain, I expected a good two and a half to three years before we even remotely are where we are right now. So, it’s been a huge surprise to me and I think everyone knows it’s the success of ‘Zombie’ that just threw us out to the mass public. Like, real fast, and it’s been a wild ride, and I’m just enjoying every day.
MD: I think that’s testament to how good a version you’ve done of ‘Zombie’ rather than just the timing and circumstances…
JOHN: Yeah, Dolores liked it enough that she was gonna sing on it. That was the main reason, when she passed away, that our name got attached to her death, because she was gonna sing with us in the studio on that day. It was just a very bizarre thing to see her name… it was because of a voicemail that she left someone, saying, “I can’t wait to sing with Bad Wolves”, and people just ran with that. And then that sparked curiosity of hearing the track and it just became massively successful, so it’s really bittersweet.
MD: But, when the album came out, a very strong album to back up the hype…
JOHN: Thank you.
MD: Did it exceed your own expectations of what you set out to create?
JOHN: Yeah, again, yes, everything was way beyond my expectations. The album sold way beyond what I thought it would. And the whole success of ‘Zombie’… I’ve never experienced anything like that; a real bona-fide hit. I really didn’t know what to expect anymore, at all. Are these people actually gonna enjoy our album? I think there’s a group of people who just like ‘Zombie’ and that’s it, and that’s all it ever will be. But we did manage to grab some people because we sold a hell of a lot more records… you know, we sold as many records in our first week as it took my previous band I was in seven years to do.
MD: So, I gather you started composing material before the other guys even came on board?
MD: When the other guys came in, what kind of creative input did they have? Did songs transform that much from your original compositions?
JOHN: Yes and no. Some are exactly the same and I would say when Tommy came in, he was very helpful at editing down songs; trimming the fat. Something like ‘Learn to Live’, when he came in, the verses weren’t in 4/4, and so he rearranged that to make sure it was more like something the rest of the world could understand! And, so, the album had almost been done and then we got signed, and that’s when Doc [Coyle] and Kyle [Konkiel] came in, and Doc was on the tail-end of writing a couple of songs. So, yeah, it was a big four year experience.
MD: It states in your bio: “Unpredictability drives progression.” Would you say unpredictability is at the very essence of what Bad Wolves are all about?
JOHN: Absolutely. Like, if you go from a song like ‘Toast to the Ghost’ down to a song like ‘Hear Me Now’, that’s pretty unpredictable. And I’m really glad that we established that’s who we are, right off the bat, because ‘Hear Me Now’, I wrote five years ago, when I was still in DevilDriver. That’s part of what I like to do, but I was unable to do that in DevilDriver, for obvious reasons. So, this is a new thing, so you can establish what you’re capable of very quickly, and we did. We were a little nervous putting a heavy metal song like that and a ballad like that, but I’m so glad we did.
MD: Do you feel that challenging yourselves, creatively and musically, also drives progression, and in what ways would you say you challenged yourself when making the album?
JOHN: Challenging myself, musically, it’s interesting from my perspective as a drummer - this stuff may not sound like it, but it’s a totally different feeling to anything I’ve ever done. It has a lot more… the grooves are just in little, different pockets rather than the average place. So, it was very difficult for me, and I’m a much better player now than I was four years ago, from being in this band.
MD: I’ve read you say it’s some of the best drumming you’ve done in your career…
JOHN: Yeah, it’s a whole different style whereas… not to always compare what you do to DevilDriver, but that’s kind of a reference point for a reader who likes metal, and that was very Amon Amarth, straight-ahead, go get ‘em, kind of always be a freight train… whereas this has a lot of different pockets where it’s more than just single strokes. It’s a lot of double strokes and a lot of grooves that are not so on the meter, you know.
MD: It sounds very challenging… obviously to play, but also as a listener, but in terms of accessibility of the music, it’s got those handles there, as well, so there’s a good balance between the two.
JOHN: Yeah, I know when to lay back!
JOHN: But, in general, it’s harder to be complex, slow in the pocket than it is just to be fast. DevilDriver’s more, mainly, fast.
MD: I’ve always loved progressive music, but I’d say Bad Wolves are actually more “progressive”, in attitude, than many bands from the so-called progressive genre, because as soon as you label prog as a genre, it becomes a paradox, and a particular style, with its own rules…. so stops being progressive at some point. Your music is refreshing and actually progressing something. Is that how you view what you’ve created?
JOHN: Sure. I don’t think about it too hard with what category we’re in, in terms of progression. A song like ‘Truth or Dare’, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that?
JOHN: That has some weird grooves in it and it’s pretty progressive…
MD: Progression, for me, is about moving something forward, if you take the term by its literal definition, and I think you are doing something quite refreshing. A lot of metal in the core scene has become quite stagnant, I think. A lot of bands regurgitating the same sort of stuff.
JOHN: Metal’s not stagnant to me, but rock is. I think rock is something where we’d be progressing, where someone who’s a fan of our band, of ‘Hear Me Now’ or ‘Zombie’, might be a fan of Nickelback. And then they might come and see us and think that’s really progressive to them. Metal is fucking progressive these days… it’s almost become a cliché; like, if you’re not doing something fucking damn near impossible, it’s like, “Ah, who cares”. I think there’s gonna be a big backlash to that and I think we’re gonna see a resurgence of bands like Code Orange; bands that just have more of a punk rock mentality, because the slick dick perfect playing and djenty stuff is getting old, I think. I think everyone’s getting tired of everything sounding so perfect.
MD: There are a lot of bands doing something genuinely different and with their own identity… like the Norwegian band Leprous, that’s one that springs to mind, but I do think the core of the scene has become quite stagnant, though. It’s not like it was in the 90s, when you had bands like Emperor, who seemed to spring from nowhere, doing what they did.
JOHN: The 90s were special to me because I was 16 in the middle of it, so those were just romantic times for me, for metal. It seemed like there was a lot to offer wherever you looked. I’m old now, though… I keep my ear to the ground, but I know I’m lost!
JOHN: I know I don’t have the ear that a 16 year old has, you know!
MD: There’s a mix of extremely personal lyrics on the album, and a good old dose of social and political commentary, as well. I guess this would’ve been more a question for Tommy, but it must be quite a cathartic thing to get that personal stuff out there?
JOHN: I would imagine so. For him, ‘Remember When’ was a cathartic experience for him, and I was really proud of him for doing that. If you’re familiar with the song, his brother assaulted him and he almost died, and then he had to go into witness protection, and then prosecute him and put his own brother in jail for seventeen years. You know, it’s something he doesn’t talk about very much but he did it for a song and, for me, I was proud of him and I’m sure it’s an emotional experience for him. And, again, for me, I’d never been in a band where the singer is actually singing about something that real. You know, normally, it’s like a perseverance attitude or something like that, but that was the first time where it’s real experience and real pain.
MD: I guess the social and political commentary can also be cathartic in its own way, because that can be venting anger, at whatever perceived injustice in the world you might have, through the songs. I mean, the world’s a pretty fucked up place right now…
JOHN: Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff… because I penned some lyrics on like, say, ‘Toast to the Ghost’, which is all just more personal stuff, and then I would never have the brain to want to do social commentary. And I’m too scared to think I’m either wrong or right, whereas Tommy has that confidence in what he’s saying. You know, that’s what a frontman is.