“I Testified Against My Twin Brother, Who Tried To Kill Me When He Was High During A Home Invasion”
Did you ever hear about that guy — the one who filled in for Five Finger Death Punch vocalist Ivan Moody while he was in rehab; who for a time fronted nu metallers Snot; and parted ways with Divine Heresy after an alleged backstage altercation with guitarist Dino Cazares? The guy who is also a motivational speaker and acts as a 12-step coach to members of the L.A. entertainment industry, and had to testify against his own twin brother after he tried to murder him during a home invasion? Oh, and who currently has the biggest metal single in the world? No?
Well, meet Tommy Vext, frontman of Bad Wolves, whose cover of The Cranberries’ Zombie presently sits atop just about every rock and metal chart. The success of the song is of course bittersweet, given that The Cranberries’ late vocalist Dolores O’Riordan was supposed to lend her own voice to it the morning she was found dead. But, the song has been embraced as a tribute to the woman and helped thrust Bad Wolves into the public eye several weeks before their debut album Disobey drops, and we caught up with Tommy a few hours before they made their network TV debut on Ireland’s The Late Show.
Did a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into the making of Disobey?
Well, nobody got bloody, but it really has been a labour of love. John (Boecklin, ex-Devildriver drummer) founded the band and started working on it about three years ago, and I came in after he had written about 10 or 13 songs. As the project continued to develop, Doc (Coyle, ex-God Forbid guitarist) and Chris (Cain, ex-Bury Your Dead guitarist) came, and then Kyle (Konkiel, ex-In This Moment bassist) joined the band last year, the day we shot the video for Learn To Live, actually. We’ve definitely put a lot of thought and effort into this, and I can only speak as the singer, but I’ve been in a lot of bands, and over the past couple of years I’ve been looking for something truly original that I can hang my hat on, and that has some staying power. These guys did an excellent job of creating something that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
Is it a personal record for you, lyrically speaking?
It is, there are some really personal things on there, but there’s also social and political commentary throughout. We talk about a lot of issues: from police brutality to the kind of subversive underlying veneer of racism that we’re seeing a resurgence of, from the opiate crisis and drug addiction to some more personal stuff. There’s a song on the record about my twin brother who’s currently serving 17 years for attempted murder, who tried to kill me during a home invasion when he was high in 2010. We really opened ourselves up not just from a creative standpoint but also a subject matter standpoint, to talk about topics that are really important to us.
How do you even begin to process something like your twin brother trying to kill you? That must have turned your life upside down.
It’s something that I’ve had time to process and make healthy decisions around. Doing one-on-one and group therapy and kind of dealing with PTSD from that situation I think I kinda reopened some childhood traumas too, which I worked through. I actually have started working in recovery and working as a solo coach and helping other people to get sober and deal with their issues since then. So ultimately, I think there was kind of a silver lining in going through that.
Did you have to testify against him?
Most certainly. It was definitely one of the more difficult moments of my life.
Has writing a song about it been a cathartic experience for you?
Yeah, there were definitely tears in the studio. It kinda goes through a timeline and highlights two people who lived the exact same life and had the exact same hardships and advantages and disadvantages, and who we are ultimately as adults is defined by the choices that we made, and our lives reflect those choices.
Your name got a little better known when you stepped in to front FFDP while Ivan was in rehab, getting sober. How was that experience for you?
As most people know, [FFDP guitarist] Zoltan Bathory manages Bad Wolves, and when issues were going on and there was kind of an emergency situation, I got asked to help out. That’s what friends do. It’s hard to go out and enjoy that situation because Ivan is an old friend of mine, and there’s this responsibility to give a performance to their fans the way that he would, and he’s such a massive talent and an undeniably charismatic frontman. There’s that pressure, and then there’s the concern for your friends on top of that, and I really, really commend him and his band on what they did, because that’s a different story.
Traditionally, throughout the course of rock and metal, when addiction or alcoholism become an issue that befalls an artist there’s this pressure from everyone around them to keep pushing them on stage and trying to muscle through it. The Five Finger guys made a very mature decision that ultimately resulted in Ivan’s recovery and coming back stronger than ever. It’s hard, because if you’re a doctor or work in an office or you have another professional job and you have some kind of issue you can actually take time off, and nobody cares. There’s this understanding, whereas in show business if you do that people start to make their own opinions about it, and I think what the band did was very honourable, very respectful and very dignified, and I commend them.
How did the fans accept you?
I felt that they were very accepting. I think their fans really rallied around Bad Wolves in our infantile stage of being a band, and after we played with them our songs got a lot more attention.
You fronted Snot when they reformed a few years after the death of their frontman Lynn Strait - are you feeling like the go-to guy when a credible frontman is needed to step in?
It’s flattering to me. Normally, when someone thinks of the ‘saves the day singer’ they think of [All That Remains frontman] Phil Labonte, who stepped in for Killswitch Engage in their time of need, and also for Five Finger, but for me Snot was a privilege. As a kid, I knew Lynn Strait, I used to cut school to go to their shows. I would show up at their tour bus, and my friend was a weed dealer so we’d bring them pot, which we thought was cool as teenagers (laughs)! I was a huge fan of the band, and what Lynn did heavily influenced my vocal style, so when Mikey (Doling, guitar) and Sonny (Mayo, guitar) called me to audition, I was honoured.
How was that experience for you?
It was life-changing. I’d previously been in two or three other bands, and one famously derailed, and being with the guys in Snot really changed my perspective on what a professional band could be, because they’re a family. Also, if not for singing in that band I might never have gotten sober. It was Sonny in Snot who took me aside and started to help me, because he saw that I was struggling with drugs and alcohol pretty badly at that time, and ultimately I wound up getting sober during my tenure with the band.
And you also do some motivational speaking stuff?
Yeah, I do some public speaking work, as well as sober coaching. I have a propensity to work in the high-end L.A. world of the entertainment industry, so it’s anyone from athletes to pop stars to actors. Mostly, I do 12-step group integration and relapse prevention. I go on tour with different artists, helping them with their trigger points. The behaviour that triggers the addiction is something that’s habitual through the course of their lives, and what I do is help them to see if they want to use drinking to punish themselves, or to reward themselves, or whatever it might be. Basically, I assist in helping them identify what are the key things, so they can start drawing a map during their early sobriety, and they can be watching out for pitfalls.
Having suddenly had your band blow up and get a lot of attention with Zombie, have your experiences up to now made that an easier thing for you to deal with, rather than let it go to your head? Does it help you stay more grounded?
I think staying grounded comes more so from being in a band comprised of guys who are friends. I’ve known John for 11 or 12 years, Snot and Devildriver toured together years ago, Doc and I have been working on projects since we were in our early 20s. Those two guys have known each other ages, Chris and John go back a really long way, and Kyle actually auditioned for Divine Heresy and got the job playing bass until Dino found out he was underage and didn’t want to take him on tour, because he felt he was going to be a liability! Even though we’ve all been in separate bands, there’s this real sense of family and camaraderie and we can lean on each other. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but a sweet one at that.
As you mentioned, Divine Heresy “famously derailed” for you, is that a period of your life you can look back on with any fondness, or did how it ended sour it too much for you?
That period of my life was just very interesting. It taught me a lot about what not to do, and what kind of people and personalities I don’t mix with. Me and Tim [Yeung, drummer] are still really good friends, he played the drums on the debut Westfield Massacre record that I did too. We even talked about doing a Divine Heresy reunion and reached out to Dino on the 10-year anniversary, but he was just not into it because he was doing his own thing. There’s no hard feelings though.
Given the tragic circumstances of Dolores’ passing right before contributing vocals to Zombie, has having the song out there and touching so many people helped you to deal with that loss?
Personally, I was devastated. I was a huge Cranberries fan as a kid, and initially we had sent the song to her just to get her approval. I was kind of insecure as to whether it was good enough to be on the record and released for others to hear, and when she responded that she wanted to sing on it we all felt really honoured. I think that one thing that has happened, given the way it’s been embraced, is that we’ve changed what it means. Originally, the song leant itself to the undertone of the rest of the record, and now it’s become this kind or responsibility to carry her legacy and pay tribute and homage to her. That’s the way that it’s been cathartic for us.
Many will hear Zombie without knowing that you’re a pretty weighty metal band with songs quite different to that. Have people drawn in by that song been getting turned on by your heavier stuff, who might not have gone that way previously?
That’s what we’ve been seeing a lot of. I think that’s an upside to social media, in that we have a direct line to see and hear what people are thinking, and we’ve watched the numbers for Learn To Live - which is a metal song - and The Ghost - which is a progressive metal song - skyrocket unexpectedly. Most people are saying, ‘I came here because I heard Zombie, and this is fucking amazing.’ Another one that’s really, really common is, ‘I don’t normally listen to metal, I don’t like that kind of music and I can’t believe that I really, really like this!’ It’s been a gateway for certain people, which is cool, and interesting to watch.
Can we expect to see Bad Wolves in the UK for some live dates soon?
We don’t have anything set up yet. We have a lot of North American dates and festival tours that take us through to the end of the summer, and after September there’s room for us to potentially do some shows over there. Believe me, we’re doing our best to get to the UK and Europe as soon as possible.
Words: Dan Slessor
Bad Wolves will release debut album Disobey via Eleven Seven Music on May 11.