INTERVIEW WITH JOHN BOECKLIN BY TYLER DAVIDSON
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID JACKSON
Metal musicians from all different types of bands and backgrounds came together in 2017 to form Bad Wolves, a Los Angeles based supergroup that blended pounding yet accessible hard rock with some of the most infectious melodies around. The next year, the band’s critically acclaimed debut Disobey dropped, featuring a cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” that, in the wake of singer Dolores O’Riordan’s sudden passing, would end up topping the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart for a number of weeks. Recently, drummer John Boecklin spoke with us about Bad Wolves’ new album, N.A.T.I.O.N., acting as a producer as well as a musician, and the various ways he likes to think outside the box.
You just got off of a tour. When you’re in-between tour cycles, what do you do to get ready for the next one?
Well, there really was no downtime. These bled into each other completely, because any time we had off, we were writing the second record. We just got off tour September 2nd or so, releasing two new songs on that tour with Papa Roach, kind of letting the first cycle bleed into the second. So, literally, I have to say, September was the first time I had three weeks, almost four weeks off with just about nothing to do. The record was written in two years, so I finally got myself an apartment and I went on vacation. It was well deserved, that’s how I felt about it.
What are some of the things you like to do when you actually get some free time?
Oh, it’s North Carolina—rented a lake house and went water skiing and tubing, drank beers.
“WE’RE NOT GOING TO BE A BRUTAL HEAVY METAL BAND, BUT WE WANT TO MAKE SURE OUR ROCK SONGS HAVE SOME TEETH.”
With N.A.T.I.O.N. being the second album, what are some of the things that you learned on Disobey that you were able to implement on this album?
It was so much. We’ve just experienced a lot of growth in a short amount of time. We’re playing really not to metal crowds, but we’re a metal band. I mean, you could call Five Finger Death Punch a metal band, but they’re also pretty much a rock band, too. But for the most part, we spend a lot of time around rock bands, and that seems to be the genre that we’re getting blasted into and where we thrive. So, I don’t think you’re going to catch us on a Cattle Decapitation tour, even though a little bit of our music on the first record fits some of that stuff. We could have easily done, and we would like to still, sometime, do a tour with Killswitch Engage, maybe Periphery. But it seems like that’s not where things are headed for us. So, we spend a lot of time on the road with rock bands, and when I say rock bands, more like Three Days Grace, Five Finger Death Punch, Breaking Benjamin, and bands like that. I’ve never toured with bands like that, so I learned a lot from them about writing rock songs and stuff. We implemented a lot of what we saw there into our new record in terms of coming to terms that we’re not going to be a brutal heavy metal band, but we want to make sure our rock songs have some teeth. So, that’s the record you got with N.A.T.I.O.N., and that’s what we learned out there—where our fan base is really growing and where it’s not. Because we can play “Toast to the Ghost” every night, which was one of the heaviest tracks on Disobey, but sometimes it seems like no one seems to mind. So, we chose to focus on what seems to be working live.
Was it difficult settling into that, coming from a band as heavy as DevilDriver?
No. I left DevilDriver because I was extremely tired of that avenue. It felt like we really…and this is not knocking the band, it’s just, the band does what it does and it seems to work. And that was that. It didn’t seem to be getting smaller or bigger, and it just felt trapping artistically. Anything out of left field, or this and that, just never seemed to work. And then, somewhat, internal relationships were deteriorating, so I stepped off. I do not miss that kind of music at all. And I felt Bad Wolves’ heavy music was a bit more in the modern realm than DevilDriver, which is fine. DevilDriver’s been around for a long time. DevilDriver sticks to what they do and they do it well. And I just needed to start something new. So, I’m happy doing the heavy version of metal that we do and getting into stuff on the new record. It’s really fun, too, to play simple stuff that’s heavy.
“WE MADE IT A POINT TO PUT IT ON THE RECORD TO SHOW THAT THIS IS THE KIND OF BAND THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE. WE’RE GOING TO DO ALL KINDS OF DIFFERENT STUFF”
You mentioned trying stuff out of left field and how it might or might not have worked. Do you feel that sort of freedom with Bad Wolves? That you can experiment with stuff that’s outside the box?
Absolutely. And that was a major, major reason that on the first record, there’s a song called “Hear Me Now,” which is a very, almost a country-like Nickelback ballad. I had written that—that’s been laying around for years—and I was nervous to put it on the first record, but talking to the group, it’s like, “Let’s put this on the first record,” so we’re telling the world that we do this stuff now and we’re not doing it later to sell out or anything. Because if you’re a heavy metal fan, you’re going to be like, “What is this sellout kind of stuff?” But it’s stuff that when I write it, I like it. So, we made it a point to put it on the record to show that this is the kind of band that we are going to be. We’re going to do all kinds of different stuff, and I’m glad we did.
You’ve mentioned that the band is still evolving. How important was it to you for N.A.T.I.O.N. to feel different musically than Disobey?
I don’t know. We were all just super excited when we would just even talk about it. “Oh, we can do this, we can do that.” But at the end of the day, there wasn’t a game plan. It was just like, “All right, what do you got? What do you got?” Just writing music, knowing though that if someone was going to bring a song that was just straight, brutal death metal, we’d be like, “All right, that’s cool, but we’re not going to use that.” Just sticking to what the band did well and trying to improve upon it. I think songs like “No Messiah,” for the heavier side of us, are really fun and cool. I think songs like “Sober” and “Better Off This Way” are really improved ballads, compared to some of the other ballads we’ve done. It’s like going from fourth to fifth grade, trying to roll with the punches and make it be smart.
“IT’S LIKE GOING FROM FOURTH TO FIFTH GRADE, TRYING TO ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES AND MAKE IT BE SMART.”
Was the writing or the recording process any different than it was on the last album?
No, not really at all. Me and Tommy [Vext, vocals] produced it, just like the Disobey record. We used the same studios, except for I did drums with Mark Lewis on the last one in Florida, and this time I did it with him in Nashville. The difference is Mark Lewis didn’t mix this record. Joseph McQueen mixed it, but Joseph McQueen also recorded vocals on the first record as well. So, it’s all the same players, the same names are in there, just mixed it up a little bit different in some of the roles. Drew Fulk helped out with some production, too, as he did on the first one. So, there you go, pretty much all the same thing. Max Karon as an engineer, we did all our guitars at his place in Vegas, same as the first record. So, a lot of stuff like that.
What’s it like being both producer and artist? Does that give you a clearer view of the record as you work on it?
I think it’s more about the way we work and the way technology works now, because times have changed where it just doesn’t really feel necessary. Even though we’ve talked about doing it on the third record, when we’re a bit more relaxed, it just doesn’t feel like you need to hire one person and sit with them for two or three months straight to do a record. It just doesn’t seem like it needs to be like that, because you could do so much quality work on your own, production-wise. Like, the guitar tones that we record with are the final tones on the record, stuff like that. We don’t need to go to a studio and spend $400 a day with a producer and make sure that it’s the tone that everyone likes when you can just do that in your bedroom. So, just the way people make records has changed. Joseph McQueen played a role, like as a third party. He would help make decisions on arrangements if needed and maybe some melody stuff, but other than that, we felt like the band could handle it internally. And we did.
“THIS WAS SOMEONE’S TRAGEDY. IT’S HARD TO EVEN TALK ABOUT THE SUCCESS OF IT WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE AN ASSHOLE.”
Obviously, this was a unique situation, but with the way that your cover of “Zombie” blew up last year, have you talked about including more covers?
Yeah, but not for those reasons, with expectations of what “Zombie” did. We’re well aware of what a lot of people might think about the success of that song. And it can be a blessing and a curse at the same time, to have something so massive, so quick. So, we’re just moving on from it. Yeah, we recorded some covers, but certainly we’re not going to come out swinging with a single, the first single off of our new record as a ballad cover and hoping that we’re just going to repeat the same kind of magic. And when I say “magic,” that’s even a really shitty word to use, because “Zombie” revolves around someone passing away. It’s all this crazy framed thing that happened. People in the industry would use “lightning in a bottle,” but that sounds exciting, and this was someone’s tragedy. It’s hard to even talk about the success of it without sounding like an asshole. And so to dance around the question, yeah, we’re doing covers, but we don’t really have any plans of making that a solid thing quite yet. But we do have some good ones in the can.
Are there things that you’d like to experiment with in the future that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet on the first two albums?
Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff in my head. There always is. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea though (laughs). I have all these extra ideas and stuff we didn’t quite get to. There was actually, like, maybe a month ago, Doc [Coyle, lead guitar] and I were in the studio really late, just messing around and came up with this electronic song, and I’m thinking about how we could make that something that could be on the third record. But then sometimes it’s just not a good idea. I have a lot of country-esque songs laying around with a lot of twang in them, then I’m like, “Eh, maybe they should just stay.” But yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff we haven’t gotten to, but maybe we will.