“[When] you’re going great, [a] lineup change after record two is the last thing anybody wants,” Bad Wolves drummer and co-producer John Boecklin tells Billboard via Zoom from the Cayman Islands in October. “And we had a major one, but here we are. This is working, and we’re happy and we’re closer than we’ve ever been as a band. We couldn’t ask for more.”
There’s no question that, after releasing their third album, Dear Monsters, on Oct. 29 through Better Noise Music, Bad Wolves are still going strong. With new frontman Daniel “DL” Laskiewicz, formerly of The Acacia Strain, in place, the heavy-rocking Los Angeles quintet’s latest single, “Lifeline,” reached No. 6 on the Mainstream Rock Airplay chart dated Oct. 30 — their seventh top 10 entry dating back to Bad Wolves’ platinum cover of The Cranberries’ 1994 hit “Zombie.” That stoked even greater anticipation for Dear Monsters, as well as for the beginning of a new phase of the band’s career after it settled an acrimonious split with original vocalist Tommy Vext.
As Billboard reported on Oct. 28, Vext and Bad Wolves; their manager, Allen Kovac; and the label Kovac founded, Better Noise Music, have settled lawsuits that were filed against each other. In a joint press release, the parties announced, “Bad Wolves and its co-founder, John Boecklin, alongside their label, Better Noise Music; manager, 10th Street Entertainment; and publisher, 5-19, have collectively resolved their disputes with Tommy Vext. Bad Wolves will continue to record music under Better Noise and tour with its current lineup. Tommy is free to express his musical creativity either independently or with another label.
“A partnership can sometimes lead to divorce,” the statement continues. “Artists have creative differences and argue over songs, credits and much more; however, if both sides believe in their own talents, they find a path to go their separate ways. This is a settlement with no winners and no losers; it’s beneficial to everyone in order to move on and bury the hatchet. This is a new beginning and a bright future for all those concerned. We’re all excited to get back to what’s important, and that’s the music. Bad Wolves and Tommy wish each other the best going forward and ask that their fans respect this decision.”
Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that vexing — or Vexting — circumstances made it challenging for Bad Wolves to reach this point.
Vext, formerly of Divine Heresy and Westfield Massacre, had announced on Jan. 8 that he was leaving the band to launch a solo career. The group followed with an official statement the next day, promising that it planned “to continue making music” and release a new album this year. The group also countered Vext’s claims that he was ousted because of his support for former President Donald Trump and other political viewpoints, stating, “We would prefer to not look back on the past and instead focus on this new chapter and … let the music speak for itself.”
Vext subsequently sued Kovac during the summer, accusing him of unscrupulous business practices, racial discrimination (Vext is Black) and censoring his political statements. In a July statement, Kovac called the allegations “categorically false” and maintained that Vext “has dragged us into a ridiculous, unfounded narrative that falsely paints him as a victim.” Better Noise countered in August by suing Vext for copyright infringement, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.
Meanwhile, Bad Wolves were hard at work with Laskiewicz, putting together Dear Monsters. The new frontman had already worked with the band by co-writing music for 2019 sophomore album N.A.T.I.O.N., and having taken time off from the road to start a family, he was more than open to (and a little surprised by) the overtures from Bad Wolves, which came first from guitarist Doc Coyle.
“I was kind of shocked, honestly,” the Massachusetts-based Laskiewicz says. “I was more excited than anything because I was a fan of the band before any of this, and I’m friends with the guys anyway. So it was a rare kind of opportunity and something I had to at least entertain.”
Boecklin, who was with DevilDriver before co-founding Bad Wolves in 2016, says that Laskiewicz impressed him and his bandmates — Coyle, guitarist Chris Cain and bassist Kyle Konkiel — with his work on N.A.T.I.O.N. “Not only did he do a great job writing … but his voice sounds like it would really fit the band, and I always kept it in the back of my head,” the drummer recalls.
After Vext departed, Laskiewicz was the first person Boecklin thought of to be the new frontman. “He’s a producer and a guitar player, too,” says Boecklin. “What he brings to the table is production value, guitar playing [and] riff writing, and on top of that, he’s a great singer who can write melodies — rather quickly, too. It was really fun making a record with DL and just having him in the fold.”
Those attributes are evident throughout Dear Monsters. The 12-track set — recorded mostly at Sparrow Sound in Glendale, Calif., and co-produced by Boecklin and Josh Gilbert — is arguably Bad Wolves’ most diverse and far-reaching album to date. It’s filled with hard-rocking crunch (“Lifeline,” “On the Case,” “House of Cards”) and rich melodicism (“Wildfire,” album closer “In the Middle”), while the intricate dynamic shifts of “Comatose” and “Sacred Kiss” offer aural amusement park rides for listeners.
“We believe in the power, passion and talent of this band,” says Kovac, who is also CEO of Better Noise Music, Bad Wolves’ home since their 2018 debut, Disobey. “It appears that the listeners and rock music community agree with us [because] ‘Lifeline’ is the band’s fastest-rising song ever. Our global marketing team is prepared to continue the artist development of Bad Wolves on a worldwide scale.”
For Laskiewicz, joining Bad Wolves lets him show off some heretofore unexplored clean singing. “I never had an opportunity in any project I worked on to sing like this,” he explains. “My strong point is melody and feeling out the dynamics of a song, so we really wanted to make a point of creating these big hooks with soaring choruses and stuff. At the end of the day, we wanted to put an emphasis on the clean singing, while still getting into the heavier, more metal songs.”
Boecklin opines that is in keeping with Bad Wolves’ general approach, which he doesn’t feel has wavered much during the past five years. “The mission statement for Dear Monsters was to continue the overlapping of rock and metal while consistently using soaring choruses and real riffs,” he says. “We have riffs that are really, really heavy and intricate, and we’re really proud we’re able to be on the radio, too. So we’re kind of diving into both worlds without the record sounding like it’s polarizing itself.”
Laskiewicz says he was well aware that coming into the band as a new singer is “a scary time,” but adds, “At the same time, it’s exciting. They get to kind of see what they can do with the band they haven’t done yet and kind of stretch their legs a little bit.”
Boecklin and Laskiewicz agree that Dear Monsters’ most dramatic departure is “Springfield Summer,” whose downright pop verses and bridges build into anthemic, melodic choruses within a structure that screams crossover hit. Laskiewicz describes it as “sort of the ninth-inning song,” written after Better Noise felt the record was missing something. Charged to write a song that Bad Wolves hadn’t done before, Boecklin sent Laskiewicz an idea that had been around for years, and the two created a demo they both “fell in love with,” as did the label.
“It was really quick, just a verse,” says Boecklin, “and they were like, ‘This is incredible! Let’s get you in the studio now and do this.’ To me, it’s my favorite song on the record.”
“At the end of the day,” elaborates Laskiewicz, “we made a conscious effort to maintain what Bad Wolves is at its core — detuned guitars, very heavy, very melodic — but at the same time, we really wanted to make an effort to build upon that and make sure this album was a step in the right direction, especially with a new vocalist.”
Buoyed by the success of “Lifeline,” Bad Wolves are charting out a near future that includes more singles and videos, as well as a North American support tour slated for the first half of 2022. Boecklin says Europe and Australia are on the group’s radar, too, despite uncertainties about overseas touring.
“It’s all a big question mark,” he notes, “so we definitely want to launch this in the States, and then after that, when the world’s ready to have us, we’ll be everywhere. We’re all just excited to get [Dear Monsters] out.”
Additional reporting by Colin Stutz.