Having recently completed sold-out runs across North America, the UK and Europe, Bad Omens’ rapid rise was encapsulated during the first of three dates at The Dome in London in early March. Their fans demonstrated as much enthusiasm on the night for the band’s old material as their newer and arguably more popular songs, proving that Bad Omens’ recent success is built off a history their fans are truly invested in.
This response may have felt like a long time coming for the band, but Bad Omens feel that it’s just right. “Hard work translates and it’s brought us to where we are,” vocalist Noah Sebastian tells NME. “We wouldn’t have been able to seize this moment that we’re having right now had we not had that experience and learned those lessons.”
For the latest instalment of our In Conversation interview series, Sebastian breaks down the writing of Bad Omens’ 2022 viral hit ‘Just Pretend’, the band’s strong work ethic and their mission to change the live music industry for the better.
The band’s third studio album marked a new stage for Sebastian as a vocalist. “I feel like I really came into my own over the last year and a half,” he explains. “During the pandemic, [I] really wanted to improve my voice because I’m always very hyper-critical of myself. [It was] a combination of that and getting in better shape and being healthier, sleeping better, eating better.”
The resulting vocal progression then informed the album. “Because of what I’ve been able to do with my vocals, that’s why this record is so vocal-focused. The production is built around nuances in the vocal takes, and the lyrics, the subject matter and the emotion that you can deliver in a vocal,” he says.
That work ethic is shared by the rest of the band, who are rounded out by guitarist Joakim “Jolly” Karlsson, bassist Nick Ruffilo and drummer Nick Folio. “We’re all very hard on ourselves and it pays off,” Sebastian says. “We try to split the difference, and also have fun and be relaxed, but we take the band so seriously.”
Despite how seriously they take the band, there’s still room for humour — especially during the creative process. Take, for example, ‘The Death of Peace of Mind’ track ‘Just Pretend’. “I was just goofing around, joking, being petty almost,” Sebastian recalls about initially writing the song in January 2019 as a response to the pressure the band were feeling to aim for radio play. “It started as this ironic, butt-rock song. Even the way I was singing in the demo, I was doing this exaggerated bravado. It sounded like Shinedown or Godsmack.”
But the chorus stood out, so Sebastian continued working on it until it became a song that Bad Omens could release. It’s hard to imagine that ‘Just Pretend’ started as anything other than earnest, given how its sparser verses build to an emotional release in the chorus that is powered by Sebastian’s desperate vocals. ‘Just Pretend’ has now racked up over 65 million Spotify streams and, somewhat ironically, become an international radio hit.
“Releasing a song that was written to poke fun at how easy it is to make radio rock, that is now number one on the radio rock charts, is the most ironic, full-circle moment this band will probably ever have,” Sebastian adds with a smirk.
‘Just Pretend’’s viral reach has also infiltrated TikTok, where the hashtag #badomensband currently has over 76 million views while the song itself has been used in over 73,000 videos. “I feel like it transcends genre, rock or metal [in] a way that even people that don’t particularly listen to that type of music very often really like it,” Sebastian says of the song. “That’s always been the goal with this band, to expand the musical horizons of people both in and out of rock. I want people that don’t listen to rock and metal to get into it because of our band, and I want people that only listen to that to get into other genres because of our band.”
‘The Death of Peace of Mind’ is a good place to start in either direction. The album melds together dark pop sensibilities with elements of heavy music, building a synth-laden atmosphere that’s grounded by fast drums and loud guitars. “We’re so experimental at this point that there’s songs I would say are industrial songs with rock influences,” Sebastian explains.
While some artists may write rock music with influences from other genres mixed in, Sebastian says of Bad Omens’ approach: “We almost start with those elements to the point that throwing in guitars or live drums is like us adding rock after the fact.”
Metalcore is attracting an increasing audience at the same time that artists within the genre are trying to expand the sound. Bands like Architects and Spiritbox have already been pushing the boundaries of heavy music, while Sleep Token’s experimental sound has led to TikTok fame.
“Every now and then I check in on the metalcore Reddit threads, and they’re always arguing over what can and can’t be put in [the metalcore threads] as far as Bad Omens and Sleep Token go,” Sebastian says. “And I love that it seems the only thing they talk about is how they can’t talk about us in there!” To him, though, the genre is a lot broader than many listeners may think. “It feels like a spectrum that people are now trying to narrow down and be gatekeep-y on.”
Sebastian then draws a comparison to the debate surrounding whether Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ was a country song or not. “It reminds me of that, where it’s so different but still also rooted in the only genre that has breakdowns and heavy guitars that people are just confused and don’t know how to act,” he says. “They want to label it, but I don’t think it needs to be that complicated. I think people can just listen to it and enjoy it, and [there] doesn’t need to be a discourse at all times about what type of music it is.”
An increasing number of artists have spoken out recently against the manner in which music venues continue to take a cut of merch sales. Back in December, Bad Omens tweeted: “Artists still don’t get a cut from bar sales even if the venue gives cocktails cute little names after your songs, but still take 15-20% of touring artists’ gross merch sales every night.” They then voiced support for Architects drummer Dan Searle after he posted in February: “Hey @bands when are we gonna go on strike and get rid of these insane venue merch cuts? Or maybe we don’t play until we get a cut of the bar? Can we just get this done asap please?”
Speaking on the subject to NME, Sebastian says: “I do think we could use our newfound platform as a band with a lot of awareness to help make things better for smaller bands that are starting out that are struggling financially, that don’t even know about some of these practices. Or know that they can say no, or that they can negotiate and don’t know when to ask for more.”