Bad Omens on transcending heavy music with Finding God Before God Finds Me
Much has been written about Bad Omens’ comparisons to scene giants such as Bring Me The Horizon, Beartooth, Underoath or Slipknot—quite a diverse pool from which to draw. Sure, those bands have all flirted with metalcore, but the ultimate unifier is their ability to transcend heavy music in general, be that in style, appeal or both. As such, the comparison is as much about attitude as style, maybe even more so.
They’ve got style in spades, but they’ve got plenty of attitude, too. Bad Omens are driven by fearless leaders Noah Sebastian and Jolly Karlsson. A well-publicized debacle that led to them dropping a tour was immortalized in “Limits,” a song with subtle jabs that flipped a negative situation and rode it up the radio charts. The song, which appeared on last year’s deluxe edition of Finding God Before God Finds Me, has done better on the airwaves than any of their previous songs, according to Sebastian.
Unfortunately, they also had to drop the tour in support of that reissue, their first proper headliner, due to the pandemic. However, they were once again able to turn a negative into a positive, as they hit the studio to record six of its songs stripped down for FGBGFM Unplugged. In both cases, the silver lining was they could get home to make music, which is something the duo do professionally. Together at their L.A. tandem home/studio, the Richmond and Sweden transplants translate inklings to full-on ideas, all the while improving their songwriting and production impulses for themselves and artists beyond. It’s the practice required to approach perfect—“making” it is a fool’s errand, as the hyper-self-critical band know all too well—and will allow Bad Omens to raise the bar even higher. Soon, the bands crawling desperately behind them won’t even be able to brush it, no matter how far they stretch.
[Photo By Orie McGinness]
Heavy bands can maybe do one or two acoustic songs generally, if that. You did six for FGBGFM Unplugged. How did that come about?
NOAH SEBASTIAN: We were able to perform the acoustic songs [for our Veeps performance] with headphones to a click, so we can still have strings and pianos and even reverb on our voices to make it sound really polished, even though it’s live. Our songs sound good stripped down and in a more soft, easily digestible format to people that aren’t so into heavy music, so we just said, “Let’s just do an EP.”
JOLLY KARLSSON: There are songs like “Mercy,” which is a really heavy, drone-y metal song that just puts you in a trance. I love playing that song live with our strobes going, just standing there droning out. It’s very progressive metal, and we flipped that entire stake, and I started doing noise stuff on it. It’s got that real cool vibe. It has the same melodies, and you can tell it’s married to that song. I wouldn’t put these acoustic ones on there if we didn’t feel this is a great version of it. I just thought that these songs came out really cool: the 2.0 version.
You have also used acoustic guitars in the choruses, like putting the acoustic guitars behind some of it. Where’d you come up with that?
KARLSSON: Not every song, but I think we filled in some with that. It’s probably one of those bigger rocky songs, like “Burning Out” that we might have a little layer underneath that fills it out. There’s a lot of guitars in that album. Everything was a lot on that album, and while we’re now writing our new stuff, it feels like we’ve just stripped so much, and we’re using one voice, one or maybe two guitars, but it sounds bigger.
You said you’re stripping it down more. There was an interview that said it’s lo-fi but dark and ambient, but somehow still dry and in your face. You basically said, in different words, that’s where the new stuff is going.
SEBASTIAN: Maybe this will give some hints to people that want to know what the new record’s going to sound like, but I wrote all the vocals for a couple of songs over a dark beat that I made. We took the hooks, the vocals and the lyrics that were inspired by that mood and then wrote more of a rock-oriented production/song around it.
KARLSSON: That’s when you really start to understand that concept less is more because before you’re like, “What do you mean? No, more is more, idiot.” It just connects more and less sounds big now because you can really make just a drum and a bass and a voice sound huge if you make it right. That’s what we’ve been trying to connect into. It’s turning out really cool.
SEBASTIAN: I say this every album, but right now, the stuff we’re writing is my favorite stuff we’ve ever done. It’s capturing every emotion I want to convey, and I think it’s going to be exciting. The whole long-term growth plan for bands is so much better than just blowing up overnight on SoundCloud or something because it’s always so short term. It seems like it’s the goal, but I really don’t think it is. I think you need to dig deeper instead of wider.
I mean, look at Every Time I Die. That’s a band who have gotten bigger every single album.
SEBASTIAN: They’re a perfect example. I think this new stuff is going to challenge people that want to hate us—or want to hate the fact that we’re changing at least. Even our most hardcore fans, I think it’s going to challenge and confuse them because, without giving too much away, the songs have a very linear yet unpredictable format and structure. Depending on where and how you hear it first, you’re not going to know what the start sounds like, or you’re not going to know what the end sounds like. It’s one of those things where I think it’s going to force people to listen to the songs from front to back to know if they like it or not, not just a situation where they’re going to put it on for 30 seconds and think, “Oh, Bad Omens went pop,” or “Bad Omens did this, and I don’t like it.”
[Photo By Orie McGinness]
There are some atypical influences on Finding God. I understand there was some influence from Hillsong UNITED and Christian music. I’m just curious how that found its way in?
SEBASTIAN: There’s something very cathartic and dark about some Christian music, especially artists like Hillsong. I don’t know what the genre would even be, but it’s music where it’s dreamy and it uplifts you, and it makes you feel at peace. Maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone, but I perceive that sound as death, in a sense, just because Christianity and religion as a whole are so based around the world’s biggest questions like what happens when you die. I think using those types of chord progressions, melodies inspired by and even lyrical subject matter just makes people feel invincible and peaceful. It really gives people this sense of release and freedom. I don’t know how to explain it. I just love the way that type of stuff makes me feel. It just makes you feel at peace, which is hard to achieve in metalcore. We have songs like “Running In Circles” or “If I’m There,” where it’s still upbeat or has heavy, distorted guitars, but musically, you don’t really know why. It just makes you feel relaxed and happy-sad. It’s the hardest emotion to convey because it’s two at once.
You’ve used the word “regal.” Regal relates to kings and queens. There’s a certain naive peace that you’d feel back when you just live your life in service of this person, which is essentially what religion is. You can totally let go of some things because your monarch will take care of you. I would do anything to, I don’t know, bathe my king’s feet.
SEBASTIAN: Yeah, it’s just so simple. I’ve always wanted to take the melodies and the chords from a lot of the songs on Finding God and have an orchestra/symphonic rendition done. It’s pretty out of mind in terms of just how difficult or expensive it would be. We could do it ourselves, but it wouldn’t be as cool as having a real symphony do it. I think that that’d be the best way I could explain to people what I was trying to say musically versus them actually hearing the original. If they just heard the same chords and melodies on violins and horns and whatnot and stringed instruments, they’d be like, “Oh, I get it now. This is how I’m supposed to feel free.”
You have a good knack for hooks and utilizing them to maximum effect. I love how you take the hook in “Said & Done” and turn it into a guitar lead/solo. It gets a different feel. I’m not bringing Bring Me The Horizon up because of the comparisons, but I interviewed them, and they described a song as Calvin Harris-esque. It’s almost beachy, and that solo has that vibe to it. It’s the same hook as before, but you managed to give it a new identity.
SEBASTIAN: The 1975 do that a lot, and I think that might be where I got the idea from. There are a lot of layers, at least in their older songs, where there’s a synth hook or a little guitar hook in the background of the chorus, and then it comes back later as a vocal hook or vice versa. I think there’s a certain advantage to keeping simplicity and repetition in music because I don’t want people to have to think too hard to try to enjoy something. I enjoy technical rock, progressive-metal and metalcore stuff, but I just like music that I can put on and either sing along to or bang my head to or just fucking have pictures that remind me of something flow through my head while I’m listening to it. I don’t think it should be a job to listen to music—at least not the way I write music. I think bands like Bring Me are great at that. People compare us to them a lot, which used to bother me, but it doesn’t so much anymore. How I see it is I think that they’re just one of those bands in the same wave and boat as us that are not afraid to do anything they want.
You’ve also grown lyrically. From the self-titled being a little bit more nihilistic and hopeless, this one’s a little more hopeful. I think that’s a cool contrast. I’m just wondering where that came from. Did you have an epiphany?
SEBASTIAN: Our first record was very anti-God, nihilistic and just edgy. I’m just over that now. Around the time we started working on Finding God, I went through some pretty crazy emotional/mental issues. It’s so hard to explain, but more or less, I started seeing the world differently and lost touch with reality for a second. I just was making people around me uncomfortable with how dramatically and sudden my personality and mindset changed. It was positive at first. Then it translated and manifested into panic, mania or psychosis. I’m not really sure what it was to this day. I’ve gone to doctors and did all kinds of stuff trying to figure it out, but I still don’t know. I sorted through it obviously and got better. With this album, I wanted to reflect on that experience and just show that you can make empowering, happy, positive music without it being cheesy or corny. We’re a dark band historically, especially on our first record. Finding God Before God Finds Me, for the most part, was just lyrically me trying to write words and convey my experiences and feelings in a way that people could sing along and just feel in control and powerful. A lot of the songs are written from the point of view of God or as Jesus Christ, which I thought was an interesting twist because so many bands are just all anti-religion, Satan rules. A lot of people thought we became a Christian band. I liked that because there was a small mystery behind our band. I want people to question everything.
I think there’s a dual meaning to “Dethrone.” Lyrically, it sounds like the most directly anti-religion song, too, but now that you mentioned it, “Let me take you back to when I was killed and born again” could be coming from Jesus. The internet says drug misuse, but it could go either way. That duality of meaning is a cool thing because people can take away what they need to. It could be about Jesus being like, “My dad sent me down here, and it sucks. I got killed.”
SEBASTIAN: That’s such a good word you used: duality. I think that’s a great way to describe it. Maybe not “Dethrone,” but there are songs on there that I think Christians can listen to without guilt and can interpret in their own way. One of my favorite songs on the record, lyrically, is “Mercy.” The chorus says, “If God came down from his kingdom, he came down from his home/And we asked him if he’d take us back, he would surely tell us no,” which to me is a statement on just how too far gone humanity is for the concept of religion.
So what’s next for Bad Omens?
KARLSSON: Well, obviously the world needs to get back on track, but then we’re just picking up where we left off. We have an album to do. We haven’t recorded. We haven’t gotten into the studio yet, but we work from our studio, so that can be at any time we feel like we have an album ready to now hop in and do. I guess next for Bad Omens will be to do that and hopefully get back to touring this year.
SEBASTIAN: Our long-term plan and ambition is to create our own path as a band and have our own following and name—to not just be in and out of this fishbowl of bands that tour together and ride off each other’s backs. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a great way to grow your audience and make friends. But I want a committed fanbase that just loves our band because they love our music and it makes them feel a certain way—not because we tour with another band they like and they bought some merch one day. I want it to be deeper than that.