Interview with Bad Omens vocalist Noah Sebastian | By Nicholas Senior
Promising new bands rarely come out so fully formed and fleshed out as L.A.’s Bad Omens. Their debut self-titled record—out now via Sumerian Records—finds the band channeling their inner darkness to phenomenal effect. Bad Omens is a wonderful, wide-ranging listen that is equally reflective and vengeful, and the music echoes those sentiments spectacularly. A band who can effortless switch between an evocative piano ballad to the kind of riff-y metalcore scene bands wish they could craft, Bad Omens are clearly aiming for greatness. The fact that this emotional rollercoaster of breakdowns and fist-in-the-air anthems feels unabashedly honest helps keep the kitsch at bay.
Vocalist Noah Sebastian takes some time to reflect on the record, his influences, and why he wants at least one grandma-approved song on every Bad Omens record.
This record has been quite a long time coming, as some of these songs are over three years old. What are your thoughts now that your debut has finally seen the light of day?
There are definitely some parts of it that I don’t hate, obviously, but some of it was written by a version of me that I’m not proud of—or that’s not the best version of me. I’m definitely looking forward to the next record being more cohesive. I’m hoping I’ll be in a more positive headspace then [and] that the record won’t be as full of melancholy and self-loathing as this one.
Do you feel like you’re in a better place now?
I definitely am, and I hope that it stays that way. Either way, it’ll be authentic. I think that’s what made this record relatable, is that [my lyrics were] real. It was honest.
One of the best aspects of the album is how it’s still cohesive despite sonically shifting from the hauntingly gorgeous—“The Fountain” and “Enough, Enough Now”—to all-out pit-starters—“Malice” and “Hedonist.” Do you want to explore one side of your sound more in the future or continue exploring different avenues?
I think about this a lot, and it’s hard to answer, because I love so many different kinds of music, and that’s why the album is so diverse. I have so much I want to write about. In my opinion, I think it would be corny to try to put the lyrics to a song like “Enough, Enough Now” to a song like “Malice.” I feel like the music has to be parallel to the lyrics and subject matter, so that you can capture that array of emotion. We want to capture whatever the feeling is musically as well as lyrically.
The album features a wealth of references to religion: sin, God, prayer. I assume this was purposeful, but how does it tie in to the record?
I grew up in a very religious household. My grandparents were Republican and Christian; I grew up listening to [George W.] Bush keynotes and stuff. I’m not religious, but I really appreciate and enjoy [religious] imagery and concepts, and I think there are a lot of valuable stories in the bible. It’s a very unique way to capture a message by acknowledging the existence of a god or devil, even if you don’t believe in it; it’s a very good metaphor. Like in “Glass Houses,” when I say, “I’ve seen the devil more than I’ve seen God,” really I’m trying to say, “I’ve seen more evil than good.” I like to personify the devil and God and use them as a totem.
The album art is really striking; how did that come to fruition? If that figure were standing on a bridge, I certainly would not cross it…
[Laughs] Wow, I’ve never really considered that: she’s standing on a bridge in the way of the other side.
Anyway, I knew that I wanted a photograph and not digital album artwork or anything that was fake or done on a computer. We told the graphic designer at Sumerian that we wanted to do a photograph, [and] we’d like to tie in the color red and a nature vibe, because of the last song on the record, “The Fountain”—probably one of my favorite songs. I wanted it to look how the album’s name sounds: cryptic and witchy, but still approachable. He actually had this photo shoot from a friend on standby, and we all immediately fell in love with it. It reminded me of Brand New’s and The Mars Volta’s artwork.
Given the cryptic nature of your band’s name, why choose Bad Omens?
The song “Glass Houses” was originally called “Bad Omens.” The band name when I first started as a solo project was Man Vs. Self, and we didn’t really like that name. [Laughs] We literally went through names for months trying to come up with something that fit us perfectly. We put time into making sure that every aspect of the band is done perfectly in our opinion. That can cause delays. We didn’t settle on the name until a month before we actually debuted our first music video; we shot the music video, and we still didn’t have a band name yet.
Everything about your band—the image, social media presence, music videos—feels tediously well thought-out.
Exactly. Bands will put out cheesy lyric videos or rush things without regard for producing high-quality content. We did this contest recently for handwritten lyrics from the album; even for those, we got a black backdrop and did a photoshoot [of] some pieces of paper [laughs], so people could see this thing that we made.
It’s an unfortunate elephant in the room, but you’ve frequently been compared to Bring Me The Horizon. What are your thoughts on the association?
I think my voice is a lot to blame, and that doesn’t offend me at all. I think my stance on it is that we share—I don’t know them personally, but I can tell through their content and taste that we share a lot of similar interests and influences.
From a marketing standpoint, they’ve branded their band in the same way I’ve always wanted to brand a band. It’s very cinematic and grand; it’s very rich and regal. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, because I love big spaces, electronic and atmospheric sounds. One of my favorite bands in the world is Deftones. Oh, and [frontman] Chino [Moreno]’s other band, Crosses; they almost beat Deftones for me.
Again, with the comparison, my voice is to blame for it. I love Linkin Park, and I’ve always wanted to channel that really raw-pitched screamy singing sound.
Sure. There seems to be a strong layer of negativity behind the comparisons, unfortunately.
I just don’t get the negativity behind it. One of my current favorite bands that just came out is Cane Hill. I think that they channel Slipknot and Korn so well, at some points it even sounds like those bands. Of course, I’ve seen comments that are talking shit about that, but why is that a bad thing? Korn is an amazing band, and just because Cane Hill put a flanger effect on the vocals just like Korn did, it shouldn’t invalidate what they do. They didn’t steal a chord or melody, just a cool ingredient to making cool songs. I think people are a little too closed-minded about music; it’s very cool to share these influences and ideas. People work better as a team than against each other.
So, is the pitched screaming the hardest thing you have to pull off live? I could never pull off a good Linkin Park impression in middle school…
It’s funny you ask. That’s probably my strongest ability live. My screams live are pretty consistent. The hardest thing is switching between the two.
One of the strongest aspects of the record is that, thematically, Bad Omens is one of those records that I—a guy with a growing number of grey hairs—can connect to as easily as kids still in school can.
That’s something that I strive for: making something that’s accessible universally to all ages, genders, and styles of music that people are interested in. That’s another reason why I’m glad we have some softer, relaxed songs on the record, like “Crawl” and “The Fountain.” I think it’s cool to have at least one song that my grandma can show to her friends with pride, and they would understand—that it wouldn’t be awkward. [Laughs]
Photo by Catherine Patchell