"Don't make BAD OMENS your life": NOAH SEBASTIAN wants his peace of mind | Revolver

"Don't make BAD OMENS your life": NOAH SEBASTIAN wants his peace of mind

On transcending metalcore, TikTok stardom, toxic fame and finding happiness
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Bad Omens' Noah Sebastian

If you don't know the name Bad Omens, then you're probably not on TikTok.

A clip of their song "Just Pretend" has been used in nearly 70 thousand videos on the Gen-Z-dominated video app, where creators use the song's stinging lyrics — "I can wait for you at the bottom/I can stay away if you want me to" — to demonstrate the emotional nuance of metal, arguing that the often-derided form of aggressive music is more than just mush-mouthed screaming and glorifications of senseless violence. It's real. Multidimensional. Human. Everything Bad Omens frontman-songwriter-mastermind Noah Sebastian thinks social media is not.

"It's like the opposite of virtual reality: I have a body just so I can take a photo of it and put it on the internet and exist there," he muses of the digital realm's perverse draw. "That's why I try to go outside more now. And wrestle."

Bad Omens full band UNCROPPED

Today, you're more likely to find the 27-year-old sparring with his opponents in jiu-jitsu or Muay Thai than typing out personal updates on Instagram. But Sebastian generously granted Revolver some rare screen time. He's speaking over Zoom in January 2023, seated in his studio room at his house in Los Angeles, where he's lived for the last seven years with a handful of friends including Bad Omens guitarist and co-conspirator Joakim "Jolly" Karlsson.

It's been about a month since Bad Omens completed their first-ever U.S. headlining tour, in which every date was sold out. In less than a month, they'll trek across the pond for the European iteration, also sold out in its entirety.

"A lot of people that tried to doubt us or question us will attribute [our success] to TikTok," Sebastian says of their ballooning popularity on the app in late 2022. "But that [U.S.] tour was 80 percent sold out before 'Just Pretend' hit TikTok."

While that one song's explosive popularity made them look like an overnight sensation to some, the rise of Bad Omens has been a slow burn. In February 2022, they released their third album, The Death of Peace of Mind, a uniquely gauzy, gutsy, extremely catchy opus that's more alt-metal than metalcore; its sonic palette evokes the hue of a bedside candle flickering in the shadows, not the incinerating blaze of a wild mosh pit.

Drawing influence from the Weeknd's sunken-eyed R&B and HEALTH's blazing-furnace industrial metal, the record didn't move mountains out of the gate. But by the end of 2022, it was being spoken of as a landmark metalcore achievement — a watershed moment in the genre that catapulted Bad Omens into the rock crossover realms they'd always hoped of reaching.

"I want my mom to be able to listen to [us] and say, 'This is actually really good,' even though it's hard music," Karlsson beams during a separate chat, shameless in his desire to transcend metalcore's ceiling.

The band didn't feel the effects all at once. But after what Sebastian describes as "crushing" their opening slots on tours with Underoath, In This Moment and A Day to Remember, Bad Omens finished the year as a headlining act with a viral internet storm behind them thanks to "Just Pretend." Naturally, Sebastian is still catching his breath from the whirlwind ride.

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Joakim "Jolly" Karlsson

"We've always kind of had a trajectory of going up," Sebastian says of their steady career climb in the latter half of the 2010s. "With The Death of Peace of Mind, it just skipped ahead like three or four years."

The fact that Sebastian, and likewise Bad Omens, have gotten to this point at all is remarkable. The odds were stacked against the musician since he was a kid. "I had a pretty unorthodox childhood and upbringing," Sebastian quips with a sheepish smirk. "Pretty dysfunctional. I don't know how I came out this well adjusted."

The singer grew up in Richmond, Virginia, splitting time between the homes, and "opposite lifestyles," of his mother and his grandparents. His "traditional Virginia grandparents" were conservative churchgoers who ran a tight ship and enforced order and discipline on Sebastian. His grandpa was the only father figure in his life. His mother, on the other hand, would let him run wild without any guidance.

"We had a bad relationship," Sebastian says of he and his mom, who's now deceased. But he's grateful that she bestowed him with a solid value system of love and respect for other cultures, sexualities and races.

Shortly after his grandfather passed, Sebastian dropped out of high school and left home at age 15, ending his formal education before 10th grade. He moved in with various older friends and kicked around Richmond as a precocious musician who behaved inordinately mature for his age. Unlike the trope of the doomed, drug-addled teenage runaway, Sebastian, thankfully, never found himself in any real danger and never succumbed to a lifestyle of adolescent debauchery.

"I was surprisingly balanced for someone that didn't have any structure," he says, noting that he barely drank as a kid and has still never tried hard drugs in his life.

Hearing him speak plainly about his unconventional youth is unexpected and refreshing. Sebastian is an incredibly composed and well-spoken conversationalist. He chooses his words carefully, and carries himself with a cool, non-threatening confidence. He also has an extensive and multifaceted musical vocabulary  — writing, producing, branding, live sound and business management are among his specialties. His rigorous dedication to every facet of Bad Omens is impressive, and he credits his grandparents with instilling in him the work ethic that's carried him from teenage runaway to budding rock star.

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Nick Folio

"Music is a very oversaturated, competitive business to try to make a career out of," he says. "I don't think I would've been able to do it without the aptitude to kill myself [working hard] every day mentally, and sometimes physically, doing things that needed to be done while starting the band."

Sebastian has possessed that same level of intense determination since he was a preteen. He joined a local "Enter Shikari worship" band at the tender age of 12, lying about his age to get in. More than just a player and fan of music — Eminem, Fall Out Boy, Disturbed and the Weeknd were among his teenage favorites — Sebastian was a detailed observer of how musicians operated their projects.

When he learned that Beartooth mastermind Caleb Shomo and the Plot in You's Landon Tewers not only wrote all of their bands' songs, but self-produced their own records, something clicked. "I didn't know you could do that," Sebastian remembers thinking. Transfixed, he began training himself to record and produce music at age 16, and within a year he quit the dead-end local band he was in to forge his own solo project, soon to be titled Bad Omens.

Up until this point, Sebastian had only ever played guitar in other bands. He sang with his grandfather in church choir as a child, but never attempted to croon or scream in a rock or metal setting. At the beginning, Bad Omens (originally titled Man Vs. Self) was essentially a test lab for Sebastian to experiment with songwriting, singing and self-producing. He didn't necessarily have his sights set on stardom from the get-go, but the opportunity swiftly arose when the five-song demo he made in his bedroom ended up in the hands of Sumerian Records.

Before Bad Omens had ever played a show, or even had a lineup solidified, the band was offered a record deal that would give Sebastian a shot at the legitimate music career of his dreams — and he took it. As a 17-year-old with no high-school degree and very little money, he knew that professionalizing the band that early in the game was his only ticket to making his music more than a hobby.

"There was no way I could afford to do the whole DIY touring grind, getting in a van and playing shows for 20 people for five years," he says. "I was really living paycheck to paycheck at the time."

In short order, Sebastian turned his one-man venture into a full-band affair, recruiting a handful of local musicians to fill out the initial lineup: rhythm guitarist Nick Ruffilo, bassist Vincent Riquier and drummer Nick Folio. Riquier recommended that Sebastian audition Karlsson for the lead guitarist position, specifically because the Swedish rocker came equipped with valuable songwriting and touring experience, having gigged internationally with his relatively notable previous band, Her Bright Skies.

In early 2015, the newly assembled five-piece spent a month writing and demoing songs in a Maryland basement before heading into the studio to record their debut album, 2016's Bad Omens, with bigwig metalcore producer Will Putney. It was pretty typical of how rock bands build their albums, but it's the last time they'll ever go that route.

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Nick Ruffilo

Not that they were necessarily unhappy with the final result, but the whole process of writing in a practice space environment and then bringing the songs to life with an outside producer felt inauthentic to Sebastian, who was then, and still remains, Bad Omens' principal writer and director. Sonically, their debut is their most down-the-middle metalcore record, and while he doesn't regret its existence, Sebastian cringes at how he leaned so heavily on the "pitched scream" vocal delivery, which earned the band a boat-load of flack for sounding reminiscent of Bring Me the Horizon.

"I was the vocalist of the band, but I was not a confident singer whatsoever," Sebastian admits, explaining that he was trying to mask his voice in tattered yelps instead of unleashing the haunting purrs and electric belts that crown the band's more recent output.

Ironically, taking the band back to the bedroom is how Bad Omens achieved their current headliner status. For their last two records, 2019's Finding God Before God Finds Me and The Death of Peace of Mind, Sebastian and Karlsson wrote, recorded and produced everything at home besides the drums, which they tracked separately in a rented studio. This method has given the detail-oriented Sebastian more control over the final product, allowing him to put to use the "thousands of hours" he's spent consuming production tutorials on YouTube.

Billie Eilish is probably not the musician you'd expect a metal band like Bad Omens to draw inspiration from. However, Sebastian looks to Eilish and her brother Finneas' intimate home-studio camaraderie — revolutionary for a popstar of her caliber — as the model for his music-making partnership with Karlsson. "When we were making The Death of Peace of Mind, [Billie and Finneas] validated my belief that we were doing it right," he says.

While Finding God moved closer to the R&B-influenced direction Bad Omens fully embraced on Peace of Mind, Sebastian says the band's sophomore LP was "painful to make." Stressed by the pressure to follow-up their well-liked debut, he and Karlsson would spend weeks tinkering with a single part and then ultimately revert back to the first draft. For The Death of Peace of Mind, they canned the overly methodical song structures and just wrote where their hearts took them, tapping into what Sebastian describes as the "childlike approach" of making music without any self-conscious rules or limitations.

Before anyone else had even heard the record, Bad Omens already considered it a smash success. "I realized that I was so proud of it that I didn't care if other people got it," Sebastian recalls. For bands who make their bones in the scream-and-breakdown-addled world of metalcore, pivoting to catchier, cleaner soundscapes always comes with the risk of isolating longtime fans.

Save for heavy outliers like "Artificial Suicide," The Death of Peace of Mind is not just more melodic than their previous records, but a complete textural overhaul; "seedy," "dark," "sensual" and even "sexy" are adjectives Sebastian uses to describe its sonic aesthetic — words no one would associate with metalcore traditionalists like Killswitch Engage or August Burns Red.

"My favorite thing [about the album] is I think it's commercialized in a way that I'm still proud of," Karlsson enthuses. "Because sometimes when you commercialize an album, you kind of destroy it. You kind of suck the soul out of it a little bit."

If anything, The Death of Peace of Mind brought Sebastian closer with his inner self. He admits that he used to struggle with an inflated ego, but in making a record that lives up to his own sky-high standards, he's been able to quell that side of him. "I've always kind of felt like I had something to prove," he says with a pensive honesty. "I've always been a little arrogant and even condescending at times. But with The Death of Peace of Mind, I feel like I proved everything to myself I had to prove."

Therefore, on the one hand, there's irony in the title, The Death of Peace of Mind. But in another sense, that motif of losing one's internal serenity was eerily prescient for what would happen once the album rocketed Bad Omens to the forefront of their genre. It's not the physical rigors of the road, inflated industry pressures or more demanding schedule that've thrown him off balance. It's the increased visibility of his personhood.

"I feel like I'm not as happy as I should be about everything happening and the success — just all the good things," Sebastian vents, steering the talk of triumph into a deluge of pent-up frustrations. "It's probably some deep-rooted shit from my childhood or something. It just feels like I'm terrified it's all temporary."

Bad Omens live uncropped

Social media has been the main source of his ire. As Bad Omens' fan presence on TikTok grows and videos of him performing or just existing in public have made him into a minor celebrity, Sebastian has sought comfort in privacy. He's almost completely stopped posting on his personal accounts and he's extremely selective about the interviews he does. Now, his silence has become a strategy.

"People give too much away," he offers. "I'm tired of saying things, honestly. When you don't say anything at all and then the quiet guy in the room finally says something, people listen."

Except in some cases, the silence makes people think it's time to play pretend interpreter. "I will go into it, I don't care," he snips when asked about fans' misguided invasions of his privacy. Exasperated, he visibly drops his guard and lets his unspoken grievances pour out.

Sebastian describes numerous situations where Bad Omens fans have used social media to make up stories about him, or, even weirder, fabricate quotes in his name to speak for him in a bizarre act of parasocial loyalty. On last year's headlining tour, Sebastian felt like he "lost control of my likeness" and began doing little social experiments at every show, betting friends that if he said a specific phrase onstage or walked to the bus at a certain time at night, then some half-truth about the experience would be on TikTok the next day, fueling this fan-constructed version of Noah Sebastian that's increasingly detached from the real guy.

"It turned into almost a little game, but it was not a nice game," says Sebastian, frowning. "It was me just proving to myself how disappointed I am in social media's influence on people."

Seeking therapy has helped keep him grounded and clear in his unflinching vision, and the confidence he has in Bad Omens. As their presence grows and the expectations to concede to industry standards mount up, Sebastian finds gleeful solace in exercising power over the one thing he can control — the music.

"I know we live in this instant-gratification world where it's singles-based and every day someone drops a new song or something," he says of the TikTok-era music landscape. "I don't care. If anything, I'm kind of realizing, like, 'OK, what's every other band doing? We should not do that.' Because that's been working great for us the past year and a half."

In an era when bands are expected to market themselves as lifestyles, and particularly for a band who've seen so much success on social media, Sebastian continues to buck conventional brand-building wisdom. He's immensely grateful for his fans and he has dreams of selling out arenas. But once those screaming faces step outside the venue, he politely asks for his own peace of mind.

"Don't make me or Bad Omens your life. Please."