The opening scene in the video for “Ghost” shows Badflower lead singer Josh Katz attaching a hose to the exhaust pipe of his vintage car and turning on the engine as he stares at a photo of a young woman. And the cover photo of the band’s debut album shows a close-up shot of Katz with his lips dripping blood and the album’s title — “OK, I’m Sick” — emblazoned across his face.
So when Katz and his band members — lead guitarist Joey Morrow, bassist Alex Espiritu and drummer Anthony Sonetti — stop by for a photo shoot and chat, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were depressed or surly.
Just the opposite.
Instead, the Los Angeles-based band is on top of the world. “Ghost,” their first major market single, hit number one at active rock radio and is climbing the alternative rock charts. The second single has just been released and their album is scheduled to come out on Feb. 22.
Despite the success, the challenges of the past are never far from their minds.
“That song [‘Ghost’] was inspired by real life,” said Katz, who has struggled with panic disorder. “We really try to write honestly and a lot of time life is dark. It’s those things that we like to center our art around. I don’t know why we’re not just cheery, positive people who write love songs. I couldn’t explain why we do that, but I’ve had my fits of panic attacks and depression and when those things happen, those are the most inspiring things to write about. So that’s what we do and we try to do it from the most genuine, honest place without filtering things and worrying about what the radio might want to hear. We just do what feels right for us.”
Apparently it feels right for other people as well since “Ghost” has sold over 77,000 copies, been streamed 10.5 million times, and the video has already exceeded 4 million views — a reaction the Badflower members didn’t quite expect.
“We had no idea how people would react to it,” Katz said. “We were just like, ‘This is something that means a lot to us, so here you go world and if you receive it, great, and if you don’t, fine.’ But it went number one at rock radio, it’s crazy.”
The second single is titled “Heroin,” and is a raw rock ballad about the singer’s drug-like attachment to a woman who cheats on him. (Interestingly, the other man in the newly released video is Johnny Galecki of “The Big Bang Theory.”)
“I crave negative feelings sometimes, as weird as that is to say,” Katz said. “Maybe it’s just reliving things that once made me sad and being able to connect with that place again even if I’m perfectly happy.” He likened it to watching a sad movie. “You’re just living vicariously through these characters who were made up by other people and that can make you emotional,” he said. “I watch ‘Titanic’ and I’m dying, bawling my eyes out, but I want to watch it again. There’s something special about feeling emotions in general, whether positive or negative. Maybe that’s my crazy way of rationalizing being a total weirdo, but there you have it.”
Morrow adds: “Without the dark, you don’t have the light.”
Badflower is the first rock band signed to Big Machine/John Varvatos Records, which was formed last year.
“I found them a few years back while searching independent artists on Bandcamp,” Varvatos said. “They had a song called ‘Animal’ posted and I really fell in love with it. I reached out and we included it in our spring ’16 New York runway show. I signed them while I was partnered with Republic Records and put out a five-song EP. When I took my label independent with Scott Borchetta and Big Machine, they came along with me and we immediately put them in the studio to record their first album.”
Both Varvatos and Big Machine are upbeat about the band’s potential. “I’ve had a keen eye on this space for a long time, waiting for a young rock ‘n’ roll band to capture my imagination, hoping that all the madness in this world would be addressed head-on through the power of rock music,” said Scott Borchetta, president and chief executive officer of Big Machine. “Badflower is that band. Powerful, important, magnetic, attacking the edges of the human condition.”
Katz said Varvatos was instrumental in the creation of the group’s album, including its artwork and choice for singles: “In pretty much every facet of the band, he’s been with the team wearing whichever hat is necessary.”
That includes dressing them on occasion. Katz, who was sporting a Varvatos shirt and jacket, says Badflower is not required to wear the designer’s clothes, “but we really like them so we wear them as often as we can. Every photo shoot and video we do, he always hooks us up. But the coolest part about it is that it’s not about his fashion brand when it comes the music side of things. It’s way more about the music. This is an entirely different passion of his and he doesn’t force the two to be a marriage.”
So what’s next for the up-and-coming rock stars? Badflower is already touring with The Wrecks, but that’s mainly in support of “Ghost.” After “OK, I’m Sick” comes out next year, the quartet, which wrote all 13 cuts on the album, will “have a full schedule of properly touring the album,” Katz said.
The release of the album may also give the guys some inspiration for the band’s future songwriting.
“We’re excited about all of it and terrified at the same time,” Katz said. “This is the first time we’ve released a collection of music with people watching. We had our one big single — finally — and people are starting to pay attention to our band, and there’s anticipation for the release. We’ve never had that before. We’ve put out EPs and singles in the past and it’s like: We’re releasing it to nobody and hope people find it and it becomes a thing. Now we’re releasing a thing to people who are already fans of our band and that’s the most terrifying thing.”