It’s safe to say that Halestorm‘s frontwoman Lzzy Hale is one of our favorite female rockers and guitar players. Not only is she incredibly talented, but she’s also one of the nicest people we’ve had the privilege of interviewing twice. Hale has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music, including Hollywood Vampires with Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, and Joe Perry, along with Eric Church, Lindsey Stirling, Shinedown, among many others.
Interviewing Hale is more like catching up with an old friend discussing what we’ve been up to over the years, and deciding that we’ve gone far too long without seeing or speaking with one another, and vowing to resolve that soon. At the beginning of our interview, we acknowledge fellow peers who have mentioned Hale’s name, including Jake Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet, who’d love to collaborate with her, and she replies “Oh dude. He just has to tell me when, and I will be there. Those kids are so nice! And they’re [Greta Van Fleet] so talented.”
Getting deeper into the details of the recording of Vicious, available everywhere, Hale discussed with me the intimate details referencing the recording of the new album, her recent guest appearances, and more.
Vicious seems much grittier than what you guys have previously released, in my humble opinion and it’s more in your face. There are many influences behind the recording of it, especially with the world that we live in today. What were the influences behind the band’s attitude with this new album going in to make it?
Lzzy Hale: Well honestly, when we went in to make this record…I guess I should kind of generalize it first. This is a journey, and we were capturing what we were feeling at the time. When we went in to record, we started truly sitting down and writing just in the studio with Nick. We were writing and recording as we were creating, so that’s probably why everything seems a little in your face because all of those emotions are fresh.
So to take you back to the beginning though, we had been on the road, and we’re constantly writing. I’ve realized that my passion for songwriting has also become my affliction. I can’t really turn it off. In fact, we’re working on new songs today. So it’s one of those things where we were writing for the record while we were still on the road and when we got off the road said, okay, well it’s our collection of songs.
We had written a lot of them and as we were listening to them, we just really weren’t inspired by them. We felt like we were repeating ourselves. Some of the songs sounded like “I Miss the Misery” times two and like okay, we already have done that. We just weren’t really excited about things, so we threw all those songs away. I mean, not like totally. We had decided not to use them, and then when we went into the studio, I was telling Nick, our producer, I’m like, I’m a little lost here.
There’s this misconception that as you have success in a band, and we’re on our fourth record on a major label, that it gets easier. It actually gets harder to figure out where you’re going to go next. I was having a really hard time liking anything that I was writing. Me, being more or less emotionally attached to this band, it’s so much more than a career choice for me. So when I was like, okay, can I even do this anymore, and that spiraled into like, can I even maintain this?
Do I know how to write a good song, and then that spirals into, do I even deserve to be here right now? I went down this dark rabbit hole in my head as again, with the state of the world and being a woman, too, it was difficult to grasp that. Then we got in the studio, and Nick Raskulinecz, our producer, basically was like, ‘hey look, this happens to everybody. I did this with Korn. I did this with the Foo Fighters.’ He’s like, ‘look, you still got this, but we’re going to get in the studio every day.’ So, basically, that’s what it was.
We went into the studio every day and would start recording, and Nick would be like, ‘all right, who’s got a riff? Who’s got an idea? We’re going to start there.’ Then we would just kind of literally like it was such an amazing thing because this was the first time in a couple of years that we had started from scratch as a four-piece, just all of us in one really tiny room together with all of our amps on and creating as we went. It really felt like we were back in my parents’ basement. So in that aspect, it really threw out making this record. We reconnected. We not only found our mojo again, but I came out on the other side swinging. It’d be like, all right, mama’s still got this, you know? We also really connected with each other on this very base level of our musical language and what makes Halestorm, Halestorm and what the four corners of that pyramid are, and if you take one of those things away, it’s not the same.
Also, we stopped trying to make everybody happy so I think that was part of my block. In the beginning, I was thinking way too much about like, okay, is the label going to think this is good? Is this something I want to say to my fans? All of these things. You just forget that part of the reason you write music is for yourself and a little selfishly. So, when we were writing this record, all of these feelings were things that I was going through, and it literally came out at the end of this record. We’re like, oh my God, Nick ended up saying at the end, he’s like, ‘well if you think about it, this is kind of a dumb way to put it, but if you’re really excited about your record, your fans are going to be really excited about it too because they’re connected.’ We were like, oh duh, it’s been in the front of my face the whole time.
So it was therapeutic, but I don’t think we could’ve done it without our producer. He was one of those guys that I don’t think we’ve ever really had that before with a producer, where he’s purely like a fifth member and was just in with us the whole time. If I’m doing vocals, if I’m doing guitar, all of these things, he’s just sitting three feet from me, just like in it, you know? Same thing with the drums. He would be in the drum room with drumsticks, with RJ, and his energy was really helpful. He literally helped us find our mojo again.
Lzzy: So that’s turned into a longer story but-
I feel your enthusiasm, and I love the album. I think it’s great and I think everybody and anybody’s going to love it and if they don’t love it, it’s all good, because you’ve got to do you.
Lzzy: Oh well thank you, you’re sweet.
Speaking of you guys being rock and roll, and not trying to please everybody, although you hear on the radio all this pop music and that’s what radio seems to go after, do you think a resurgence of rock has come back or do you think it really never went away?
Lzzy: In my world, it never really went away only because we spend 90% of our time on the road. That’s really the heart and soul of the rock community – the people that buy the tickets and not necessarily streaming. It’s just kind of starting now. It’s an interesting and very unique community, us rock people, because we still buy the vinyl, we buy records. With the stats and the numbers that everybody’s able to collect on the internet and everything now, really it’s the pop fans that are doing most of the digital.
So for me, if you look on the other side of it, it’s such a huge community because people still come out and buy tickets. They go see live shows. So for me, it never really went away. I see a resurgence in the interests of what rock and roll means to everybody. What I’ve seen is actually a lot of the rap community wanting to immerse themselves into metal and into the rock genre. Same thing with a lot of the pop stars. It’s actually a form of pride for me. There are a lot of people that are like, what the hell man, you know, she’s wearing an AC/DC T-shirt so … whatever.
People get all up in arms about it, but I’m actually proud because everybody wants to be a rock star. The country stars want to be rock stars. The pop stars want to be rock stars. The rap stars want to be rock stars. There’s only one original, and that’s all of us in that community that lives, eats, and breathes that. What we saw, too, in the past couple years, is a lot of people jumping ship as far as some of our peers wanting to incorporate and maybe cross over into the pop world and all of that. That’s totally their prerogative, but that just wasn’t for us.
It never has been, regardless of the many times there have been people that are like, Lzzy, you’re a girl, you can totally pull that off, you know? It’s never been a part of my heart or us as a band. So I think with this record, that was one of the things, in the beginning, was like okay, even if we don’t know what we want to do, we know what we don’t want to do. So, we ended up doubling down on rock and how we view heavy music, and the heavy stuff got heavier.
The sex songs got sexier. The more personal songs got more vulnerable. It ended up taking everything that makes us who we are and multiplying it times ten. It was interesting too because even physically, there’s a lot on this record that I didn’t think I was capable of doing. I’ve known my voice and my abilities for a long time. It’s like I know the things that I can do well, and with Nick, he’d be in the studio like, ‘wow yeah, that really rocks.’
He’s like, ‘oh no, no, no, no, I can see you guys live. I know what you can do. I know you can sing higher. I know you can play harder. I know your little brother can be crazier.’ He just ended up stepping in all the time, with, ‘oh no, no, no, no, didn’t work, didn’t work’ and would throw all these things at you and I’d be like, oh wow, I just didn’t even think that was … that’s awesome.
That’s another thing about Nick is that I think he’s the first producer that we’ve ever worked with that has seen us more than once live. He lives out here in Nashville. He’s a bass player. There’s this rock and roll community in Nashville, and a lot of these guys get together every week. There’s this thing called the Rock and Roll Residency, and so they get together and then we’ll do benefit stuff and all of that.
So, I actually got to play with Nick on a couple of AC/DC songs, playing “Shake a Leg” and all that old stuff. I remember being able to connect with the guy, so he really has totally understood all of these aspects live that we do 90% of the time. He’s like, ‘there’s a lot of movement that I see you do when you’re in front of people that I haven’t heard yet on a record.’ So, he really pushed us in that direction, too.
Amazing! You have collaborated with many musicians, male and female, and you’ve collaborated with one of my favorite male musicians and actor, Johnny Depp. I was so stoked for you when you got to do that with him, and I was super pumped…
Lzzy: Oh thank you. That was crazy! Okay, so I’ve got to tell you what was going through my mind at the moment because we had the day before to rehearse. There was an hour blocked out to rehearse. So the day before we get there, I plug in my guitar and those guys, it’s not like this big put together thing, they’re just friends; and half the time, they don’t even know the songs they’re playing, they’re just jamming.
So, I’m playing the song, and there’s Duff McKagan [Guns N’ Roses] on bass. Duff and I have been good friends over the years. So, there was this moment where Johnny Depp and Joe Perry were arguing over whether they were going to modulate to A or E during the bridge, depending on who did the solo. I turned to Duff, and I’m like, you got this right? He’s like, ‘yeah, just follow me.’ I’m like, all right, I’m going to follow you. It was interesting because everyone was so incredibly sweet and nice and there was no; I don’t know, it was just them having fun. There was no pressure to do anything. It was like, hey if you feel it, do it, awesome.
So we had the rehearsal, and I’m feeling really good. I got to hug everybody, so next time you see me, hug me; I’m sure there’s still some Johnny Depp on me.
Lzzy: I’ll transfer it to you. But the next day, we’re playing the show. It gets to the point where I come out with them and I put on my leather jacket. I’m like, I’m cool, I’ve done this before. Just because these guys are super rock stars and movie stars doesn’t mean that I have to get weird and nervous about it. Then you walk out on stage, and you are just surrounded…it sounds so weird and hippy for me to say this, but you are surrounded by this vibe with all of these guys because they are exuding this rock star power, that “it” factor. But it’s not just one guy; it’s everybody. Everybody in that band is a bona fide rock star and movie star, so you just get that energy. I swear to God, I think I blacked out for most of that performance.
We were having a lot of fun and then I was like, did we do good? I hope we did good because I just couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. That was a huge thing, and I’ll tell you something, too. Alice Cooper, I don’t know if you’ve ever met him, but what a golden human; like sweet, sweet man and never has a bad thing to say about anything or anybody. It’s really cool to see.
I’ve never met him, but I know a lot of people that work with him and say the same thing. So I absolutely believe you, 100%. I love that you confirmed it. Expounding from that, who has undoubtedly, besides that obvious incredible opportunity, left an indelible impression on you out of all your collaborations?
Lzzy: All of my collaborations…I mean everyone’s kind of been this amazing big brother and/or, I mean, I’ve done the Lindsey Stirling thing which was amazing. She’s such a sweetheart, and she’s this young girl that has literally carved out her own path. She has had a lifetime of people telling her that she can’t do what she wants with her art and her music and she has completely proven them wrong. It was amazing to collaborate with her, and she’s just on top of everything. There’s no team around her telling her what to do. It is her. She is the boss lady, and that was so incredibly inspiring to see, as a woman.
There have been a couple of times where I’ve gotten to play with my heroes. Tom Keifer (Cinderella) is one of those, and we got to collaborate and meet a couple of years ago. Now we have barbecues at each other’s houses. It’s really weird to be friends with basically the guy that got you into guitar. He’s a fantastic human, as well. There’s just been so many.
David Draiman (Disturbed) is awesome. He’s another laser focused guy where it’s like he knows exactly down to the tee what’s going to happen. It’s so funny to meet people like that. The members of Ghost are the same way where they have a five-year plan. I don’t really operate that way. I’m kind of ‘in-the-moment’ and know what I’m going to do tomorrow. I have a schedule, and I can prepare for that, but every time, during my career, that I’ve ever tried to make a five-year plan, it never works out that way. It’s always like there’s a fork in the road. You have to decide how quickly are we moving forward either way. I operate more like that, but it’s so fascinating to hang out with people that are super laser focused like that and just be like, no, I’ll stick to my plan.
I think that the way that I learn, too, when I learn new things. It’s more about saying yes and diving headfirst into the shark tank and then figuring it out as I’m in it. I think that if I plan, it’s never going to be as amazing as if I just say, okay I’m just going to immerse myself in the moment. That’s usually how I do things and usually, there’s a moment of like, oh man, did I get in over my head? Am I in over my head? Then you always kind of figure it out. It’s that ‘no backup’ plan thing. I’m just going to leap, and somehow, I’m going to figure out how to fly.
Lzzy Hale: Vocals, Guitar
Arejay [Hale] – Drums
Josh Storm – Bass, Vocals
Joe Storm – Guitar, Vocals