From Darkness to Light: Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale Breaks Through the Wall with Vicious

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LZZY HALE of Halestorm with her new Ltd. Ed. Lzzy Hale Signature Explorer Outfit
LZZY HALE of Halestorm with her new Ltd. Ed. Lzzy Hale Signature Explorer Outfit - Photo by Jeremy Ryan

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 9 – Autumn 2019 – Ladies of Metal

By the time Halestorm entered the studio to record their full-length debut album for Atlantic Records, they had a body of work behind them, beginning with a self-made 1999 cassette recorded while the members were in middle school, followed by two more CDs, and a live EP recorded upon signing their deal.

The band members  — Lzzy Hale – vocals/guitar, Arejay Hale – drums, Joe Hottinger – guitar, and Josh Smith – bass — had years of touring and studio experience to their credit when they began tracking Halestorm, but only then did Lzzy Hale begin to reach her full potential. “In the past, we’d go into a session, and someone would hit the ‘record’ button, but I’d get no feedback from them,” she said at the time. “It was, ‘You’re a good singer; do your thing,’ which I appreciated because I learned on my own.”

It’s been a long and winding road for the group, but also a steady climb from upstarts to the upper echelon of recording and touring acts. They’re closing in on almost 3,000 shows worldwide, and their resume includes tours with a diverse selection of artists — from Avenged Sevenfold to ZZ Top to country music megastar Eric Church. It speaks not only to their work ethic but also to the wide appeal of their sound.

Initially, Lzzy Hale turned heads with her voice, but as Halestorm grew its fan base, so did the spotlight rightfully begin to shine on her skills as a musician. Standing front and center with her Gibson guitars, and now her Epiphone signature model, she has cemented her place as a guitar hero.

She picked up the instrument by default.

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Growing up in Pennsylvania, she began as a keyboard player, but as members of Halestorm came and went for various reasons, she decided to step up and take over guitar duties. What began as a necessity quickly became a full-time passion.

For their new album, Vicious, Halestorm reunited with Nashville-based producer Nick Raskulinecz. The team first worked together on 2017’s ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP, and according to Hale, he has become their “fifth member.” The partnership has clearly paid off, as “Uncomfortable,” the first single from Vicious, and their fourth No. 1 overall, earned a 2019 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance — a second nod for Halestorm, following their 2013 win for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance for “Love Bites (So Do I).”

Guitar Girl Magazine connected with Lzzy Hale via e-mail during a break between the band’s spring headline tour and the start of a co-headline summer run with Alice Cooper. 

Vicious is your fourth full-length album since signing with Atlantic in 2005. When you look at Halestorm’s timeline of over 20 years, and of course some recordings you made during those early days, what do you see? Who was that young woman and who is she now?

It feels like I’ve lived a few different lifetimes, but all while keeping the same core flame burning. Everything around me has evolved. I’ve become better at my craft, but I’m still the same teenager inside. All I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a kid, is rock. And that’s all I’ll ever want to do. Currently, I’m seeing the world, doing what I love, with the people I love. I guess that could be considered living the dream!

What are some of the personal and professional milestones that you’ve marked along the way?

I consider our biggest personal accomplishment the fact that we’ve been the same members for over 15 years. We’ve been through almost every conceivable battle and triumph together and have managed to always see the big picture and move forward together. That’s no small feat for a band. Professionally, it turns out you never run out of dreams. We’ve had number one hit songs, we’ve been nominated twice and won a Grammy, and we’ve been releasing music on the same label for a decade. All these things are wonderful, but they do not define success for us. They are beautiful mile markers on our long and never-ending highway. 

This is your second project with Nick Raskulinecz. What does he bring to Halestorm, and how does he help take the band to the next level?

He’s unlike any producer we’ve worked with. He doesn’t buy into the BS of the business. His mission statement is to create and record music that he and the bands he works with are passionate about. As he put it, “If you aren’t stoked on what you do, no one is gonna be stoked to listen to it. But if you are truly excited about what you create and record, people are going to feel that.” So that becomes the guideline for everything we do.

On a personal note, I found myself again as a songwriter through recording with him. I’ve reached a level of confidence and thoughtfulness that I didn’t think I had inside me before I started hanging out with Nick. He encouraged me to be and write about everything that I am, regardless of whether anyone agrees with it or understands it. He taught me to take ownership of my danger. I owe a lot to that man.

The songs went through several versions before the final recordings. Can you walk us through the studio process from start to finish?

We were basically following our gut, so we had every amp we have on and mic’d up, every guitar and keyboard ready, and a literal pile of pedals. We would dive in headfirst and chase whatever got us excited. So on any given song, I was using a Marshall Silver Jubilee, my 100-watt Randy Rhoads Marshall, my JCM800, my Gibson guitars and baritones, and I was singing through an SM7, a Telefunken 451, and a Neumann U 89. My vocal chain at my home studio, which we used on certain songs, is a U 87 to newer Neve 1073 to Tube-Tech CL 1B. Pretty simple, but it works!

You have a longstanding relationship with Gibson and Marshall, a combination you call “the rock and roll standard.” What keeps you loyal to those guitars and amps?

I’m loyal to these two companies because of a feeling. It’s really me keeping that fire in my belly burning — the same fire I had when this band first began. I feel like a rock star when I sling my Gibson over my shoulder and crank my Marshall. I think that’s very important for a musician — to stick with what makes them feel awesome. If you feel like a badass on stage with the equipment you use, you can hear it in the music. Gibson and Marshall are my uniform, as timeless as a leather jacket and blue jeans.

This, of course, takes us to your new Epiphone signature model. Tell us about the guitar and its development.

This has been a passion project for me. After two signature Gibson Custom Explorers, I felt it was time to make a model that was affordable enough to be someone’s first guitar, but quality enough that you’ll never need to trade up.

My Epiphone specs are: mahogany body and set neck, ebony fretboard, white Graph Tech nut that’s super-stable for my wild bends during leads, Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, and gold Epiphone LockTone hardware with a Tune-o-Matic bridge and tailpiece that locks in place for more sustain and keeps me in tune longer. One of the biggest differences is the Alnico Classic PRO pickups, which are kind of similar to Probuckers, except they use Alnico V magnets, making them higher in output. They scream just a bit harder. I made the guitar my signature alpine white and gold, and I included a case with our Halestorm logo embossed on it and a signed certificate of authenticity.

The most beautiful thing about playing the Explorer is the drawn pictures I get from little girls and boys who draw me with the Explorer. Some of them may get their “Z’s” backward, but they nail the Explorer shape. It’s become an extension of me. It’s a symbol of hope, individuality, and makes me somewhat of a superhero. I think that’s the most important thing about putting out a signature guitar.

What is in your live rig?

My road rig is fairly straightforward. My band and I still believe in the punk-rock notion that you plug in and play. There are no tracks, no trickery, no click. So I keep my rig all balls, no-frills. I run through a JCM800 Marshall stack — this is where I get the majority of my tone. I use a Klon distortion pedal for that extra icing on the cake. I’ve been using an MXR Phase 100 to top off some of my leads, and a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell Wah pedal because through it I can make my guitar sound like a voice.

What was your process for finding the right components to get your live sound?

We’ve been primarily a live band for our entire existence. When you are doing 250-plus shows a year, you figure out what works and what doesn’t pretty quickly.

With four albums to choose from, how do you sequence the live show to include fan and band favorites and set moods to take the audience on a musical and emotional journey?

We do a different set every night. We customize it to what we feel each crowd wants, or what has the most chance of creating a beautiful moment that is unique to that night. It keeps us on our toes, but it’s also a gift to our super-fans who travel with us and come to eight shows in a row. Like I said before, we subscribe to a punk-rock mentality. No tracks, no miming; we improv, and we do a different set every night.

How far can you go with arrangements and not lose the audiences which are used to hearing the songs a certain way?

We do quite a bit of improv. That, to me, is where the magic is. It forces us as bandmates to listen to each other and get on the same wave. When that wave matches the same as the one the audience is riding, it’s truly the best high there is!

Last year, we read reports from a Fender survey stating that young women account for 50 percent of new guitar sales. There’s no question that you’ve played a part in that — inspiring them to pick up the instrument and certainly the electric guitar. We’d love to hear your thoughts about your role and how that feels, and also how that reflects a sea change from when you first picked up a guitar.

Yes! I heard that too! It makes my heart so happy. Guitar was a means for me to find myself, to be exposed, out front and in the open. It was something I could call mine and be proud of. I believe that girls need that. For so many years, girls have been discouraged and steered away from rock guitar, so to see this emerging of young women who want to make a loud noise — it’s a beautiful time.

One of the many things fans love about you is your openness. You communicate with them online, and you don’t censor yourself or hide behind a manufactured social media image. Where do you draw the line in order to maintain your privacy and have a life outside of Halestorm, and where do you draw that line regarding very young members of your fan base who consider you a role model, and how much you share with them?

Truthfully, I think that it’s about being myself. I talk about the things I want to, and I stay away from the things I don’t want to. I keep it simple and honest because it’s so much easier to be honest than to hide behind a facade.

I’ve never let anyone speak for me, so what you see is what you get, for better or worse. I’m not perfect, and it’s become more and more important for people to see that. Life is not about perfection. It’s about being human. I’ve lived a unique life. I’ve also had tremendous ups and amazing downs, and I’m proud to be the sum of all those things.

The bio for Vicious uses the words “self-doubt and depression” to describe where you found yourself when you began working on this album. With Mental Health Awareness Month coming to a close at the end of May, and recent alarming statistics about young women and the increase in suicide rates, would you mind discussing this important topic with us and sharing how you dealt with it, how you coped, and how you made it through to the other side?

There’s this common misconception that with successes comes happiness. That’s not really true. There’s pressure, confusion, a feeling that the life you live is not your own. I had a long moment of darkness where I needed to find my fire again. I had gotten caught up in a lot of things that didn’t matter. I was listening to a lot of people who were whispering in my ear, people who made me feel like I was unworthy of what I’ve built, that tried to convince me that they knew better than I what was right for me and my band. I found myself trying to please everyone but myself. So I threw away every song I wrote with that mentality, I stopped listening to anyone but my gut, and with music as my savior, I wrote a record about it. Through writing and making Vicious, I was able to break through that wall. Funny thing is, there are still a few bricks that need a good wrecking ball, so I can’t wait to record the next record.

The music industry is slowly, very slowly, catching up to the Time’s Up and Me Too movements and shedding light on conduct that has long been enabled, encouraged, and applauded as “bad-boy behavior.” Like everyone else, you no doubt have your own horror stories. In closing, do you have some words of wisdom, encouragement, and maybe even caution for young women aspiring to work in this industry?

I’ve been subjected to sexism my entire life and career. From my first guitar lesson, where the guy didn’t want to take up space on his calendar because he believed girls were notorious for not “sticking with it,” to carrying my equipment into clubs and having people make jokes about how I must be the girlfriend or merch girl helping carry their boyfriend’s equipment. And people telling me I should lose my bandmates, dress sexier, and cross to a pop career. When we started shopping labels, they would all tell me the same thing: “You’re good, but we already have a token girl,” or “Girls in rock isn’t really a thing people want,” or “Your songs are too empowering. Guys don’t want to hear that. They want more vulnerability,” etc.

I’ve been in a constant state of proving myself my whole life. But for me, I had to view it as a sort of power. No one was ever expecting me to be good, let alone make it this far. I continue to spit in the face of ignorance and keep my eyes on my Northern Star. I don’t preoccupy myself with the opinions of others, just as a lioness does not preoccupy herself with the opinions of a sheep. As long as I know I’m striving to be the best I can and keep my eyes forward, the world is mine. I am the one I’ve been waiting for. And so is every woman reading this!

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