press photo of Halestorm
by Neil Miller, Jr.
I've become a huge fan of Halestorm over the last year, and their most recent album, The Strange Case Of..., is mostly responsible. Whereas the first album was packed full of attitude and, as frontwoman Lzzy Hale admits to, sexual innuendos, their latest album is a brutal, honest, and in-your-face record that holds nothing back. From the blistering opening riff of their Grammy-winning cut "Love Bites (And So Do I)" to the anthemic and memorable lyrics of "Here's to Us," The Strange Case Of... is easily the best mainstream hard rock record of the last ten years. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the delightful Mz. Hale for the first of a two-part interview we're doing with her. Stay tuned for part two, which will turn up in the form of a feature right here on UR Chicago!
UR Chicago: You guys have come a long way since 2009 and have been touring nonstop since then. Have you had a chance yet to stop and soak up some of the success?
Lzzy Hale: This will be our tenth year as a foursome — as Joe, Arejay, Josh and I — but we’ve always been a very "stop and smell the roses" kind of band. It happens nearly every week, though, that there’s something that’s like, "Wow, can you believe we’re still doing this? This is crazy!" There’ve been so many milestones, and we really appreciate that we’re so incredibly lucky to still be here doing what we love with the people we love.
UR: A lot of mainstream rock press seems to gravitate towards dubbing you "sexy" or a "babe." Do you embrace titles like these, or would you rather steer away from things like that to place more emphasis on the music?
LH: Well, I’ve never shied away from the high heels and short skirts. In all honesty, I’ve embraced that over the last couple years. But you know that sex and rock 'n' roll have always gone hand-in-hand since the beginning of time. That doesn’t necessarily bug me, but the only rule that I really have is to make sure that I continue to practice and have something to back it up — my goal in life was never to be something that pretties up a band. It actually happens a lot with girl-fronted bands, which I’m seeing less of now. There have been a lot of girls who are on the road just really huffing it and working really hard, being great at what they do. But there were a few years where it was a little disheartening because you’d see a band with a sweet chick singer, and all they’re doing is dancing around and showing their ass. More power to ‘em, but it’s just not my bag. Like I said, I’ll do the fishnets and the short skirts all day long, as long as I feel like I’m personally doing a good job in the other areas… such as talent.
UR: One of my favorite photos of you is of your reaction to the Grammy nomination. How validating was it for you guys, after all of your hard work, to win such a prestigious award and over bands that influenced you?
LH: At first I thought it was just a cruel joke that my guitarist was trying to play on me while I’m about to settle down to do a ballad. We were in the middle of a show in Madison, Wisconsin and I was just kind of talking to the audience. I was about to play a piano song, so I was onstage by myself, and my guitar player got the text that was handed down from my tour manager, which was handed down from my manager — everyone was trying to get a hold of us because we were onstage and we don’t have our phones up there. So, the guys went offstage and got the news and came running up to me and I didn’t even know what to think. We don’t really pay attention to that stuff because why would we ever be on that list? That doesn’t happen to bands like us. So, there must’ve been about 45 seconds of pure shock on my face to the point where my brother thought somebody died because he didn’t get the news yet. The entire front row of the audience was like, "What, what happened?!" and I just turned to the audience and said, "We just got nominated for a Grammy," and then the place erupted. Now, the rest of the show was just pure mush; even in the serious songs I had this stupid smile on my face because it’s such an incredible honor, and that was enough for us. I know we won the Grammy, but the nomination was enough to just be recognized as a part of that club and the fact the Academy recognized the hard work that we put in. I’ve been in Halestorm for 16 years, so it’s such a crazy thing that you never think is ever going to happen to your band, and it’s something no one can take away from us. It was a huge moment.
Photo: Lzzy Hale reacts to news of Halestorm’s 2013 Grammy Nomination
UR: Do you have the Grammy with you on the road?
LH: We don’t have the Grammy yet. We did the Grammy thing, and then we went right out on the road. They don’t give it to you that day. What we ended up holding for pictures was probably passed onto Taylor Swift for that night too. They have five or ten in rotation, and these cute little girls with polishing gloves are ready to make sure all your fingerprints are off of it, and then they hand it off to the next guy. They have to engrave it, send it to us in the mail, and we have to sign a contract that says we’re not gonna do anything stupid with it like sell it on eBay. So, we haven’t gotten it yet — they still have time to take it back!
UR: You recently said in one of your "Ask Lzzy" segments that it's become easier for you to write on the road. Since the last record came out, how many completed songs would you say you've worked on, and do you guys ever track/demo songs on the road during soundchecks and such?
LH: It’s definitely a little harder to finish up proper demos on the road unless you’re like Rihanna and have another tour bus that’s a studio bus, and then you can just pop ‘em out. Everything is kind of crudely recorded. I have some microphones set up, and we do stuff in Logic or Garage Band on the road… or sometimes it’s just literally pushing record on my phone. As far as demos, just from the (past) couple months I have about 25 ideas that are mostly finished and then more that are just kind of floating ideas — like a chorus here or a title there. I’ve gotten better over the years at saying, "I’m just gonna sit down and finish something today," whereas I think in the beginning, as the craziness started, the focus was more, "Okay, we’re doing the show and the live show," and now I’m more able to multitask because the touring has become normal in my life. All I can really tell you is that there definitely will be a third record; I just have no idea when. I’m just trying to prepare myself for when everyone calls me and says, "We need a new record out right now!"
UR: How are the songs sounding? Are they more in tune with the second record or more seething like the first record?
LH: I feel like it’s a natural progression from the last one we just did. The one great thing about what we’ve learned by putting out this last record — and me, just on a personal end — is putting more of myself into the songs. It’s more about honesty and the subjects that are close to me rather than the sexual innuendos, which are fun, by the way. I feel like on the first record I was kind of hiding behind the cleverness of a twist of phrase, hence "I get off on you getting off on me" or "Do my dirty work" and the innuendos were high. I feel like the songs I’m writing now are more personal and more about things that are closer to me. Really, the fans have more or less given me permission to do that. It’s kind of a freeing time. I feel like I’ve kind of reverted back to when I was 14 or 15-years-old when we first started the band. I wasn’t thinking about radio or a catchy song or is the label gonna like it or is this going to make it to number one or is this going to appeal to the masses — I wasn’t thinking about that at that age. And I went through a huge phase of really caring about that and now I’m, for lack of a better term, just kind of like, "Fuck it, I’m just gonna write to write" — so we’ll see!
UR: You and Arejay have been making music together forever. Do you guys ever butt heads about how a song should sound or how it’s written?
Lzzy: Yeah, of course! Sometimes what’ll happen is my little brother will ask, "Do I really want to know what the subject of this song is or where you got that idea?" to which I say, "No, no, you don’t little bro!" We’re siblings, so we do butt heads sometimes, but for the most part I’m really lucky since my brother and my bandmates kind of let me speak my mind and trust me, which I’m not sure why! But they do, and the only time that something comes up, for instance, is on the latest record there’s a song called “American Boys” and the guys are like, "Do we need backing vocals for this?" — little things like that. Or I remember back in the day when I pushed the guys with the "I get off on you getting off on me" and the "Do my dirty work" stuff, and my bass player was like, “I kind of need a shower after we record this song. I kind of feel a little dirty,” — to that I say (and I said), "Well it’s working!"
UR: Chicago is about to be on your warpath, and I have to know because obviously you guys have been here a lot — are there any spots you guys like to frequent, and what do you guys like most about playing here?
LH: I love the pizza; it’s awesome! I have family in Chicago, so my aunt and my cousins are from there. In fact, my aunt is actually coming to visit and I’m getting her backstage passes, so she’s all excited. It’s gonna be a really fun day; it’s always a fun time! The last time we played Chicago, we played in a torrential downpour — it was great for pictures. We ended up having to take all of our equipment to this flood rescue type place, and they pulled eight gallons of water out of our gear. It was crazy, but it was great actually! It was an experience that I don’t know if we’ll ever have again, so Chicago holds a very special place in our hearts!