Halestorm Interview July 23, 2018
Lzzy Hale (Halestorm)
Joe Hottinger (Halestorm)
Ashley White (Moderator)
Tara Lakatos (Will to Rock)
Gus Griesinger (Backstage Axxess)
Brandon McCarthy (Uncivil Revolt)
Sarah (Go Venue)
Halestorm’s new album “Vicious” is arriving this Friday July 27th. I was able to catch up with Lzzy Hale (vocals, guitars) and Joe Hottinger (guitar, vocals) during a roundtable discussion. They shared their writing process, their work with producer Nick Raskulinecz, the heaviness of the album, personal struggles with depression and confidence, and how the process made them come out on top.
Gus-This record vicious has a lot of heaviness to it, I want to know if the band decided to take a different approach to the making of this record or was it an organic process?
Joe– Man, I would say it was both.
Joe– The process was organic for sure. We, Nick Raskulinecz our producer, kinda just sat us in the room, said, “alright the 4 of you [Lzzy interrupted] plug in your stuff, turn it up…”, and said the famous first words, “who’s got a riff?” And that’s where it began, and we just started writing music, he kinda became our 5th band member ya know, we were just jamming, and he would pop in once in a while and be like “that was cool, do that again”. Alright captain, you got it, and we were just chasing what excited us, that was the goal.
Lzzy– As far as it being heavy, I don’t think we realized how heavy of a record that we made it into until we started playing some of these songs out live against some our other catalog. I remember the first show, I think we added in “Black Vultures”, and I kinda go… I think we wrote a heavy record guys, cuz like Joe said, we were just kinda chasing over what got us excited, and we were getting excited over that stuff. So, it’s really interesting to now look at the record in its entirety, after it’s all done, all right I guess we had to get that out, (giggles).
Brandon– My first question, this is your first record working with producer Nick Raskulinecz, was he your first choice for producer for the album?
Lzzy– He’s been our first choice for years but we just never, our schedules never lined up.
Joe– We did the last cover E.P. with Nick, kinda like a, ‘hey bud lets work together and see what it’s like’ and we had a blast. It was such a good vibe, we were like you know we’re making our next record with you right, he’s like you better, (laughs). Yeah, he just kinda cleared his schedule for us, for the most part, and we just dove right in, it was a kinda… we became insta-best friends when we met in Nashville a few years ago. He’s just one of the dudes, ya know, I’d be in a band with that guy any day and I’m glad he was our 5th band member.
Lzzy– Yeah it was a unique experience, cuz, ya know with Nick, we’ve been friends for years. We actually even have jammed with him on stage, he’s a bass player, around Nashville with all of our buddies and everything, and he’s such a rock nerd. To the point where he’s like, “oh do you know where that album cover was from? That was so and so who did that photography, and he also did this and he threw up in somebody’s bathroom.” He’s that kinda guy, and so he’s super passionate about the genre, ya know so we never had to help the producer, like no, ‘hey no- we’re a rock band’, he already knew that. Also, he’s been a Halestorm fan for years and so it was really neat to kinda do the record with someone who could see us outside of ourselves, while still being just as passionate for this music that we like to make, yeah, he continues to be my first choice (laughs).
Brandon– Sounds like it was a good pick.
Sara– I’m wondering do each of you have a part of the album, whether it’s a song or a specific lyric that really affects you and stands out as something that you can’t wait for your fans to hear?
Lzzy– Um wow- I think musically there’s a lot of different moments that I don’t know if we ever really got the freedom on past records to do… so there’s just a lot of it on this record. Our rhythm section, for instance, I mean between my little brother and our bass player Josh, they shine all over this record. Which in some cases, I think they took a back seat to a lot of the things that we were either promoting or doing, so it’s really nice to hear them in the forefront here.
Joe– I’m glad Silence got out, “The Silence”, that music and melody has been bouncing around for 5 years, and we never quite knew what exactly to do with it, and we knew it needed exactly the right lyrics to fit that mood. Lzzy just nailed it one night, and actually that vocal you hear on the demo, err on the record, is from the demo she recorded at the house, and ya know, when she hits it, she hits it. There’s no need to go down that road again, and it was awesome, and it’s a guitar tuning we’ve never used, a vibe we’ve never had on a record before, so I’m excited for people to hear that one.
Tara– I was just talking to Lzzy a few minutes ago online with a bunch of other fans. I just want to ask, I know you said before that you were battling depression while you were writing the record, and you know a lot of your fans are going through some stuff that you’re trying to help them through. At what point during the writing process of the record did you feel that your depression and things that you were going through were fueling the emotionally heavy tone of the album?
Lzzy– I think that halfway through, I reconnected with the reason; I guess the reason why I use music, and the reason I was attracted to it. I tell a lot of people this, it’s so much more than a career choice for me, and regardless of how much further this goes along and all the success that we’ve had, ya know I still go through those moments of self-doubt and just trying to reconnect with why I got into this in the first place. I think that through this record and through the music that we were writing it helped me reconnect back with that, where more or less this record was writing these songs as a reminder to myself that I still got this, hahahaha and that I am still (A.) worthy of being here, and (B.) still able to bring something into this world that is special. That’s just something I’ve battled with my entire life and I’ve cited this band many many times as being the reason that I’m able to kinda show my best self to the world sometimes. It’s been interesting, cuz with this particular record, and like I’ve said before, I think I really needed to write this record. It’s more or less therapy for myself, and that’s what I think is so rewarding now is that to be on the other side of it and be able to tell myself, yeah alright, I still got this and come out swinging on the other side. It’s been amazing to see the response to even to just some of the few songs we’ve put out there to the public and have everyone kinda gain strength from that, so that’s really neat in my mind.
Gus– I have to ask Lzzy– the title track “Vicious”, is that reflective of your own struggles as being a woman in the music industry?
Lzzy– It certainly could be (laughs), Ya know, I write everything from a personal point of view, it’s only until after its kinda been in the hands of everybody else that it becomes this kind of broader message. I think but for me personally, I wrote this particular song at the eleventh hour of this record being done. We kinda had everything finished and Joe and I went out to L.A. to just kinda settle in and write for fun, and I remember the two of us being up at like 4 in the morning and just writing gibberish with this idea because we loved the word vicious. In my mind, that’s when the album kinda came together for me, cuz with this record, the journey, ya know, message wise, that I had been touching on. What I realized is that it’s so much more, whether you’re talking about being a woman in the industry, whether you’re talking about being a woman in general, whether you’re just talking about being a human being just struggling with their place in the world. All through the different stages that go along with that, it’s just so much more in life right now than just being strong and weathering the storm, you kinda have to come at life with a little bit of teeth and be fierce about it. Be bold and forceful and force yourself into these situations that maybe make you uncomfortable, maybe make other people uncomfortable, ultimately you have to kinda be vicious about it. So that was for me taking that word vicious and spinning it with that positivity… it’s about survival and not just being strong. At that point, I remember Joe and I texting the other guys, like I think we have to call the album “Vicious” cuz up until that point we had a bunch of other ideas that weren’t really clicking. I think vicious is the right word for this, and everyone was like, yeah let’s do it, so we go with it when that happens
Brandon– This question is to Joe, just from listening to “Vicious”, the entire album, you’re really coming into your own as a guitar player. I’m really impressed with the rest that you’re putting in at the solos, I’m very proud of what you’re accomplishing on this record. Joe, when you guys are writing these songs together, everyone puts in a collective effort when you’re putting these songs together, who does the first thing, do you write the riffs and Lzzy comes at it with the verse, or is she coming to you with the lyrics and you come at her with the riffs?
Joe– It’s a different thing every time, ya know, for the first batch of songs we wrote on this record, I’d generally bring in some riffs or a piece of music I put together, a collection of riffs and chords and we’d hash it out to see if it turned into something worth hanging on to, There’s other times when like “Heart of Novocaine”, when Lzzy has the song written, or “Do Not Disturb” she had written, and we had to make that one rock. Me, I don’t care where it comes from as long as it has some moments happen, ya know, and if it feels like there’s potential or there’s a little one we can build off of, then awesome, like we just go for it there. One of the things I learned throughout this process on this record, and what gave me back some of my confidence with the writing side of things, is just that we know how to make these moments, it’s about self-editing, and checking yourself, I call it ironing, ya know, there’s a wrinkle in the track, just fix it, you just fix it, keep smoothing it over until you get it right. We had the luxury of time with this record, we’d write a song, kinda record it and be like, yeah there’s great parts, but there’s these other parts that need work. I have no problem throwing something away, I don’t care if I worked on it for three months, put all my time into it, if it’s not right, screw it, chuck it, and well, there’s always more. Something about being creative, there’s always new things coming, so it’s not being precious, and just fighting for the right moments in the song.
Lzzy– The thing with us is it’s not like this, there’s this, I forget who said it, “you’re only as good as the last song that you wrote.” We think about it the other way, we’re only as good as the next song we’re going to write, so it’s like we are always just looking forward. Like Joe just said, it’s the fundamental rule that we follow is, whatever gets us all excited, we follow that small nugget, whether that means the intro riff or maybe it’s a line, or whatever.
Joe– That’s the 1% inspiration and then you gotta put the work into it to make that spot bloom.
Lzzy– That’s like the puzzle, like the puzzle of a tiger, this one orange piece, but you have to fit the rest of it all around it.
Joe– Like a tiger in the flowers (laughs).
Sara– Lzzy, I’m wondering with the tour coming up with In This Moment and New Year’s Day, as one of the leading women in rock, what does it mean to you to be able to bring this all female fronted lineup?
Lzzy– I mean, in a word, it’s amazing. I think we couldn’t have, I mean not that we tried to time it, but we couldn’t have timed it better. I mean, there’s such an amazing sense of strength and community, not just within the female musician club, but just the female rock and roll attitude, kind of going on right now. The woman have taken over, and what we see firsthand every single night on these runs with my friends Maria Brink and Ash Costello. We talk about this all the time, how we walk on stage every night and the audience has completely flipped, it’s like 60/40 female/male and it’s these girls absolutely owning this genre, like a genre, that if you were outside of the room, you’re thinking, this genre is traditionally promoted as a masculine thing. What we are seeing firsthand on this tour is that this genre is gender-less, it’s all the same moments, it’s all the same ideas and just these women and men alike. There’s this primal need to be there, at the show, therefore it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, it’s all rock, ya know. For me, it’s just been an amazing thing to be a part of and like I said, I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that Ash, Maria and I don’t comment on that in some form, I don’t think we realized how awesome this was going to be until we got ourselves into it.
Tara– The new album sounds nothing like you’ve ever done before, but it still sounds like Halestorm. How important was it for you guys to change up your sound but keep your recognizability? You have songs on the album like “Killing Ourselves to Live” and “White Dress” that are definitely stadium anthems that would have been written in the 80s, they definitely sound like you guys wrote them, but so much bigger than anything else you’ve ever written.
Lzzy– Uhm- thank you.
Joe– That was one of the goals early on, when we were kinda lost and didn’t know if we could, know if we had it anymore. We met with Nick and he told us, “to just shut up and play together”, we got a riff, and that was one of our things, and well what we wanted, we knew a lot of what we didn’t want to do. We had written a bunch of songs, and they were just, they weren’t inspiring, we weren’t inspired by them, and Nick didn’t like them, like cool, let’s throw them away, so we did. Cuz what we want to do, well what we don’t want to do is that, but what we want to do is challenge ourselves, and challenge our fans and listeners, and ya know, aim big and challenge the genre. Like, how do you do something that’s a little bit different that’s pushing this forward, that’s not rehashing the things that’s been done the last 10 to 15 years in the active rock. We didn’t know how to do that, or we thought we didn’t, and Nick said, “no, you got this, just shut up and play”. A lot of these songs came out of getting that confidence back, like I don’t know, let’s just write because no one writes songs like we do together.
Lzzy– It was a lot of, I think when we were looking back on the songs that we had written, that we ultimately didn’t like and threw away, you could hear, at least we could hear the uncertainty, we could also hear ourselves trying too hard. You could pick out the moments; well that’s definitely for the label, that’s definitely for the radio, that’s definitely for the fans. We were just kinda pandering to what we thought we needed to be. Ultimately when we got in with Nick, he reminded us, “that if you enjoy what you’re doing, if you write for yourselves, write things that make you excited, don’t you think that your fans and people will get excited about that because ultimately if you’re aren’t excited, and you’re just going through the motions and you’re bored with whatever you’re doing, no one is going to be into it because you’re not into it.” So we kinda made that be ya know, more or less, that guiding light when we were writing, and ultimately I think just to answer the first part of your question, we don’t like repeating ourselves and don’t like feeling like we’re going through the motions, we don’t like feeling like oh let’s put out something that people have already heard before, we aren’t going to repeat “Into the Wild Life”, we aren’t going to repeat “Strange Case of…”.
Joe– Because those days are gone, these are the days of our lives… (laughs) guiding light- days of our lives.
Gus– Question for both, what song was the most fun creating, and which was the most difficult?
Joe/ Lzzy– I think we will agree on some of these
Joe– Most difficult was “Conflicted”, because it was a tough song, it was a bear.
Lzzy– Let’s talk about this song for a second. “Conflicted” was the only song on the album that came from a different outside source. We were showing some song to our A&R guy and went up to visit him in New York, “hey man, I have this idea from these three kids, and it’s called “Conflicted”, and they kinda have a chorus and a half-verse but they haven’t really finished the song yet, would you like to finish it.” And of course, we are in super writing mode, so we were like sure man, that’d be awesome, we will try anything. It was a cool word, and so we ended up writing this song and re-writing it I think about like 9 times, and there’s a lot of different drafts and ways to do it. Our first version of it ended up being hard rock, we’re just gonna be balls to the wall, and it didn’t really end up work with it lyrically, as how I was kind of wrapping up the song, so we end up, I think, didn’t we end up finishing up the final version right before we mastered the record?
Joe– Yeah- it was last minute, like are we gonna do this yet.
Lzzy– I mean we even got the point should we even put this on the record, this is silly, but we ended up doing it anyway and what it is, is what it is, and a cold nut to crack. And like I said, I think it’s just because it didn’t start out like the musically as us, so it was kinda hard to figure out how to make it work on the record. But the most enjoyable, I mean that was a lot of the, but let’s see…
Joe– What was the most enjoyable for you….
Lzzy– What was the most enjoyable for me… “Do Not Disturb” was a fun one, at first performance wise, and making that work into that sludgy slow groove, I love that sound, I feel bad I made our producer slightly uncomfortable with the lyrics (laughs), poor guy was like, “I think we got it, we don’t ever have to do it again” and we were okay, so that was a lot of fun to do. Skulls was another fun one. That one was…
Joe– You only get one Lzzy.
Lzzy– Oh, I only get one.
Joe– I had fun with “Killing Ourselves to Live”, Lzzy and I had that chorus for years, we kinda always thought of it as a ballad. I remember we were trying to write it up on piano or acoustic, it was always kinda, I was bored fast, I was like man, I know it was good chorus, but what do you do with it? I remember getting all annoyed one night about the song, and I was like, f**k it, let’s just make it a rock song and kinda sang out a few riffs into my phone, like singing the chorus and then into these riff things. We were on tour last October, and I had my little demo rig out with me, and I just took the riffs I sang into my phone and made them guitar parts and made most of that journey that you hear happened just on that, whatever, Sunday in Iowa I think we were. Just trying to put it together and the solo, and everything, and that came together easy. All we need now is a few more parts and it’s almost there. So that was a lot of fun, it was nice to hear that chorus turn into something totally unexpected from my perspective.