THE PER­FECT STORM

HALESTORM ARE KEEP­ING THE FLAME FOR OLD-SCHOOL GUI­TAR ROCK ALIVE. FRONT­WOMAN LZZY HALE TALKS ABOUT WRIT­ING SONGS YOU DON’T UL­TI­MATELY LIKE, AND WHY SHE STOPPED SEE­ING HER FIRST GUI­TAR TEACHER. WORDS BY ALEX WIL­SON.

Australian Guitar - - Feature -

In rock’n’roll, you have to earn your stripes, and Lzzy Hale has had to fight harder for them than most. “When Halestorm were play­ing around the lo­cal scene and start­ing to tour, there were a lot of sit­u­a­tions where I would be next to the stage re­string­ing my gui­tar, and dudes would come up to me and go, ‘Wow, my girl­friend never does that for me!’ I wouldn’t say any­thing,” she laughs. “And then when they see me on stage, they’d al­ways apol­o­gise after­wards.”

Hale never comes across as bit­ter. Af­ter all, she has a 20-year ca­reer, ma­jor la­bel records and a Grammy Award to si­lence the naysay­ers. But she’s also re­al­is­tic about the chal­lenges that fe­male rock­ers face. When she was a teenager, she couldn’t stay with her first gui­tar teacher be­cause he didn’t be­lieve girls had the where­withal to stick with the in­stru­ment.

Then, years later, when Halestorm were seek­ing a home for their de­but, the la­bel big­wigs ex­pressed doubts about whether their ros­ters could ac­com­mo­date an­other rock band fronted by a wo­man – as if that niche was al­ready burst­ing at the seams.

In the end, Hale was de­fi­ant. “I ended up us­ing my­self as a weapon. We would start our live shows with just me, singing a cap­pella and hold­ing my gui­tar. It would be the shocker of the night be­cause any­one who didn’t al­ready know us wasn’t ex­pect­ing it.”

But with their new record, Vi­cious, the fu­ture is bright for Halestorm. “It’s re­ally weird to be on the other side of it,” Hale says. “We’re or­gan­is­ing fe­male-fronted tours that are run by women be­hind the scenes as well. I can look back at those heavy mo­ments and think, ‘I’m liv­ing proof that if you want to be here on this stage, you can be.’”

Rock is all about push­ing at the bound­aries, and when they’re not busy fight­ing rock’s boys club, Halestorm are fight­ing their own cre­ative lim­i­ta­tions and song­writ­ing pat­terns. “There’s this mis­con­cep­tion that as you get fur­ther along in your ca­reer, song­writ­ing ac­tu­ally gets eas­ier,” Hale re­flects. “In re­al­ity, it’s a lit­tle harder to fig­ure out where you’re go­ing to go next be­cause you’ve al­ready put out so much into the world.” The first six months of writ­ing left the band with­out any demos that they ac­tu­ally liked or any sounds that felt ex­cit­ing.

En­ter Nick Rasku­linecz, the Rick Ru­bin of riffs – the guy you call to light a fire un­der a ra­dio rock band’s ass. He opened up a space for the band to ex­per­i­ment, through play­ing to­gether and writ­ing in real time. “We’d walk in each day and Nick would say, ‘Who’s got a riff? Who’s got an idea?’ and we’d ham­mer out th­ese new songs in a small log cabin, hid­den in the woods of Franklin, Ten­nessee.”

This spon­ta­neous and or­ganic process brought Hale and the band back to an old feel­ing of dis­cov­ery and ex­cite­ment, like they were teenagers back in their par­ents’ base­ment once more. “We also found this whole re­newed re­spect for each other’s place in the band – the space that we all need that makes us do what we do and ap­pre­ci­ate each other.”

An­other rule en­forced by Rasku­linecz is no copy-and-past­ing of sim­i­lar sec­tions. It’s a time-sav­ing and pol­ish­ing tech­nique of­ten leaned on in modern rock pro­duc­tion, but it can suck the life out of a per­for­mance. “You’re go­ing to play the first cho­rus dif­fer­ently than you’ll play the last cho­rus,” Hale says. “You’re build­ing a vibe in the first cho­rus, and with the fi­nal one, you’re bring­ing it all home. Why not play it all through and get that on the record?”

Rasku­linecz is a master at pulling a great rock sound, and en­cour­aged Halestorm to rely on their amps. Hale ad­mits that they might have booted up the Kem­per here and there for an over­dub, but they def­i­nitely favoured tubes for re­spon­sive­ness and vibe.

“It was mainly my 100-watt Randy Rhoads Mar­shall and my JCM 900,” she says. “My gui­tarist Joe [Hot­tinger] has a ‘70s Mar­shall that has the most tremen­dous breakup ever.” And in terms of gui­tars, Hale spent a lot of time rock­ing her sig­na­ture Gib­son Ex­plorer, and has good words for a Fire­bird and one of Rasku­linecz’s Les Paul Cus­toms that made it on the LP.

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