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.
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.