Interview: Halestorm Discuss Gear, Recording and Their New Album, 'The Strange Case of…'
Halestorm released their new studio album, The Strange Case of…, today, April 10, via Atlantic Recording Corporation. Revolver magazine has already dubbed the disc one of its most-anticipated albums of 2012.
The hard-rocking quartet out of Red Lion, Pennsylvania -- including singer Lzzy Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith and drummer Arejay Hale (Lzzy’s brother) -- is about to hit the road this month with GodSmack and Staind as part of the Mass Chaos Tour.
We recently got the chance to chat with Lzzy, Joe and Josh about the new album, gear and a whole lot more.
GUITAR WORLD: This is your first studio album in three years. Can you tell me a little bit about what went into “The Strange Case of…?
Lzzy: We just experimented with so much. It was a challenge, actually, because we had gotten right off the road and didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare. One of my personal prizes I got to use, guitar-wise, was my Les Paul Custom triple pickup, which was amazing. We experimented with a lot of amps, Diezel, Bogner. Right now my go-to guitar is my Gibson Explorer. It’s a 2004, so it’s not very new, but it plays really well. And in any situation, whether it’s a ballad or a rocker, you can figure it out.
The studio we were in was the same where we did our last record. So we know the people there, the whole team, and they’re always getting neat stuff in and we just tried everything that studio has to offer. Sometimes we can’t help but just try something out. They’re very cool there. Their idea was just try until we get something right.
Joe: We got off the road in 2011, and two days later we’re in studio working on the parts and recording for a few days. It was really intense. I think it will do good business for us and I think people will enjoy it. We recorded at Bay Seven Studios in California with Howard Benson. Between Howard and his team and Mark Mangold the guitar tech, it’s like Guitars “R” Us. We got to play some awesome vintage amps, guitars and pedals. Pretty much if you can think of it, they can come up with the sound.
Josh: Being on the road in a way is preparation in itself because you’re playing every night. Out on the road leading up to the studio we were writing and kind of just filling our pool of songs up. We left tour on Memorial Day weekend, flew on Memorial Day, landing in LA on Tuesday and the producer and everyone were ready to hit "Record." Once we got moving, we got rolling, everything came together really quickly. There was that moment, that hour that was like, "holy shit we have a lot of work to do." But it was great.
Joe, as the lead guitarist in the band, does Lzzy lean on you a lot for support or ideas with guitar sounds in your songs?
Joe: She’s a great guitar player and she has a totally different style than me. With this record I did a little bit more guitar than she did but still ripped some solos out, and I think they’re awesome. I wrote a lot of the riffs so she’s having to play to my style some more. I don’t know if she necessarily leans on me for this record. She writes the majority of the songs. Then I just try to chip in music when and where I can. It’s a collaboration.
Joe, was there a particular instrument you use the most on The Strange Case of…?
Joe: Not really. There was an arsenal at the studio. It’s ridiculous being a guitar player how much fun it is working on guitar with those guys. A sixties Les Paul Custom, a sixties fretless Strat, a sixties Telecaster; he (Mangold) just has those there because he likes guitars. So those are there at all times. And we brought in our guitars. I had both my flying Vs there and a Gibson Johnny A that Lzzy got me for my birthday last year. On the first record I used Silver Reissue V for a lot of the rhythm tracking and a lot of the leads and this time it was kind of anything goes.
Josh: I found a really great sound in the studio. I used it on the last record to, it really honed in on this one - using a Rickenbacker, and it’s something I’ve had for a while. It’s not an old Rickenbacker, it’s nothing special or anything, but it really sounds good in a controlled environment. I find that it’s really difficult for the sound I’m looking for live. I actually hooked up with Fender recently and they’re taking care of me. They got me some awesome pieces. I’m playing two of the new Blacktop series on the road and I am just so, so happy with them. They sound great. And I just got the Fender Super Bassman, which is just incredible. I was always a fan of the Bassman and Fender Bassman line. Lzzy and Joe actually used to play put of a 60-watt Bassman.
Was there a difference in the way you wrote the songs for this album as opposed to your last one?
Joe: There’s a difference in how I wrote my guitar parts and that I was way more prepared this time, just because we had done it once before. And I knew what I was getting myself into and I knew what we were capable of what they expected of me and I understand all the gear better. The biggest difference was the mindset and the attitude. I think we were a little timid on the first record because we had never made a studio record before. We were kind of testing the waters.
We’re doing things that I’ve been think about since I was 12, when I first got into rock and roll. I subscribed to Guitar World when I was 12; this is the magazine that’s got me going on guitar.
Josh, as the bassist, do you feel you add a little bit of a different technique to the band? What changed for in studio this time around?
I felt a lot more focused this record. My thought toward my part was a lot more clear and concise and I think it really shows. I’m still listening back to the record, I’m not regretting any parts I played, but I feel like I couldn’t put a better part there. I’m so content with the parts I put down this record. The preparation this time around was on a different level than the last record.
Lzzy, a lot of your lyrics seem to be about dealing with men, like with your newest single, “Love Bites (So Do I).” Do you get a lot of reaction from female fans?
Lzzy: Definitely, it’s a strange thing being the only girl in an all-guy band. A lot of people think you kind of step away from that when you hang out with all guys and you really don’t, it just becomes amplified and you just pour yourself into your songs. But we definitely have a lot of female fans just recently, and in the past year or so really come out of the woodwork and just poured out their hearts to us saying their just so glad that I’m here and just speaking my mind about these certain things.
And it’s interesting because especially on this recent record, I feel like I focused more on what I was going through then what got me excited. I think the last record I focused a little too much on what does everybody else want to hear. And it’s interesting because I feel like that’s going to have a greater effect on people then when you’re trying too hard.
Do a lot of the guys in the band react to your lyrics? Or are they around when you go through this stuff?
Lzzy: Fortunately and unfortunately, they kind of let me do my thing. I think on the last record I wasn’t quite sure where the boundary was with the band because I love them, they’re my guys, they’re my best friends. Whereas on this record they all turned to me and were like, "Don’t think about us. Just do your thing and write about what you want to write about." There were only two conversations on one of the songs called “American Boys” on this record. After we recorded the song, they all turned to me and said, "Am I really going to have to do backup vocals to this song?" But it’s on of those things where I think that if you are important to risk it and not hold yourself back for any reason, even if that means if the guys are looking at me funny. Even back to the “I Get Off" days, they’ll turn to me and say, "I feel dirty, why did you say that?" But then they thank me later.
Producer Howard Benson said “Love Bites (So Do I)" was one of the fastest songs he’s ever done in his studios. Did you guys just bang it out?
Lzzy: We found that out afterward. Obviously I kind of like that title. “Love Bites” was musically directly inspired by a cover record we did a few months ago called “ReAniMate.” And on that we covered a Skid Row song, “Slave to the Grind," and a Guns N' Roses song, “Out Ta Get Me,” and the tempo of those songs wasn’t something we’ve really tried to write. But it’s definitely a cool title. I think we went through this wonderful self-discovery about ourselves and realized, "Hey! We can pull off this type of stuff."
Lzzy, do you ever get tired of working with your brother?
I don’t! It’s funny, he and I have always been really close and he’s my only other sibling, but we are complete and polar opposites, at least personality-wise. But we have music that we have in common. I guess if we weren’t in the band together we would be living completely separate lives and we would see each other on Christmas or something. But because we started the band so early, he and I have pretty much been playing together since I was 13 and he was 10. We’ve just become really close, and he’s very much my heart to my soul.
There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of women in rock. Do you think that bands like Halestorm stick out?
Lzzy: Personally I think it really helps. I always try to think in a positive spin point when it comes to being a girl in rock. There were a lot of people that came before me, there were Pat Benatar and all of our parents’ generation had it a lot harder. At least I’m able to be at least taken seriously because of everything they had to go through. I like it a lot because we stick out like a sore thumb, even a lot of stuff that I get because I’m a girl. And even when I get some negative feedback for getting a lot of stuff as a girl I say ‘yes, but, if you know how to play your instrument and you know how to sing and you can bring it, that’s where the difference is.’ Obviously I love the short skirts and high heels, but you got to have something to back it up.
Joe and Josh, what’s it like being in a female-led band? Do you guys find it different or more fun?
Joe: I think Lzzy is one of the most bad-ass singers in rock male or female. I think it makes us a little bit unique. I’m not a big fan of chick rock bands generally, but Lzzy and singers like her, the power singers, are singers that rock, that’s all. And a lot of girls that get up there with guitars … and it’s just girly. But it’s great to be playing guitar and know that your singer’s got it. I don’t go up on stage ever embarrassed. Male or female she just kicks ass and she rocks.
Josh: Anytime a female is up front, particularly in rock, people do look at it differently. And people might make assumptions once they see it. I love it personally. I think the important thing is I never sough out to be in an all-male rock band or a female front rock band. It was never about that, it was about surrounding myself with people who work hard and are gifted at what they do. Once I heard Lzzy it was undeniable. And when I was asked to be a part of the band I joined immediately but I don’t care what stigma comes with a female fronted band or any kind of band, you can’t deny genuine talent.
Josh, as a bassist, do you feel you get heat for being the "lazy guitar" or not earning as much respect as a guitarist? How do you feel about base being considered the underdog to the guitar?
As far as my position in the band and overall being the underdog and underrated, I’m totally happy with that position. I never felt like less of a musician than my guitar peers. But I actually really like the position in the band. And I feel like my position in my band with an absolutely chaotic drummer, he’s great, he’s incredible. And Lzzy’s vocals are just so powerful; I feel it’s my responsibility to be the mesh and the glue in the band. That’s a position I really like and I take a lot of pride in. But the underdog status does come with it, I’m okay with that. I’m having fun playing and I really enjoy my position.
You guys have a big spring and summer ahead of you. What do you expect this year?
Lzzy: We just can’t wait to get back out there. I’m excited to see everybody and see all the fans and see everybody that’s been keeping in touch via the Internet, Twitter and Facebook. It’s wonderful to see this album grow a life of its own and it’s already doing something. I just can’t to see what’s going to happen next.
Photo: Phil Mucci