'Halestorm Get 'Vicious': Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger Talk New Album

Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger

Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger (Image credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

When it came time for Halestorm to enter the studio to record the follow-up to 2015’s mega-successful Into the Wild Life, the Pennsylvania-based hard rockers didn’t exactly know what type of record they wanted to make. But, says guitarist Joe Hottinger, “We did go in knowing what kind of record we didn’t want to make.” He laughs. “Which is half the battle, I guess.”

It all came down to the fact that, while the members of Halestorm—Hottinger, singer and guitarist Lzzy Hale, bassist Josh Smith and drummer Arejay Hale—had worked up plenty of new material on the road, once they got to the studio they didn’t feel the new music moved the ball forward as far as their sound or style was concerned. “They were good songs, and I think they would have done fine,” Hottinger says, “but it felt like a lot of rehashing of the same themes and musical feelings we’ve had before. So we went into the studio and we said to Nick [producer Nick Raskulinecz] ‘Hey man, we have all these songs and we don’t like ’em! What do we do?’ ”

Raskulinecz’ proposal? Set up their gear in the studio, start jamming and see what happens. “It was interesting because it forced us to think about things in a different way,” Lzzy Hale says. “Because usually we go in the studio for a month and bang out a record. But this time we ended up applying the live thing to the studio and just playing. We would go in every day and record everything, and then Nick would say, ‘That right there sounded really cool,’ or ‘Do that again.’ We were basically turning these jams into songs.”

(from left) Joe Hottinger, Lzzy Hale, Josh Smith and Arejay Hale

(from left) Joe Hottinger, Lzzy Hale, Josh Smith and Arejay Hale (Image credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

The result of this jam-based approach is the new album Vicious, Halestorm’s fourth full-length studio work and their most immediate-sounding—and, in some cases, hardest-rocking—effort to date. From the crushing, anthemic opener, “Black Vultures,” to the soaring “Killing Ourselves to Live” to the throttling first single, “Uncomfortable” (“one of the first instrumental jams we turned into a song,” Hale says), Vicious sounds like a band revitalized after the slicker, more produced sounds of Into the Wild Life. Says Hottinger, “I love [Into the Wild Life] and I’m glad we did it. But this time it was like, “All right, we went through that phase. Now let’s make a rock record!’ ”

Adds Hale, “Nick really pushed us in that respect. He didn’t cut us any slack. There are certain things on the record where he was like, ‘No, no, no, that doesn’t rock enough. I’ve seen you live and I know you can go to 11—so go there!’”

Which is not to say Vicious is a musical one-trick pony. In addition to the harderrocking cuts, there’s swaggering, superhooky pop-rock (“Buzz”), acoustic-based ballads (“Heart of Novocaine” and “The Silence”) and slinky, almost funky workouts (“Conflicted” and “Vicious”). “You can really hear all four corners of Halestorm on this record,” Hale says. “It’s not just about me singing and us having some catchy songs. It’s about what everyone brings to the table. And that ended up opening the entire world to us.”

And while one might be led to believe that the focus on heavier rock might have had something to do with the album’s title, Hale says it actually stemmed more from the lyrics. “Thematically, these lyrics came about from me almost trying to do my own therapy sessions, because this past year I was going through a couple of bouts of second guessing myself on everything. I was trying to get back to that place where I know that I’m a badass, and so these songs are about being fierce and pushing through all of that. That’s a big reason we ended up calling it Vicious.”

Overall, says Hottinger, “We finally made the record we’ve been trying to make our whole lives, and I think we accomplished what we were going for.” He laughs again. “Well, not what we were going for… What we weren’t going for!”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.