Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale: “Someone might love me and another person might hate my guts, but all that matters is what I think of me”
Eight years ago, Lzzy Hale and the rest of Halestorm relocated to Nashville, Tennessee. A surprising decision for a rock band, perhaps, given the city’s status as the home of country music, the Pennsylvanians’ decision was an impulsive one, born from a desire to share in the famed sense of community among musicians living there. It’s a decision that has paid dividends since.
When it came to choosing an abode in her new hometown, Lzzy’s criteria was simple. It wasn’t about practicalities like the house’s square footage or location. Nor was it about the presence of a home studio, hot tub, or any other rock star trappings. Instead, the singer and guitarist had a specific mantelpiece in mind, a slab of concrete big enough to accommodate the silverware Halestorm had accumulated over the years, from a third-place trophy for their turn at the Schuylkill County Fair in 1997 – the same day they had settled upon the band’s name – to the GRAMMY they bagged 16 years later, in the Hard Rock/Metal Performance category, for the song Love Bites (So Do I).
As hard as it might be to believe, these accolades hold a similar sense of prestige for Lzzy, representing two key milestones for the band she formed when she was 13 and her drumming brother Arejay was only 10. And while many of the fruits of Halestorm’s labours reside above Lzzy’s fireplace, the less tangible ones occupy the heart she readily shares with a fanbase that remains as dedicated to her as she is to them.
There’s not much she hasn’t been quizzed about over the years, although she remains disarmingly unjaded. “I don’t mind,” she says with a wicked laugh. “It’s all my fault for always being so damn honest!”
You are the fourth Elizabeth Mae in your family. Given this lineage, were there any specific expectations for the person you should grow up to be?
“My parents were amazing at encouraging me to just be. I was 11 when I found out I wasn’t like other girls. I went to a slumber party and found myself in a bedroom with posters of TLC and Mariah Carey on the walls. I’d brought along CDs of Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death and Dio’s Holy Diver, so the other girls looked at me like I was from outer space. When I told my parents, they said that was great. I didn’t understand at the time, but they were instilling in me that it was okay to love my music because it spoke to me rather than because everyone else liked it. Now I’m in my thirties, I can trace a lot back to that moment.”
Did your parents encourage you to pursue a life in music?
“My parents reminded me that the nine-to-five everyone else was doing would still be there as an option. They were kind of crazy, though, telling me to get the ball rolling and go all in if music was what I loved.”
When did you first realise the power of your voice?
“The first time I realised I could sing was when I was 10 or 11, although my mum has a VHS tape of me making up lullabies when I was four. When we started the band I was trying to emulate people I’d listened to, like [Ronnie James] Dio or [Heart singer] Ann Wilson, but when I was 15 I met a guy named Steve Whiteman from a band called Kix. He had a side project called Funny Money that Halestorm was opening for. We were sharing a dressing room and he was in one corner of it, putting a towel over his head to muffle the sound of his voice. I asked what he was doing and he told me he was warming up, to which I said, ‘What’s that?!’ I had no idea. Long story short, he took me under his wing and gave me vocal lessons, teaching me how to use my voice and breathe correctly. It felt like I had a superpower I suddenly knew how to use.”
Your dad was Halestorm’s bassist in the early days, which sounds like a nightmare scenario for most rebellious young rockers…
“I loved jamming with my dad! For a while, the band was kind of like a White Stripes thing, just Arejay and me, but we had the idea that dad should join. It was cool, but we later reached a sunset on that and realised it wasn’t so cool. We had to sit dad down. He was bummed but understood and continued to drive us to shows, as well as being roadie and sound guy. We took our parents out on the road for a couple of years to give back for everything they did for us.”
Given that you’re still in a band with your brother, is there something extra special in making music with a family member?
“There is. You have this other language when you’re of the same blood as someone. I can almost predict what he is going to do, and he can predict what I’m going to do. Then you add the music into that dynamic, and us being able to share that. It becomes an extension of our personalities and therefore adds an intensity to what we create.”
The rock’n’roll lifestyle comes with many potential pitfalls and no guarantees of success.Were you or those around you ever concerned?
“We started young, but set a pace for ourselves. We were very DIY. Our success was built on whether or not we were working hard, so by the time things started to break for us we were prepared. A couple of years ago, my mum and dad confessed they were terrified at the time, though they never let on. When I was writing Dear Daughter [from 2015 album Into The Wild Life] I spoke to them for research. They said they could see in my eyes that I was always going to be in a band anyway, so they might as well support me.”
How did you feel learning that?
“I thanked them for being brave enough to support me. I had to think, ‘If, or when, I have a daughter, would I be brave enough to say yes to whatever it is her heart desires?’ It was definitely a powerful conversation.”
When you made your self-titled debut album in 2009, fires, mudslides and earthquakes were raging during its creation. Did it feel like the elements were against you?
“It really did feel like the entire world was against us showing what we could do! There were the environmental elements, but there were also a lot of industry changes going on in the background and peers and friends were getting dropped, left and right. Every time something like that happened, the band would go to the corner store and get an awful $5 bottle of champagne, to celebrate doing what we were doing together. We ended up writing a song on the next record [2012’s The Strange Case Of…], called Here’s To Us, in tribute to that. The times we’ve broken down on this Halestorm highway are the times we talk about, because that’s what separates the men from the boys, so to speak.”
There have been gearshifts on the ‘Halestorm highway’, like winning a GRAMMY for Love Bites (So Do I). How did that change your life and ambitions?
“The GRAMMY was a huge milestone for us, because it was something me and Arejay joked about as kids, obviously never expecting to be on their radar, let alone win. Winning a GRAMMY proved that we might be crazy for being in this band, but it definitely wasn’t a stupid idea to have started it.”
With fourth album Vicious in 2018, you suggested it was the first time you could truly hear all four quarters of Halestorm. Have there been times you’ve been frustrated with being the chief focal point?
“Every step of the way we’re fighting to be ourselves, and to be the best four pillars of this band we can be. In the past we’ve had people try to pit us against each other, like telling me I should lose the rest of the band and go solo, or that my brother wasn’t good enough. We understand that if one of the four goes, it’s no longer Halestorm anymore. That’s another reason I love playing live, because we’re all there representing ourselves, individually and as a collective, without backing tracks or trickery.”
How has your relationship with Arejay changed, as bandmates and siblings?
“We’ve watched each other grow, and I’m so proud of my little brother for being the modern day [hyperactive late drummer of The Who] Keith Moon! Arejay was always a very good drummer, so I cite him as a big inspiration for forming the band. We started out saying, ‘Hey, let’s see how far we can take this.’ As teenagers we met Sevendust and they brought us onto their bus. I remember asking him afterwards if he thought we’d ever have a tour bus. Now they’re part of our daily lives. Because of this empire we’ve built together, we can say we make a living doing what we love. The dynamic hasn’t changed. He’s still my little bro and we still get on each other’s nerves, but we know how to fight without throwing the whole thing away.”
As well as your work with Halestorm, you’ve collaborated with many other artists. Which ones stand out?
“I loved my collaboration with Eric Church [That’s Damn Rock & Roll] because I was out of my element. When I stood up at the CMAs [Country Music Awards], dressed in leather, a total black sheep who knew nobody and nobody knew me, I had to prove myself. There’s something magical about that. In terms of my idols, one of my all-time favourite singers and guitar players is Tom Keifer from Cinderella, who I got to work with [re-recording Cinderella classic Nobody’s Fool together]. I got to learn something from a person without whom I wouldn’t be the rocker I am today. Having my idol next to me made me step it up. Magic happens when you get that kind of encouragement. As far as peers go, collaborating with Amy Lee from Evanescence [performing Halestorm track Break In live] was a whole other vibe because I was standing with my rock sister – someone who’d gone through the same as me as a woman fronting a band.”
You’ve mentioned James Hetfield as a dream collaborator. What is it about him that inspires you so much?
“People think he’s only doing two things at once – singing and playing guitar, but it’s actually three things. He’s also fronting the band, which is a whole other skill set in itself. He has to be present, not just thinking about the parts he’s playing, but lifting the audience up. I’ve always said if I was a dude I’d be James Hetfield, because there wasn’t a moment when he suddenly had that ability to command – he had it from day one.”
He has been very open about his struggles with addiction. Do you think that’s essential for artists in 2020? Is there a responsibility to show the world that we all suffer the same?
“I think it’s the artist’s prerogative. There are people I know who are extremely private, and that’s how they deal with their mental health or personal issues. I’ve always found it highly therapeutic to put myself out there. I remember consciously making the decision to not be a recluse and put a veil over myself, or try to be a perfect role model of what life should be. That’s not who I am. Parents of fans have told me that showing my flaws is more inspiring than being some cartoon character of empowerment.”
Do you think an overemphasis on personal lives is a way for some quarters to undermine women and other under-represented groups in rock and beyond?
“Oh, I’m sure it is. I encourage my female peers, whether they’re musicians or not, to not pay any mind to people who don’t like them, or even those who do. Someone might love me and another person might absolutely hate my guts, which they both have the right to do, but all that matters is what I think of me. Somebody could make a list of everything they want you to be and say, and you could be and say all those things, but that person still wouldn’t be happy. So you might as well just be yourself, unapologetically.”
You’ve given your fair share of advice, but what’s the most enduring piece of guidance you’ve ever received?
“It was from Dio, when we opened for [Dio-era iteration of Black Sabbath] Heaven & Hell at a show in 2009, which ended up being his last [he died of stomach cancer the following year]. We weren’t even supposed to be there. It was the final show of the tour and Coheed And Cambria, who were meant to open, had dropped out. We were rolling through New Jersey on a day off and we got a call asking if we could step in, which we said we’d make work, whatever it took. Not only was Ronnie amazing that night, he was a class act too. After the show he took the time to hang out with us, like he was our uncle or something! Later he walked us to the parking lot where our RV was parked and asked us to wait so he could say goodbye properly. We then watched as he signed autographs and took pictures with every fan who was waiting, despite it being about 2am. I told him how nice what he’d done was. He turned to me and said, ‘Lzzy, this is a moment in time. You’re never going to remember all of the venues you’ve played or the names of all the people who’ve come to see you, but those people are going to remember meeting you for the rest of their lives, so make it good for everyone.’ I’ll pay that forward with our fans forever.”
You always seem like a relentlessly positive person, but there must be something that annoys Lzzy Hale?
“People who think they know it all. I’ve met quite a few of them in this business. Then there are those who keep putting each other down online for no reason, which is an epidemic these days. I would hate to be a young girl today, trying to find herself and putting images on Instagram that receive relentless criticism. It’s so hard to be yourself anymore. I’m here to push out positivity. The world is full of enough shit already.”
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