Photo: Jimmy Fountaine
Exclusive: Halestorm Riff On 'Vicious,' Cheap Trick, Nietzsche & More
No one can dispute the accomplishments of hard rock heavyweights Halestorm. Through the first three albums of their career, the four-piece have toured the world, won their legions of devout followers one by one, changed the face of modern metal, and earned their first GRAMMY win. Standing tall as a force to be reckoned with, the band went into 2018 needing to prove nothing.
But when the quartet — built by bad*** sister/brother combo Lzzy Hale on guitar/vocals and Arejay Hale on drums with Joe Hottinger on guitar and Josh Smith on bass filling out the lineup — gave the first taste of blood from their new project with lead single "Uncomfortable" on May 30, fans got a swift kick where it counts. The track shreds, stabs and soars into a new territory of aggression, living up to its title and promising something sinister from the album it teased. Vicious, their fourth full-length, arrived on July 27, delivering on that promise as Halestorm's most energized and empowered effort to date.
From the onset of making Vicious, Halestorm found themselves with some time to be creative without pressure from the label, and had even done some writing, but something was missing. The origin story for "Uncomfortable" involves discovering their next musical direction with the help of a special friend and producer. They took a meeting with GRAMMY-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz, who had not only worked with the band on 2017's ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP, but also shared the studio with the likes of Rush, Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, and many more.
Determined to create something more than just a re-packaging hits such as "I Get Off" or "I Miss The Misery," Lzzy Hale and Co. worked "Uncomfortable" into shape, starting with an instrumental and allowing it to evolve into its current state — a departure from their more common approach of finding a mission statement, making sure there's a great song there and then filling it out with the band. But even if the construction process was unfamiliar to the quartet, the concept of starting an album off with a bang certainly was not.
"Every time we first jump into the studio to just start shaking off the dust and getting the gears turning to make the new record, that's usually when we write our super ultra-heavy song," says Arejay Hale. "We just want to get it out, and then that ends up being the [song] where everyone is like, 'Oh, there it is. There's the big heavy song.'"
Lyrically, the message of "Uncomfortable" is pure rock rebellion, with Lzzy Hale flaunting her defiance of expectations and authority with enough passion and punch to empower listeners to do the same. This dichotomy — bowing to no one and yet allowing individuality to bring us together — is a core value in Lzzy Hale's lyric writing.
"This song is really just about being unapologetically yourself," says Lzzy Hale. "For me, to put this out there as our first, 'Hey, how you doing?' for this new record was really important because it definitely has that rock and roll with a smile. But to me, it's something we've stood for, for many years: Make yourself happy. You can't please everybody."
But it isn't just Lzzy Hale's lyrics that make bold moves on Vicious. With Raskulinecz' help, Halestorm re-established the balance of their four-footed foundation on the album, sounding and feeling more like a cohesive unit than ever before.
"One thing that got lost on a lot of these records that we've done over the years is the fact that there are four corners of Halestorm, and when we play live, you can hear all the pillars that make up what we are," says Lzzy Hale. "Nick was extremely passionate to bring out all of that."
"He's a rock superfan first and foremost, and then a producer," adds Smith. "When you're working with him, he's talking to you like he's your biggest fan, and this is what he wants to hear. And he didn't let us settle, ever."
According to the band, Raskulinecz always had a drumstick in his hand throughout recording, conducting and conveying his instinctual rhythmic ideas through spastic, onamonapiac outbursts, the kind of non-technical musical communication you may not expect from a producer who's coached such legendary drummers as Neil Peart or either of the Foos' famous stickmen. Arejay Hale was more than up for the task, rising to the occasion and pushing his own boundaries into new territory the whole band got behind.
"[Rasculinecz] said if we really like it, your fans are gonna really like it," says Hottinger. The band followed this credo and ended up with a beast of an album, both brutal and inspiring.
"This album has been more or less about empowerment and overcoming things," says Lzzy Hale. "It's not about those [difficult] situations, it's about how you rise above them. … What doesn't kill you makes you vicious. It's a play on the [Friedrich] Nietzsche quote, but it's not just about being stronger, it's about being fierce."
— Halestorm (@Halestorm) July 17, 2018
Vicious is indeed ferocious, but it's also quite natural. In fact, what Lzzy Hale calls "the heaviest song we've written so far," "Skulls," came together from two ideas that overlapped into a cosmic completion of a musical sentence. "When you hang out with each other [all the time], you start completing each other's thoughts," says Lzzy Hale.
Much of that time together has been spent on the road recently, as Halestorm helmed a landmark all female-fronted tour with bands such as In This Moment (fronted by Maria Brink) and New Years Day (fronted by Ash Costello), setting a new standard for women in heavy music.
"I've never been surrounded by so much estrogen in my entire touring career," says Lzzy Hale. "We don't normally bring up the fact that we are females in the rock industry, usually we just let the music speak for itself. But we all decided in the beginning it was really important to talk about that. And from that first day on, we started noticing instead of it being 60/40 male/female with the crowd, it was pretty split up the middle, if not tipping the other way by the end of the tour. It was pretty neat."
As they enter this new album cycle, there's a spirit of rejuvenation emanating from Halestorm. They're gearing up to go back out on the road with In This Moment and New Years Day for another round. And Halestorm is ready to meet the stage full-speed ahead because the music requires it.
"It's not just about [fans] coming to a show to hear some music and rock out and get drunk," says Lzzy Hale. "There are some people that truly need to be there in order to be themselves. It's a place where you can be unapologetically you. At the rock show, I see all walks of life, all ages, all sizes, shapes, colors. It's amazing when you look out from our perspective and everybody's singing the same song. … I don't think that I would by my true self today if it wasn't for this band and the music and me having that outlet."