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  • Tiana Speter

INTERVIEW: Joe Hottinger (HALESTORM)

 

Few bands embody the true status of rockstar better than American rockers Halestorm.


Exploding into the zeitgeist with their 2009 debut self-titled album, the Pennsylvania-hailing quartet went on to nab a Grammy Award for their razor-sharp single Love Bites (So Do I) and cement their bona fide status courtesy of their 2012 album The Strange Case Of... which rattled speakers all the way to #12 on the Billboard 200.


Renowned for their authentic connection to fans and the industry as much as they are for interview-joe-hottinger-halestorm-kntheir prolific releases, with their streams numbering in the billions, Halestorm have also worked tirelessly to uplift beyond the stage, including vocalist Lzzy Hale's work in mental health awareness and working to empower young women in rock.


In 2024, Halestorm may already bear the mantle for one of the most tirelessly touring bands in the rock realms, with multiple festival appearances, a massive North American run locked in with I Prevail and undoubtedly many more surprises still lined up as the year progresses. But imminently this month, the group will also return to our shores in Australia as part of the Knotfest Australia lineup for 2024, and two hotly-anticipated headline sideshows alongside Skindred and Reliqa.


Imminently ahead of their Australian adventures and reuniting with old friends on the Knotfest lineup that spans Pantera, Disturbed, Lamb of God and beyond, Halestorm's lead guitarist Joe Hottinger joined The Soundcheck's Tiana Speter to chat festival essentials, favourite songs and the genuine magic behind the Halestorm enduring success story.



TIANA SPETER: Hey Joe, thanks for the chat today! The last time I spoke with Lzzy [Hale], Halestorm were actually prepping for the 2023 Aussie run early last year, which feels like so long ago...but weirdly not that long ago? But we're so lucky we have you back again in Australia for Knotfest, and some sideshows too! How is everyone feeling in the lead up to your return down under? Does it feel like a long time has passed or not so much?

 

  • JOE HOTTINGER: It feels like way too long! I love coming down there. We're so fortunate and lucky to be able to travel and do the thing we love to do with the people that we love, and just to be able to get down to Australia and be a foreigner down there and soak it up - it's a gift.


 

TIANA: Well it's a gift equally for us as well. And I know a question that would probably be on everyone's lips, will you be mixing up your setlist for the festival and the headline shows? I don't want to reveal all the secrets because obviously surprises are lovely, but what are you feeling setlist-wise for these shows?

 

  • JOE: They're different set times, I think we have 60 minutes at the festival. And for the headline shows, it just depends on when curfew is at the venue, it's going to be at least 90 minutes, so we'll add at least a half hour. And we always switch it up. We have to switch it up. We can't do the same things over and over. We have a few anchor moments and song combos that we probably repeat, but otherwise then we'll start getting weird. And we have a good intro right now where we have woven some songs together. Once we get out of that, then it's free for all!




TIANA: It's funny you mention switching things up because Lzzy actually said last time I spoke with her that you guys were big fans of mixing up your setlist every night. And in Australia it's obviously not like America where you can just jump in the car to another city every single day, you pretty much have to fly to make multiple shows. So in a way it rewards those fans, but I feel like everyone gets something out of it too, the band does, and the fans do. And you can also catch out which journalists were not actually there because they think you're playing the same sets every night...

 

  • JOE: I have seen some of those reviews, it's so funny to me. I saw somebody review the last record, Back From The Dead, and the last song is Raise Your Horns. It's such a beautiful song, it's a beautiful piano ballad that Lzzy put together, and the guy at the end of a review was like: "it ended with Raise Your Horns, a raucous rocker". And I was like: "hah! You didn't even listen to it!". I almost called him out online but then I was like: "nahh".

 

 

TIANA: He called himself out it seems!

 

  • JOE: Yeah! I didn't call him out in the end, I don't need to do that. I'm not mad, I don't care. But geez man, do your job!



TIANA: Well let's chat Knotfest down under, I know for a lot of the bands on the lineup you would be very familiar with already, bands you've already played with or are friends with. We've got Pantera, Disturbed Lamb of God, and we've got a bunch of amazing Aussies as well, including at your sideshows. Is there a band that you have never seen before, obviously some of the Aussie bands you may not be as familiar with, but is there someone you've never seen and you actually want to tick off the bucket list?

 

  • JOE: Yeah, we pretty much have played with and know everybody in the first five or six bands. We were talking to the Disturbed boys and we're like: "we can't wait to see you guys!". And I was told that Reliqa is really cool, they're a local band in Australia and they're playing the sideshows with us, so I'm very excited to see them.



TIANA: They've just put out an incredible new single, they're such a good band, you're definitely in for a treat! Keeping in the vein of live music, and not to make you play favourites, but kind of to make you play favourites...what is currently your favourite Halestorm song to play live and why? Bearing in mind this doesn't have to be your favourite of "all time"...


  • JOE: There's different things that I love about a lot of them when we play them live. Amen is one that I love to play. With that one, we don't use a computer or click tracks or anything, it's just the four of us making noise. And it is what it is, mistakes and all. We always fuck up somewhere, I guarantee it, it's just how we are. But I love the honesty of it, and that's why we love doing this, we sit there and groove. And one of the things we love to do is just full improv sections, take the end of a song and go off. We don't know where we're going, and we don't know where we're going to land. But we just do it, because sometimes that's when you find the most magic. You go on this ride together and the crowd's with you, and you all land together and clear the runway. Other times it can end up being just "all right". But in those moments we're like: "oh well, we tried!". With Amen, we do that, we always kind of go off with it, which is fun. We have a few songs actually where we do that, but I'll go with Amen right in this moment.

 


TIANA: Not to sound totally cliched, but that's kind of what rock'n'roll, or whatever you want to classify it as, is kind of all about. It's not always clinical and precise, but that's fucking awesome, and it's why we all love it!

 

  • JOE: It can be clinical and precise, but that will always feel clinical and precise. It's like a giant white light in your face, and you're like (sarcastically): "oh cool, a giant white light". I think rock'n'roll is dirty and weird, and you should mess up. And I love rock'n'roll with a smile where it's a bit cheeky. Obviously we take it very seriously, and we're always trying to do our best. But to me there's a danger in going out in front of a few hundred or a few thousand people, whatever it is, and not knowing what you're going to do. And really trying to get into that kind of flow state and into the zone, just be a funnel and let it work through you. The music in the moment and the energy of that. There's no future, there's no past. It's just right there that second with that crowd. And it's different every night for them, and for us. To me, that's the good stuff. That's what I crave, those moments where you're just tunneled into that moment of time. And that's why I love playing so much. I keep saying the word moment, but it really is, it's very present and it's so hard to be present these days and to find something that allows you to be somewhere where truly nothing else exists, and to totally just get out of everything. There's no social media, there's no phones, there's no internet, there's literally whatever you can do right now. No click tracks, no computer, there's nobody telling us what to do. It's just us speaking our language to each other in the crowd. And that's my favorite thing in the world.


TIANA: Those moments are amazing, and we're all so glad you all continue to make these happen. Looking slightly back before we look ahead to Knotfest, I don't even want to talk about the pandemic years as a dominating thing, obviously it's in the past, but as that continues to be in the rear view mirror, you as a band just continue to go from strength to strength. And obviously the strengths were there before the pandemic, but most recently you've had tours, festivals, a new album, and even a sold out show at Wembley Arena. But looking at everything that you've achieved in the past couple of years, what's been a personal standout for you of late? What springs to mind when you look back at this amazing journey so far?

 

  • JOE: Honestly, Lzzy and I were just talking about this, how lucky we are because we're still doing it. To have a career in rock as long as we have now, we're just lucky, we work really, really hard and we still love it. But to have the four of us, we've been together for over 20 years now and we are just down here in our basement rehearsing and we still love it, we still love going out and traveling. This is our chosen family and nobody knows me like they do and vice versa. And we get to talk musically and we talk about our experiences and no one's broken us yet. There's always people sitting there that think they're in or something, but nobody knows what it's like to be us. It's like some interview with The Beatles where Ringo is like: "I'm a Beatle. Nobody knows what it's like to be a Beatle but us". And not that we're The Beatles, but this has been our journey and we have bled and fought for it and we're lucky. And to me, that's the biggest accomplishment besides Wembley and a Grammy and all the other cool stuff that's happened. It's just that we're still doing it and we still love to do it. And I hope that keeps going. I can't see myself wanting to not do this ever. You'll have to drag me off the stage.


TIANA: Well, I don't see that happening anytime soon. And authenticity definitely flows through a band like Halestorm. Luck is one thing, but people can often forget that anytime someone seems lucky, there's a huge amount of hard work that they usually won't see that goes into it behind the scenes. And before I let you go today, given you're about to return to Australia for Knotfest....since Halestorm are festival staples at this point, what is your advice for having the best festival experience, in your opinion?

 

  • JOE: Oh man, the last time I was in an audience at a festival, I couldn't even tell you other than when we played and then running out front and watching Metallica or something. In which case I say: bring plenty of pocket beers. Bring pocket beers because it's a long way over to the bar. And if you're not a drinker, stay hydrated. Stay hydrated either way, so you can have the best time possible. But pocket beers, that's my festival advice.


TIANA: I love this. The amount of times in the past I've been standing in the bar line while the band is playing and I'm thinking: "why am I like this?". An excellent tip! We can't wait to have you back here in Australia for Knotfest and your sideshows too, and hopefully it won't be too long before we can lure you back yet again! Thanks for chatting, Joe!

 

  • JOE: Thank you, Tiana. That was wonderful, I appreciate it.


 

HALESTORM

Appearing at Knotfest Australia and headline sideshows this month. For more info, head here.





 

BY TIANA SPETER


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