INTERVIEW: chatting with rock kween Lzzy Hale of US heavy-hitters Halestorm.
Wielding more brute force than the natural phenomenon they share their name with, American rockers Halestorm have dramatically stormed the rock and roll world for decades; armed with a dizzying array of hard rock brutality and fiery swagger, the group of self-confessed dorks from Red Lion, Pennsylvania have enticed a legion of dedicated fans alongside a Grammy Award, a horde of accolades, plus shows alongside every rock icon from from Alice Cooper to ZZ Top.
While it's no deep mystery why this female-fronted juggernaut has so drastically captured attention all over the world, with their caustic riffs and powerhouse vocals alone indicating a sonic super-storm to be reckoned with; it's in fact the remarkable levels of humble self-effacement and blistering passion behind the Halestorm story that truly ruptures this quartet beyond rock god (or goddess) status.
After ripping up Aussie stages earlier in the year at the mighty Download Festival, Halestorm are roaring back to our shores this December, alongside good mates Black Stone Cherry. And in honour of the upcoming shows, we grabbed the entirely effervescent and sonically formidable kween of rock (and The Soundcheck's musical girl-crush) Lzzy Halestorm herself to chat moxie, Aussie crowds and the future of rock and roll. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hi Lzzy, I'm Tiana, how are you?
LZZY HALE: Hi Tiana, I love your name! I'm feeling great, thank you so much for talking with me.
TIANA: Well, thank you! I am so pumped to talk to you, I finally managed to catch Halestorm live at Download earlier this year and it was actually a bucket-list moment for me. And this is also another bucket list moment for 2019 for me as well!
LZZY: That's awesome! I'll tell you what, Download Australia was on my list too! So we're ticking stuff off left and right! It was so much fun.
TIANA: The awesome thing about that is too, we actually get to have Halestorm back in Australia for second time in the same year, along with Black Stone Cherry...and this year also marks the tenth anniversary of your debut self-titled album...it's not too shabby for a couple of kids from Pennsylvania who used to play with a tip jar in a bar!
LZZY: Can you believe it?! My little brother and I talk about this stuff all the time, he brought this up the other day, he was like: "Hey! Do you remember the first time we were on somebody's tour bus?". We were so nervous and awkward and at the time we were like "Do you ever think we'll get that tour bus?". And now a tour bus is part of our normal life, it's so strange! It's the strangest thing to have these years go by. I will say, we're still the same people and just as immature (laughs). I think once you enter into this world, you just kind of stop maturing, and we all make each other laugh to the point of tears everyday. It's pretty great! But yeah, it's not too shabby, we try not to question it because we're like: "Well? It could've gone so easily the other way". And I know so many, SO many talented bands that never make it to their first record on a major label. And now we're on our fourth, and we've been touring the world and we're still together as a band, all the same members. It's pretty incredible!
TIANA: Personally, awkward and immature people are my favourite type of people, so that's made my day that you're all like that. Now, I recently saw your amazing post on Instagram about the tenth anniversary of the debut album....but in terms of those really early days, did you have any idea how much of an impact you guys would go on to have? Was there any inkling that you had something special going on with Halestorm in those really early days?
LZZY: Well, you know that there's something special - but you don't really know what it is. And you don't know what it's gonna become, and I can trace that back to the original fire that kind of sparked with us. We had our first show as Halestorm in '97, and literally walking off that stage all we wanted to do was figure out how to do that again. "How do we do that again, how do we play somewhere else, how??". And it's so funny, it was like overnight - everything else came second. It was just about this band and what we were doing and how far can we take it? "I don't know, what's next, let's do that! How can we one-up it?!". And we've kept that throughout the years, but it's funny because it's such a silly thing being in a rock band! If you look at it from the outside you're like "Oh, it's a hobby". Or it's trivial, or whatever. But it really wasn't to us, it was something that was ours that nobody could take away from us and we were gonna fight for that at all costs. There were a lot of people that thought we were nuts!! (laughs) A lot! And my poor parents got the brunt of it, they would get letters from other parents being like "You're leading your kids down the wrong path, you're being irresponsible, why are you letting them play, they should be doing something else, they should be getting other jobs, education, something, back-up plans". All of that! And I remember my parents saying to me...actually they recently said this to me, they were like “Well, we saw you were gonna do it anyway, so we might as well be supportive!”. (laughs) All they were trying to do was keep us out of the gutter. They would come to all the shows, they worked for us for a long period of time until it got nuts. And it was just one of those things, you know that it’s something that you need to do, but you never think it’s gonna go this far. There’s a difference between absolutely believing and having faith that you have the ability to do these things. We knew we had that, we had the drive and the faith in ourselves. But there’s a difference between that and now looking around and being like “Wow, I have my own house, and I have my own signature guitar, I tour the world with the guys that I love, and my brother!”. And this is the empire that that flame built, you know? And that drive and that, essentially, rock and roll built. And to stand here and to look at that is really incredible, it’s beyond me because…like I said, I’m a dork from Pennsylvania, I grew up on a 20 acre farm. This shouldn’t have happened to me, typically that doesn’t happen to a lot of kids. So we’re very thankful. And as my little brother so eloquently put it: “Hey sis, were we crazy? Absolutely. And we still are crazy for doing this”. But we weren’t stupid. And this was something that we built together and we’re very proud of it. It’s an interesting thing to think about!
TIANA: It’s definitely that fine line, I think that’s a really apt point, there’s a difference between crazy and stupidity. I’ve found as I get older and I get further into what I actually want to be doing – the more people who say I’m crazy, the more I know I’m doing the right thing! I’m very onboard with that!
LZZY: Oh, absolutely! And you use it as a weapon too because when people say “Well, you’re being ridiculous, you should probably get a real job” – we’re like: “Well, that’s silly! We’re just gonna try harder!” (laughs). So inadvertently, they’ve inspired a lot!
TIANA: Hear hear! As we touched on earlier, obviously yourself and Halestorm are headed back to Australian in December, and it’s not your first trip to down under. How do you find your Aussie fans when you head out here as opposed to a crowd at home, or somewhere closer to home? Are we drastically different?
LZZY: I’ll try to describe it like this: if “rock show” was a verb – you guys know how to “rock show”. You know what I mean? It’s not better or worse, it’s just different when we come to Australia, it’s still very much a lifestyle. I remember one of the first times that we came over there…I wasn’t trying to get the audience to do something, I just kind of raised my hand because I was…I don’t know, “emoting” or something (laughs). And then all of a sudden everybody just raised their hands. And I was like: “Ok! I guess we’ll just wave it around for a little while?!”. Everyone was just so receptive to having a good time, and whatever they needed to do to be a part of it, it wasn’t just casual entertainment. It wasn’t just “I’m just here because I’ve got nothing better to do”. They wanted to be involved and they wanted to be there, and it was almost this primal, human need: “This is my life, this is my rock show, and I’m gonna be involved and be here”. So, for me to be surrounded by people like that who literally have the same passion, even though they’re in the audience…they have the same passion for this that I do! It’s like being part of a big family, and that was definitely not lost on us that that’s kind of the way it is over there! We were VERY excited to be asked back.
TIANA: It's that incredible "shared collective" thing that music continually wields, and it becomes an actual need rather than a want for so many people. And that actually touches on something I wanted to chat to you about...I've read you talk in the past about how rock music in particular does tend to attract people who aren't in it for the money and to be popular...and that community is definitely alive and kicking. There's the usual bullshit that always comes with the industry, but for someone so intrinsically linked in the rock world, amongst an overriding industry that seems to favour genres like pop and rap...do you have high hopes for rock music in general for not only younger and emerging bands, but also for yourself?
LZZY: Absolutely! We talk about this quite a bit, we talk about rock - it is still underground, but it never goes away. It kind of had its day in the sun in the '80s and '90s, and now we're back to pop and rap music right now. But the thing is about those other genres: whether you are a country star, whether you're a pop star, whether you're a rap star - everybody wants to be a rock star. We're like that kid in class who gives you your first cigarette in the bathroom, you know? No respect for the authority, and everyone thinks you're a delinquent. But, man, to that kid you're like: "Yeahhh, they're cool, I wanna be that guy!". So, I don't know, it's just one of those things where I'm just very proud of it, and I'm proud of my genre. In the beginning, when we first started putting teams together and got signed to a label - there were a lot of people, even before that, who would try to convince you, like: "Hey, you could be Kelly Clarkson if you wanted to be, maybe you should ditch the guys, maybe you shouldn't have the band". And those are the things you have to fight against. Not just because I'm a girl, but you're fighting for your right to do the music that you wanna do. I've always wanted to be in rock music, and - yeah, sure, I go to karaoke and I sing some Bonnie Raitt and some Whitney Houston. I'll totally do that! But that's not where my heart's at. Just because I can, doesn't mean I should (laughs). I do have high hopes, but I also have high hopes in the longevity of it. And when we play these rock shows you're surrounded by kids that, like you put it earlier, it's part of their life! They need to be there, it's not just music to them, it's their life, their identity. It's also, to some people, their therapy. It's great to be a part of something like that versus just disposable entertainment. I see so many acts come and go in the pop market, and the rap market. And it's like: "Oh! That was a shiny, shooting star. Cool. That's awesome". And good for you! But I'd rather be a part of a community and have my little underground club where we all wear black t-shirts!
TIANA: I'm with you there! I'm currently dressed head-to-toe in black as we speak. Actually I'm dressed head-to-toe in black everyday, let's not lie.
LZZY: (laughs) I know! I get looks all the time cos it's summer right now where I'm at, and I'm still in the black t-shirt. People are like: "aren't you hot?!". But! I have some colour in my wardrobe, there's some off black, some of it's new black, some of it's faded and has holes (laughs).
TIANA: It has to be said: you are without a doubt one of the most iconic...I'm gonna say "people" in rock, I don't want to say you're one of the best women in rock, you literally shred and go harder than most of the men in the rock orbit right now. And you have such a substantial reputation, not only as a total badass, but as an absolute sweetheart. Case in point, giving away your guitar onstage for a fan recently, and you're also continually flying the flag for female empowerment along the way. Do you feel like the tide has turned a bit in the rock industry, and perhaps broader music industry? Do you think that we've edged a bit closer to gender equity in the industry from your perspective, or do you think there's still a long way to go?
LZZY: From my perspective, I think that there's still a fight to be fought. But it's so much closer than it ever was, even just ten years ago! I remember (laughs)...I remember carrying in my equipment, any given night, it happened every night. I'd carry in my equipment and somebody would be like: "Wow, my girlfriend never carries my equipment!", just assuming that I'm not in the band, and I'm just helping my boyfriend. Or, they'd be like: "Oh, the merch table's over there if you wanna put your t-shirts there", assuming I'm the merch girl. It literally went from that to now, and I see women everywhere - and it's not just onstage! It's female lighting directors, tour managers, roadies, all of these things. We're in such a better position. And also something of note just in the past album cycle, maybe in the past two years...it used to be in the audience, it used to be a good 60/40, male/female - now it's completely flipped on its head, I am completely surrounded by crazy rock chicks every night! And I remember them only being a handful. So just in the short amount of time I think there were a lot of girls who ended up stepping up and being like: "Look! I'm doing this and so can you!". And that inadvertently created kind of a snowball effect. I think that's important, I think it's important for girls to pursue their happiness, and pursue their dreams and pursue whatever it is they're into because there is a thing; just by being female and doing that, you're inadvertently giving these young girls the ok. It makes that dream just a little bit closer. It's so funny, that little girl who I gave the guitar to...we tricked her all day. We'd plucked her kind of out of obscurity at the festival (Sonic Temple 2019), and then we got her in for the meet and greet and she's like: "Oh my gosh!", and she's thinking that's the end. And then I was like: "Well, do you want to come backstage and meet the guys?". And she was like "Ohh, really?? That's amazing, cool let's do that!". So we're backstage and she was saying "This has been such an amazing day, thank you", and then we were like: "Well. Do you want to stand side of stage for the show?". And she says "Really, are you kidding me, that's so amazing!!". She had no idea she was getting the guitar, and if I could do that everyday: my life would be complete. So - sorry! Trying to make a long story short! But I got a letter from her mother, and her mother said: Yeah, for the past couple of years, she wanted to open a bakery, she wanted to be a baker! But the whole car ride home, she was saying "Mom, now I have this guitar I really have to think about what to do with my life. I could j (laughust get guitar lessons!". And so in the back of my mind I'm just thinking "Oh no!". I think I might have changed the course of that little girl, and her poor mother. It may be a noisier household (laughs). But what a neat thing, and what a beautiful thing to, like I said earlier, give the ok, that whatever you wanna do - you totally can. And just being that example is pretty special.
LZZY GIVES A YOUNG FAN THE GIFT OF A LIFETIME ONSTAGE AT SONIC TEMPLE 2019//pic by Loudwire
TIANA: I'm secretly hoping that in a couple years' time, she's opening for Halestorm.
LZZY: Oh, that would make my world! It would come full circle, that would be so cool! There's actually been a couple of bands who I've followed in the past couple of years who have gotten a leg-up that were fans of ours, and I remember meeting them when they were like 16 years-old. There's this one band called Callout, and this little girl, one of her favourite songs was 'Hate It When You See Me Cry', one of our B-sides off the second record. And I ended up doing the video for her, to kind of show her how to play because she was starting guitar lessons. And, now years later - she's in her own band and she's touring and they're doing everything DIY. It's just really neat to see that happen over the years. So (laughs) hopefully that happens and we can go on tour together and tell that story!
TIANA: So to wrap things up here: obviously Halestorm are heading Down Under later this year, and you've got a whole heap of things going on with the band in the very near future. But is there anything you can reveal about what we can expect for the Halestorm shows in December? Any secrets you can give away, or do we have to wait and see?
LZZY: Absolutely! Well, it's going to be kind of controlled chaos. We'll be switching the set up every night, and we absolutely do take requests. So with that, the set list will change anyway, even if we have the plans. We don't use any tracks, no trickery, it's all of us playing. We've started to do these...I guess you could call it "jamming"? But there's these sections in our set where we'll kind of go off the rails, and we won't really know how we're gonna end it, we just listen to each other and create moments. That's been a lot of fun for us recently, and so most likely we're going to take advantage of that (laughs). And! We're coming out with Black Stone Cherry, and they're our brothers! We've known those boys for like thirteen years, or something like that. And it's every day laughing to the point of years. So most likely, we're gonna end up either them up during our set or us for their set - we usually do that stuff to. So it's gonna be a big family affair! And I think that the audiences are in for a unique experience no matter what show they come to.
TIANA: Well, I am so excited to be able to catch you live in action twice in one year, thank you so much for chatting today, and thank you for being such a bad ass inspiration for women and rock music in general!
LZZY: Oh, thank you so much, that means a lot to me. I think you're delightful, and I can't wait to see ya! See you soon!
CATCH HALESTORM IN ACTION THIS DECEMBER WHEN THEY HIT OUR SHORES ALONGSIDE BLACK STONE CHERRY, PRESENTED BY MJR AND UTA PRESENTS.
BY TIANA SPETER