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Like many other bands, hard-rock outfit Halestorm is making up for lost touring time. In the spring, it headlined a lineup with Stone Temple Pilots, Mammoth WVH and Blackstone Cherry that saw Halestorm as the last band standing, as all the other acts were struck by COVID-19. (Lucky fans at the last show in Montana on May 30 witnessed a special three-hour set.) The quartet returned to the road on July 7 for another U.S. tour that will run until Oct. 8, on a rare outing where all the talent is either fronted by or consists of women: The Pretty Reckless, The Warning and Lilith Czar are lending support on this go-around.
After nearly four years, Halestorm unleashed a new studio album, Back From the Dead (May 6, Atlantic Records), a raucous, angst-ridden banger fueled by the intense feelings that frontwoman Lzzy Hale and her bandmates experienced during the extended lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic. The stomping title track and “The Steeple,” as well as the ballads “Terrible Things” and “Raise Your Horns,” address the chaotic state of the world and wanting to reclaim the musical identity that they and their fans have missed.
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The album’s title has proven prophetic: “Back From the Dead” and “The Steeple” both reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Airplay chart. The act has now ruled the list six times, out of 13 top 10 entries, and has also logged four chart-toppers on Top Hard Rock Albums. According to Luminate, Halestorm has earned a combined 2.5 million equivalent album units, and its catalog has tallied 1.1 billion on-demand official U.S. streams.
There are more things for Halestorm to celebrate this year. Hale is a judge on No Cover, a talent competition that premiered on YouTube in April, where unsigned artists compete for a recording contract by playing original material. Announced in 2021 as Gibson’s first female brand ambassador, she introduced her signature Explorerbird guitar in May with a humorous videoclip. Z2 Comics are publishing the graphic novel Hyde Manor, inspired by the group’s music, this fall. And August marks 25 years since the first Halestorm gig that Hale played at only 13 years old. To her, the “allies and buds” who have traveled with her on the band’s journey — guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith and her younger brother Arejay on drums — probably know her better than anyone else.
Here, Hale opens up to Billboard about life under lockdown, how she wasn’t always the screamer that fans see onstage, and loving the “devil’s music.”
You’re Gibson’s first female brand ambassador. It’s cool, and at the same time — really? Just the first?
It’s something [the Gibson role] that they really only introduced in the last couple of years. But I remember when we got the Grammy [for best hard rock/metal performance in 2013 for “Love Bites (So Do I)”], and all this press came out: the first female to win this. I thought, “There has to be somebody else.” It was only a few short years ago that at any festival or any type of bill I was the only female there.
And now it’s completely flipped. We played Welcome to Rockville a few weeks ago, and it was probably a good 50/50 split. All of my sisters of scream were there, and it’s fun to see. I remember the early days of touring — I wouldn’t be thinking about the fact that I was a girl until somebody brought it up. “Oh yeah, I’m the only one around here. OK, cool. Let’s go do the rock show.”
What was it like designing the guitar?
We started talking about the Explorerbird just before COVID-19 hit. I wanted to go boldly where Gibson has never gone before and create a hybrid guitar that reflects all the fierceness I use to combat the darkness this world throws my way. This fiery banshee of an axe is my weapon of choice.
Onstage, it seems that your gleefully maniacal side comes out and that you exorcise some demons.
When you’re onstage, you’re able to be as open and as free as you want to be. I definitely cite this band in helping me come out of my shell, because I was a quiet and shy kid.
I have to tell you this story that my mom just brought up … I was in kindergarten, and my mom had to be called by the teacher, because they were trying to show us how to yell out if there’s a fire. If there’s a fire and you’re hiding in a closet somewhere, you have to yell for the firemen so that they know where you are, and then they can rescue you. Apparently, I wouldn’t yell. I just refused to be loud. And my mom was cracking up about it. Because she’s like, “You kind of make your living yelling now.”
But it’s great. I still use writing and performing as a form of therapy and as a way to be as weird or as loud as I want to be, because I have permission on the stage to do that.
Obviously, you didn’t enjoy lockdown too much. You’re someone who really thrives when you’re out there amplifying yourself to an audience.
The first month of lockdown, [I felt like], “We’re just going to treat this like vacation. We’ll get beer delivered to the house.” I didn’t realize until we got deep into it how much I use either a live show — or the camaraderie, or even just the idea of forward movement, having a mission, having some type of plan — as tools in my arsenal to keep me sane, and to combat the darkness that can creep in. I’ve been calling it somewhat of an identity crisis because all of a sudden, I was not necessarily the Lzzy Hale onstage that I liked to be so much. Now I’m Elizabeth Mae Hale IV in her pajamas for three days in a row, contemplating what the future might hold, and I hadn’t seen her for a while. It was a crazy roller coaster ride.
All of these songs [on Back From the Dead] were coming from this core personal place that I was trying to work through. On this other side of it, now that I’m listening to these songs and we’re playing them out live, it seems like that they’re so incredibly universal and speaking to so many different people. As part of this full-circle personal journey, I realized through releasing this record that I wasn’t alone in any of what we all were going through.
On the softer side of the album, the acoustic “Terrible Things” addresses deep concerns about how the world seems to have gone crazy. “Raise Your Horns” is a voice and piano ballad that one would expect to be a big metal anthem, but it’s a bit melancholy.
Absolutely. None of us could help feeling that weight and almost helplessness, and trying not to completely give up hope on humanity. It’s like, “Are people inherently good? Are we just kind of doomed to keep repeating these mistakes over and over again and taking these huge leaps back in sane human evolution? What’s going on?” With “Terrible Things,” we felt like it was important to address that. There is some hope to that. This is me and us really just saying, “I still have to believe that we’re all going to be OK and we’re going to figure it out.” Or what the hell am I doing all this for?
With “Raise Your Horns,” I really wanted to write a song with that phrase. But when you start putting that into context of a normal hard-rock banger, it can get a little bit on the nose. That phrase has a different meaning to me now. Over the years, it’s become quite an integral part in my speaking out on mental health. The phrase, to me, means to exalt oneself, and I really wanted to put that in a different context — that more personal meaning of what the song means.
It’s been amazing live, because when I was recording the vocals for that song, I got a little emotional. You get to a point where you’re missing that camaraderie with people. And what does it mean? When I’ve been playing it out live, even if it’s the first time that somebody is hearing it, they know exactly what to do. As soon as I come in with that chorus, everybody’s up, and it’s just a beautiful display of unity and this celebration of togetherness. It’s wonderful to see that come to life after recording it.
I see “The Steeple” as a continuation of your 2015 No. 1 hit “Amen.” Both songs explore the concept of your personal church of Halestorm — yet whereas “Amen” feels a little more rebellious, “The Steeple” is about trying to reclaim that same community during these recent times.
Yeah. Whether we’re in the audience or onstage, there have been moments in my life where I will go out and see a friend play at a local rock show, and you can physically feel that rain cloud being lifted. Which is why [there’s] that first line, “It stopped raining in my head today.” I’m back, and I’m here with all of my people. I don’t know why I have a fascination with using religious terminology for the devil’s music. My religion of choice has been all of this, this communion that you have with everybody and the music that we make. It is the closest thing to magic that you’ll find here on earth. It’s just wonderful to be a part of it. That was us literally trying to build the church and re-create that because we didn’t have that.
The Explorerbird promotional spot that you did for Gibson also acts like a video for Back From the Dead. In the clip, you literally “cook up” your bright-red guitar before you hit the stage. It made me think: When are we going to get the Lzzy Hale Serial Mom cooking show?
Man, I swear, I have this thing in me that really wants to do it and have [Slipknot/Stone Sour’s] Corey Taylor or [Judas Priest’s] Rob Halford on there: “Hey, we’re going to cook chicken tonight.” I would love to do that, like the wrong Martha Stewart. That commercial was so much fun to do because I actually do like cooking, so it was fun to be a little tongue in cheek about it and be a little cheesy and wink at the camera. Then that transition between the normal, proper person in the kitchen versus [on the] stage — there’s always been a little bit of a dichotomy to what I do. There is that balance of dark and light that you need.
I was in CVS a couple of weeks ago, and this woman who was probably in her late seventies had a leather jacket on and bright red-lipstick. I’m like, “Is that my future self?” I couldn’t help myself. I walked by, I’m just like, “I love your whole look.” And she looks at me, and she’s like, “I love your whole look.” We were like doppelgangers. I feel like there is going to be that moment where we don’t necessarily have to grow up. We don’t necessarily have to be like, “OK, now I’m going to be in the dad gear …”
I hate the term “dad rock.”
Oh, I know. It annoys me so much because I still love that music. That’s not dad rock, that’s still heavy metal to me. It’s funny. Let’s start a campaign: No more dad rock!