By Jon Wiederhorn
With Halloween rapidly approaching, Halestorm vocalist Lzzy Hale is looking forward to the release of "Mz. Hyde," the fifth single from the band's 2012 album The Strange Case Of… At the same time, Halestorm are celebrating the release of their new covers EP, ReAniMate 2.0, which includes a wide range of songs -- from AC/DC’s "Shoot to Thrill" to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky."
Since Halestorm are in the middle of a European tour and will be between Stockholm, Sweden and Amsterdam, Holland this Halloween, Hale probably won't be going trick or treating on October 31, but she very well might crack a bottle of wine with her brother, drummer Arejay Hale, and recall some of the more colorful Halloweens from their youth.
"My mother used to sew our costumes," Hale told Yahoo Music. "Before Arejay was old enough to say anything, she would make me a costume and then he would end up being the accessory. One year my mother made me a Little Mermaid costume and he was the little lobster, Sebastian. It was hilarious seeing him try to waddle around in this silly outfit. My favorite year was when I dressed up as Peter Pan and Arejay went as one of the Lost Boys. I'm just glad he didn't want to be Tinker Bell."
On a darker note, Hale recalls Halloween nights as a teenager in rural Pennsylvania that resembled slasher films. The holiday brought out all the neighborhood nutjobs, and some of the events she and her friends went to were so scary she sometimes feared for her life.
"There was the Field of Screams, which was a local farm with a mowed out cornfield where local people from around the area would volunteer to jump out and scare the crap out of you," she recalled. "They had these haunted hayrides and you had to stay in the ride, but then people would come in and try to grab you so it was pretty scary. It wasn't a commercial thing so there were no rules. It was a free-for-all and you didn't know who was grabbing you because everyone had masks on. That probably could have ended really badly."
"Mz. Hyde" will follow the ballad "Here's to Us," which rocketed to number one on the iTunes Top Rock Songs chart after it was used in an episode of "Glee." By contrast, "Mz. Hyde" is uptempo, spooky and theatrical, kind of like Alice Cooper crossed with Joan Jett. Lyrically, it addresses Hale's Jekyll/Hyde personality and wound up serving as the thematic glue that binds The Strange Case Of… together.
"It was one of the later songs we wrote," Hale said. "At one point we were looking at a good chunk of 17 to 50 songs that were all over the place. The guys in the band were saying, 'Well, how can we put all these songs onto this record? We love them all, but there's no common theme.' So I came to them with this idea about this Mz. Hyde character. It was actually a personal thing because it was a character I invented that helped me come out of my shell when I was a kid. Growing up, I was a very shy and introverted, so I more or less had to invent Mz. Hyde in order to be the rock star I wanted to be onstage.
"For years I've been writing about these two sides of myself, and I wanted to capture that in a song. So I brought this to the guys and all three of them looked at me at the same time and said, 'Oh my God, that’s it! Lzzy, you are Mz. Hyde! Once we put this song on the record everything else makes sense because we have the soft side of you and then the harder side of you. That works because you're like a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing!' And I was like, 'Well, okay, I'm glad we were able to work that out, basically at my expense.'"
Although Halestorm are still plugging The Strange Case Of..., which has sold almost 285,000 copies to date, the band has just released its second covers EP ReAniMate 2.0, the follow-up to ReAniMate: The CoVerS eP, which came out in 2011. The first release featured Skid Row’s "Slave to the Grind," Guns N' Roses' "Out Ta Get Me," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike" and the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" performed with an agility and reverence that demonstrated the breadth of the band's influences. ReAniMate 2.0 is similarly structured and just as musically impressive. The EP opens with Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor," and progresses through Daft Punk's hit "Get Lucky," AC/DC’s "Shoot to Thrill," Pat Benatar's "Hell is For Children," Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman," and Marilyn Manson's "1996."
Considering Halestorm's roots as a Pennsylvania bar band playing other people's songs, it's easy to understand their affinity for covers. As challenging as it is to tackle the personas of such diverse artists, Hale's wide vocal range and emotional expression allows her to shine whether taking on pop hits or metal classics. And it's a whole lot more fun than performing cover songs next to the coffin of the recently deceased.
"We played an acoustic show at a funeral home in 2001," Hale explained. "We didn't know the family. We didn't know the guy that died. But the wife of that guy wanted a live band to come in and play acoustic versions of her late husband's favorite songs. So we got paid $50 a song to perform Jim Croce's 'Time in a Bottle,' and songs by Patti Smith and Bryan Adams. They set us up in front by the casket and between songs everyone was bawling."
By comparison, banging out a hard rock version of "Get Lucky" is a cakewalk. Someone at the band's label suggested the group give it a whirl, and Halestorm acquiesced – though at first, they were reluctant. "I went, 'Well, it's on the radio now. Should we actually try to pull this off?" Hale said. "Also, it's a great song, but we're a rock band and we thought, 'How in the hell are we going to do a disco song?' When we went in to record it we didn't have a clue what we were going to do. Every idea we thought of before got into the studio kind of sucked. So we just said, 'Okay, let’s stop trying to make it all clever and smart. Let's just rock it out.''
Surprisingly, Halestorm also had a hard time nailing "Shoot to Thrill," though in the end it turned out gang-bustingly faithful to the AC/DC original. "Everybody always has this ignorant misconception that playing AC/DC is easy," Hale said. "It's really not. There's this push and pull of the rhythm and the way they naturally lock in is really hard to do right. We ended up working on that song the longest. We did a version and then listened back to it and said, 'No, that really just doesn't cut it.' So we did it again."
"Gold Dust Woman" is a song Hale and guitarist Joe Hottinger used to perform acoustically in bars a decade ago when Arejay was underage and clubs in Pennsylvania wouldn't let him in to play. And "Hell is For Children" was the perfect blend of what Hale's mother listened to when Lzzy was growing up, such as Heart and Van Halen, and her dad’s taste in more aggressive bands including Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. "That was a song they could both agree on," Hale said.
Judas Priest's "Dissident Aggressor," from the 1988 album Sin After Sin, may seem like an odd choice from a band that has had so many metal hits, but that was a large reason Halestorm decided to cover it. "We all love Priest," she said. "But we didn't just want to do something everyone knows. The first time we played 'Dissident Aggressor' live when we were in the UK on our first headlining tour. We wanted to do something that was unique to the area and the culture. I went through my iPod and found it, and we decided to do it on a whim. We learned it the day before soundcheck and then played it live. And the cool thing about it was that it felt like a song that literally could inspire a new Halestorm song. It's funny because when we play that one live now everybody thinks it's an original, and we’re like, 'No, it’s actually Judas Priest.'"
With a new EP out that they're too busy to properly start promoting yet and a tour schedule that's pushing 300 shows a year, Halestorm are on a roll that looks like it will keep gaining momentum until they choose to hit the brakes. Right now they're having too much fun to even consider that. Last year they received a Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance for the song "Love Bites (So Do I)," this year marks their tenth anniversary with their current lineup (the band formed in 1998), and they recently accomplished their goal to play all 50 states.
"We sometimes find ourselves remembering back to the days when we used to say, 'Man, if we could just get a gig this month.' And we'd play Friendly's for free ice cream and do club shows where, like, two regulars would show up to buy a beer and they were the only ones there. Now, we're the busiest we've ever been and we're having the time of our lives. When I think about it, it's amazing just to still be here after all this time and we're going to keep it going as long as we can."