By Carl Begai
It’s rare that a commercially successful rock band is good for a surprise. The vast majority would much rather stick to a proven formula – and understandably so – than throw their fanbase a curve. Pennsylvania-based rockers Halestorm, on the other hand, took the plunge with only one official full length album under their belt. Two years after the band’s self-titled debut touched down and started a buzz, the quartet issued the six song ReAniMate covers EP, which gave the people that thought they had Halestorm nailed down something to choke on. Covers of the Skid Row classic ‘Slave To The Grind’ – now a fan favourite in the band’s nightly set – and Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Out Ta Get Me’ left many a naysayer’s jaw on the floor, Yours Truly included, largely due to the explosive delivery by vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale. The EP set the stage and reined in a new batch of fans for Halestorm’s second record The Strange Case Of…, which rocks harder and heavier than what folks expect of a so-called “average” mainstream band.
“We chose the six songs on ReAniMate for all sorts of reasons,” says Lzzy, agreeing that it was one of the building blocks going in to make The Strange Case Of… “The cover of The Beatles’ ‘She’s So Heavy’ was the first song the guys and I ever jammed to as a band. The Heart cover of ‘All I Wanna Do…’ used to be my go-to karaoke song; the guys would sign me up in hopes of getting free beer from people who liked the way I sang. ‘Slave To The Grind’ and ‘Out Ta Get Me’ were some of my influences, growing up on my parents’ music, and they had tempos that we’ve never experimented with before. In turn, they directly inspired our fastest original song to date, ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’. ‘Hunger Strike’ was a nod to one of Joe’s (Hottinger / guitars) influences, and the Lady Gaga cover (‘Bad Romance’) was the #1 most requested song in a poll we put up for our fans to determine what our final pick for the EP was. It’s a great mix.”
Considering that Halestorm gained notoriety with radio-safe hits like ‘I Get Off’ and the Twilight-fuelled ‘Familiar Taste Of Poison’, choosing ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ as the first single off The Strange Case Of… was a ballsy move. Folks that respect the band as a live act but have no use for the debut album have embraced the track, which is Halestorm’s take on ‘Slave To The Grind’ at its heart.
“‘Love Bites’ is a great ‘re-introduction’ song. It was a reflection of what people saw at our live shows while touring on our last album cycle. We wanted to give people a first single that was a step up from our last recording, but was familiar to the energy they get from us live.”
On the flipside, the new album boasts the surefire crowd-pleaser ‘Here’s To Us’. It’s one of those gems that has “hit” written all over it with the potential to cross over between mainstream rock and country markets. And depending on how it performs, the song could potentially dump Halestorm in the “Ballad Band” box; an albatross Nickelback has been trying to lose for years in spite of their heavier material. For her part, Lzzy isn’t concerned about being pigeonholed.
“I’m prepared for the possibility, and I’m not worried. This record has given us an opportunity to be both equal and on opposite sides of the spectrum. We’ve proven to ourselves that we can pull off exposing the duality which is Halestorm, and that nothing is impossible. ‘Here’s To Us’ is beautiful song, but it has the spunk of a metalhead kid. I’m excited to see what happens once it’s released as a single.”
Being up front and female puts the lion’s share of attention on Lzzy on any given day, which is to be expected. That attention has increased over the last year, as her tooth and nail performances – equal parts Joan Jett, Corey Taylor, and early Skid Row-era Sebastian Bach – have become a Halestorm trademark, putting many of her female and male peers to shame. Asked if she ever feels the pressure to deliver the same show every night thanks to the rampant YouTube coverage, Lzzy is admirable in her honesty.
“Of course! I still get antsy every night before a gig. I’ve always been a 110% kinda girl. I want to give my all to an audience, even if it’s in Middle-Of-Nowhere, Texas for 10 people in the house. There’s no other way to be but all in.”
Taking nothing away from her bandmates, it must be something of a battle in letting people know Halestorm is a band and not Lzzy Hale & Co.
“It’s a grand balance,” says Lzzy. “I don’t mind the attention, and neither do my guys. My band respects and encourages the media’s focus on me, but I feel like we do a great job keeping everyone in the light. You don’t really have a choice but to notice my little brother (Arejay) on drums; if you’ve ever seen us live, you know what I mean (laughs).”
Fans of Lzzy’s on-stage performances – particularly anyone who grew up in and around the ‘80s cock rock / hair metal scene in North America – may be surprised to learn she credits her vocal personality to a veteran of that era. It turns out that Steve Whiteman of the Maryland-based band Kix, who was and is still known for his over-the-top stage presence and pipes to match, was her vocal coach.
“He was my vocal coach for two years, when I was 17-18 years old,” Lzzy reveals, “and he’s still a great mentor of mine. I owe everything that I’m able to pull off every night to that man. He’s amazing. I recommend him to anyone. He introduced me to what I was born with, and taught me all that I could do with that gift.”
Her ties to the metal world don’t stop with Whiteman and the Halestorm’s cover catalogue. During the recordings for Adrenaline Mob’s official debut, Omertá, drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) invited Lzzy to trade off lead vocals with singer Russell Allen (Symphony X) for a cover of Duran Duran’s ‘Come Undone’. She considers it a privilege to have been asked and doesn’t take the experience for granted.
“Singing with Adrenaline Mob is the ultimate honour,” says Lzzy. “These guys could’ve picked anyone to sing for that song, but they chose me. I’m very humbled by that. I had to put my big girl boots on and go and give ‘em everything I’ve got for that one.”
Check out my review of The Strange Case Of… here.