Interview: Halestorm's Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger Talk Covers EP, Songwriting and More
By Andrew Bansal
On September 18, Halestorm pulled into downtown Los Angeles to headline a show at the Wiltern Theater.
Their powerful 19-song, 90-minute set included an assortment of tracks from their two studio albums, along with selections from their upcoming ReAniMate 2.0: The CoVeRs eP (to be released October 15) — all of which left fans beyond satisfied.
Prior to the show, I sat down with Lzzy Hale and guitarist Joe Hottinger to discuss their new EP, their tour, songwriting, guitar tones and more.
For more about Halestorm, check out halestormrocks.com.
REVOLVER: Have you guys ever played at the Wiltern Theater before?
Lzzy: No, this will be the first time. We’ve been here before, though. The kast time we were here to see the Smashing Pumpkins.
Even though you’ve toured a lot recently, the last time I saw Halestorm was at the 2010 Uproar Fest, when you were the opening band on the main stage. You’ve come a long way since then. Looking back, are you proud of your progress?
Lzzy: Definitely. It’s a real trip. We say that almost every day. We’re a very "Stop and smother ourselves"-type band. There’s something that happens every day that makes us go, "Can you believe we’re still doing this? This is awesome!"
Joe: It’s cool with so many dreams coming true. We’ve had a lot of those in the last few years, even before 2010. It’s a fun ride when you’re going up and when you’ve been wanting to do this your whole life.
On this tour, are you still pushing your previous studio album, The Strange Case Of…, which came out last year?
Joe: Yeah, we’re on our fourth single from that record, so we’re still pushing that. We also have an EP coming out in a few weeks with a bunch of covers on it. We’re just working. We’re hustlin’!
So you’re playing covers on this tour as well?
Joe: Yeah, we switch ‘em up!
Lzzy: We keep throwing them in. It’s fun [laughs].
Joe: The EP has "Dissident Aggressor" from Judas Priest, and ... what else is on there?
Lzzy: "Shoot to Thrill" by AC/DC.
Joe: Marilyn Manson’s "1996," "Gold Dust Woman" from Fleetwood Mac, a rock cover of Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky," Pat Benatar’s "Hell Is for Children" ... We might be forgetting something, but I think that’s it.
A lot of bands are doing these all-covers releases nowadays. Anthrax put out the Anthems EP earlier this year. In fact, I saw them play their AC/DC cover last Friday when they opened for Iron Maiden — which was insane.
Joe: What AC/DC cover did they do?
Joe: OK, glad we didn’t do the same one [laughs].
Did you approach the guitar playing or songwriting any differently between albums? Have there been any changes along the way?
Lzzy: For lack of a better term, on this record we kind of said, "Fuck it" [laughs]. Instead of worrying a lot about playing it by the rules and writing ourselves in a box or writing for radio, we just wrote a shit ton of riffs just because we thought they were fun to play. Joe already had a boatload in his bank.
Joe: A lot of times Lzzy would come in with a song and I would force-feed a riff into the song, re-adjust it a little. But one of the things I learned before starting to write this record was to take my fingers out of it while writing guitar parts, because you always fall back into the same thing every time, especially when you’re not thinking and just trying to play along.
I had to just go hands-off the guitar and sit and think about it, hum it out and see what I really wanted to do, especially for the solos. For a lot of solos I wrote in the past, I would just sit there, loop the part and jam on it to record like 100 or 200 takes until I piece together parts that kind of sounded cool together. It’s such a dumb way to do things [laughs].
So you'd say it was more focused and not as flashy or repetitive this time.
Joe: Exactly. A hands-off approach to guitar playing.
Lzzy: You’ve got to know what you want. We also approached each song as its own entity. It was not about how the guitars on this record were going to sound, but rather more about how they were going to sound on each particular song and what we were going for in that song, whether it be something aggressive, some crazy shredding all the way through, or laid back. It was an interesting process.
Joe: You know, I’m still figuring it out. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. We’re just winging it. But it definitely seems like a simple thing, and I wish I had thought of it earlier. I don’t know why I didn’t think of taking my hands out of it before. Just using your head makes it so much easier, better and more exciting.
A lot of musicians employ the hands-on approach. For you, the hands-off method is working better, I take it.
Joe: It really is. But if it’s been a while since I’ve written a solo or something, the hands-on approach still works. The first one of two will come right out with all kinds of licks I’ve just been working on for warm-up and stuff. So it happens occasionally, but definitely hands-off is the way to be.
Were you satisfied with the amount of guitar on the album, or do you think you'd attempt to be more guitar-oriented in the future?
Lzzy: There’s always room for more guitar. So yes, absolutely. But I don’t know, there’s always been a marriage between what I sing and what I play. I ended up starting guitar because I didn’t want to just be the lead singer. I’m trying to stay as far away from the whole "lead singer disorder" thing as I can [laughs]. I still need directions to the stage and have no idea what time it is. But yeah, there is always room for more guitar in everything and I’m constantly learning and trying to better myself. It’s always a surprise for me. It keeps my feet on the ground just making sure that I’m always trying to learn something new or trying to be a real guitar player [laughs].
I guess it does keep you more balanced because there’s always room to improve as a guitarist. You can never be perfect at it.
Lzzy: Oh, never! And even if you get your head around that, there’s always going to be something else and there’s always going to be somebody better. Also you have to keep in mind that nothing is impossible, but at times I do get frustrated. Just a few weeks ago, we played with one of my idols, Tom Kiefer from Cinderella, who’s an amazing guitar player. He's totally underrated; nobody ever really talks about it, but he’s incredible. Two days before the show, he asked me to perform "Nobody’s Fool." In the song there’s this dueling guitar harmony and I was like, "Shit! I have to learn that now" [laughs]. First I got frustrated and thought I would never get it right, in two days but it ended up working out great. So it’s always a lesson.
That brings me to my next question! In terms of tone, is there anyone you’ve tried to emulate?
Lzzy: I’m always trying to evolve my sound. I love the simplicity of my setup. I play Gibson guitars and Marshall amps. So it’s kind of like the standard rock sound. But as far as people, I’ve always loved Tony Iommi’s sound, just the grittiness that was in that era of metal where it wasn’t too fuzzy and you could still hear the guitar and the fingers, but it still had this chunky, meat-and-potatoes sound to it. As far as solos, I already said Tom Kiefer. I think he’s awesome and he’s one of the reasons why I picked up guitar in the first place. Also there’s Brian May.
Joe: I don’t necessarily emulate anyone’s tone in particular. I’m on a constant quest. It’s a rabbit hole that goes way too deep, and as soon as I get comfortable, I go, "Hey, let’s get a fractal and see what that does!" All of a sudden, you’re in a whole another world again. But the emulation that I like is, if I hear a sound like this Big Wreck song on their album Albatross that came out last year. I can’t remember the name of the song but it’s got this nasty, just the coolest fuzz.
I asked the dude how he gets that sound and all he told me was that he used some weird fuzz pedal through a tiny little Fender Princeton amp and he just tweaked it until it sounded cool. I thought that was awesome. I love hearing really unique tones that give the song a voice instead of just your basic rock sound over and over. It’s something that actually we’ve done a lot. Instead of focusing on a unique tone we’ve been writing for the basic rock sound. That’s something we’re trying to work on. We’re in writing mode right now for the next album.
Lzzy: You caught us in a very confusing time [laughs].
Joe: We’re trying to get stuff together for the next record and we end up analyzing pretty much every sound we hear, wondering how that sound came about. So that’s where I’m at. It’s not so much anyone in particular, it’s just whatever’s coming into my ear.
Lzzy: When we’re riding in planes, we put our iPod on shuffle, and the last time we did that we were literally writing down doppleganger lists of riffs that sound awesome. We would write the songs down to reference them later. It’s a mess, and we probably won’t even use the list.
Joe: As long as we’re thinking [laughs].
You’re from a small town called Red Lion, Pennsylvania. In 2013, how are you viewed in your hometown? Are people jealous or inspired?
Joe: I hope they’re inspired! We just played a show back there for the first time in four years. We really haven’t been around there much.
Lzzy: Because we’ve been touring our butts off [laughs].
Joe: Yeah, we don’t live there anymore and don’t have any family there. So we don’t go back much, but we did go there a couple of weeks ago. It was one of the best shows.
Lzzy: We get a lot of letters from fans, and a lot of people from that area as well that remember when we were playing shows around there. A lot of kids are like, "I remember coming to your show back then, and by the way, I started a band and hopefully you guys brought some good luck to Red Lion!" So hopefully we were encouraging somebody to do something.
Joe: If we can get out of there, anyone can. It just takes some practice [laughs].
Photo: Brad Worsham
Andrew Bansal is a writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. He briefly moved away from the Los Angeles scene and explored metal in India, but he is now back in LA continuing from where he left off.