"To be honest, this record was kind of my journey of rediscovering my mojo again," Lzzy Hale admits to Revolver one July afternoon. Fifteen years into Halestorm's career, the band's figurehead has plenty of reasons to be proud: multiple world tours (often comprising hundreds of shows apiece), two Gold records (2009's eponymous LP, 2012's The Strange Case Of...), a 2013 Grammy award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance (for "Love Bites (So Do I)") and one of the most impassioned fan bases in rock. In other words, it's safe to say the band — which also includes drummer (and Lzzy's younger brother) Arejay Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith — have mojo for miles.
So how'd she find herself in a rut?
"There's a misconception that as you have success with a band for a long time, things get easier, and that's not necessarily true," Hale explains. "It's harder to keep connecting with that fire that got you started in the first place when you're amongst all the politics in the business, and just having a little bit of that looming pressure." With this record, she says, it's not about getting attention: "I'm fighting for my right to prove that I deserve to be here."
True to their word, Halestorm put up one hell of a fight on Vicious. Fashioned under the guidance of acclaimed board-wizard Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Mastodon), the record finds Hale and her bandmates galvanizing their existential uncertainty into 12 razor-sharp, arena-ready anthems that rank among the group's boldest material yet, both musically (check lead single "Uncomfortable," an infectious take on groove metal) and lyrically (topics covered include doubt, addiction, and — because this is Halestorm — sex). Ever curious, we caught up with Hale to get all the juicy, Vicious details ...
YOUR NEW ALBUM INCLUDES A SONG CALLED "UNCOMFORTABLE," SO LET'S JUMP RIGHT IN THE DEEP END. WHAT WAS YOUR EMOTIONAL HEADSPACE LIKE DURING THE WRITING PROCESS?
LZZY HALE In the beginning of making this record, about six months before we went into record it, we started compiling songs, and I didn't really like any of them. They were fine, but as far as me personally, I was just trying to make everybody happy — trying to please everyone but myself. Like, Is this something for the fans? Is radio going to play it? Is it catchy enough? Is my label going to like it? You go down these rabbit holes in your brain: Can I even write this song that I really like anymore? Do I even deserve to be here?
So when we were in the studio with [producer] Nick Raskulinecz, he put us in a tiny room with all of our amps and turned everything on. I told him that we had a couples ideas, but that it was technically nothing. He told us, "Look, this is my specialty. I've done this with Korn, and Mastodon, and Foo Fighters. We're just going to get the four of you together, and we'll start with the riff, or whatever gets us going."
So that's what we did for months. All of a sudden, it all started happening again: We had something that rocked, a step forward for us that still reflected everything we are as a band. If we hadn't gone through that journey, I think it would have been a little disheartening. I think of it as being a therapy session for myself.
DO YOU REMEMBER THAT FIRST MOMENT YOU GOT YOUR MOJO BACK IN THE STUDIO? IF SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK SPURRED IT?
We definitely reconnected with why we're together as a four-piece. Because we were in such a small space, it felt like we were in my parents' basement, with everything plugged in — we were just jamming the way that we do, with a renewed respect for everything that everyone brings to the table. Nick's master plan was trying to accentuate those four corners of Halestorm, the reasons that we're still a band after 15 years — and haven't killed each other yet. [Laughs] We'd be jamming, and he'd come in, like, "Oh, no, no, no, no. I've seen you guys live. I know you can sing crazier. I know your brother can be crazier. I know you can play faster. I want to hear what it would be like if you were playing in front of an audience for the first time."
In a lot of ways, that's why we ended up calling the album Vicious. We were originally going to call it Vultures, after the album's song "Black Vultures," but at the 11th hour, we were like, "We did so much more than weather the storm and take it. We had to be fierce and step outside of ourselves." This album is about ownership of everything that makes us who we are, whether that means ownership of talking about sex, or love, or survival. It's about coming out on the other side and finding ourselves again, and Vicious is a reflection of that.
"DO NOT DISTURB" DEALS WITH THREESOMES, A TOPIC THAT IS ALMOST ALWAYS PORTRAYED THROUGH A MALE LENS. HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT APPROACHING THAT PARTICULAR SONG?
I grew up on a lot of my parents' music: David Lee Roth talking about sex, the Rolling Stones talking about sex, Cinderella talking about sex. [The music has] always been an extension of what I'm interested in and what I like, but I'm also proud to come from a position of power when it comes to sex, because that is a part of my life, and a part of many women's lives — I mean, we think about it just as much, if not more, as guys do!
So, to be unafraid to own that on tape was very freeing for me in the studio, to the point that I actually felt bad for Nick, who has kids and has known me for years — he's kind of like a cousin. When we were recording the vocals, he stopped the tape and was like, "Um, is that what you've always said?" I told him yeah, and he was like [in a sheepish tone] "All right, let's just continue ... I feel a little uncomfortable, but it's OK."
It's based on a true story. I had a lot of fun with a man and a woman a few years ago, on this amazing tour overseas. It was one of these situations where I was going to another country the next day, and I was never going to see this woman again, so it was just this freeing moment: Anything goes. The first lyric of the song, "I think we should make out," comes from my icebreaker. I remember getting up for my flight the next day. I flipped the sign on the hotel room to "Do Not Disturb," and was like: "Ah, I should write that down." [Laughs]
I ended up writing most of the lyrics on the plane not really knowing where it was going to land, but I'm glad that we did it. It's truly one of my favorite songs on the record, because you know what it's about without there being any profanity. I don't know how they're going to take this one on the radio. [Laughs] Like, are they going to bleep out some things, or leave it be? I'm excited for that.
IN ADDITION TO SEX, THIS ALBUM DEALS LARGELY WITH ADDICTION IN BOTH LIGHTHEARTED AND SERIOUS CONTEXTS — MOST NOTABLY ON "SKULLS," "KILLING OURSELVES TO LIVE" AND "PAINKILLER."
I think that, metaphorically, we're addressing the addictions not only on a personal level — but also just the state of the world we're in. It's not just specifically drugs, although we do know a lot of people that are struggling with that right now, it's the addiction to negativity, to being plugged-in. There's all of these things that are going on in the world today that I think just leech themselves into their record. A lot of these lyrics weren't necessarily intentional. The goal of this record, from the beginning, was just to kind of chase whatever got us excited, and to see that through. We were recording the album as we were writing it, so all of the feelings were really fresh, whether they came from what's going on in the world, or our own personal lives.
YOUR RANGE AND TONE ON "PAINKILLER" IS SOMEWHAT REMINISCENT OF ROB HALFORD, WHOSE BAND JUDAS PRIEST HAVE A SONG OF THE SAME NAME. COINCIDENCE?
[Laughs] You know what's funny? I was worried about that! I love "Painkiller," it's one of my favorite songs by Judas Priest! I wrote this song with Scott Stevens from the Exies, who gave it the title. It's a very on-the-surface song, with reference to both sex and how — this is going to sound really cheesy — I tend to get bummed for no reason if I haven't played a show in a while. In a lot of ways, the live show becomes your drug of choice. But yeah, it's so funny how people will see this and be like "Oh, it's a Judas Priest cover!" [Laughs] They'll either be so disappointed, or they'll like it, I'm not sure.
"CONFLICTED" BOASTS SEVERAL ADDITIONAL CO-WRITERS FROM OUTSIDE THE METAL WORLD, MOST NOTABLY TEEN-POP IDOL CHARLIE PUTH. HOW'D THAT ONE COME TOGETHER?
That one was the most difficult one to figure out. It's the only one that came from an outside idea. We went to New York City to meet with our label, and our A&R guy told us that these three kids had come up with a chorus for a song, an unfinished half-idea that they didn't know what to do with. I've been in the songwriting circuit, as well. I've been in a couple writing camps where there are seven top writers or whatever, and they're writing songs for a young girl or a young guy that are coming up, and they're kind of nuts.
So he gave us the demo and asked us if we'd finish the song. It was too rock for the pop kids, but too pop for what we were doing. At the time, I figured it probably wouldn't be for us. It didn't sound like anything we'd naturally do. I ended up adding more parts to it, re-wrote the verses and bridge, etc., and sent it back [to the label]. Everybody loved it ... So I took it to the guys, and we put some riffs in there. We recorded the song, like, nine different times. We did the last version two days before the album was mastered.
When it was all said and done, the credits went between myself, my guitar player, the three kids, their managers, because they're connected in some way to the three kids — just a total mess. We found out later that [Charlie Puth] had a connection. I think it was the title. I was like, "Whatever. It's out there and let's just deal with it." Usually all of our records, the idea are very organic and it's coming from us as a four-piece, so "Conflicted" was a very strange song to do. That's why it's chaos. [Laughs]