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Guitar Girl’d: Interview with Lzzy Hale of Halestorm

Lzzy Hale signed up for the rock and roll lifestyle at age 13. Now fronting and getting loud on guitar with Halestorm, Hale is just about as rockin’ as they come. With a new album at the top of the charts, the band is in full on touring mode, and it don’t get better than this.

With The Strange Case of…, which was released in April, Lzzy digs deeper, gets madder and rips it up like there’s no tomorrow. The songs are slick and raw at the same time. It’s the stuff that rock icons are made of. Catchy hooks, wailing guitars, tight rhythms. Hell, yeah.

Haling from Pennsylvania, Halestorm consists of Lzzy on lead vocals and guitars, her brother and co-founder of the group Arejay on drums, Josh Smith on bass and Joe Hottinger on guitar.

The band made a name for themselves with the release of their self-titled debut in 2009. They scored two top 10 singles (“I Get Off” and “It’s Not You”) and toured non-stop with a wide variety of acts including Shinedown, Stone Sour, Disturbed, Megadeth, Papa Roach, Godsmack and countless others.

I caught up with Lzzy just as she learned that the band made Billboard history. Check it out …

GUITAR WORLD: I wanted to congratulate you on the release of The Strange Case Of… . I just read that Halestorm became the first female-fronted band in history to top the Billboard Hard Rock Albums Chart.

First of all, isn’t that crazy?

That blew my mind. I was like, “What?!”

That’s what I said! Everybody called me up and told me this. And I’m like, “OK, hold on. There’s gotta be somebody else. You’re totally getting your facts wrong.” And then the head of our label’s been working in rock music for the past 25 years. She was just telling me, “Look, the Hard Rock Albums chart isn’t 25 years old. Even Evanescence only peaked at No. 3” or something like that. I kept reminding her, “OK, remember Evanescence, they sold millions of records.”

It’s very humbling, you know? I just didn’t expect that. We were just kind of excited because it’s our first No. 1 on any format. And so we were just excited about that. And to kind of top it all off, and have people call us up and say that we made history in a sense is very crazy and humbling. I’m honored to carry that torch.

When I heard your song “Here’s To Us” for the first time, I was thinking as I was listening to it, “Man, this would be great for American Idol.” And then I found out they sang it on Glee. I remember thinking, “If only there weren’t so many expletives it would be great for one of those shows.” Did you have to rewrite that for them?

Yeah, I rewrote a clean version for them because the exchange was, “We love the song, we want to use it,” and I’m thinking, “There are three words in this song that absolutely can not be on Glee.” Even coming from someone who hadn’t, up until that point, actually watched Glee. I know of it, and I know that they’d frown on that type of thing!

So yeah, I went back into the studio and recorded a clean version for them. It was very cool, it was pretty much the first full episode I ever watched of Glee, and I was sitting next to my A&R guy’s little girls. He’s got a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old and they are obsessed with Glee. So they’re giving me the blow-by-blow. So I’m getting my education from these little girls sitting next to me as the episode is rolling out.

They were all excited. They were like, “Do you know what this means? It’s the season finale!” And they’re Halestorm fans, so they just thought it was great thing. And I just loved it, man, because think about it. I mean, you get a band like us, one of our songs in that format, and on that TV show, you’re exposing yourself to people that normally would never be seeking you out, you know what I mean? So we have a lot of younger fans now that come to the shows, because they heard it on Glee.

A lot of the people that maybe watch Glee aren’t really into your heavier format of music, either, but your songs are so accessible. They’re very melodic. I do feel it has a lot of mainstream appeal.

I do, too. And it’s all about just getting it out there and getting it exposed because I believe, that since I was a teenager starting this band, it’s kind of always been this goal, and to kind of have this music that’s fun and not locked in really to any one thing. And I didn’t really believe that was possible until things started rolling, and we started seeing all these different people coming to our shows. And I start thinking, “Hmm, maybe this just isn’t one genre, not so one-dimensional.” It’s really neat to see all of that start happening now. Now we have other problems, we have this diverse fan base, and so we have to figure out how to market t-shirts to people who listen to Glee and then those that listen to Black Label Society or something.

Right, you have to have a lot of different T-shirts. You have to have the pink t-shirt with the happy face, and the black one with the middle finger, haha.

Yes, exactly!

Tell me what made you want to pick up the guitar in the first place.

Well, actually, me picking up the guitar was an accident. We had this 16-year-old guitar player in our band when I was 15. And up until then, I had been playing piano and playing keyboards in our band. So I had like a keytar. I was always attracted to the guitar, but I never really thought that I could be good at it, because I was trained on piano, so it was kind of a jump. And then the 16-year-old guitar player quit, after like 6 months. It really wasn’t that big a deal, but I remember in my 16-year-old mind being distraught, and being like “We’re never going to find another guitar player so I might as well learn,” you know?

So I got this cheap guitar, and then I fell in love with it and basically put down the keyboard. Because I realized “Wow, okay, so now I kind of have to make a choice between ‘Are you going to be Elton John?’ or ‘Are you going to be Black Sabbath?’” I ended up choosing Black Sabbath after all, and just never put it down. I’m 90% self-taught and had a couple lessons shuffled in, so I actually know what the hell I’m doing. But I don’t know, it’s been a crazy journey and the biggest thing is proving to myself that nothing is impossible. I think that’s always been my model in my head every time I get frustrated with wanting to be better at my instruments.

Do you still play piano? Is that you playing on the album?

Yeah, that’s the first time that I actually recorded a vocal and piano piece since I was about 16. So yeah, we’re going back to the beginning with this record, but it’s just kind of showing everything we’re capable of.

Tell me about your gear setup. What do you play?

I play mostly Gibsons. In fact, they have just given me a signature guitar. That’s the biggest news right now! But my baby right now is an Explorer. It has hot pickups, because what I ended up doing was altering the body ever so slightly. It’s a double-bound body. I bound the neck so it has a little more shine to it. I’ve always been a fan of what the guitar sounds like instead of kind of altering the tone of the guitar and I love my stock Explorer. And so when they approached me, I’m like, “Well, this is what I want to do.” At first, the look of it, it’s kind of like a White Falcon, but an Explorer. Like the Gretsch White Falcon, but as a Gibson, so it’s one classy bitch, basically.

As far as gear, right now I’m playing through an EVH amp. But I keep changing my stuff. I used to play through a Marshall JCM800 and then I also had a Randy Rhoads signature amp.

So before I was playing EVH, I was playing an ODB pedal. I still have my Dunlop Jerry Cantrell wah pedal because I love that. But what I’m playing right now is the EVH, and I’m just using the channels basically. So I adjusted all the channels for my needs, so like channel 3 is my boost for my lead. But it has such a great rock sound, that I literally simplified my setup so much, you know? I literally get a little OCD with my stuff. I’d rather have it be really simple, and just depend on rolling up on volume knobs. Or switching the channels than actually having different effects for a 45-minute set. It’s not part of what I like to do. Now, my guitar player, on the other hand, is a complete gear head and he’s got a Bradshaw board, and a bunch of crazy things on it. I’m like, “Ok, well you can do that.”

Is that the setup you used on the album, too, for recording?

I used so much on the record. On some of the rhythm tracks we were combining the JCM 800 with a Diezel amp, which is really expensive, so I do not have one of those, but they have one in the studio. And we also were experimenting with a lot of different things. I experimented with a small Pignose amp, with some of the layering. Just because it’s crazy, your first amplifier type sound.

They had a wall of heads and a complete system. You can say to these guys, “Well, I want it to be more purple.” And then they’ll start switching the chords around and literally make combinations that whatever you think of. Like, “I want it to sound like a freight train going through a house.” And they’ll be like, “Well, okay, we’ll combine this amp here, we’ll have that at half power.” They do all of that stuff, so we experimented with a lot of stuff on the album.

I read your interview with Pat Benatar in Revolver, which I thought was very cool. What was that like for you, to talk to Pat?

Oh my god, it was awesome. She’s the coolest chick ever. And you know she’s 60 years old?

Oh, no way! Wow!

I hope that I’m that cool when I’m 60, is what I really wanna say. It was amazing. The phone call was only supposed to be for a half-hour, and we ended up talking for nearly two hours on the phone. It was so cool. She was talking to me about where I’m at, and gave me a lot of advice.

She basically told me, “You’re in a very fun time right now. And when things start to die down and become a little stagnant, you just gotta push through that middle part.” She says, “Because when you’re in your house, sipping your glass of wine, and you have this icon thing going on, that’s some good shit. So you just gotta push through.” I’m just cracking up.

She was talking about how her and Chrissie Hynde used to talk about who they’d be in 25 years and if they had royally screwed up, haha, trying to pioneer for all these young girls. And it was so cool because she paused for a second, and said, “Lzzy, you are what we would’ve hoped we would talk to in 25 years. You are what we were talking about”. The fact that she even knows who I am is pretty awesome. It was a very cool conversation. And I’m very glad she was awesome, because I was afraid she going to ruin it for me.

Right? That would’ve sucked.

I was like, “Do I really want to talk to her? Is she going to be a bitch or something?” And she totally is not.

And now you’re the role model. So what advice do you have for young female musicians?

I will tell you that I completely believe that the next generation of musicians is going to be flooded with women because of what we see at our shows. There are so many little girls that come to our shows and their parents are like, “See! She plays guitar.” And it’s amazing. There’s one song on our record that’s specifically written for one little girl that came to our shows. The song is called “Rock Show.” Basically, it was inspired by this letter that I got from this 13-year-old girl that we know. And she’s a little guitar player and her very first show was a Halestorm show. And she wrote me this beautiful letter about how it changed the course of her life, and it gave her hope that she can actually do this for a living.

It’s just so neat to see in all of these girls because there’s something gutsy about being a woman in music and a woman in rock n’ roll, specifically, because nobody, even now, nobody tells you that, “Hey, this is an option.” You know, it’s still that way. So you have to kind of buck the system a little bit and carve out your own path. I tell people all the time, “I traded in the marry-your-high-school-sweet-heart-with-the-white-picket-fence thing for the sweaty guys in the bars and guitar.” I wouldn’t trade it for the world because again, you don’t have to be something just because it’s normal and everyone else has done it first for hundreds of years.

I loved your advice on your recent Revolver interview at Rock on the Range, where you said, “Just don’t be an asshole.”

Haha, yeah, seriously. It’s funny. My dad is a kooky, older guy, and he was a bass player and he told my brother at one point in time, “The feet you step on the way up are connected to the ass that you’re going to kiss on the way down.” You’re human. You’re busy, and you’re trying to do your job but you don’t have to be an asshole. And if you are and you feel like you’re privileged enough to be one, then you really shouldn’t be in this business, and you have no idea what you’re doing because it does take a village.

Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Personally, just thank you very much for taking the time and thanks to everybody for taking the time to read this, because it means a lot to me to be a part of this. Guitar World has always been a part of my and my guitar player’s life for many years!

Check out what’s next for Halestorm at HalestormRocks.com.

Here’s Halestrom rocking out on their official video for “Love Bites.”

Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents 65amps, Acoustic Bass Amps, Agile Partners, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the lead singer for the rock band, Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.

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