Halestorm: "We're a Dysfunctional Circus Of A Family, It's Pretty Awesome"
With only a handful of albums to their name, Halestorm have already won their first Grammy and built a reputation as one of the hardest-working bands around. Siblings Lzzy and Arejay Hale tell
Let’s face it, when the subject of bands featuring siblings comes up, it tends to be in reference to such harmless fluff balls as The Osmonds, the Jonas Brothers, Hanson or – if we’re pushing the boat out a bit – maybe Oasis or Kings Of Leon.
Halestorm have been doing their bit to change that, joining rock family legends such as AC/DC with a line-up that revolves around siblings Lzzy (vocals/guitar/keyboards) and drummer Arejay Hale. Not only that, but their original bassist was none other than Papa Hale himself, a true display of a family values if ever there was one.
While father Roger eventually left (“Poor dad,” jokes the unusually named Lzzy, “we had to fire him from the stage – awkward!”) the band have nonetheless come kitted with the kind of tight-knit unity that most bands only achieve several albums into their career or, let’s face it, in some cases never at all.
If proof is needed, look at their second and latest album – The Strange Case Of… – which has earned them a wealth of press coverage and a Grammy win (for the song Love Bites, beating Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Marilyn Manson and Lamb Of God for the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance award) and a cover version on dubious TV show Glee. But then the band’s success shouldn’t come as a total surprise if you consider that this brother/sister team have been doing this for almost a decade and a half, a staggering amount of time considering neither has yet hit 30. So did they ever imagine they would achieve all this?
“We started the band when I was 13 and in my little kid brain it was definitely an ambition of mine,” begins Lzzy. “The fact that it all actually happened, though, is quite flabbergasting. It was a series of milestones – we’d get on tour with a band that was bigger than we were, then it was getting signed to Atlantic, then doing a real national tour, having our record come out… There have been a lot of points when you sit back and think, ‘Wow, we’re doing this.’ But at the same time it’s a rollercoaster ride and there are times when you look in the mirror and think, ‘Am I really crazy for doing this?’”
It’s a question people seem to have been asking Lzzy for most of her life. But to be fair, a lot rests on her shoulders. There’s no doubt she’s the driving force behind the band and that her ambition is a big part of why they’ve reached the point they have. In fact, her work in making Halestorm a reality seems to have dominated and shaped what was already a fairly unusual childhood, one characterised by a sense of isolation and a love for music.
“I wasn’t planning on starting a band, explains Lzzy. “I just ended up entering myself and my brother into a talent competition. Long story short, we came third place and lost to a tap-dancing cowgirl! But the light bulb went off, and suddenly all I wanted to do was be in this band and propel it forward and I had a lot of trouble socially at school. I was going to a private Christian school at the time, so obviously rock and heavy metal were the work of the devil – teachers were sending letters home, my friends’ parents were harassing my parents, asking, ‘Why are you supporting your kids in this silly dream, why don’t they have a back-up plan?’ I ended up getting out of high school at eighth grade, so I basically worked on my own and gigged through high school.”
Brother Arejay picks up the story, and in doing so brings to light why music may have become such a focal point for the pair and why they were able to form such a tight partnership.
“When we were little, our parents actually moved into this little cabin on the mountain in the woods,” he recalls in his laid-back tones.
“There were no neighbours, no nobody, it was more or less just the four of us: me, Lzzy and our parents. Some siblings grow up and meet their own friends at school and live their own separate lives, but we only had each other growing up so when we started getting into music it was inevitable that we’d start playing together. But having two siblings has given the band more of a family atmosphere, I think that kind of rubs off on the other members – we’re a weird, dysfunctional circus of a family. It’s pretty awesome.”
Indeed, the band have managed to maintain a steady line-up for almost a decade now, which is pretty good going for any band, especially one that encountered considerable difficulties expanding beyond a duo for many years. Now, however, the group are firing on all cylinders as a four-piece, rounded out by lead guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith. Likewise, where much of the early material was essentially written by Lzzy alone, Halestorm are producing songs as a group – just as well, given the lack of free time available…
“Now everybody has gotten involved and we’re able to get obsessed on a little piece of music and really hash it out, whereas in earlier years everything fell on my shoulders,” Lzzy explains. “Especially this new album, some of the songs started with a riff, some started with a drum groove or a piano, or just me with an acoustic guitar. Before we’d have people play but they’d leave or their parents would pull them out of the band – it was so frustrating not being able to find members with the same work ethic and fascination/obsession and parental support.”
If you want to know exactly what type of work ethic Lzzy is talking about you need only look at the sheer number of shows that Halestorm have performed during their career. In the early days the band would play pretty much anywhere they could, including – oddly - both an ice cream parlour and a funeral, the latter proving the strangest show of their career since they knew neither the deceased nor the guests. Today they play hundreds of shows each year and have toured with a wide range of big name bands, including Buckcherry, Shinedown, Disturbed, Alice Cooper, Heaven & Hell and soon, Bullet For My Valentine. Quite how they’ve managed to write, record and release two albums since 2009 is a mystery.
“I actually thrive well in the chaos,” Lzzy laughs. “It’s extremely hard writing on tour, for a little while I wouldn’t sit down and write until we had a few days off, but because of our schedule we’re now more on-tour than off-tour, so I’ve had to adjust my creative view and learn how to write wherever. Now I prefer it, ’cos you’re already in that obsessive mindset.”
“It is difficult,” confirms Arejay. “You’re more in ‘performance mode’, and you want to perfect your art and your craft as far as the live show goes. But when you’re constantly travelling and seeing new things, meeting new people and spending time with bands you’re on tour with, well, you’re going to get inspired.”
Touring is, of course, a great way for any band to get out to the fans, yet Halestorm go that extra mile to actively engage with their fast-growing fanbase. Was this a deliberate move by the band?
“It actually was,” chuckles Arejay. “We felt if we don’t go out and meet fans at the end of the show, we haven’t really done our job. There’s two kinds of routes you can go: you can go the extremely mysterious road like Tool or you can be extremely accessible, and I think if we were an extremely mysterious band that didn’t talk to our fans we’d get very, very bored.”
“In all honesty it’s wonderful,” says Lzzy. “Not just from a heart perspective – I love talking to my fans – but from a business point of view, when we went in to do the last record, the one thing we did have was a very good idea of who we were playing to because our relationship is extremely open with our fans.
“We were getting fan letters to the studio while we were making the record and there was this one little girl, she was at the time I think 14/15 years old and she was explaining her experience of her first rock show – which was Halestorm – and how it changed the course of her life and made her decide to play guitar. We were so inspired we wrote the song Rock Show. She can now play Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption!
“It’s amazing to hear the experiences of the people coming to our shows and know what a big deal it is for them. It’s important not to take that for granted.”
This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer #242.
Halestorm will perform alongside Motorhead and Saxon at this year's Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards.
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