Lzzy Hale is calling in from the road, on tour to promote "Into The Wild Life," the brand new album from her band Halestorm. She radiates the laid-back confidence of an accomplished rock star. And that's for good reason.
The album, the band's third, entered the Billboard charts at No. 5 when it was released earlier this month. Building from the momentum of the Pennsylvania hard rock outfit's previous album, which earned Halestorm its first Grammy, "Into The Wild Life's" lead single "Apocalyptic" landed atop Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs chart, making the band only the fourth female-fronted act to claim that position twice (the others are The Pretenders, Stevie Nicks and The Pretty Reckless, who are currently on tour with Halestorm).
Those are the cold, hard numbers, but receiving just as much attention is something you can't quantify (but it hasn't stopped the hard rock press from trying): her looks. Hale's old-school rock 'n' roll style has made her a staple on "hottest" lists; most recently she landed the cover of Revolver's "25 Hottest Chicks In Hard Rock" issue.
So how does the singer and guitarist - who is joined in Halestorm by Joe Hottinger (lead guitar), Josh Smith (bass) and her brother Arejay Hale (drums) - balance rocking out with everyone from Megadeth to country star Eric Church and the increased attention? That's what we got to the bottom of in Headlines & Global News' exclusive interview with the Halestorm frontwoman.
The album is really diverse stylistically. I wanted to ask about a few songs in particular, starting with the ballad "Dear Daughter." What's the story behind that song?
This is one of those cheesy love ballads that I write a million of but never really show anybody (laughs) and I never really put it on the record. But deep down inside I'm a cheeseball and still listen to Bryan Adams and all that stuff. So I ended up writing this song, I have to say not last January but the January before that, and it was actually inspired by a conversation I had with my mother. I've been in this band for 18 years and she was the one that said, "You should go for it." She encouraged me to be in a rock band. She finally had this conversation with me, she called me up and said, "Lzzy, did I do OK? Was I a good parent?" And I'm like, "Mom, we have a Grammy for heaven's sake, you did great." (laughs) But we had this long conversation just about how even though on the outside she was very encouraging and just wanted us to do what made us happy for a living, she was still in the back of her mind a little scared, because it takes guts not just to be a parent but to let your kids do what they want to do, especially if it's this lifestyle that's not guaranteed ... you want to be a rock star, it can so easily go the other way.
I remember her telling me, "Look, that 9-to-5 is always going to wait for ya, it's always going to be there, so you might as well start now." So it kind of started off like that, and I started thinking, would I be brave enough to like let my kid be a rodeo clown or something? Think of the most ridiculous thing your kid would want to do for a living and think about being that passionate and not being able to think about anything else, and would you let your kid do it? So it was kind of an ode to my mom, and the response has been so amazing, because it's not just little girls that are responding to this song, it's guys, too. It became almost this source of encouragement for anyone that really needed to hear that. It was a weird decision to send this song in to the label and everybody, because either they're going to like it, or they're going to be like, "Hey, Lzzy, do you got something to tell us?" (laughs) "Are you expecting something?" So I'm glad nobody took it that way and everyone likes the song. It definitely is close to my heart and probably one of the more vulnerable pieces that I've ever put on a record.
Then you have songs on the album like "Sick Individual," which is about as far from a tender ballad as you can get. Were you intentionally putting together a mix of songs in different styles, or were these just the songs you happened to be writing at the time?
For lack of a more intelligent answer, we really didn't think a whole lot about anything (laughs). We went into the studio with about eight songs and we wrote the rest as we were in there, and then basically a lot of what you hear on this record is kind of in the moment. It was a really neat environment to be in in this church that Jay Joyce, our producer, bought and made into a studio. So it didn't even seem like we were in a studio; good vibes all around, and it really made it feel like it was our place, and we would come in every single day and make music, whether that was on the schedule - hey, we're going to do this song today - it didn't matter. So I think, bottom line, all of these songs, whether it be "Sick Individual" or "Dear Daughter," all of these things make up who we are as a band, and all of these are part of who I am; it just ended up coming out that way. And I'm proud of that, because you think about your favorite bands, and they weren't ever just one thing, it wasn't the same song over and over again. I don't think I'll ever do a record that's just the same song over and over again because I'd like to think about it like it's an album and a snapshot of everything that makes you who you are and where you're at at that time in your life. It's very diverse; I don't know that we necessarily planned on it that way (laughs).
Has the band's sales success and the Grammy given you more freedom, or has the reverse happened, where the record label has put pressure on you to repeat the formula you used for your albums that have sold so well in the past?
They kind of know what we do and what we don't do. Maybe they trust us a little bit too much sometimes (laughs), but we have a really good relationship with our label, and I think when we went to do this record, regardless of the Grammy or the charting success, it's literally been just taking one step in front of the other and this very slow build over the past, what, over 10 years being on our label, 12 years being a 4-piece and 18 years being a band. It's just taking that next gradual step and deciding to go left or right at a fork in the road. We didn't feel any pressure from anybody, not from winning the Grammy or from the label or management. We were left to our own devices and came out on the other side with it, and thank God everybody approved it (laughs).
How has it been being on tour with The Pretty Reckless, which is fronted by Taylor Momsen?
Oh, it's been awesome. I mean really it's only the first week in, so you never know, things can go either way (laughs), but so far it's been absolutely awesome. The Pretty Reckless are crazy good and they're awesome people, and that's all you can ask for on a tour is for everyone not to be assholes and to be at least semi-talented (laughs) to go on stage. So it's been absolutely awesome, and for me, between Taylor and I, we have been talking about going on tour for years, but it's always like, she's at the end of her record cycle and we're at the beginning, it doesn't always line up. Even now, this will be her last tour before making another record, and this is our first tour after making a record, so even now we're cutting it close, but we made it work. I'm glad to be out with another girl and specifically one who has the same kind of live rock standards that I do.
Last year you performed with Eric Church at the CMT Music Awards and Halestorm toured as his opening act. What was it like crossing over into the country world?
It was really neat to get to know him and his entire team, his fanbase, his crew. They're such an adventurous crowd and so incredibly giving and fun and really welcomed us with open arms. His bandmates are Halestorm fans. They're all incredible players but listen pretty much exclusively to active rock radio, so when Eric was talking about shaking up his tour, his bandmates suggested us. We'll play with anybody, so we were like, "Sure! Let's open up for Eric Church and let's open up for Megadeth. Add that onto the resume." I challenge any audience. It's just fun for us. It was great, honestly, to be up onstage, in these arenas, and 95 percent of these people have no idea who you are, but you have to prove yourself. It's exciting for me to do it.
So what we ended up doing (laughs) - this is so neat - is we started off the set a cappella, so I would come out there, being a girl, and kind of sing this a cappella song that I had written, it's kind of "Mercedes Benz"-esque, so they didn't really know what they were getting themselves into. And then we slammed into something like "Love Bites" or something and blow the cowboy hats off (laughs), but it was a lot of fun and we made a lot of new fans. It took us like three songs, then everybody would be like, "Yeah! We love this! This is awesome!" So when you get 'em, and you're in the middle of the set, there's such an incredible rush that comes with that, so we had a lot of fun on that tour just going from city to city and being like, "Alright, how's it going to go?"
You've been featured in many "Hottest Girls Of Rock"-type lists. We don't see a lot of similar lists featuring men. Do you feel that there is a double standard?
You might be talking to the wrong girl, but I grew up with my parents' music, so I grew up with a lot of '70s, '80s hard rock and metal and would end up getting these like old prints and old magazines, videos - this is during the '90s - from my parents' friends and people that I kind of reached out to in Pennsylvania. I loved bands like Cinderella and I loved Van Halen and Black Sabbath and Dio and all that stuff, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, the list goes on. But really, my view of this has always been that sex and rock 'n' roll go hand in hand, because really, if you think about the '80s, there was a whole lot of guys that had the magazine cover or the poster of them like with half their shirt ripped and stuff, so that definitely had its place. I think it's just a generational thing right now, where the guys are a little shy and don't necessarily want to take their shirts off, but ya know, it'll get there (laughs).
Maybe some of my peers will disagree with me, but really, like I said, sex and rock 'n' roll go hand in hand, and that's a personal preference for you; no one has ever come up to me, thankfully - and that's probably because of our "foremothers" of rock 'n' roll had to go through a lot of crap so I could have it easy - but I've never actually been approached in any photo shoot, not by label, not by management, no one has ever been like, "Hey, can you like dress sexier, or can you like go without the shirt for this?" Anything I have done has been purely because I wanted to do it. So I feel lucky being that way, but my rule is it can't start and end with just the high skirts and the high heels. You have to have something to back it up. Again, my encouragement to anybody is do what you want to do, but if you're going to be in music, don't just be the long legs (laughs). Make sure that you work very hard at your instrument and your band.
Are there certain style icons you look up to?
I feel like I always go back to the basics. I made a lot of not-so-fashionable choices in my life. I see all of those photos that are on the internet forever (laughs). But I think for me I always go back to the basics. I go back to the rock 'n' roll black leather jacket, red lips, smoky eyes, I like my high heels, maybe some leather pants or ripped jeans, things that have never really gone out of style. Again, it's very reflective of who I am as a bandmate in our band. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, we're not trying to save the world or be the next Lady Gaga or something or do something weird. We're just trying to be the best goddamn wheel that we can be, and that's Halestorm. For me it's about exuding that classic rock 'n' roll confidence. If I can walk out on stage and feel like a rock star, that's the most important thing.