July 26, 2018 Interview – Lzzy Hale & Joe Hottinger of Halestorm Talk Vicious
American Novelist Susan Elizabeth Phillips once said, “Anything worth having is worth fighting for,” and how true it is. Nothing ever really comes easy, and while the level of adversity we all face differs in degree, if we really want something, we are going to have to work hard for it. Hooked into the world of music while only a child, Lzzy Hale would go on to take the road less travelled to pursue a career as a female Rock musician. With a burning fire to prove any naysayers or detractors wrong, following years of labor and honing her skills, Lzzy Hale has led Halestorm to become one of the most successful bands in Rock today. Not just as a novelty act, being a female-fronted band, but as an overall package respected on their merits, regardless of gender.
A story of persistence, Halestorm entered the mainstream Rock world during the mid 2000s. Signed to Atlantic Records in 2005, they would go on to grab attention with their 2006 debut EP, One and Done, but history shows the title of the record could not be less accurate in describing the band. In fact, Halestorm has squashed any notation that they would fade out, going on to release three highly successful LPS, a slew of EPs, touring the world, and even win a Grammy Award in 2013.
Older and wiser, Halestorm takes the lessons they have learned navigating the Rock-n-Roll landscape and unleash fury with their fourth studio album, Vicious. A culmination of experience and maturity, the amply titled Vicious combines the best of thoughtful songwriting, pristine production, and empassionated performances. The only question is, are you ready? Excited for the album to finally drop, Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger took the time to chat about the work behind Vicious, their obsession with guitar tone, and the battle of being a woman in a male-dominated Rock world.
CrypticRock.com – Your previous album, 2015’s Into the Wild Life, was perhaps the most mature selection of songs Halestorm had ever recorded. Now you combine that maturity with a heavier tone on your latest album, Vicious. Tell us, what did you learn from the process behind Into the Wild Life going into Vicious?
Lzzy Hale – Not to totally broaden it, but I think we learned it’s good to trust your gut. With all these albums, we are basically taking snapshots of where we were at that time in our lives. When we were doing Into the Wild Life, all those things that we were feeling, we had to kind of get out. We had done our first two records kind of in the same way with the same producer and same team – Into the Wild Life was us breaking out of that system. With Vicious, it is just upping the ante and taking that a little further.
Joe Hottinger – One thing we were trying to capture with Into the Wild Life, and it’s a question we’ve had with every record, “How do you capture that live energy without making a live record, and in the studio?” With Into the Wild Life, we literally sat with the four of us facing each other and playing live together, that was the basics of the record. I like that record, I am not saying it didn’t work, but that’s not how you do that – that is what we learned on this record.
There are a lot of cool studio tricks and things you can do in a more controlled environment that can make the energy jump out of the speakers. With the help of Nick Raskulinecz showing us how to do things – based on performances, sounds, and sonic excitement – I think Vicious jumps out at times when it needs to.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly does. As you mentioned with Into the Wild Life, you wanted a live feel, and you did. Vicious does as well, so let’s talk about the guitar tones. Both of you being guitarists, how excited were you with the tones you captured during the recording sessions?
Joe Hottinger – We were super excited. Nick is a Rock-n-Roll producer and that really helped. We learned a lot of new tricks how to record Rock-n-Roll guitars and how to layer them properly. Nick has a great collection of gear. If you are in a band and you don’t have any gear, you can go and record with Nick, he has whatever you need – Les Pauls, an amazing amp collection, proper cabinets, mics, the works for making a great Rock song. We are gear hoarders as well, so between his collection and our collection of guitars, pedals, and amps, it was awesome! We were like kids in a candy store and we just had a blast with it.
A lot of the main Rock tones came from Nick’s Ecstasy or his Friedman Steve Stevens Signature model amp. I also have a ’71 Marshall Super Lead, we use that all over it. Layering up different amps, and when the riffs come in heavy, we would add one up the middle, maybe his Laney. Anytime I find weird gear, I get it and we try to use it on the record. I found this cool 7 watt ’50s PA Head repurposed into a guitar amp that when it’s cranked it sounds like this totally weird buzz pedal. We used that up the middle on some riffs. I also have a 1 watt Marshall that made some songs sound huge, which is funny for such a little amp.
Every song was different, we approached each one different and just built it based on the feelings of the tunes – we had a blast doing it. Different guitars had different sonic qualities – my Gretsch Caddy Bo had this low end that couldn’t be beat. Otherwise, we used Les Pauls, Lzzy’s Explorer, we used Flying Vs in there, I used Firebird guitar, etc.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, it sounds like it was a guitar geek’s dream! It all worked well.
Lzzy Hale – I think it was just the excitement of it all too. The fact that anything goes, especially with Nick – there wasn’t a set way. He had this design of where to go, even if we’re amidst chaos, there was always a different door that we hadn’t opened. There were a lot of those moments where he would surprise us with stuff. The excitement was really high and I think that was a big deal guitar wise.
We talk about this a lot, he wants to coin this phrase called a “Scadouche.” Basically it is the exit or entrance out of any section – you know when you slide your hand down the fretboard. He wouldn’t be any further than two feet in front of us at any given time we were recording guitars. As we were getting into a chorus or out of a chorus into a bridge, he would look at us, and wouldn’t tell us until the last second, but all of a sudden would say, “Alright, here comes the chorus, I want triple scadouches! Go right now!” So we would be in the moment live making all of this noise. He wasn’t afraid of noise and making crazy feedback workout as well as harmonics. He was really good for all that stuff.
CrypticRock.com – Your enthusiasm for the guitar tones is very obvious and exciting. Again, it all works well and fans will certainly hear it with Vicious. Lzzy, you have been involved in music your entire life – learning to play piano at a young age. Although Halestorm was signed in 2005, the band has really been growing since your teenage years. You have lived through three stages – your teenage years, your young adult years, and now you are a young, yet mature woman. That in mind, what has changed for you through the years?
Lzzy Hale – That’s an amazing question. I have been in this band more than I haven’t been in this band in my life at this point. (Laughs) What’s changed is the different levels of things I fight for and the things that matter. It’s always been the same hustle. There has been that same constant and fire that is still the same reason and feeling I get right before we go on stage.
I think everything around it has evolved and changes. In the beginning, I think my childhood naivety was actually a really good thing. I grew up in a household, where it wasn’t even really discussed, that when you get into the real world, there is going to be a lot of people that think maybe you can’t do this because you’re a girl or that you will have slightly different battles than all your male friends and counterparts. In the beginning you go out and you would play a show, you would carry in your gear and guitars, where a bunch of local hands would say, “that’s really nice of you, my girlfriend never does that for me.” (Laughs) They are obviously assuming I am the girlfriend or the merch girl. You laugh it off and end up using that as kind of a weapon, because you realize you are not expected to be on stage. You use that as a positive force to take people by surprise.
For me, that was my kind of like my teenage defiance. Then you get to this middle stage where you are trying to get your song on the radio, trying to shop yourself to labels in order to further this empire you’re building. Then you get those people saying, “We love what you do, we think you’re talented, but we don’t know what to do with you.” That meaning, women in Rock is a hard sell. Even if you do end up getting some attention on the radio, if that program director or whatever has a female-fronted band on that roster, then you will have an even more difficult time because they filled up that novelty slot. That fight is now. The fight is, “I’m going to do it anyway. That’s ridiculous, I’m going to prove everybody wrong.”
Now, this kind of third stage has kicked in where I’m not so much proving that I can do it. It’s not so much that I am proving everybody wrong or I’m trying to get attention for what I do. Now I’m proving I absolutely deserve to be here. The fight is never over and I relish in that. I say fight as a very positive thing, there has always been this drive to do what I do. I am still quite obsessed with this band. I don’t know what the next phase is, but that’s where I am at the moment.