Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale: 2018 Rock Artist of the Year
There's no stopping Lzzy Hale and Halestorm. The band's fourth full-length album, Vicious, was well-received by fans and critics. The single "Uncomfortable" earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song and the band's world tour was a huge success. Equally significant as the band’s personal success is the role Hale has played in being a passionate, constructive voice for the disenfranchised and a role model for young women, who often make up the bulk of the audience.
“It’s kind of crazy the way that happened,” Hale says. “Whereas it used to be 60/40 percent male to female, now it’s way more female to male and there are all these women that are owning whatever it is that we stand for. It’s such a completely different kind of world than the stereotypical rock crowd. And what’s cool is these crazy girls remind me a lot of the way I was when I was 17.”
Vicious is Halestorm’s most daring and hard-hitting album to date, one that demonstrates more balance between hellraisers and ballads than the band’s past albums. Even the heaviest, crunchiest songs are suffused with melody and the less musically aggressive tracks, such as “Do Not Disturb” and “Conflicted,” spark with moments of intensity.
Emphasizing her dedication to the ladies in the house while rockin’ with the boys in the band Hale made a declaration of solidarity by signing on to tour much of the year with rock's other leading female-fronted metal bands, In This Moment and New Years Day.
“I don't think it's necessary to downplay the fact that I'm a girl,” Hale says, then laughs. “I like being a girl, you know? I'm super proud of it and I wear the high heels and the skirts and all of that and I'm not trying to make anybody think that I am anything else. Look, I'm just one of the guys because I am that as well, you know, but it doesn't mean we have be so black-and-white about the whole thing. And, of course, the idea of all the bands being fronted by women went through my mind when we started talking about doing this tour. And I don't think we all realized how important it was until after we were already out on tour and we realized that, wow, all these people are seeing things the way we’re seeing them. And no one went, ‘Oh look, it’s just a bunch of girls playing heavy music.’ So in that way, it was really positive.”
Hale is as approachable as she is gifted. Clearly, she's aware that she's a spokeswoman to a new generation of rock fans and she’s earned her stripes as one of the best contemporary female rock vocalists -- the cultural equivalent to Pat Benatar, Joan Jett or even Stevie Nicks. Yet she doesn't brag, instead embracing the diva-free attitude that she had back when she was an oddball teenage girl enamored with hard rock. In addition, she’s the first to credit Halestorm’s success to the fans.
“We’re so grateful to all the support they’ve given us through our career,” Hale says. “And, hopefully, we’ve given them something back, whether it’s some kind of message or a feeling of being a part of something or just a bunch of songs that rock. Whatever they get out of it is fine.”
There’s lots to love about Halestorm’s music and melodies, but at the same time Hale has provided plenty of food for thought over the years and she continues to speak her mind. Over the last year she supported the "me too" movement, which has been responsible for taking down numerous prominent executives and celebrities accused of sexual misconduct. At the same time, she voiced discontent with a political system that, with barely a hesitation, nominates those accused of abusing their power and even sexual assault to high level positions, including the Supreme Court and even the Presidency.
“I’ve spoken out during the shows between songs and it’s also something that I’ve talked about privately on my social media. And there have been multiple situations where I'm like, 'Okay, you know, let's sit down and talk about this,' because a couple years ago I realized that I am the person a lot of people are going to tell me things they’re afraid to tell anyone else. Maybe their parents or their husbands don’t even know. So I think it’s important to be there for them. If I have the time and we’re already talking I’m flattered to be that sounding board or somebody to vent to. So I do end up putting myself out there more often than not.”
Hale has exerted just as much time and energy when addressing the mental health epidemic. In an age when wealthy, successful and immensely talented artists including Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Jill Janus (Huntress) and other celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and even Robin WiIliams became so incapacitated by depression and anxiety they took their lives, Hale -- who comes from a family with a history of depressive illness -- pours her heart out and takes a personal interest in young women (and dudes) suffering from depression and desperate for a way out.
“I ended up posting a photo of me and posing a challenge like, ‘Look, if you've been touched by and or and for are battling mental issues yourself, post a picture yourself,” Hale said. “Raise those rock horns and show everybody that they're not alone because the more people that do at the more we talk about it and the more you realize that it's actually the majority of people that have been touched in some way by mental illness."
While Hale examines issues that are often swept under the rug, sometimes in a provocative way, her advice is both constructive and life-affirming. She promotes sexual expression and personal discovery, but stops sort of advocating promiscuous, dangerous or otherwise irresponsible behavior, all without losing her rocker cred. 'Cause when it comes right down to it, Lzzy Hale is a bonafide rock 'n' roll bad-ass who flaunts her sensitivity like a chip on her shoulder she dared detractors to try to knock off.
As Lzzy Hale reflects on the year that was and looks forward to 2019, she addresses some of the highlights of 2018, the way Halestorm continue to evolve as a musical unit and family, the duality of rock 'n' roll euphoria and real life trauma, why she embraces being a female rock role model, embracing sexuality in a morally responsible way and the mental health crisis that has affected her and continues to plague the rock community and its fans.
Congratulations on being nominated for your second Grammy Award. Being chosen as the Loudwire Artist of the Year probably pales by comparison, but yeah, hopefully you appreciate the accolade.
No, I appreciate it. Because, you know, I've been doing this since I was 13 and you always wonder what you’ve worked so hard for will be recognized in any capacity. So every sign that people enjoy or are moved by what you’re doing is an affirmation and it’s always an honor.
It doesn’t seem like the attention is the ultimate reward for you or that you write music that you think you’re audience will enjoy.
My internal compass is the most important guide for what I do. As long as I know that I'm doing the best that I can as a person then that’s all I can strive for. It’s not going to make or break my life to be appreciated or not, but at the same time it's a part of my journey, For us, it’s always been about that journey and the destination and so all of these milestones on the way are just so mind-blowing.
"I think that you're inspired by your surroundings and I've always considered myself a sponge."
Isn’t it hard not to become jaded when there’s so much praise?
Me and my little brother talk about this all the time. We discuss how all we ever wanted to do was play music every day and figure out how to do that every single day and the fact that we're doing it and that people are recognizing is amazing to us. So, right now being elected as the Artist of the Year and all these other things, all that stuff propels this forward. It’s literally all part of this journey and this dream.
You touched on the important point before about how it's really important to stay true to your own aesthetic and and your own motivation — your internal compass as you put it. If you wanted, could you cater to your audience a little more and write what you know they’d like?
I just feel like if you're going to put something out there make sure you pay attention to what you put out there because that is your legacy. You have to own that."
There's a big difference between appreciating the support that you get from other people and letting it absolutely rule your life. Doing this as long as we have, what we realized about the creative process and songwriting is that we're very bad liars [laughs]. If we're not excited by something, no matter who else thinks it’s great, it's going to show through in the music and we’d just end up sabotaging ourselves.
What has been the highlight of 2018?
On a personal level, just releasing this latest record and coming out on the other side of that recording process totally in love with where we’re at in our journey. We’ve been best friends for over 15 years. That’s a highlight in itself. Being able to look at each other and be like, “Wow, it feels like we’ve upped the bar and we’re doing this all over again, but on a different level.” For me, that's a lot of the magic that I'm feeling right now.
Were you surprised by the universal positive reaction to Vicious?
I’m always surprised. But you know what? I'm writing a lot from my truths which are from the female perspective, and I think that it just so happened to be released at a time where I think girls want to grab onto something and they want to stand for something. And for whatever reason, what I'm talking about on this record is parallel to what they need at the moment. It’s been amazing to see that for a lot of these people it’s not just entertainment for them.
"We didn’t want the cover art to be obvious. We wanted to have people ask questions. I never set out to be political, but in the times that we're living in, these things are happening to me as well."
And I'm not just talking about the girls that come to the shows. It's not just about, “Okay, there’s nothing better to do on a Friday night than to go to a show.” These people primally need to be there. They need something to grab onto and it's been so incredibly fulfilling for me to watch that happen. I know I’m just a small part of whatever this bigger idea is, but maybe it’s some of the things I’ve talked about and I stand for such as empowerment and ownership of yourself. And because I'm a girl, I think it's just kind of coming at the right time where I think a lot of girls need to see that.
In contrast with all the triumphs you enjoyed in 2018, you were dealt a pretty severe blow when your friend producer Kato Khandwala died in an auto accident. Was that especially hard considering the wave of good fortune you’d been riding?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we've had mutual friends. We’ve written together, and it's just strange when people are gone without warning. Not that anyone is really ever prepared for those things. If people get sick or they have problems that are nearing a dark path down a rabbit hole, sometimes you can be like, well, you saw coming. Your mind was kind of prepared. But this time it was purely just an accident and and those things are hard to wrap your head around.
You have a badass quality and clearly you're in favor of free expression and you encourage pushing boundaries. But at the same time, you kind of stop short of promoting dangerous activity be it excessive drinking or drugs. Is there kind of a fine line for you when it comes to people doing whatever they want?
I don't necessarily like promoting debauchery. I find that usually when people are promoting debauchery, it's because they're trying to make everybody feel like, “Okay cool. They're badass she drinks whiskey straight from the bottle. Awesome.” I don't necessarily feel really awesome and cool drinking whiskey from a bottle. I just feel like, “Wow, sometimes there are no cups available.”
And it’s funny. With the sex stuff, the risque nature of the lyrics of a song like “Do Not Disturb,” I’ve gotten more letters from parents telling me I'm a better role model for writing that song. It's interesting how people are able to see when you are promoting that kind of stuff. And with that song, I think that they can hear the truth in it and all I'm really doing is owning what I like, so to me that's that's really awesome. I just feel like if you're going to put something out there make sure you pay attention to what you put out there because that is your legacy. You have to own that.
The cover of Vicious is somewhat provocative. Viewed from one perspective it could be perceived as a woman under attack. But it could also be interpreted as someone being showered with praise.
We didn’t want the cover art to be obvious. We wanted to have people ask questions. I never set out to be political, but in the times that we're living in, these things are happening to me as well. And absolutely people can take whatever they need to from this record and the same goes for the album cover. It's awesome because, really, I mean, is she running through a gauntlet? Are people holding her back. Is it grit and empowerment and courageous or is it sexual? Is she enjoying herself? Is she being praised? Is that even Lzzy? Why is her shirt off?
And the answer to all of these questions is yes because on this record there are all of those things going on and there is ownership and empowerment and there's sexuality. I think that you're inspired by your surroundings and I've always considered myself a sponge. So I hope that not not only women but men as well are able to take this record in in whatever way they need it to be at the moment. Because, regardless of what side everybody is on, we're still all in this together.
You’ve been vocal about sexual harassment. Have you ever felt like a victim?
There's certain levels of things that you kind of go through as a person and sometimes you don't really know what was going on until you look back and you’re like, “Oh wait, did you say what you said because I’m a girl?” My internal North Star is always just gung-ho. Keep moving forward no matter what kind of thing happened and that's probably partially a defense mechanism and also my driving force and my work ethic. But yeah, absolutely there have been many situations where some radio dude or record industry people have said or done something I considered inappropriate or made me uncomfortable. But I think that any girl trying to carve out your own path has been touched by that in some way.
Yeah, but that shouldn’t be the norm.
It shouldn't be that way. But I think that it's getting better and since the me too movement, I think that it's been a good thing to kind of get everything out there and the more people talk the better and because, you know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, which, I’m sure, is something my dad used to say. But it's true and I'm glad that people are becoming braver and speaking out on all sorts of things. We're communicating more and that means we've got to combat the negative with a positive.
When did you become involved in the movement to make people aware about the mental health crisis?
I first started really thinking about it shortly after Chester, but then I went all gung-ho after I heard about Jill [Janus] because it was just too many at that point and also I had just seen Jill. So I just kind of said to myself, “Let me try to do something."
Far too many people are being affected to let this issue remain in the dark and just be ignored. And, I mean, both my brother and I for our entire lives have had a nice little alphabet soup of issues that we talked about and that we personally have gone through. There’s depression and bipolar disorder in our family. So it’s something we’ve been touched by like a lot of people.
It's funny because my brother and I have have seen therapists on and off, you know, just after having casual conversations. We’ve been like, “Hey, we should totally do it.” I mean, we can have people tune up our guitars all the time and you get to learn new things about your instrument. Why not get to know some things about our brains?
Do you have any New Year's resolutions?
Oh wow. We’re booked for next year. So really, I mean, I think that the New Year's resolution is try not to lose your mind. It's crazy how normal that becomes, and then having time off becomes a little odd. Even menial tasks of deciding what you're going to have for dinner become impossible. You get so used to catering.
The grass is always greener.
My little brother actually said it best. He's like, “You know, when we're on tour it's like going to outer space. Time is just a concept and we're floating around, and then we have reentry into normal life, which is like, okay now we have to go and deal with gravity and that means going to the store and doing laundry. And there's a shower at your disposal so you really should use it.”
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
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