Lzzy Hale on celebrating the women of heavy music “We defied the social norms of what this genre used to stand for and we’re taking ownership of it”
The Halestorm frontwoman gets deep about Korina Explorers, jamming in the bubble, and the importance of celebrating her fellow women in rock.
After chatting to Lzzy Hale and fellow Halestorm guitarist Joe Hottinger amidst the hustle and bustle of their pre-tour rehearsals, we caught up with Lzzy alone back in her Nashville home to dig deeper into the themes and creation of new album Back From The Dead, and we find the frontwoman in much more reflective mood.
“This new album is very introspective, and I wrote it from a very personal place because that’s the only thing that I could do,” she explains of writing the album in a pandemic enforced lockdown, where all she had to keep her sane were her guitars and recording equipment.
“The only thing that I could really control is just sitting down and trying to be creative and work through things. The funniest thing about it is that we weren’t even sure if we were going to get into the studio. So, really, I was writing to write, almost using it as your own personal therapy situation.”
While her home studio was well-spec’d with recording gear, mics and instruments, the isolated environment led Lzzy to approach their creation in a different way, with the home-recorded vocals ending up being the bedrock around which everything else was built once the band finally got into a real studio.
“I recorded all of my vocal takes through the demos, then we went into the studio and built all of the songs around those vocal takes,” she explains. “Usually, it’s the reverse. Especially on our last album, Vicious, it was the complete reverse. We had so many instrumentals that we ended up writing that I then took and wrote a song to the instrumentals.
“This was the opposite, and it was interesting. Specifically, with guitar, instead of me being inspired vocally by the guitar melodies that Joe and I were writing, it was the opposite, where Joe and I were sitting down and all of the octave work, the melody work and the lead work that we put down was really following those vocal melodies. It was like the vocals were leading the charge for the instrumentation.”
The result? “The album sounds like it’s being led by a freaking freight train,” Hale laughs. “I think it made it very cohesive, the entire thing.”
Hale spends this second interview beaming, breaking into warm and easy laughter often. It is the sort of easy confidence and joy engendered by solidifying over 25 years of songwriting and performance in Back From The Dead’s blazing, glorious 11 new tracks. Hale had been cooking up a sonic storm at home well before hitting the studio though. The toys she’d been stockpiling since her teenage years were nothing of the plush variety.
“I’ve been collecting gear and recording equipment for a couple of years now. The whole reason I got this house is because there was space to do that,” she says.
“One of my favourite pieces of equipment is the Universal Audio Compressor. I have an amazing Neumann mic around here somewhere. I did about 11 collaborations during the whole lockdown because everybody was like, ‘Lzzy, we’re recording so let’s guest vocal on that!’
“I literally had all of my guitars here because we’d just wrapped up our last album cycle before the world changed. I had my [Gibson EDS-1275] Double-Neck, which is a standard on top, baritone on the bottom, currently in drop A. I have my Gold Top Explorer Baritone, which is currently in drop B. I have all my signature Explorers here. I actually even broke out the first ever Les Paul that I got, a Tobacco Burst Les Paul Custom. It was the first Gibson I ever bought, when I was a teenager. I was a terrible waitress, but I saved up all my tips to get that.”
Once she and guitarist Joe Hottinger got together to jam, they went hell for leather on the combinations they could evince from producer Nick Raskulinecz’s array of studio equipment.
“We combined a Bogner Head with Freidman. Obviously, we have a bunch of old Marshalls that we use,” she observes. “But combining some of those tones, amp-wise, really just made everything thick. There was always something that we needed to combine and not just stick to one sound… really, we would just pick everything up and try it.”
Korina, You Gotta See Her
On the guitar front, it will shock nobody that Hale was primarily using her beloved Explorers, but one new edition stood out from the pack.
“It’s the new reissue [Gibson Custom 1958] Korina Explorer,” she enthuses. “Joe, got the Korina V, so when we got together in the studio, the combination of those two guitars is so incredibly different. The V is very bitey and sharp, and gives just a little sting, and then the Explorer is really meaty, and almost mid-range and darker. So, the combination of those two, we did that for at least the last half of the album.”
Hale says the guitar spoke to her, and indeed, the album seemed to have a voice of its own, just taking its sweet time to be translated by Hale and her band.
“It was like this maddening puzzle and you don’t know what the picture is. You’re just trying to make it fit together. I was collecting ideas, making demos and then sending ideas to the guys and they’d send ideas back to me. When we finally got into the studio, all masked up and we had our bubble, jamming together started to feel like we were really going to make an album. We had drafted so many different ideas, but as soon as Back From The Dead rose to the top, we were like ‘Okay, this is our roadmap’. Then the floodgates opened. Maybe it was the album telling us what to do rather than the reverse of us trying to figure it out.”
Sisters Of Scream
Over the last decade, women guitarists have made their voices heard like never before, making the instrument a more diverse and interesting place as a result. Heavy music has regrettably somewhat lagged behind in this regard, but in recent years, but there are clear signs that the world is changing – both on the stage and off it – and it’s something a veteran like Hale doesn’t take for granted.
“It was only a few short years ago that not only was I the only girl on a stage at a festival, but I was the only one backstage as well,” she reflects. “It’s wonderful to see this wave happening and not just female musicians: producers, lighting directors, tour managers, stage managers. The audience is full of these young, beautiful, vibrant, crazy women who are taking ownership of this genre they love so much. Even our foremothers of rock from past generation wouldn’t have believed have happened.”
Lzzy might be the current queen of heavy, but she celebrates this growing and thriving community by surrounding herself with like-minded women from across the hard-rocking world, whether that’s her ‘Sister of scream’ Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless, Mexican trio The Warning, chameleonic solo artist Lilith Czar, or Evanescence icon Amy Lee.
“We’re kindred spirits in what we’ve been through,” Lzzy enthuses. “It’s nice to stand by these extremely strong women who, against all odds, defied the social norms of what this genre used to stand for and we’re taking ownership of this heavy music that we love. We don’t love it because our boyfriends or dads loved it. We love it because it’s part of us.”
Back From The Dead is out now on Capitol.