"We didn’t know if we could still do it..." - Halestorm talk starting over on new album Vicious
In their 15 years or more as a band, Pennsylvania hard rockers Halestorm have always worked very hard.
They tour relentlessly and they've racked up nine EPs as well as their three previous studio albums, perhaps that's why the three years and three months since their last studio LP feel like an eternity.
The band, who are led by singer Lzzy Hale, struggled for inspiration at the start of the writing process for new album Vicious, but after a kick up the proverbial from Foo Fighters/Queens Of The Stone Age producer Nick Raskulinecz and a lot of soul-searching, they've hit on something pretty great.
With the album arriving on shelves today (you can purchase it by clicking on the icon on the right-hand side of the page), we spoke to guitarist Joe Hottinger about the long road to getting Vicious in working order and their adventures with big-time songwriters...
How did you want to make to do things differently on this record? Or did you want to do things differently?
“We definitely did, but we didn’t know how. We were quite lost at the beginning. We started writing at the end of the last album cycle and we had this idea of writing and recording quickly. We worked a lot on tour, we had 15 songs and they were good. But we sat on them for a while and we realised it wasn’t the record we wanted to make.”
Why was that?
“It was a rehash, it was the same themes and it was a sidewards step, maybe even going backwards. It wasn’t exciting. So we went in with Nick Raskulinecz and showed him the songs and told him we weren’t that stoked about them, wondering if he’d tell us we were crazy. He listened and he said ‘Yeah, I’m not stoked on them either’. He’s such a straight shooter, that’s why we like him, no games, no f**king around.”
Did that have an impact on how you approached the album?
“He told us ‘You guys haven’t made the record I want from you, I hear you play live and you’ve not had a record to match the live show’. We agreed with that, but we didn’t know how to push things forward and still make a rock record. We didn’t know if we could still do it. He told us to get in a room and just jam. It had been years since we’d done that. We strapped up and he said ‘Right, who’s got a riff?’ and it all flowed. It’s a great feeling, all of us show up, there’s no editing, no working to get on radio, just getting our personalities on the record.”
Was Nick Raskulinecz someone you’d wanted to work? Or was he a suggestion?
“I’d been dying to work with him. We’ve been friends for years. We all live in Nashville and it was our friend’s birthday and Lzzy did two AC/DC tracks onstage and Nick played bass. After we were done, straight away he said ‘That’s what I want to hear from you guys, that kind of energy’. This is years before we talked about working together and we were all ‘Thanks, good to meet you too…’.”
He’s worked on some big records...
“There was a period, four or five years ago, where every record I loved had his name on it. Sometimes he was producing, sometimes he was exec, sometimes the engineer, but it was him every time. He’s got so much stuff, CDs and tapes of the coolest stuff. He played me all these Dave Grohl drum tracks, all this studio footage from that time, geeking out as fans is half the fun.”
It’s ended up being three years between albums, did the longer gap bother you?
“Not really, our label said we could take our time and we knew we needed to figure things out. We started a year and a half ago, but we knew we had time, so we did a few tours and we were pretty much playing every weekend during the summer. Halfway through Nick went off and did the Alice In Chains record. It was nice, we had time to sit on things and forget about the song we’d written. It’s amazing how much better songs get when you’ve got time to leave them and come back. Some of them got re-written four or five times.”
What kind of record is this in lyrical terms? Is there a theme to it?
“If there’s a theme, it’s Lzzy. She’s always taken a position of power and positivity. We’ve been through a lot making this record, especially her, she’s been really trying to find herself and she takes on a lot of the weight of the band on her shoulders. When we were struggling at the start she took it very personally. We’re always striving to be better, we’re our own worst critics and although it took a long time, she’s really found her mojo on this record, she wrote pages and pages of lyrics. We had a lot to work with.”
When did Vicious become the title? Was it always the title?
“We had a different title for most of the record. ‘Vicious’ was the last song for the record. We’d pretty much had the record written and then we had an offer to go to Los Angeles and write with some people. Me and Lzzy went, we wanted to test ourselves against all these songwriters with huge hits. In our last session, we came up with the title ‘Vicious’ and wondered what the song would be about. Then we started working through it and as a title, it just felt great.”
What are those sessions with professional songwriters like? It’s quite common in pop to work with lots of different songwriters, but less so in rock…
“I’ve never been speed dating, but I imagine that’s what it’s like. A lot of its really crazy. We work from a spark, that could be a title or a lyric or a riff, I’m always collecting them. We try to go into those sessions with something. You turn up, you have some coffee, talk about how you’re feeling and then you try and write a song. You have to dive in and our goal is just to get it to the point where we can take it away and work with the band. Sometimes you get nothing, you never know.”
How quickly can you tell if a session is going to work out?
“Sometimes it’s super quick. Sometimes you can get nothing all day and then it comes together last minute. Sometimes you get a good bit, an awesome riff, or a melody, you have to keep used to chucking stuff away, no matter how much time you’ve spent on it.”
You’re four records deep now, how is your new setlist coming together?
“It gets tougher with every record, but we switch it up every night. We start touring in earnest the day the record comes out and I’m about to start working on a new setlist. We’re at that point where we can do an hour and a half of singles, so I’m wondering if we do some sort of medley. I need to figure it out, how much new stuff we can put and how to sequence it all. Live shows are an art in themselves, you’re constantly figuring them out.”
Finally, how’s your touring looking? Are you booked solidly for a good while?
“We’re booked solidly until the end of the year. We do our best to do no more than four weeks away now, it’s better for everyone’s sanity, everyone starts going crazy in week five, we know that now. But we’ll be back here in the autumn.”