Fight the system: How Lzzy Hale is empowering metal's next generation

Lzzy Hale onstage at a European festival
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“I had this intangible feeling. It made my heart happy. It wasn’t even necessarily the lyrics; there was just something about the guy, the way he carried himself and sounded. It just broke me out of normalcy. It’s a form of empowerment. Metal enables you to go to a concert and let yourself go, and headbang to your favourite lyrics. And that’s empowerment – when you feel like you can do anything.”

Lzzy Hale is fondly remembering the first time she heard heavy music, dancing around to her dad’s record collection as a child, pretending to be Ronnie James Dio. Today, she’s one of traditional metal’s most enthusiastic ambassadors, and a unique force in our scene; despite drawing from the sounds of the 80s for her band and enthusing about Dio, Priest and Sabbath at any opportunity, Lzzy herself is a thoroughly modern rock star, and a strong voice on and off the stage. Whether she’s screaming about sex or airing her progressive views on her blog, she’s not afraid to put herself out there, and as a result has attracted an audience that ranges from seven to 70. “It’s become a merchandise problem!” she jokes.

Today, we’re speaking to Lzzy from her home in Nashville, Tennessee, on the day of the US Presidential election. She doesn’t usually discuss politics publicly, but recently felt moved to write a lengthy tumblr post condemning the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

“I couldn’t vote for somebody who built their entire empire on hate,” she explains. “My humble standpoint is that I’m for equality, and I love people. So if we’re going to have a character-based election, I’m going to vote for the person that is actually human. It’s gotten to a point where I have to literally stand up for the people that follow me, because that’s all I can do.”

Ultimately, Donald Trump would be voted President-Elect. We talk about the infamous ’grab her by the pussy’ video, which he brushed off as “locker-room banter”.

“I still don’t understand how some of my female friends can look at that and be like, ’No, he’s still OK,’” she marvels. “People have been pushed off the face of the Earth for less than that!”

Lzzy has been particularly vocal when it comes to female empowerment. Dear Daughter, from 2015’s Into The Wild Life, was a reassuring open letter to young women about the highs and lows of growing up in our society, and the title has become shorthand for her female fans. She’s also defiantly faced down sexism. The first time she became aware of it in the scene was in 2005, on Halestorm’s debut national tour, when some guys saw her tuning her guitar side-stage and assumed she was helping out a boyfriend.

“I always took those situations as ammo,” she says. “It’s like, ’OK, if they think that, then I’m really going to bring it tonight.’ That was actually part of the reason I started wearing heels, because I’d gotten quite good at manoeuvring in them onstage, and it was just one more thing that the guys couldn’t do. There’s going to be this misconception anyway, so I might as well dress the part, and then completely knock their socks off by being able to do all this other stuff, too.”

She’s always dressed with a wink to the hair-metal days, with leather skirts and trousers as wardrobe staples. It’s a look that could be construed as playing into stereotypes, if it wasn’t for the fact she’s owning her desires and putting them centre-stage.

“Sex and rock’n’roll have gone hand-in-hand since the beginning of time, so I’ve never tried to downplay it,” she says. “I’ve always just tried to stay true to myself. I’m not trying to shorten my skirt for attention, but at the same time, as a girl, I’m allowed to express myself sexually in whatever way I see fit.”

In this respect, she’s following in the footsteps of icons such as The Runaways singer, Lita Ford, who she just took out on tour. They met a few years back at a benefit for the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up And Shout Cancer Fund, and the admiration in Lzzy’s voice is unmistakable.

“We decided we should do a tour and make it into this celebration of strong women,” she recalls, also name-checking Los Angeles support band Dorothy. “It was amazing touring with Lita. The Runaways were our foremothers of rock’n’roll, and they had to forge a path in the wilderness. I have to deal with meagre sexism every now and then, or choose to ignore it, but those girls had it all the time. I remember talking to [80s singer-songwriter] Pat Benatar about having to choose when you walked into a radio station: ’Do I sit on this guy’s lap to get my record played, or stand my ground and then it doesn’t get played?’ And regardless of that, none of these girls ever gave up. That’s extremely inspiring.”

Lyrically, she’s written the unashamed I Get Off (‘I get off on you, getting off on me’), and the chilled-out New Modern Love (‘I got a new modern love, I’m not giving it up’), which revels in the bliss of same-sex relationships. It’s explicitly personal music, reflecting on her journey of self-discovery in an age where sexual identity and preferences are openly discussed but still scrutinised. It’s also a unique and refreshing angle to bring into a genre where women have often been marginalised or stereotyped as groupies, fangirls or try-hards.

“I think coming to terms with my sexuality has been a journey, and maybe it comes with each year, and getting older and being a little bit more comfortable in your own skin,” she says. “I’ve gotten better at talking about it. And what I realised is that by talking about this subject, and writing about it, I got a better response than trying to keep it a personal thing.”

Nowhere is this more obvious than in her #LzzySexEd series of discussions on Twitter, where she has talked about everything from her own bisexuality, to polyamory, to sleeping with women who have breast implants. One of the more startling queries was from a mother who was wondering whether to preach abstinence to her teenage daughter or educate her about contraception. Lzzy went with the latter. Sensible guidance, perhaps, but a risky move from someone who isn’t a professional educator.

“I should have a disclaimer,” she says. “Like, ’Look, I’m not a doctor, I’m just a girl that’s trying to give you my opinion.’ And I do occasionally say that, because it has to be their decision. But it truly is mindblowing. I’m not a mother, I’m not versed in sexual education, I’m gonna tell you what I would do. I definitely worry about saying the wrong thing, and hopefully being forgiven after I do. Because it’s not about if I say the wrong thing, it’s about when! But you try to be as honest as possible.”

So, Lzzy, how do you feel about sexist pigs? Ah, gotcha…

So, Lzzy, how do you feel about sexist pigs? Ah, gotcha… (Image credit: Jeremy Saffer)

Fighting for equality, owning her sexuality and being a mentor for her own fans? Lzzy Hale isn’t just a unique force in the game today – she’s a whole new breed of rock star.

“Absolutely,” she states when we ask if she agrees with that sentiment. “And sometimes I do wonder what it would have been like if I had not decided to do that – nobody knows anything about me, and I just live my life. But at the same time, I think I do it selfishly. I really like talking to people, and discussing music and life and sex. I’m friends with the Avenged guys, and I remember talking with Matt [Shadows] about that. He was like, ’Yeah, we decided a long time ago that we’re not going to do that whole social media thing. If you want to learn about us, read the article or whatever.’ And I took the complete opposite approach. We both think that you can’t necessarily have the middle ground – you either have to go to the extreme one way or the other.”

But at the end of the day, it all comes back to the music. Lzzy sees metal as the foundation of self-expression. From the legends to the young guns, she feels there’s a purity of intent and creativity that’s unparalleled in other genres. It’s her duty to carry the torch and pass the flame onto the next generation of fans and musicians.

“I think it’s important not to lose sight of the people that made it possible for us to do this,” she explains. “I always go back to Black Sabbath. And if you think about it, people didn’t get into this genre to make a career or be a pop star or be famous. Most of these people hated all of that. They got into it because it made them feel good, and it was their outlet, and an extension of their personality.”

Halestorm are about to release another covers EP, which reflects their influences via the likes of Metallica and Whitesnake. Beyond that, work has begun on album number four, which Lzzy promises will push into ever-heavier territory. She’s spent years developing her voice, and 2017 will be the year she shouts louder than ever.

“I can honestly say we’ve been writing the most aggressive stuff we’ve ever done, so that’s exciting!” she enthuses. “Year after year, I think I’m just running out of fucks to give. So to put it in a very ladylike way, it’s time to go balls to the wall!”

Halestorm will release their third covers EP, ReAniMate 3, on January 6 via Atlantic Records

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Eleanor Goodman
Editor, Metal Hammer

Eleanor was promoted to the role of Editor at Metal Hammer magazine after over seven years with the company, having previously served as Deputy Editor and Features Editor. Prior to joining Metal Hammer, El spent three years as Production Editor at Kerrang! and four years as Production Editor and Deputy Editor at Bizarre. She has also written for the likes of Classic Rock, Prog, Rock Sound and Visit London amongst others, and was a regular presenter on the Metal Hammer Podcast.