Back in 1998, if you’d scoured the bowling alleys and coffee houses, talent shows and ice cream parlours of Pennsylvania, you might well have stumbled across a 13-year-old girl with an astonishingly powerful voice, channelling her all-time idol Ronnie James Dio at the lip of a stage while her 10-year-old brother spun and whirled behind her, strapped perilously into a rotating, upside-down drumkit fashioned by their mechanic father out of old tractor parts.
If you were very lucky, you’d have had your eyebrows singed by their homemade flashbombs, too. If there was ever any doubt that the dynamic duo in question, singer Lzzy Hale and little bro Arejay, were set to follow their metal heroes on the route to stardom, it’s not one that ever entered their own heads. But now, 17 years later, their BabyCrüe antics are paying off as Halestorm strut the line between classic rock and heavy metal to Grammy-winning, globe-conquering effect.
“It is every big sister’s dream to have what is basically a torture device for your little brother,” says Lzzy today, laughing at the memory. “We’d snap him in with four seatbelts and just let him fly!”
All of this just goes some of the way to explaining why Halestorm have been so thoroughly embraced by the metal community. Musically, the band are accessible and streamlined enough to break into the charts, to attract young fans dipping their toes into rock for the first time, but as well possessing one of the best voices you’ll hear anywhere in music, Lzzy also has a heart that’s pure metal.
Rob Halford’s been a vocal supporter and Avenged Sevenfold are buddies. They performed at the Ronnie James Dio tribute gala last year and Lzzy has collaborated with David Draiman on a cover of Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford’s Close My Eyes Forever. No wonder she says “sometimes I feel like a little sister in the community.” Lzzy Hale, to put it bluntly, is living the metal fangirl dream.
The obsession began in the womb. Born to parents with a record collection to die for, Lzzy and Arejay grew up on a diet of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Mötley Crüe, Heart and Alice Cooper./o:p
“I’m pretty sure Panama by Van Halen was my parents’ song, if you need any indication of what sort of parents they were,” says Lzzy, who has Mastodon’s latest on her own turntable as she chats to Hammer over the phone. There were always musical instruments in the family home, and Lzzy admits to standing in the mirror pretending to be Tom Keifer from hair metal stars Cinderella when she was a little ’un – someone she now considers a friend in her adopted hometown of Nashville.
“He had such an amazing, crazy, raspy voice. He was an amazing guitar player, he was the reason I started going after Les Pauls,” she reveals. “I remember wanting to wear my hair in the same way, trying to copy his stage moves, and – this will sound so creepy – I’d turn on the record and sing in the mirror, and I would lip-sync to his songs and try to have the same intensity that he had in the videos.”/o:p
Lzzy Hale: Lita Ford for the new generation/o:p
For all intents, Lzzy was a shy child – unlike her outgoing brother – but the magnetic pull of music, and her natural vocal talent, brought her out of her shell. She now calls herself a “reformed introvert”, so when the siblings started begging for the chance to perform, the Hale parents hit the talent show trail. Their first saw them lose out to a tap-dancing cowgirl (“who was much cuter than we were!” admits Lzzy with a chuckle. “The judges were all grandmas, I think we scared them a little”), but the metal bug had bitten down hard, and any time they weren’t in school, Lzzy and Arejay were on stage wherever they could blag a spot.
“My parents always said, ‘You always have time to get a real job’,” she recalls. “As far as influences go, we were very lucky to have parents who had this childish, reckless abandon. It was pretty cool.”
Soon, the pair of them were discovering music outside of their folks’ collection, hoovering up Sevendust’s Home, Disturbed’s The Sickness (“I loved David Draiman’s voice, and it was so new and fresh and outside of the classic rock era, that’s maybe what pushed us in a harder direction”) and Tool’s Lateralus. In fact, such was Lzzy’s love of the latter, a potential young romance was scuppered through loyalty to Maynard James Keenan and co.
“Tool was the first show tickets I’d bought for myself,” she says. “Technically, my dad says that I went to Cheap Trick with him when I was three, but I don’t remember that, so that doesn’t count. I went with a guy friend of mine, so I guess it was kind of like a date, and he ended up falling asleep. I don’t know how you can fall asleep at a Tool show, but long story short, we didn’t date after that. Well, that’s a dealbreaker!”/o:p
Arejay Hale: fortunately not traumatised from the homemade rotating drumkit!/o:p
While Lzzy cites the likes of Joan Jett, Heart’s Ann Wilson and Lita Ford as inspirational, most of her influences come from male singers. Her desert island discs are Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules, Dio’s Holy Diver, Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death and British Steel by Judas Priest. “I couldn’t do without them. If it’s a desert island scenario, they’re coming with me! I don’t even care about food at this point, just let me have my music!
“When I was cutting my teeth in the scene there was really only two types of girls,” she continues. “There was the ones that wanted to be Jewel, the singer-songwriter, and then there were the girls that sounded dudeish, the more metal, screamy people. And so I think my niche was to meet it in the middle a little bit. I wanted to be powerful and to be tough, but I had no problem being a girl.”
Things have moved on a lot in the last few decades, though, and Halestorm are proof that the fastest way to earn respect is to remain true to yourself. Metal has always been there in the band’s persona; in their riffs, in their attitude, in their ingrained knowledge of the music. But as to where they think they sit on metal’s wide and ever-evolving spectrum, it depends on whose eyes you’re viewing it through./o:p
“That’s the amazing thing about metal music: there is so much diversity to it, but there is that one core thing, that heartbeat that keeps us going, and that is that rebellious nature, and in this community you’re allowed to be yourself no matter what side of the spectrum you are,” believes Lzzy.
“There are no real rules, and that’s the beauty of it. We have such a weird, diverse crowd that comes out to our shows. You’ll have these 80s rocker guys who think that we’re bringing metal back, and then you’ll have these kids. I met a girl the other day, she was so cute. She was 11 years old and she said ‘You’re like the rock’n’roll Pink’, because that was how she related to it. So the same guy that might think that I’m Lita Ford reincarnate might not have the same opinion as an 11-year-old, but they all come to the same show.”
It’s this mixed audience that puts Halestorm in a privileged position. It gives them the opportunity to nurture and encourage the next generation of rock stars to stand up and sing their souls out. /o:p
Their new album, Into The Wild Life, was recorded as live, in a converted church, with the band standing eyeball to eyeball with each other, jamming out their bluesy brand of hard rock in the same way their heroes did in the 70s and 80s. And, with its huge choruses and fat riffs, it’s the perfect stepping stone for kids whose ears are just becoming attuned to the joys of heavy music. Just as Dio was to her, Lzzy Hale stands to become their inspiration.
“It gets me so excited to see young kids getting into music and playing, because I remember being there myself,” she beams. “I remember being 13, 14 and knowing this is all I want to do with life, and you’re so gung ho about it. It gets me so excited to see this next generation really taking that by the horns, so I’d love to be that gateway drug! Because there’s something about it, man. When you discover music, it becomes a part of your personality and your identity, and when you find it, it’s so euphoric, because then all your life, that’s the mission. It becomes your thing and something that you’re proud of. So just to have more kids find that in themselves? I’m stoked about that.”
INTO THE WILD LIFE IS OUT APRIL 6 VIA ATLANTIC/o:p
WHAT WAS IT LIKE MEETING RONNIE? DID YOU TOTALLY FANGIRL OUT?
“We had the utmost privilege to perform with Heaven & Hell just before Dio passed. He was a light of a person. I was a little nervous because half way through our set I looked up at the balcony at this club in Atlantic City in New Jersey, and there was Geezer Butler and Dio watching!”
WHAT ELSE DO YOU REMEMBER FROM THAT DAY?
“Afterwards, there were 20, 30 people gathered around Dio’s bus, and he signed everybody’s piece of paper, he took pictures. He really didn’t have to make that much extra effort, and he turns to me, wagging his finger and he’s like, ‘Lzzy, it’s a moment in time. You may never remember anybody’s face here, you won’t remember the venue or the town you played in, but they will remember meeting you for the rest of their life, so you make it good for every single one of them.’”
THAT SAYS A LOT ABOUT THE MAN HE WAS.
“That’s just so amazing! So that’s the biggest thing with Dio. And now, knowing that, I have a whole new appreciation for his records and his talent.”/o:p
> I love this band > not only musically, but also as friends. I’ve been lucky to watch them earn > their way across the board and I’m so proud of them. Lzzy has one of the best > voices in hard rock and there’s absolutely nothing she can’t sing. I can’t wait > to hear their new stuff!