Lzzy Hale: Writing Through Darkness

Lzzy Hale: Writing Through Darkness

Photo courtesy of Gibson Brands

Back from the dead is Halestorm personal snapshot of the pandemic. For Lzzy Hale, the group has been his lifelong way of dealing with mental health issues. But during the confinement, all she could do was write.

“‘Back From the Dead’ is about survival, not in a physical sense, although I know we’ve all been touched by death, especially in recent years,” Lzzy Hale said. “This song is personal and written from a mental health perspective. I wanted to give myself and the world a hard rock song that we could shout out loud when the doors opened again. I was on the edge of this world completely lost in oblivion, but even though it was the harder of the two choices, I didn’t just let the darkness and depression in my mind dig me an early grave. I didn’t just sit down and let it take. I erased my name from my tombstone, so save your prayers, I’m back! I hope this song, as I pass it on to you, reminds you of your individual strength and that you are not alone.

We chatted with Lzzy about his upcoming summer tour, the new album, his new signature guitar, and tips for singing like a powerhouse.

Tell us about your upcoming 16-city summer tour with The Pretty Reckless, The Warning and Lilith Czar, starting in Detroit on July 8.

We’re really lucky as a band to be in a position where we can select our friends to tour with us. But it’s also important to me to raise my fellow sisters and wives in rock. So many women rise up and own this gender, making it a part of them. Only a few years ago I felt like I was the only one on a tour, bill or festival. This tour has a few generations of artists represented. It is important to show the girls in the audience that they will be able to see themselves represented in all of us. Regardless of all the uphill battles we had to fight to get here, here we are. And that’s going to shorten the bridge a bit to whatever these young women want to do in life.

In “The Steeple”, one of the singles from the album, who are you referring to as castle, kingdom, church and people?

For me, it was important to try to rebuild, for lack of a better term, this church and this communion that we have with the public. It’s not just entertainment for us, although I know we’re in the entertainment business. The line between the audience and the stage is very fused. We are all there for the same reasons, because we have a primordial need to be there. No matter what happens in our lives, as soon as those lights go out, you can transform into whoever you want to be and sing your favorite songs side by side with people who used to be strangers and now become family. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of, and it was very important for me to write about it. I hadn’t held this position for so long because of the pandemic.

The most of Back from the dead was created through lockdown, and you mentioned that you “dug yourself into an abyss” when creating it. Was it difficult to write songs in the midst of the pandemic, and how was the creative process with your band?

I’ve been in this band since I was 13. My camaraderie with my bandmates and all things band-related are tools I’ve used all these years to manage my mental health. When it’s stolen from you and you only have one weapon left in your arsenal, which is to write on it, it gets a little scary. I went through a little identity crisis, where I had to figure out who I was without all those things, and I hadn’t seen that girl in a while. I returned to panic attacks, which I had not had since my adolescence, and I went through an attack of depression. I had to get away with writing these songs in real time. Then I discovered the reason why I write, which is not only because I like it.

As far as the process of creating the band, it became like a relay sport because we were all isolated: I would do a little demo with terrible drums, because I’m a terrible singer-drummer, and send it to my friends in the group. They, in turn, sent me their beats. We recorded this album differently, because first I did all the vocals for my first demos – then we built everything musically as a band in the studio. It was interesting because it’s more common to do the vocals last. But here, voices, lyrics, titles and song ideas were leading the charge. Vocal melodies and How? ‘Or’ What I sang something that became our reference point when we created the guitar parts.

The album is co-produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Rush, Foo Fighters) and Scott Stevens (Shinedown, Daughtry). What were their contributions?

Nick has so much energy, enthusiasm and he brought out our best sides. We rediscovered what Halestorm is and he guided us through this process. It was also her suggestion to bring Scott over, since we’ve written songs together and been friends and brothers of another mother for many years. Once Scott entered the project, he helped us put the pieces of the puzzle together.

As a guitarist, what was it like working with Nick?

What I enjoy most about recording guitars with Nick is that he’ll be sitting two feet away from you, and we’re doing everything in real time – there are no cuts. He’ll be sitting there and excitedly yelling at you, “Okay, here’s the chorus…I need double scadoushes!” when he wants me to play power slides.

Nick also worked with Rush. In an interview with (late) drummer Neil Peart, he affectionately referred to Nick as “Booouge!” because of its unique descriptions of the things drummers play…

It has its own terminology and we definitely got to know its language. But he really brings out the excitement in the game. As a player, you can overthink it and it’s hard to capture the emotion when you’re trying so hard to be perfect. It was never about perfection with him; it’s more a question of energy.

Joey (Hottinger, guitarist) and I ended up playing opposite roles on this album – usually I play the meat and potato parts while he creates the sweets. On this album, I was the one who added a lot of melodic harmonics, octaves and sharp, twisted bits. One of the greatest tools in my arsenal as a guitarist is that I’m a vocalist. I’ll be thinking, ‘if I sing, how will my playing fit into the song? Does it complement or rub up against something? One of my favorite parts I’ve played is the verse riffing in “Back from the Dead.”

Gear wise we used a plethora of things, but Joey and I bought a Korina Explorer and a Korina Flying V reissue around the same time. The V is very bright while the Explorer is very meaty, so we ended up combining those sounds. I also used my ‘Explorerbird’ which I designed with Gibson. He is glossy and black lipstick, with an Explorer body and a Firebird doll. Due to its longer scale, it stays in tune very well, and we’ve used it for a lot of lead-off tunings.

How do you project such power and intensity as a singer? Do you have any techniques or exercises?

Even with the guttural stuff I do as a singer, it shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts, don’t do it. Everything should look like nothing… effortlessly. I practice my voice quite often. But if you’re a beginner singer, the first thing you should learn is breath control, because breathing is literally the fuel for your engine. If it goes bad, there’s a domino effect and you’ll end up losing your voice.

Breath control can be a challenge and easy to forget when playing guitar at the same time.

It’s a balancing act. Another thing you need to do as a singer is to familiarize yourself with your resonance zones, which are basically your chest, your head, and your mask. They are like different parts of your body that echo sound. You can use these resonance zones and combine some of them in a mix to create that throaty sound or screams and stuff without hurting your voice.

The funniest thing I’ve discovered that is part of my warm-up, besides lip trills and tongue trills, are these singing straws that you can buy in different diameters. You can get cocktail straws of different diameters instead. You make scales or sweeps through the straw, and it helps everything relax…it becomes impossible for you to push too much air and blow too much. You’re essentially training your voice to use as little air as possible while still having support. On this album, I probably went further vocally than I ever had before, so those different techniques definitely helped me use vocal aggression in a safe way.

One thing is that your voice changes over time. Just because you spoke a certain way in your 20s doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily hear that way in your 30s. Over the past two years, I’ve definitely expanded my range, but I also know more about what I can do. I always tell young singers don’t be afraid to get older, because you can still improve, as long as you do the right things.