Halestorm's Arejay Hale: my guide to nailing the perfect cover version
Nail the perfect cover version
Taking classic songs and trying to make them your own may seem like a thankless task, but Arejay Hale and his Halestorm bandmates have made quite the art of it.
On Reanimate 3, the band’s third EP collection of covers, they take on Metallica, Whitesnake, Soundgarden, Twenty One Pilots and more.
So, given that he’s an old hand at this, we thought we’d ask Arejay to share his top tips on how to nail a perfect cover version. He starts with an obvious one…
“All the songs that we picked for Reanimate were fun to perform in the studio for different reasons. Some were fun to learn and replicate close to the original and some were fun to take and f*** with to make something totally different and fresh from a great older song. Some of the songs felt like I was making a remix and that was fun and challenging in its own way.”
Think long and hard about your choices
“We selected the songs for this EP in a similar way to the last two [cover] EPs we put out. We had a bunch of songs we liked, our record label and management had songs they'd like to hear us remake, our producer, friends, family and fans all threw in suggestions... It was a really big batch of songs we had to choose from.
“It seems like our continuing method for song selection is based on many different factors like; are they fun to play, are they going to represent us well, will our fans find it cool if we cover this or that? Regardless of all the variables of selecting, I notice a few things that always happen with every cover EP we release whether intentional or not.
“First of all, the songs are always a widespread range of timelines, we always like to take songs from artists through the decades up to modern times, we usually get responses from some of the actual artists we've covered and they're always really stoked about our remakes.
"Finally, I always notice how much the songs we cover influence the writing of our original songs when we go in the studio to make a new original record. I always encourage up-and-coming musicians and songwriters to try learning other artists’ material, because it helps you understand how other artists write melodies, lyrics and musical parts and that can inspire and influence you when writing your own.”
Don't worry about making a carbon copy
"We didn't try to match the original drum tones at all, with the exception of a cymbal swap here and there. For the most part I played on my set up I felt comfortable with and that helped me when writing the drum parts to stay in my own mentality.
“Certain songs I try to keep true to the original parts but I like putting my own spin on things like drum fills, dynamics, meter changes etc so all the songs at least have a similar feel to my own style of drumming while paying tribute to the amazing work of the original artists.
“I believe if our fans wanted to hear an exact copy of the original song it wouldn't be as special for them. At that point you might as well just listen to the original song but I think a lot of our fans want to hear what we do with the song and where we take it.”
Beware the fan backlash!
“Covering Ride The Lightning was a real challenge for me because you can't deviate from the original part too much, you have to stay true to Ulrich's drum parts.
“His parts are all strategically planned out and repeated for when sections come back around in their usually long 8-10 minute songs. If I were to change a bunch of the parts in that song Metallica fans would most likely stone me! But there is one section in the middle of that song where it sounds like Lars improvised a little bit, so I stole the chance to do some fun and fast improv chops, while still keeping the integrity of the song.
“The same goes for [Soundgarden’s] Fell On Black Days, I had to stay true to Matt Cameron, after all he is a beast of groove and yes was an influence on me growing up on Soundgarden. I love his sludgy pocket he has in that song so I wanted to keep that but at the same time I wanted to blend my own feel into the song and throw in a few tasty original fills in here and there. It's a fine line with certain players like Cameron but it all comes down to making it fun. It's pretty much the same principal for all the songs, some we change more than others but the goal is always to cover songs we can make our own.”
Take a little piece for your own playing…
“I honestly really like Twenty One Pilots and have a lot of respect for them, especially after learning and performing Heathens [for Reanimate]. I think Josh Dun is a slammin’ player!
“I liked covering that song because I felt that he might have the same influences as I do. One thing I've always loved to play along to on drums is hip-hop and R&B music and this song had a feel and groove like that. He plays with a lot of pocket but also a lot of energy and power. I got mad respect for his style and also for their songwriting. I remember a moment while learning Heathens thinking to myself, "Damn, I wish I would've written this song!"
“The song is so well written, lyrically, melodically and musically in such amazing simplicity. After learning that song I tried to apply some of those simplistic elements to my own song demos I've been writing. I'm hoping by the time we go into write the next record I'll have a batch of songs with a lot of growth from our last record. I think our fans will be intrigued to hear how far we've come as songwriters since our first record.”