Highway to hell: Halestorm's journey to the top

GUITARS AND AMPS EXPO 2014: Life on the road has not only become the norm for the Pennsylvania hard rockers Halestorm, it has been the dominant influence in developing their guitar styles and performance. The band have a schedule that would induce anxiety in seasoned pros, but somehow they combine a prolific release cycle with a casual 300 live appearances a year.

We spoke to Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger about a life lived onstage, the merits of the power stance, and the gear they take along for the ride...

How has an intense touring and release schedule made you a better player?

Lzzy: "Definitely touring - you play 300 dates a year and hopefully you get better! You have to force yourself to learn how to listen to people [in the band] and that's something that's definitely developed for me over our years of intense touring. You're dealing with the ups and downs and pushes and pulls of four different minds. You have to learn how to almost read each others minds and play off what the others are doing."

Joe: "Any time you pick up the guitar you're going to do something for yourself. When we were out with Alter Bridge, I'd sit in with Mark [Tremonti] and he plays all day on the road. I'd try and learn the same thing and we'd compare notes. So I'd spend five hours on that and then go play a show, so if you play as much as we do then you get better!"

"Own [the stage] and look people in the eye, that's when you connect with an audience" - Lzzy Hale

What's your touring setup?

Lzzy: "I'm a very simple girl, I have a Marshall JCM800 and I'm also a Gibson girl as far as guitars, so that's where I get most of my tone. I have an MXR Boost for solos, then I occasionally use a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell wah. I've always been fascinated with finding a basic rock tone that will change from guitar to guitar. I'll pick whether I want to use a Les Paul, or my signature Explorer, or my Baritone, so the tone will change depending on the song."

Joe: "Right now I have an EVH 5150 III amp. I keep the gain down pretty low and I'll use an Ibanez Tubescreamer to get it to where it feels like the nuances are right. My main guitar is a hard rock[-style] Telecaster that Fender built me. It's one of the best guitars I've ever played. They put a Jim Root neck on there, then it's got a Seymour Duncan SH11 Custom Custom pickup and I had them put a killswitch on it, just for fun. Then I have my core pedals: a Jerry Cantrell wah, a volume pedal, the TS808 Tubescreamber, an MXR Phase 90, a flange and on this tour I threw on a Way Huge Echopuss pedal.

Does your gear take a beating?

Joe: "I love my gear and I really try to take care of it, but I've had a few doozies. I destroyed an amp in France when we were opening for Megadeth. I'm a klutz, I was walking backwards and walked right into my full stack and laid it out. The head went like 10 feet behind us! I literally landed on the cabinet, feet up in the air. It was like, 'OK - I'm not cool!'"

We love this Halestorm track, Mz. Hyde...

What have you learned about working a crowd?

Lzzy: "It took me a while to get confident onstage playing guitar. I would be looking at my hand, making sure I got every note perfect. I realised that with an audience, if you walk out there and, even if it's a little sloppy, if you just be a badass, own it and look people in the eye, that's when you connect with the audience."

Joe: "I've learned about the power stance! I remember watching Alice Cooper with his band when we opened for them and they put out so much energy with their demeanour. It says a lot, how you hold yourself up there. Eye contact makes it all fun. There's a game that we play where you stare at somebody until they break the stare. It's weird because it's really uncomfortable sometimes, but then they break and you're like, 'Alright, I've significantly weirded them out!' Then you move on."

When do you write if you're playing 300 shows a year?

Lzzy: "Whenever we can! I make it my job to at least write something every day, whether it's sitting down with the guitar, finishing some lyrics, playing a piano, just to put something down. Something that we've been doing lately has been writing a song and then we'll put it into the set and just see what happens. It might totally bomb, or you can find out 'There's a moment we can use!' That's been a risk, but it's so far, so good."

Joe: "We collect ideas. I have my little practice amp and I warm up and I just play around for a little while, record it on my iPhone, name it something stupid and once I go home I'll see what I've collected and we'll open up Logic and try to make a song out of it."

"I've lived about six different lifetimes. I don't have any regrets because I'm doing what I love every single day. How many people get to say that?" - Lzzy Hale

How does your schedule affect you mentally and physically?

Lzzy: "We're all perpetually 14 inside, we're very immature, our sense of humour has gotten warped. And then when I go home I forget that I have a shower at my disposal and that I should probably use it every day! There's a lot of little things like that, but we do on average 250-300 dates a year and touring has become more normal than real life."

Joe: "I think we're lucky, we love doing this. Before we were signed we were doing 250 shows a year just around Pennsylvania. We just like playing rock shows and that's always been our goal: do more rock shows."

You give up a lot. Is it worth it?

Lzzy: "I think it is. I didn't go to a normal prom, I don't have normal relationships, I can't remember the last time I went out on a real date with anybody and family time is definitely 'catch it while you can'. But at the same time, I've lived about six different lifetimes. I don't have any regrets because I'm doing what I love every single day. How many people get to say that?"

Words: Matt Parker

Matt Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.