By Kristin M. Hall
When four-piece hard-rock band Halestorm went back into the studio to work on their fourth album, they already had thrown out a bunch of songs they felt sounded too much like songs they had recorded before.
Led by frontwoman Lzzy Hale, the group has been dealing with critics for years saying the band leaned too pop and didn’t shred hard enough. But the band wasn’t trying to please everyone, because its members just wanted to keep evolving.
“We’re on our fourth record on a major label and we won a Grammy Award, and there’s this misconception that you’ve had the success, and therefore it gets easier,” said 34-year-old Hale. “It really doesn’t, because you’ve put so much out in the world and you’re like, ‘OK, what’s next?”’
The new album, “Vicious,” came out of a lot of experimentation in a Nashville, Tenn., studio working with acclaimed rock producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has worked with bands such as Foo Fighters and Alice in Chains. Hale and her brother Arejay Hale, Joe Hottinger and Josh Smith have been performing together for more than 15 years, and Raskulinecz wanted to capture that live sound as much as possible.
The Pennsylvania-based band started the second leg of a tour with all female-fronted rock bands – including In This Moment and New Year’s Day – on July 27. A third leg of the tour was just added starting in November.
Lzzy Hale and Hottinger, who plays guitar, talked with The Associated Press about dealing with critics, finding new inspiration and touring with other female rockers. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. What was it like in the studio this time?
Hottinger: We were really like, “How do we push this band forward? How do we do something interesting that’s hard rock these days?” Because it seems like it’s really hard to find good rock music and something that is pushing the boundaries a little bit. And (Nick) is like, “Well, let’s just start with the four of you in a room and who’s got a riff? We’ll start there.”
Hale: He was a Halestorm fan before we ever started working together. So when we would be excited, like this is really cool, he would say, “No, no, no. I’ve seen what you can do live. I know you can sing harder, I know you can play faster, I know your brother can be crazier. Let’s push everything that makes you guys who you are. Let’s push it forward.”
Q. Is there a democratic process to making decisions as a band?
Hale: It’s interesting because we’ve been a four-piece for over 15 years now, and it’s interesting how you settle into your roles. Everybody has a tremendous amount of respect to what everybody brings to the table. And not everybody has to be interested in the same thing.
Q. Do you pay attention to critics and reviews of your albums?
Hale: We pay attention to critics and reviews, but we’ve never paid any mind to what people think of us. I think that comes with literally growing up on the stage. Since we were 13 we were performing.
Hottinger: Like the first record came out and nobody really cared, and the only thing you’d see about us was positive things ’cause people would take the time because they were excited.
Hale: We always said once people started hating on us, then we’ve got it.
Hottinger: You can’t make everyone happy, and we’re not going to. I think it’s great actually when you get some of the good, creative criticism.
Hale: We’ve always been our biggest critics and like any obstacle that is in front of us or judgment that’s in front of us, we usually put it there.
Q. That feels like a theme throughout the album, especially on songs like “Uncomfortable,” of being unapologetic.
Hale: I was trying to figure out how to be OK with not being the person that makes everybody happy. And writing an album and moving this band forward specifically for myself and my bandmates and not for anybody else. So it came through very honestly in the lyrics.
Q. By touring with other female-fronted rock bands, did you hope to change perceptions about what rock fans will pay to see?
Hale: Halfway through this tour, we realized the audience is no longer 60/40 male to female, which is usually kinda what happens at a rock show. It’s either 50/50 or it’s completely turned on its head. So we’re seeing this kind of sea of girls that are like us. We’re kind of proving on this tour that this heavy music is genderless.
Hottinger: You look at the crowd and there’s these girls that are like embracing these traditionally masculine moments, like heavy moments or these screams, and these girls are loving it. And you realize these are just rock ’n’ roll moments and there’s no gender.
Hale: I think the goal with this next leg is to really show these girls that this is a place for you.