Lzzy Hale was wondering if she had lost the magic. She was several months into songwriting for what eventually became the album “Vicious” by her band Halestorm and a moment of truth had arrived.
“To make a long story shorter, I started consciously writing this record six months before we went into the studio,” the singer/guitarist said in a recent phone interview. “I brought a bunch of songs. I got together with a bunch of friends and I got together with the guys (in the band) and we kind of worked up all of these demos. Then we’re listening to all of these songs, planning on we’re going to narrow it down, and we just weren’t excited about any of them.
“You could almost hear us just kind of trying to make everybody happy,” Hale said. “Like you could hear, OK, that’s an obvious radio grab. That’s definitely for the label because they’re going to want to cross over. That one’s definitely a rock show type tune for the fans. So what we realized was we were just kind of repeating ourselves and trying way too hard to please everybody but ourselves.”
Hale and her bandmates (guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith and drummer — and Hale’s younger brother — Arejay Hale) made the difficult decision to scrap that batch of songs and head into the studio with very little music in hand.
That situation was enough for Hale to entertain some doubts about herself as a songwriter.
“I’ve been in this band more than I haven’t been in this band,” Hale said. “I do take things personally, and I love, I guess over the years, I’ve gotten addicted to the forward movement of it, which has been amazing for my work ethic. But at the same time, when you have small setbacks or things that maybe you’re not sure of, or if you can’t put a puzzle together, I take it personally. And not in a super drama way, but just I kind of internalize and you go down certain rabbit holes in your brain.”
Early on, she confided in producer Nick Raskulinecz.
“I told him, I said like ‘Look, it’s hard for me right now to figure out where my excitement in this music is,’” Hale revealed. “I told him I’ve gone through a scene of this weird state of mind where you start thinking can I even get excited about anything I write anymore?”
Raskulinecz, who has produced such big name acts as the Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains and Rush, had some simple advice — make music for herself first and chances are if she got excited about the music, her fans would, too. He also had an idea for how create an environment in which Halestorm could come up with music that would foster that enthusiasm.
“Every day and he would set us up in his studio, a very small room, with all of our instruments plugged in, and every day he would go ‘All right, who’s got a riff ? Who’s got an idea?’” Hale recalled. “‘We’ll start there.’
“So we basically used that as the mission statement, and through writing this record, even right down to all of the subject matter were things I wrote, I was kind of going through my head and more or less writing these songs as a reminder to myself that I still got it and I can still move this obsession forward,” she said. “And collectively as a band, we found our mojo again and this renewed respect for what everybody brings to the table, and really what makes our band what it is, which is the four of us. In a lot of ways, it felt like going back to the beginning and writing in my parents’ basement when we all first met. So it was an exciting thing and we came out on the other side swinging and feel like we almost had to write this record, just for ourselves as almost a therapy session.”
Making “Vicious” wasn’t always easy or quick, though. In fact, the band recorded upwards of a half dozen different versions of many of the songs, trying to find a version that felt definitive. Not being able to go through that process on the first three albums — because studio time was limited — meant that the songs tended to grow into better versions of themselves on tour.