Lzzy Hale: “When Dio gives you a mission, you follow”
She may have grown up believing herself to be a “weirdo outsider”, but Elizabeth Mae Hale has become one of modern rock’s biggest players. After a unique upbringing in a log cabin in the woods, and then on a 20-acre farm, the artist you know as Lzzy Hale was “bitten by the music bug”, and formed Halestorm at the age of 13, with her little brother, Arejay.
“From early on, I knew I wanted to sing… or be a park ranger and look after the animals. I was actually quite sad because I couldn’t figure out how to do both those things together,” she tells us. Since then, she’s overseen Halestorm’s meteoric rise.
She was 21 when they signed to Atlantic Records, became the first woman to win a Grammy in the best metal performance category, and the band have released five albums – including this year’s career-heaviest Back From The Dead – that have helped define rock for a generation.
Lzzy has also garnered a reputation for being outspoken, opening up about her sexuality, relationships, mental health struggles and views on organised religion. “I’m happy to talk about anything!” she tells us as we sit down together over Zoom, refusing to dodge a single question. This is her story.
What was your upbringing like?
“I was blessed to have some supportive parents, who were a little nuts, because I don’t think I would have done some of the things I have done were it not for them. They had this crazy idea to live on the Appalachian Trail in a log cabin, so from the age of nine ’til 11, there were no neighbours, just me and my little bro and my parents packed in, with one bathroom, one living room, one kitchen, in the woods. That wasn’t going to be sustainable, so we moved to a 20-acre farm – this is all in Pennsylvania, which is a big state – and I grew up on that farm until I was 18.”
What about your first memories of music?
“When I was 10 years old and we were in the cabin in the woods, one of my favourite things to do was to wander off and sing to the trees. There was nothing else to do! Ha ha ha! I would pretend that the trees were the audience and they were clapping to me.
Fast-forward to moving to the farm, we finally had some neighbours, and I made some friends. I ended up taking an Alice Cooper and a Dio CD to a slumber party – now, this is 1996. It was the beginning of the boyband era and Mariah Carey was popular, so that’s how I discovered that my taste was not necessarily in vogue. Those girls looked at me like I was an alien; I discovered I was weird that night. I just loved that music. I grew up on my Dad’s record collection of Deep Purple, Dio, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Blue Oyster Cult… that era was so important to me.”
And you started a band pretty early, too!
“Yeah. I’d been playing piano since I was five, and my brother [Arejay, Halestorm drummer] had been playing drums since he was about eight, so we would always jam together in the living room.
In the summer of 1997, we decided to play our first song out in the world. We were on our way to this little show, and my little brother was basically annoying me, going, ‘Sis, we can’t go up there as Lizzy and Arejay Hale! We need a band name!’, and I’m like, ‘Buddy, we don’t need a band name, there’s only two of us!’ He just kept harping on, and we went back and forth until he said, ‘Well, what about Halestorm? It’s a pun and we’ll spell it like we spell our names!’ And I just said ‘yes’ to shut him up, like, ‘That’ll do for today!’”
What was the show like?
“We did this performance, we were literally shaking with adrenaline afterwards and… we caught the bug! I remember being back at the kitchen table, I was 13 and he was 10, and we were going, ‘Right, where else can we play? What about that coffee house down the street? What about that youth lock-in? What about Freddy’s restaurant for free ice cream?’ That was it, the start of the band.”
There’s a long tradition of siblings in bands. Sometimes it results in a real rivalry, but sometimes it brings people closer together. What have the challenges been for you and Arejay?
“Well, we’ve always just had each other, for a long period of time – probably until we got to middle school and I got the shock of, ‘Oh, right, I can have other friends!’ We’ve always been on the same level of odd, or weird, or sticking out. Also, we’re brother-sister, not brother-brother, so we don’t have that competitive nature with each other.
There’s also this thing where… I call myself a reformed introvert. I’ve had to work very hard to be the way I am, and a lot of that I’ve learned from my little bro; he was born camera ready, I don’t think I’ve seen him nervous in his life. So, we inspire each other in different ways. I’m Dean Martin to his Jerry Lewis.
The struggles we’ve had have only come in later years. We had no idea this silly band we started in middle school would become this thing, and so we’ve had to learn to wear different hats. I’ll put on my bandmate hat and he knows I’m talking to him as a bandmember and not his big sister. We had to learn a balance of communication, but there’s something magical about having someone blood-related in your band.”
You also had something of a religious upbringing. How do you look back on that these days?
“I’m very glad that I grew up on that side of it; I took what I needed and left what I didn’t. There is a darker side to organised religion. I lost my interest in organised religion when I was about 13 or 14 years old. There were a lot of questions that no one could answer for me, like, ‘Why is being gay wrong? Why do you have to ostracise people for that? Why is there so much love for these people and hate for these people?’ It was so messy. Eventually I decided and sat my parents down and told them I wasn’t going to go in that direction anymore. I guess I’m agnostic now, bordering on atheist.”
Was there any event that really inspired that?
“One of the big epiphanies I had was that whenever I went to church with my family, there was this couple and I was friends with their daughter. They had been married for 12 years and the father came out as gay, and his wife was very supportive and didn’t want to get divorced.
I saw the church push him out immediately, like there was no place for him and he was not allowed back, and for years they had been promoting this idea that we were a community and you could come to them with anything, but suddenly he was a pariah. I lost my friend and didn’t understand it. I couldn’t go on supporting that.”
Presumably that was happening while you were trying to come to terms with your own sexuality?
“Absolutely, my own journey – I didn’t know what to call it. In the Christian community you were told it was taboo, or wrong, or we don’t talk about it. I remember feeling the guilt about it. I remember early on there was a girl in second or third grade named Erin and she kissed me! It was innocent or whatever, but I remember thinking it was nice… but we could get in trouble doing it.
Fast-forward to middle school and it happened again at a sleepover at one of my friend’s houses, and then she was really embarrassed about it and we never talked about it again. I didn’t know what to do about it, so I just tucked it in my back pocket. It wasn’t until I was about 19 when I came out to Joe [Hottinger, Halestorm guitarist] and was like, ‘Oh, no, this is actually a thing in my life!’”
And you came out quite publicly as well…
“Yeah, I was doing this ‘ask me anything’ on Twitter in about 2011, and I had just forgotten I’d never said anything publicly about it. This question came in from someone asking the best way to come out to their family, and I said, ‘Well, speaking as a bisexual lady, this is kind of how I went about it.’ And everyone went, ‘Wait… you’re bi?’
So, it was totally by accident, but apparently Rob Halford did the same thing, and he and I got the chance to talk about that when we opened for them in Auckland. It was a very strange coming out for me, but I wasn’t really worried about anyone finding out. If someone asked, I wasn’t going to lie.”
What’s it like having people so interested in your personal life?
“I don’t mind people asking… there are so many ways to love, and I’ve been very lucky to be in a relationship with Joe for 19 years this year… and he is tragically straight! Ha ha ha.
We have a situation that we settled on a long time ago where he lets me do what I want, we have a lot of fun together, and he is someone that I can be my truest self with. I’m not looking for approval from anyone, I’ve found the right thing for me. I’d encourage anyone to find the right way to have a relationship and find a way to be happy. I think the fact that we buck the trend and do what makes us feel happy is just a beautiful thing.”
The 2000s were a really important time for the visibility of women in rock. What do you remember about those years?
“We were shopping around for labels, and we used to get the same thing all the time: ‘We like what you do, but this ‘women in bands’ thing just isn’t really happening.’ Then Amy Lee blew up, we got Nightwish and Paramore, and then – aha, I knew we were on the right track!
I always thought it was ridiculous and… I was always going to do it anyway! I wasn’t going to stop playing music! I felt vindicated. If you go up against a wall, it makes you more determined to prove those people wrong. I know a lot of these women, particularly Amy Lee, as her and I have spoken about this a lot. It just needed a couple of people to blow open that door.”
You have shared the stage with many of your musical heroes. Which encounter do you look back on with the most fondness?
“Dio has been such a source of inspiration for me. On our first album cycle we got to open for Heaven & Hell in Atlantic City. No one knew who we were. It was the last night of the tour, Coheed And Cambria were opening up and couldn’t make it, and we just happened to be driving through on the first leg of our tour. We got this call, and were asked to make a side step. Which… of course!
Fastforward to the end of the night. Dio walks out to our RV and says, ‘Stay there, I want to come and say goodbye, but I need to sign some stuff.’ So we watch him sign everything for everyone, and take every picture. He still walked back to say goodbye. I said something about him being so incredibly gracious, and that it was the wee hours of the morning, and if he just wanted to go and rest on his bus we would understand.
Dio waved a finger and said, ‘Lzzy, it’s a moment in time. You’re never going to remember every venue you play or every person you meet, but they will remember meeting you for the rest of their lives, so make it good for every one of them!’ Yes sir, Mr Dio! So, I try and treat my fans in the same way. When Dio gives you a mission, you follow. But, now I realise that he made it good for me, because I’m never going to forget that moment! After he passed, we found out that it was the last show he ever played, which is crazy. So, I feel very grateful for that moment with him.”
You were the first woman to win a Grammy in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category in 2012. That’s quite a feather in your cap!
“Oh, are you kidding me! It was hard to believe I was the first. I remember talking to the guys in the band and saying to them, ‘All of those times when we thought we were crazy for doing this, we weren’t stupid and we were right to keep doing this!’
I’m proud I stuck it out and didn’t listen to those voices that told me I was wrong, that I should lose my bandmates, that I should go down the Britney Spears route. The advice I got from these older industry men that I didn’t follow made me who I am today. It was a band achievement, but it was also a personal achievement for me.”
You’ve been a huge advocate for mental health over the years. What inspired that?
“I started therapy in my early 30s because in middle school I had anxiety attacks and depression. I cite the band with helping them go away, but I could feel those feelings coming back. My brother and I are really leading the way in our family to say that you see a dentist for your teeth and a doctor for your body – you need to see someone for your mind.
So many people get so incredibly sad or lost or just decide to leave this Earth because of problems they have. I have become very outspoken, because everyone needs to talk about it. The more we normalise it, the less of those suicides will happen.”
What else is left for you to achieve?
“You never run out of dreams. I want to see how far we can take this band. We still haven’t played Wembley Stadium, I still don’t have a private jet – I’m still waiting on Hale Force One – I have an acting bug in me, and I’d love to have a guest role in whatever project might take my fancy. I just want to keep creating music and digging deeper into that, not even as a career, just how much of the three chords and the truth I can put out into the world.”
Back From The Dead is out now via Atlantic. Halestorm tour the UK with Alter Bridge from December 5