Interview with Arejay Hale of Halestorm
The popularity of Halestorm is spreading like wildfire. Not only are they quickly burning up the Billboard Charts, but they are also becoming headliners in their own right. They have paid their dues, toured the country many times over and have even taken their music international extending all the way to Japan. Most recently, Halestorm has been touring in support of their second studio album, The Strange Case of…Halestorm. Just days before heading back out on the road for the third annual Carnival of Madness Tour; EMURG had the opportunity to chat with none other than Halestorm’s drumming machine and co-founder, Arejay Hale. Arejay gives EMURG the scoop about the band’s drug of choice, how he feels about being compared to a muppet, what he really thinks of his sister’s voice, and more!
It seems like you were born with drumsticks in your hands, and it’s so obvious that you love what you do. You decided to start a band with Lzzy when you were 10 and she was 13…how did you both know this wasn’t going to be just a passing phase? That’s a very young age to make such a concrete life decision and actually follow through on it. How did you get people, especially your parents to take your dream seriously?
Well, as we were growing up, our parents would take us to a lot of concerts and a lot of festivals around the area. We were always really drawn to watching live bands. Then, we’d go to these concerts and just dream about how it would be really cool to be up there [on stage] playing one day. It really started out as a childhood fantasy. Lzzy started playing the keyboard and I started playing the drums around the same time… (pauses thoughtfully for a moment) I think my parents got my sister a little toy drum kit for her fifth birthday, and when I was two I would sneak into her room when she wasn’t there, and I would just bash the living hell out of it! (laughs) I think it took a few times of them (mom and dad) catching me in her room playing her drum set, and then eventually they just kinda gave it to me. It just started from there.
When we were 10 and 13 we had our first show at the county fair just for fun. We wrote one song together and we played the show. It was a talent show contest; we did our one song and we ended up winning third place. We lost to a tap dancing cowgirl (laughs); Little Orphan Annie was number one. We got up there and played our little rock n’ roll [number], or whatever we thought it was at the time, and after that show we just never looked back. We were addicted! We were like, “Man, we wanna do this again!” We looked at each other and were like, “Let’s ask mom and dad and see if they can help us play some other places.” Then, they started booking us in coffeehouses and like church – like rocking youth music underground stuff — it was very weird. But it was cool because we were playing music! We were just amped to be playing. I think we were the kids who just never grew out of it, and we’re still those same crazy kids that never grew up and like to rock!
If for some reason things didn’t work out, was there a back-up plan? Were you ever interested in any other careers, and if so, what were they?
I played soccer in school. I remember when I was nine debating between being a professional soccer player and being a professional musician. Music was always way better; actually soccer never had a chance! (laughs) Later on, as I started playing and as I got older, I always knew that I wanted to play and make music in some way. We were always very driven. But, I guess I thought if the band thing didn’t work out, I still wanted to be involved in the music industry somehow, whether it be on the business side, or the producing side, or the song writing side. That was always my back-up plan if playing music didn’t work out. In some way, I’d still be involved in the music industry somehow.
Well, I definitely think that you made the right choice between music and soccer.
(laughs) Well, thank you!
Who were your greatest musical influences?
We were influenced a lot by our parent’s music. We also had a lot of parental support. I think our parents were actually more excited that we wanted to start a band than they would have been if we wanted to be doctors or lawyers — which is kind of the opposite of any other kind of parental decision. I think the fist time I was really serious about playing drums was when I was in the car with my dad. I think we were going to the dentist or something. (laughs) The classic rock station was on; that’s the stuff my dad likes to listen to, and I heard “Rock n’ Roll” by Led Zeppelin. I heard John Bonham playing the drum intro and that just completely altered my life! COM-PLETE-LY! I was like what is this? I cranked up the radio all the way up. I was maybe seven or eight. I was really little, and that song just blew me away! After we got back home, I asked my dad if he had any older music like that. He had some Zeppelin records, and records from The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and stuff like that. I dove into all that [music] head first. That was pretty much it! That’s when it was solid that I knew I really wanted to be a drummer.
You’ve been referred to as the front man in the back, and provide the audience with one of the most impressive and energetic drum solos many have ever witnessed. Fans affectionately call you Animal, in reference to the character from the Muppets. How do you feel about the comparison? Is it something you embrace, or secretly hate?
(Laughing) I absolutely embrace it! I think it’s the coolest thing ever! I’ve always been drawn to and enjoyed energetic drumming leads, and drumming that helps to shape a band’s sound. If you listen to Led Zeppelin, John Bonham, in my opinion, was pretty irreplaceable. When he died, Zeppelin just couldn’t go on anymore – they just didn’t have that same sound. You know, it’s the same with Keith Moon from The Who and all these great drummers that really help shape the music. I was always drawn towards that [type of drummer]. So for people to say that I’m worthy of that breed, it’s so incredibly humbling. I don’t really know how to take it. In my opinion, I’m not really a technically geared drummer at all. I like to bounce around and have fun on stage! I think most of it comes from Lzzy and I growing up — we were always drawn towards front men [in bands]. I always liked the drummer, but I was always really hooked on the front men — like really good front men like Freddie Mercury (Queen), David Lee Roth (Van Halen)…even modern front men like Jacoby [Shaddix] from Papa Roach is one of my favorites, M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold, and Brent [Smith] from Shinedown is awesome. We got to watch all these front men everyday on tour, so I kinda just tried to pick up on the antics that they would do and apply it to the drums. We never really had any kind of production or light show or anything – it’s never really been in the budget because we’re still a relatively new band; we only have two records out. This was the case especially in the early days — we had to bring a lot of energy to compete with established bands that had things like the light show, and pyros, and other stuff like that whereas we just had ourselves. So, our objective as a band was to just put out as much energy as possible. It really warms me — I really feel appreciated that people are watching the drummer, because no one ever really watches the drummer. I’m just the guy in the back in the shadows. It’s pretty cool!
There is usually a great story behind the name of a band. “Halestorm” is obviously a play on words with the spelling of “Hale” — how did you come up with the name, and did you ever think about changing it?
I think we both came up with it on a whim. Both my sister and I have the last name Hale, and when we started it was just the two of us. She had the keyboard; I was playing drums, and we were singing… And yeah, a couple of times we were going to change it as we started evolving and started playing more. Actually, I always thought it was kind of a cheesy name. But on the way to our very first gig, at the talent show, we were sitting in the back of the van and realized that we couldn’t just go up there [on stage] and be like “Hi, we’re Lzzy and Arejay Hale of the Hale Family Band.” (laughs) Actually, I think it was my mom’s idea to go up there and say (mimics his mom’s voice) “Hi, we’re the Hale Family Band!” It was one of those country fairs with hay bail tossing, and pig grabbing, and key lime pie eating contests — it’s very rule Pennsylvania. Mom thought if we went up and introduced ourselves as she suggested, the judges would just love it. She thought that they would think it was so cute! And we were like, “NOOOOO! That’s not cool! Its gotta be badass!” We’d always get teased at school. Since our last name was Hale, kids would be like, “Oh look, the hale storm arrived, Ha, ha, ha!” So I think to make some fun of ourselves we decided to go up [on stage] as Halestorm! We thought it would be badass, you know it would be like a storm with lightning and thunder and stuff! (laughs) So that’s what we named the band when we were 10 and 13 and haven’t changed it. We did come close though – we had books, and books of names, and we were going to change the name of the band. Eventually, our manager was like, “You guys are Halestorm. You guys are brother and sister, you have the family thing going on; it fits you guys!” So we just kept it, and put our record out as Halestorm, and we’re still Halestorm.
The band has such great onstage chemistry, it’s obvious that you’re not only bandmates, but you’re like a family. How did the lineup of the band come together? I know your dad played bass in the beginning, but specifically, how did you find Joe and Josh, and what made them a good fit?
Lzzy and I were always super, super driven to play music and to be in a band, and do this band – we’re so passionate about it. There was always a real family vibe. When my dad played bass, we had this one guitar player that came in to try and fill out the sound, but his parents wanted him to go to college — which was cool and rightfully so. It was probably the better choice, rather than to quit school and join the circus like Lzzy and I did. (laughs) He was a really talented [guitar] player, but his parents were like, “Well, if you’re not signed and in a limousine by the end of the week, we’re gonna pull the kid outta the band.” They didn’t get that that’s not really how it works. You really have to work your ass off to even get signed, and then after you get signed you really have to work your ass off! This has just been a way of life for me and Lzzy. It doesn’t make any difference to us. We love to do what we do. But, it was hard to find players that were just as passionate and driven about being in a band as we were. So after several players, and my dad retired, we had another bass player and guitar player combo — we went through maybe five or six different lineup changes until we landed Joe and Josh.
We ended up holding auditions in Philadelphia with this one producer that we were working with out there. He put up flyers and put ads in newspapers and magazines. Joe answered and ad in a magazine, and auditioned, and ended up joining the band.
But, for the next couple of months, we really struggled to find a good bass player. And then, there was this band in the Philadelphia area who had this singer that really sounded like Jeff Buckley — just really cool. We would go and see him play at this bar called the Grey Street Pub in Philadelphia, and we’d always watch the bass player. We’d always admire the bass player, and it was Josh. We were always like, “Man, he’s so good! We need a bass player like him!” I think we kinda like tricked him. We were recording some demos in the studio, and we asked him if he’d like to come and lay down some tracks. He said, “Yeah, sure why not.” So he came and hung out and it was really cool. We all got along. We all sat down and were like “Hey man, we really want you to join our band. We love the person you’re playing for right now, we respect him a lot, but you need to be in our band!” And, we just kinda kidnapped him! Also, he kinda liked what we were doing more than the other band he was in so, he had to make the hard decision to call his best friend and tell him that he was leaving his band to join ours. That’s how we got Josh, and luckily there are no hard feelings between his [old] band and our band. So we basically just kidnapped Joe and Josh, and fortunately, they were just as passionate and just as driven as we were.
I’ve been to a few of your shows and there is always such a positive vibe. Like I said, everyone can see the camaraderie between all of you. Of course it’s great to watch the band perform, but it’s also equally as fun to watch how you interact with each other and also with the crowd. Everyone genuinely seems to enjoy being on stage night after night, and that makes all the difference.
Oh absolutely, you can totally feel that vibe off the crowd. When we get up there and we do what we do, we put all the energy that we have into our shows. We’re just so psyched and pumped to be playing music that it doesn’t matter if we’re playing in front of 60,000 people or 6 people. But to see the crowd eat that [energy and enjoyment] up and give it back to us, it gets us really amped because they’re excited. It’s just a total give and take kind of energy when it comes to playing live. And actually, a little trivia for ya, that’s how the song “I Get Off” was written. It’s about us playing live, but we also knew that sex sells, so we decided to throw a little bit of that in there too!
What’s it like to be up on stage and have the audience know every word to every one of your songs?
There’s no drug and no buzz that can replace that! It’s our drug of choice – playing music and playing live in front of people. We’re planning on doing this for a long, long time. We just love it so much.
Rock and Metal are still two strongly male dominated genres of music. What advantages or disadvantages are there to having a female fronted band?
I’ve noticed that kids are starting to like heavy music again. I felt like for a while rock and metal might have been doomed. But, I think that really good metal bands like Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold, and Five Finger Death Punch — all these awesome heavy bands are having a lot of success with concerts, and ticket sales, and touring. [Their popularity] has opened a lot of doors for bands that really want to play heavy music. I think it’s cool that kids are turned on to that genre, kind of like how they used to be in the early 90s — it’s making a huge comeback. I think that rock radio is so important, and that good talented rock music is so important — I hope that no one gives up on it.
The advantages of having a female singer is that it sets us apart and we stand out. It makes us different because there are so many guy bands and there is always competition. For me personally, I’m not really a big fan of a lot of female fronted bands apart from a few like Flyleaf, Evanescence, Paramore, and a few others — they’re all really good bands. But, the thing that really sets Lzzy apart is that nobody really sounds like her. No one really wants to get guttural and just kind of wail. I think that a lot of female singers have more of an operatic voice, and Lzzy has more of an “I don’t give a fuck” voice because she was influenced by a lot of guy singers. She wasn’t really influenced by any girl singers apart from classic ones like Pat Benatar, and Heart, and maybe Joan Jett. But, she was heavily influenced by male singers like Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses), Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) – all these great and powerful vocalists. I think she always wanted to do that. And, also what makes her different from other female singers is that she likes to sing her guts out!
I think that when women watch Lzzy perform, she gives us all a feeling of empowerment. She’s also a great role model for the next generation of rockers coming up through the ranks – especially the girls.
Absolutely! That’s so important that more girls be interested in rock n’ roll and heavy music! Not even just to sing, but to play guitar, or bass, or drums — anything! There’s a lack of female rockers out there. It’s really cool to see little girls coming up after the shows at meet and greets and they’re saying, “You guys are inspiring me to want to start a band, or to play drums or play guitar.” And, not even just girls, but kids in general approach us after shows. It’s so thrilling for us because it reminds us of when we were kids and we would go out and see bands and they would inspire us to play. It’s pretty surreal. We wrote a couple of songs about it on the new record. The song, “Rock Show” was actually written after we got a letter from one of our younger fans. She said how much we inspired her to play guitar and to sing. We were just like, “Wow!” That’s such a huge reason to want to keep on doing this! It’s just so incredible to see younger kids wanting to start a rock band, and not just want to play video games or become DJs. That’s all cool, but it’s really cool to see kids want to play rock n’ roll in a band. They’re the future of rock and heavy metal!
You’ve shared the stage with some of the most recognizable names in the business. What’s some of the most useful advice that you ever received from another musician and who was it from?
Oh man! Well, the most recent conversation was with Zoltan [Bathory], the guitar player from Five Finger Death Punch. He’s a really, really smart guy. He designs a lot of their merch, and their stage show, and he does their fan club. He gave me a lot of really good advice about how they built such an army in terms of their fan base. He created the Knuckleheads as the name of the fan club for Five Finger Death Punch. That was a huge inspiration for me personally. I’m trying to get a grip on what our brand is and how to market it, and also how to build our army of followers, or our legion of rock n’ roll warriors. It was cool to talk to him about business, and talk shop about the way the music industry is going. Even with the direction now, it’s more social and more social media. Growing up, we didn’t have that. We had to hang up flyers in laundromats to play local shows. (laughs) Now we have Facebook and Twitter and all these things! We really embrace that. Even with our own website, we embrace our fan club. We like to figure out a bunch of cool stuff to give our VIP fans, like have special meet and greets where they can come and hang out; get a free t-shirt and an autographed poster — stuff like that.
Also, when we were touring with Seether and Shinedown, both of those bands really taught us to treat opening bands with respect. When we toured with Seether, they were the nicest guys ever! Of course that was our first tour, and we were really spoiled. We thought that all headliners were like them, and they’re really not! They were so generous! They let us use their drum riser, they let us sound check, they gave us a full rider, and hospitality — they just really took care of us. I think that was a huge inspiration for us as a headlining act to treat our opening bands well. Regardless of who opens for us, we want to treat them with respect, and we want to bond with them and even bring them out on stage.
Wow, that’s both very cool and very generous of you guys!
Shaun [Morgan] would bring Lzzy out on stage to sing “Broken” with him. That was the coolest thing ever because if people showed up late, they still got to hear Lzzy sing, and they found out about the name of [our] band. We just like to do that kinda stuff with [our] opening bands – bring them out, play with them, give them what they need, and just take care of them.
Halestorm is known for being a band with a heavy touring schedule. Because of this fact, I can only assume a lot of the second album was written on the road. That had to be difficult. Can you describe your creative process? Do you compose the music first, write lyrics – how does a song all come together? And, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Oh Wow! Yeah, you’re exactly right! We’re constantly touring. The reason for that is because we hate sitting around at home and being bored. It gets really boring sitting at home and trying to write a record. You end up getting writer’s block and can’t really think. But when we’re out on the road, and we’re watching other bands, and meeting people and meeting our fans, and everyone is coming up and talking to us — it’s really inspirational for us to write on the road. A lot of times we jot down lyrics and hum melodies into our phones, and put down riffs — we keep a guitar on the bus. Every once in a while one of us will set up our iPhones and record. I like to use that FourTrack recorder app on my iPhone. Usually, I’ll strum a riff into that and then record something else on top of it, and then something else on top of that, and just try to keep that idea going. What we do is just compile ideas on the road.
What we did with our second record, The Strange Case of…, [was to finish our] tour, and then the next day, we flew to LA to start recording. So, basically it was crunch time. We had no time to actually sit and write. I also feel that we come up with our most creative stuff when we have a deadline. We basically had a week to write a whole batch of songs before we started recording. We wrote half the record the week after we stopped touring. We went in the studio, we set up in the live room — drums, guitars, everything; got our headphones and we just started jamming together. I would start laying down a groove and Joe would put a riff on top of it…it was just a really organic process that also forced us to be creative quickly. We laid down half the record and took a break, went to the beach, and then we started preparing our more intimate stuff, especially Lzzy. She started writing lyrics that were very, very close and intimate to her. It was almost like she was kind of embarrassed to come to me, or come to the rest of us and say, “Hey what do you guys think about this for a song?” She wrote the songs “In Your Room”, “Here’s to Us”, “Beautiful With You”, “Break In”, and “Hate It When You See Me Cry” (the last being) on the deluxe edition. That one, I think Lzzy wrote completely by herself, and she recorded it on her phone with an acoustic guitar. She had a little bit of wine that night, so she sent it to everybody, and we were all like, “This is awesome!” But, half way into the record we realized that we had all these heavy songs that we wrote right off the bat. We were right off the road, we were still pretty amped and our ears were still ringing from being on stage and rocking out in front of people. We wrote our really heavy and aggressive stuff like “Love Bites”, and “I Miss The Misery”, and then later had this new batch of soft songs, and were thinking “God, how is all this going to fit together on one album?” It was totally diverse; it wasn’t one thought, it was two — there’s a certain duality to the record. Later on, that’s why we wrote “Mz. Hyde” we just decided to do it on purpose. Lzzy and I were always big fans of the Jekyll and Hyde book and so instead of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we’ll do The Strange Case of Halestorm. And, that’s how it all came about!
Arejay, thank you so much for being so generous with your time. We at EMURG wish you, Lzzy, Joe, and Josh nothing but continued success.
Oh hey, thank you! And, thanks for voting us EMURG’s Band of the Month!
Halestorm is a band not only with staying power, and a distinctive sound, they are also a band with heart. Pick up your own copy of The Strange Case of”¦Halestorm on their website, www.halestormrocks.com, iTunes, or Amazon.com. Also, be sure to check them out for yourself at Carnival of Madness, coming to a city near you. Halestorm will be sharing the stage with New Medicine, Cavo, Chevelle, and Evanescence. If you only attend one concert this summer, this eargasmic good time is the one not to be missed!