Eight years ago, Halestorm and Evanescence were sharing the ticket with Chevelle on The Carnival of Madness Tour. And Halestorm frontwoman Lzzy Hale was making a habit of softening her set with the addition of their song “Break in”. Night after night Evanescence vocalist Amy Lee watched Hale sing the song from backstage. Lee walked into Hale’s dressing room on one of those nights and complimented her performance of “Break In.” With mutual adoration for the ballad, Hale and Lee incorporated it as a powerful duet every night thereafter on the tour. But that was only the beginning of their journey together on “Break In.”
Now, years later, Halestorm has released their Reimagined EP, which offers a new take on Halestorm favorites like “I Get Off,” and “I Miss The Misery,” plus a new rendition of Hale and Lee’s duet on “Break In,” and a rock-infused spin on Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” made famous by the late Whitney Houston. The EP is an awakening of strong feminine energy featuring not only Lee, but also Nashville’s A-Team, who sang backup on “I Will Always Love You.” And for “Break In” Hale gave Lee complete creative freedom on the vocal parts and did not expect her to simply recreate their live duet from years ago. Lee came to the studio prepared, reviewing old YouTube videos of the tour when fans captured the performance of “Break In,” but a mere mimic of the original duet was far from how the song turned out.
“I gave her free reign,” Hale told American Songwriter about Lee’s contribution to “Break In.” “It’s not just her singing the harmonies from the original, it’s definitely her take on the song. It became a very interwoven performance. And this is purely a testament to how talented she is- her and I have different voices but we have such respect for each other- and when we were going over the parts waiting for everything to get setup, Amy and I were sitting together and we just started singing together acapella. And she popped up and was like ‘that’s going to be great, I’m going to go and get a tea,’ and I turned to Nick, our producer and said ‘do you know how difficult that would have been with any other singer in the world?’”
Although the collaboration with Lee was painless, the actual recording process was a bit more challenging. Instead of recording both vocals separately, producer Nick Rasculinecz wanted to capture the performance live and show the sheer energy between Lee and Hale. To do so, two mics were set up, six feet apart in the same room and they recorded the song in one-take.
“We had to perform the song from beginning to end in a single take, because there was no way for us to jump in and fix anything. So, if we screwed up, we had to do the whole thing over again,” Hale said. “We did seven takes and kept the sixth one. It was amazing and the song took on new meaning with Amy. It started as a love song and now the version with Amy has a sense of unity, like two women having each other’s back and we got really emotional talking to each other in the studio about that because it’s just really needed.”
For fan favorites and other Halestorm hits like “I Get Off,” “I Miss The Misery,” and “Mz. Hyde,” Halestorm completely revamped the songs and instrumentation, stripping the tracks down to their bones. They opted to choose older songs from their catalog because it was more of a challenge to reconceptualize them after playing them night after night for years.
“The EP ended up being a project where we could look at these songs with a blank palette again, which Is why we didn’t choose a lot of songs that were super new, because it was more challenging to forget about all the things you know that work with a song after playing it 250 days a year for the past decade,” Hale said.
Nashville’s A-Team, a group of well-known session players, were also brought in for “I Get Off,” which pushed the songs further from their original conception.
“One of the cooler moments was having some backup singers on some songs,” Hale said. “They were very choir based, church singing women and I’m listening to them singing ‘I get off on you getting off on me’ and they were just like ‘yeah girl!’, so we just had this cool vibe going on.”
For many of the originals, Halestorm did not have an elaborate idea carved out, they just did what they knew need to be done, by stripping the songs down and then layering them up with new ideas, many of which leaned more acoustic.
‘”Mz. Hyde’ is acoustic-based because a few years ago we did an ‘evening with tour” and so we had to basically open for ourselves,” Hale recalled. “So we’d start with this kumbaya sing along acoustic thing and ‘Mz. Hyde’ was one of those songs that stood out because it wasn’t a song you would normally do on acoustic. With the other songs, the reason they are toned down with acoustic vibes is because we had to strip it down.”
A revisited idea on the EP was to incorporate a cover. Halestorm has consistently recorded a cover project between their album cycles over the years, titled the Reanimate EPs and they wanted to include that element of themselves on the new release. “I Will Always Love You,” was a song that Hale had been prompted to include because it was the ultimate “diva song”. Halestorm has been performing other ‘diva’ like songs in their set over the last few years at metal and hard rock festivals to surprise fans, so it was a natural, fun idea to include on the EP.
“A few summers ago, I started throwing in a cover of Adele or ‘The Rose’ by Bette Midler, all these kinds of cheesy but beautiful diva ballads,” Hale said. “I loved doing it at rock festivals because you can pick out the poster kid for masculinity, the guy with leather jacket and tattooed face, and see he is balling his eyes out. It kind of became a trick to show something different. And when we were trying to narrow the EP down everyone kind of had a diva song idea and the most notable one was,’ I Will Always Love You’ and I was Iike ‘crap, now I got to pull that off.’”
Rasculinecz was by her side to help her pull of such a vocal performance and as an observer of Hale’s perfectionist mentality, he used forms of trickery to elicit the performance rather than practice or polishing.
“He’s always keeping me from knowing I’m a singer,” Hale said about her producer. “I’m kind of a perfectionist and we’re doing this song and I was just playing it on piano and singing and he’s recording everything of course, and I get to where I think I nailed it and he said he liked the one-two takes before that when I wasn’t quite warmed up and you can hear all the pops and grit in my vocals. Then he took away the piano. And I told him I would have sung it differently if I knew he was going to take the piano away. And he said ‘yes, that’s exactly why I didn’t tell you.”’
Despite the crippled music industry, the pandemic has had somewhat of an aversive effect on Hale. Paired with time, lessened obligations and industry standards, while being able to show such variance on the EP, Hale has recovered a new creative perspective, one that she hasn’t had since she was a teenager. A revitalization, innocence and passion has seeped back into Hale’s songs and for the first time in years she is writing for herself, some of which she hopes to share on Halestorm’s next record.
“One of the most beautiful things out of the pandemic has been I have gone back to an almost child-like place of joy in my songwriting,” she said. “I’m writing completely for myself. As the years go by after you’re in the business, sitting down writing a song becomes this ‘am I going to have a career after writing this,’ thing. All of the sudden the things that you used to do to make yourself feel better have become a responsibility. So, I am incredibly happy that I am writing from that origin and beginning place again. I put the demos I had been working on before the pandemic, off to the side and started brand new, riding this train. It’s like the long road back to the beginning.”
Halestorm’s Reimagined EP is available now and you can listen on all streaming services here. Don’t forget to watch Hale and Lee’s fantastic performance on “Break In” here on American Songwriter.