By the end of 2019, Halestorm had an album’s worth of songs ready to go, then scrapped it all and started from scratch. Whatever was written before 2020, before the pandemic, seemed irrelevant. “We lost a lot of our earlier songs that we were writing before COVID, or ‘B.C.,’ because the state of the world changed and we were faced with this unknown future of ‘are we making a record’ and ‘are we ever going to be able to tour again,’” says singer Lzzy Hale. “All those songs that we were doing before just seemed very unimportant, so most of the new songs were very much written in the now.”
Searching for her own intervention to pluck her from the darker ends of isolation, Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith, and drummer and brother Arejay Hale, began writing an entirely new storyboard of songs for their fifth album Back From the Dead.
“It was therapy for me,” says Hale, who admits to having some form of an identity crisis during lockdown which was mended through writing. “You look at yourself in a different way when this thing that you love to do so much is no longer there and no longer guaranteed,” she adds. “The thing I realized is that this extension of my personality, or whatever this thing is that I do, that hole can’t be filled with anything else—and believe me we tried. We had a lot of beer over the pandemic, and it doesn’t work.”
Back From the Dead was built on the necessity to document in real-time where her head was at the time, which turned the album into a rollercoaster ride, says Hale, delving into her fluctuating mental states. “There’s definitely plenty of debauchery, stories of survival, and how you crawl out of that hole,” she says. “In a lot of ways, I was writing myself out of a dark place. I wanted to kind of keep my head exactly where it was, whilst writing and letting go of the idea that I’m writing for our fans, or I’m writing for the album, or because we have a label, and because it’s a career. It wasn’t like that this time. It was more of a personal journey.”
Starting from scratch, except for the track “Bombshell,” which was held over from the initial session in 2019, Hale worked her way through some of the mental trenches incited around isolation and uncertain times—and no longer be “Lzzy Hale.”
“When you are 95 percent of the time Lzzy Hale the rock star, and then all of a sudden, you have to face this Elizabeth Taylor in her pajamas on the couch, I was like ‘who are you? I haven’t seen you in a while.’ There was a lot of me trying to parent my inner child and really getting to know myself again, in a different way.”
Shouting I’m back from the dead is where the story begins on the title track, and the angsty don’t call me angel of “Wicked Ways,” a flip on the Juice Newton ’80s hit “Angel of the Morning,” comes to terms with the fact that people are never completely good or evil. “We all have a dark side,” says Hale.
Produced by Nick Raskulinecz, who also worked on Halestorm’s fourth album Vicious in 2018, and co-produced by Scott Stevens, Back From the Dead touches on the perverse with tongue in cheek anthem “Bombshell”— You better suck it / you’re never gonna shut me up—and “I Come First,” while the band recognizes their communion with one another on “The Steeple” through to the ballad of “Terrible Things” and raw lyrics We are heartless and immoral / We carry hatred like a bible… I see terrible things / I see sickness in a world on its knees.
Writing during the pandemic altered the way Hale approached songwriting and being her most authentic self. “During the pandemic, we all basically said, ‘This is it. This is what I can do, and this is what I can contribute to the world, and I don’t need to do it for any other reason than I want to do it.’ I knew I needed to do it in order to figure my own things out.”
The difference between Hale pre-pandemic and now: “I have maybe one more fuck to give,” she says. “I’ve given them all away.” The other silver lining: taking very little for granted. “We’re a very stop and smell the roses kind of band, but when you think all of these things are going to last forever and then all of a sudden it’s stolen you’re asking ‘what really am I doing this for.’ The beautiful thing is the rediscovery of ourselves, and a rediscovery of myself, and a rediscovery of my love of writing and music.”
Finishing Back From the Dead wasn’t just euphoric for Hale, but the entire band, with everyone pushing themselves. “It wasn’t just writing another album,” says Hale. “You’re in your best spot and you’re being your best self, and that’s the power of music.”
Stuck with the uncertainty of when they would tour again, the band came to the conclusion that touring wasn’t going to come back for a long period of time, and that they were still making an album and needed to leave everything—their best work possible—on the record.
“The musicianship on this album is on 11,” says Hale. “I’ve never heard my guitar player, Joe, play lead like this. My brother is on 11. Josh is doing so much and took over synths and all the baselines, and everyone was just playing their hearts out. It was like we were on stage and bringing the arena to the people.”
It was also hard to remain blindfolded during the events of socio and political unravel in 2020, and not absorb it, and have something to say about the atrocities on the album. “It’s not like you can block anything out anymore,” says Hale. “There was a lot of that looking outward, but it’s interesting when you write for yourself. What I realized is that if you’re going through something, and if it’s important for you to say, I guarantee there are millions of other people on this globe that are feeling the exact same way.”
Hale adds, “The more I wrote kind of selfishly and for myself, the more I started to see we’re not alone, and we’re all in this together. I know that’s hard for people to sometimes grasp when they’re going through something they think they’re the only one, but it’s really not.”
Back From the Dead ends on the tender orchestration of “Raise Your Horns”—a small nod to one of Hale’s idols, the late Ronnie James Dio, and the devil’s horn gesture he made famous—finding Hale cut to piano and vocals, singing Raise your horns / Raise ‘em high / Let ‘em soar / Let ‘em fly / Up through the heavens forever, on the uplifting finale.
“We were trying to salvage some hope in humanity after all of the madness that we witnessed on a daily basis between the hate for hate[‘s] sake, and then the absolute stupidity,” says Hale of the past two years. “Where do you find the shining light? That song was just the reality that inherently we are violent humans and we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, but I can’t stop believing that there is some type of hope and that there is some type of goodness in us.”
Hale, who has been writing for the band since she was 13, is deeply connected to fans and is always curious what songs impact people most, especially breaking down the timeframe of fans since the band’s inception in the late 1990s. Halestorm fans span the 17-year-old girl telling the band how her mom loves them or another fan sharing how their music helped her get through middle school.
“There’s a vast sense of appreciation for the communion of this, the togetherness that we have, and that we are connected through music,” says Hale. On Back From the Dead, one song, which she will leave unnamed so the fans can find it themselves, was inspired by a conversation with a teenage girl who came out as gay to her family during the pandemic and was told by her parents that “death would be better.”
“I talk about that a little bit on this album,” shares Hale. “She’s having a hard time and we wanted to give her some type of encouragement, but then it ended up seeping into our conversations when we’re writing songs.”
Hale’s connectedness to this story and song is part of the reason why the Halestorm community is tight. “It’s a beautiful thing to witness,” says Hale. “It’s just amazing to see this beautiful community that lifts each other up. You can hear it in songs like ‘Raise Your Horns,’ or ‘The Steeple.’ I love the idea that this live music gathering is, in a lot of ways, our church, and our fellowship. I didn’t set out to do that. They [the fans] have done that all by themselves. I’m just the host of the party.”
Now that the album is complete, Hale has gone back to listening and absorbing what is happening around her and leaves her documenting the past two years on Back From the Dead. “I consider myself a serial eavesdropper,” she says on gathering new material for songs. “I’ve become very interested in other people’s stories and other people’s survival. It’s a grand balance of things. You have to absorb the things that are around you. You have to be a sponge.”
Now, it’s more interesting to be in a position where the band has a larger catalog of material and has carved some type of path for themselves in the business, says Hale. “I think back to when we were on our first tours on our first album, and you just never think you’re gonna keep it going this far,” she says. “There’s a difference between having determination and expecting greatness of yourself.”
Hale adds, “This arsenal of songs that people are connected to for whatever reason, and connected to us through this music, that’s what this whole thing has given us. It’s a beautiful thing. Right now I’m sitting in my big house on a lake and sipping my juice and this is what rock and roll builds. This is what happens when you don’t have a plan B.”
Main photo by Jimmy Fontaine