Lzzy Hale: Her Hits, Pat Benatar’s Advice And The Sleepover That Changed Everything
The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
At the beginning of our semi-epic phone conversation, Lzzy Hale — frontwoman of hard rock band Halestorm — said, “If you thought I could ramble before, since this whole pandemic started, I’m like, ‘Oh, another person to talk to? Do you want to hear my whole life story? Great! I’ll start at the beginning.'” Lzzy Hale is a great storyteller, but she doesn’t exaggerate, and if you’re a rock fan — or if you enjoy having great conversations — you can’t ask for more than a Lzzy interview where there isn’t a time limit. She discussed everything from some of her biggest songs, to the influence of her parents and the music they played for her to her recent zoom jams with Linda Perry and past and current members of Guns N Roses. A subsequent feature from this same interview with cover some of her other projects.
When I heard that you were doing an interview show, Raise Your Horns, I thought, “She is the perfect person to be doing that.”
The show was Linda Perry’s idea. I’ve been trying to break this down for a second, but it’s about… expecting greatness of yourself. You don’t sit behind the wheel of a car and say, “Well, I hope I don’t crash!” Pilots don’t fly a plane saying, “Well, we’ll see what happens!” They’re expecting to take off and land and not kill anybody! But I’ve done so many these things in my life, big and small. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve learned from them. I’ve done so many different things in my life that I never thought was even possible for a kid from a farm in Pennsylvania.
But in the past couple of years, I’ve just been sitting and almost forcing myself to look at myself the way that I should [look at myself], and not in a cocky way. Not: “Hey, look at me. I’m I’m so awesome.” I do consider myself to be an extremely humble person.
But when it comes down to the things that you love most and the things that you are talented at — which I can count on one hand — the things that I can actually do well, I’m going to stick to those. But you have to sit down and tell yourself, “Look, I’m going to expect to write the best thing and it may not happen.” [Sometimes] I expected something great and it came out kind of subpar. That’s not my favorite thing in the world.
Even when that happens, you take those experiences to the next song, so nothing is wasted. One of my favorite documentaries ever is The History of the Eagles. And and I remember this one scene where they’re saying,”You gotta put the time in. You have to show up every single day.” That’s what I’m doing and continue to do: just show up and try to expect greatness of myself.
You’ve been doing this for a long time now. If you said, “Well, I’m not 21 anymore, so there’s no way I could do anything like what I did when I was younger…” that’d be dangerous.
Oh, absolutely. And a lot of us can get trapped into that, especially my peers and the people that have kind of been on a major label for a long time. And you make that arc: when you’re a kid, you’re writing purely for the joy of writing. The whole world is unknown. You don’t even know how to write a hit for the radio. And then all of a sudden your passion and your hobby becomes your career. And there are pressures that come with that, of course. There always will be some people who are like, “Back in the day, this was your biggest song and we need more songs like that.”
But it’s a shame that the people that are writing songs in their 50s are not given that same outlet or even, dare I say, the same respect as people in their 20s. You know, music is not reserved for the youth. I love listening to Nick Cave [singing about] what’s going on in his life right now. I have an undying thirst for new and weird knowledge. These guys, they’ve lived more lifetimes than I have. I’m thirty-six now and I feel like I’ve lived a couple different lifetimes but I know that there’s so much more. And it’s inspiring to listen to songs by people who have been pushing through this business for so long, because not a whole lot of people are given the chance to get there. I have just a tremendous amount of respect for for those heritage artists.
I think about in my past: “I Miss the Misery” or “Love Bites” or “Here’s To Us” or, you know, even the earlier stuff like, “Familiar Taste of Poison” on our first record [2009’s Halestorm]… I wrote that when I was, like, 17. So it’s like there’s no way I could go back and relive that unless I’m talking from a perspective of being in my thirties and reflecting on the fact that I was 17. But, you know, you can’t necessarily go back to that and try to keep recreating that for the rest of your life. You have to always, as we say in the world of Halestorm, “rock forward.”
I was thinking about Chris Cornell: that last solo album, [2015’s] Higher Truth didn’t seem like he was listening to anybody who was telling him, “What you really need to do is sound like Badmotorfinger.” He was doing something that he was clearly comfortable with, it was obviously different than Soundgarden. I don’t imagine that any of the guys in the band would be like, “You should have saved those songs for us.” It was completely different. And even that last Soundgarden album [2012’s King Animal] was really good, but it just didn’t sound like what they had done before. It wasn’t radically different. It’s not Achtung Baby, but it just sounded like something older guys would write about. It didn’t sound like they were trying to recapture their youth. That makes it even more sad that he’s gone. But I really admired that about him. They were a rock band who grew up together, and that’s even harder than a solo artist growing up by him or herself.
Oh, absolutely. And you could say the same thing about Pearl Jam. I actually absorbed so much from ’70s and ’80s hard rock. I was late to the ’90s grunge era. Like all throughout the 90s, I was listening to like Alice Cooper and Dio and Van Halen and “Van Hagar.”
A lot of that was your parents’ music.
Oh, absolutely. I first kind of caught the bug because of my dad’s music. When I was a kid, I remember really starting to get into music when I was about 11. And I remember we moved into this new place. My parents moved around Pennsylvania every so often. I was born on the outskirts of Philly. And then my parents decided on a whim to move to the Appalachian Trail in the mountains. For two years, the four of us — me, my brother and my parents — lived in this little log cabin in the woods with no neighbors for ten miles in any direction. There’s like one bedroom that we all shared. They’re kind of hippies in that respect, I guess. But then, you know, that got a little old and obviously I was getting a little older and needed, like, friends.
They moved to a 20-acre farm. And so it’s like a small farm, but we had sheep and chickens and the whole thing. I baled hay every summer. And we moved into a new place and some of the neighborhood kids invited me to a sleepover. I’ve told the story a million times. But it’s one of those weird benchmark times in my life. So they invited me to a sleepover and they’re like, “Hey, bring some of your favorite CDs.”
I know that you know where this is going. I brought Alice Cooper’s [1971 album] Love It To Death, Ronnie James Dio’s [1983 album] Holy Diver to the sleepover. And those girls looked at me like I was from a completely other planet. This was like, ’95 or ’96 and they all had TLC and Mariah Carey, the Backstreet Boys. So I’m in this bedroom of this new supposed friend of mine and I’m trying to convince them [Alice Cooper’s] “‘I’m 18’ is awesome! Listen to this song!”
I remember coming back from the sleepover and my dad being overjoyed that the other kids didn’t like my music. And I’m like, “Well, why is that such a good thing, Dad?” I’m 11. It’s like: “My life is over! No one’s going to like me!” But I can trace that moment forward to what has become my mission statement in my songwriting and in my life: let that freak flag fly! I remember my dad being like, “It’s a good thing: they love all that music because it’s popular. But you’re listening to your music just purely because you love it!” There was no outside influence, besides parents. So, yeah, it was a weird thing growing up with that.
It’s funny because I was just into like a lot of “dude music” growing up. And I remember when I was fifteen, my mom had kind of had enough of it… not enough of me listening to rock music. She was a rock fan herself. She’s one of those Beatlemania chicks back in the day, she wanted to marry Paul McCartney. My brother and I, our childhood movies growing up, even before I was into “hard” music, was the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.
But anyway, when I was fifteen, my mom’s like, “All right, so if you’re going to definitely be into this rock thing, you should know that girls can do this, too.”
So she got me, for my birthday or Christmas or something, like 10 CDs: it was greatest hits from Joan Jett, Janis Joplin, a live record called The Road Home by Heart. I remember thinking, “Oh, so girls can actually sound like that.” Because up until then I think I was just kind of trying to emulate Dio or something. You know, I’d started writing my little songs before Halestorm started. But, you know, you just get into that and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, OK. That’s the thing.Wow. OK, cool. This changes everything!”
I do cite my parents as being huge influences. Even to this day, my dad still wears zebra pants, painted toenails and stuff is very proud [of that].
You recently recorded “Zoom” versions of “Come Together” and “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll” with some of the guys from Guns N’ Roses (former members Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum, as well as Slash).
That was so last minute. I literally got a call that day: “Hey, can you do a video and like record some stuff…” you don’t say no to that! I have a tremendous amount of of respect for the people that have come before me. These guys these are the reason that I got into this music. I watched the video after they released it, [laughing] and oh, my gosh, you can’t wipe that smile off my face. And I’m just cheesing it up. It was just one of those “pinch me” moments: “This is really cool.” Like regardless of what this does [as far as views], I like looking at myself, kind of in the third person being like, “Hey, look at you!” If you had told my 13-year-old self when we started the band that that’s what I would be doing [years later], I would’ve called you a liar. [laughs]
So, we’re supposed to be talking about your songs! Let’s talk about “Uncomfortable.”
There are many ways to to write a song. And in the world of Halestorm, we use all of them, whether that means it’s myself sitting down and writing a song in its entirety and then showing it to the guys and then they help me [finish it]. Sometimes, the guys have written instrumentals that I’ll end up writing lyrics to. “Uncomfortable” was the first song that we really got excited about for our last record, Vicious. We had written probably close to, I want to say 20 to 40 demos, before we went into the studio. But we ended up throwing away a ton of them, practically everything, because up until then we were kind of writing in a different headspace. I felt like I was writing for, or about, everybody but myself. So I was writing for the fans or I was writing for radio or I was writing so that the A&R guy would approve it.
When I decided to throw all of that away, we were kind of left with this blank slate. And I was a little uneasy about it because I like to be prepared. And so we were in the studio and Nick Raskulinecz, our producer, suggested, “Hey, so when was the last time you guys just kind of jammed?” And I was like, “Man, it’s probably been a second because [a song] usually starts with one of us, and we all meet in the middle somewhere.”
So we took his advice and set up all of our equipment in this small room. It felt very similar to being in my parent’s living room. Small amps and all of that. And we jammed this song out. We originally just did it as an instrumental. We recorded it. And then I took it home and wrote about exactly what I was feeling at the moment, which was just: “I am sick of trying to make everybody happy but myself.” I truly wrote that from a place of joy. It’s funny, because I wasn’t intending for it to be that tempo. But the attitude was there and there was something special about it. I just think there’s something powerful that happens to you as a human once you finish [writing] a song. I think that you come out on the other side as a different person and you get to kind of look back and be like, “All right, cool.” I dealt with a small part of what was going on in my head.
Performance wise, it was something very different than what I had done before as well. I’m a big fan of Tom Petty. But on the other end [of the musical spectrum}, I’m a big fan of [songwriter] Desmond Child, “You Give Love a Bad Name” [Child co-wrote that song with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora]. I’m the “I’m in love with somebody and it’s not you” girl. I’m the “Love Bites (So Do I)” girl. You know, I’m the “I get off on you getting off on me” girl. So to write this song, and purely just let it be whatever happens when it falls out… what was interesting to me [was] it wasn’t the traditional chorus. It was literally a vocal riff that I could do just because of being a vocalist and training in that aspect. And for me, that’s what makes it song special.
The attitude definitely comes through. I remember when I first heard it and I thought it sounds like something Pat Benatar would done.
That’s a huge compliment. I think that if I had grown up a generation before I did, I would definitely be like Pat Benatar.
She should have gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, and you would have been the perfect person to present her.
Oh, yeah. She and I had a conversation in 2012 right after “Love Bites” came out. We had this article, I think it was in Revolver, it was called “Rebel Meets Rebel.” It was funny because we had like a mediator on the phone with us, just in case I got annoying. But he ended up leaving [the call].
And we end up talking for like an hour and a half. And she literally told me that she would come and personally slap me if I gave up [on music] at any point. And she was telling me her theory, which is is that over the course of a career you have these three sections and the first one is: everybody’s excited for you because you’re new and you’re coming up in the scene. Everyone wants to support you. Everybody wants you to open for them, and they want to give you a chance.
And then there’s this whole middle period where nobody wants to hear any new music from you. [They make you feel like] you’re past your prime or whatever. And she’s like, you’ve just got to keep putting music out, and keep yourself out there on the top of the pile, keep yourself relevant. Because then you get to this other side. And she’s telling me that she was making spaghetti and drinking wine the entire time, while she was talking to me.
So she says, then you’re on the other side. And she was just talking about herself. She’s like, you’re in your big house. You’re drinking your big glass of wine. And she’s like: “That is the iconic s—.” And, she says, “I will personally come and slap you if you do not make it to this point.” Like, “Yes, Miss Benatar. You can totally slap me if you want to!” But, that’s the thing. That is the goal.
So, let’s talk about “Do Not Disturb.” I feel like you don’t hear women singing songs like that, but it would be normal for guys… it could be an AC/DC song.
Thank you. This is the song that makes every interviewer’s ears very red. From the time that we released that record, I felt bad because you could tell that some the interviewers didn’t necessarily want to ask me what the song was about. But their bosses had said, “Please ask this.”
I’m a very honest person, and I wouldn’t have written the song if I was not prepared to talk about it. So I think a lot of them were expecting me to be like, “Oh, well, that’s a private situation.” No! I’d be like, “I’ll tell you the story!” And the poor guys, or girls, would just be like [blushing], beet red.
I’ve always been a fan of songwriters that speak their truth, and you can tell that it’s not twelve people in a room writing a song that they think matches the image of the artist. [i like] when the artist is actually saying the things that they want to say.
And I always forget that there is that double standard between women that talk about sex, and guys that talk about sex. You mentioned AC/DC. But there’s Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, or any number of the dude bands. And I grew up on all those guys. And especially since I have a bunch of guys in my band, I do forget that there is that double-standard thing.
Like “Uncomfortable,” it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. You know, when when I’m speaking about those things and especially when it ends up being a true story and everybody wants to know about it. But I don’t know, I like talking about that stuff! And sex is just as much a part of my life as anybody else, or any dude that I’ve ever known. I’ve signed more boobs than all the guys [in Halestorm] put together. I like having fun with that. And that aspect of writing “Do Not Disturb” and literally recalling a night that I had in Holland a couple years ago and putting it into a song was exciting to to me and it was funny. And you say everything with a smile. The funniest thing about that is that I can never go into a hotel room and look at that “Do not disturb” sign in in the same way ever again. And neither can any of our fans.
When meet and greets were still happening, fans who had spent the night in a hotel room would bring to the meet and greet a “Do not disturb” sign, and I’d sign that. To be able to kind of put myself into other people’s lives in that way and show a little bit more about myself, that to me was empowering.
It’s weird because you would think by writing a song like that and being a girl, I would have gotten letters from parents or something like that, “Oh, you’re encouraging girls to act a certain way” or whatever. But I got the complete opposite. And in fact, at most of these meet and greets there would be parents saying, “I hope that my daughters are as confident about what they want out of sex, out of love, as you are.”
And I thought that was really interesting when that started happening. I just didn’t expect that. “OK, well, don’t encourage me because, we can go further!”
Let me just mention here that no one told me to ask about that song. I love that song, that’s a really empowering song. And, what’s wrong with a woman singing about exactly what she wants? AC/DC sang, “42/39/56, you could say she’s got it all!” That’s pretty specific. Bon Scott might have been making the measurements up, but you feel like he’s talking about somebody he had an experience with, and nobody would ever be like, “Dude, don’t sing that. That’s too much!” It would be a complete double standard if anybody did have an issue with your song. When I heard it, I was like, “Lzzy is a rock star, she should be living like that!”
With all of the safety measures, obviously, and everything consensual… we were just listening to “All Night Long” by Rainbow and and I had to cover that one time here in Nashville. There’s an amazing rock and roll community here in Nashville, and everybody kind of gets up to jam… well, that was before the pandemic. But there was a last-minute jam: “Hey, do you know this Rainbow song?” I’m like, “I think so.” But I had never really dug into the lyrics. And I’m just like, “Oh, my gosh,” because, there are a lot of songs in the ’80s that are about the wrong type of sex. Like, under-age stuff and nonconsensual stuff.
But with “Do Not Disturb,” I felt like I was doing some people a favor because I think that more women should know exactly what they want in the bedroom and tell whoever their prospective partners are about it. Don’t it make make everybody guess. We’re trying to make life easier!
Tell me about “Amen.”
“Amen” was actuually inspired by a family member of mine. I have a cousin and around the time that I was writing the song she had come out as gay. We all kind of knew, but she had finally admitted it to her mom. There’s a huge chunk of my extended family that are very religious based and they were not having any of it. And so she confided in me for a lot of that period of time. And I remember basically talking to her about it and just being like, “Hey, this is this is your life. As far as we know, we only got one trip around this one. It’s your life and you love who you want to love. You be who you want to be.”
[In the song] I’m talking about, and encouraging, my young cousin — she’s six years younger than I am — to be herself and to be out about being a lesbian and loving who she wants to love. But I’m also putting that religious twist on it as kind of a middle finger. But at the same time, a song is going mean whatever to whoever is listening to it. And I’ve gotten a lot of people that are that are very religious who thought that I was talking about my faith. So, you can take it that way if you want. I guess that’s the beauty of songwriting.
But that’s what I ended up writing it about, just kind of encouraging my cousin to be herself. And it’s so amazing because that’s one of those songs that I see a lot of fans tattooing certain lines on their skin and telling me these stories, and some people telling me their deepest, darkest secrets that even their parents don’t know. But that song got them through something.
It is important to write from that element of truth and and write about the things that you’re passionate about and write about the things that you think are important because they will be important to other people. If you don’t feel close to what you’re writing, how can you expect anybody else to feel close to what you’re writing?
Right before the pandemic, my cousin contacted me and she had gotten some of those lines tattooed on her. And that’s a whole other level: “We’re related and you have my lyrics tattooed on you!” I’m not quite sure how I feel about that, it’s borderline a little creepy [laughs] but I love you if you’re listening.
But I love the fact that for some reason, even in my personal life, in my family, something I’m doing in my professional life has been able to seep into their lives as well. They’re not just like, “OK, yeah, we’re proud of you.” It’s nice to have those family members that are deep into what you do.
I don’t think there are many hard rock songs that are like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” that say, “it’s cool if you’re gay.” If you’re LGBT and in the hard rock community, that must be a cool messageto hear, and you did that with “Amen.”
I think it’s important. And rock in itself has always stood on the side of the ignored, the downtrodden, the persecuted against, the outcast. It’s much better now than it was years and years ago. Everybody’s making progress. It’s good to know that if I’m going to put something out into the world, if it encourages somebody to be unapologetically themselves and know that they’re OK, then I’ve done my job.
So, let’s talk about “Love Bites (So Do I).”
There’s an absolute cheesy bone in my body, and I blame Alice Cooper because I grew up listening to that double entendre stuff. It’s interesting to have that influence because it does seep in there. So I had this kind of cheesy line, “Love bites, so do I.” We wrote the song just out of pure attitude. But but the the tempo and the music of the song was actually inspired by a cover that we did on on one of our cover EPs [2011’s ReAniMate: The CoVeRs eP], Skid Row’s “Slave To The Grind.” Up until then we didn’t really have something in that tempo. And we had so much fun playing that song that I was just like, “OK, here’s the BPM: we’re writing a song like this.” And so that was like the main inspiration for the music.
I look back on “Love Bites (So Do I),” and lyrically, to me, it’s a complete and beautiful mess because on one hand, I feel like I’m being cocky and saying, “Oh, you think you’ve got it good? Well, I’m better than all of them.” I’m exploring my my attitude of who I am. But at the same time, I kind of wrote it as an encouragement to the guys in my band; I’m an ally to them. And I’ve seen girls come in and girls come out and ex-girlfriends who I’m trying to relate to and who can only talk about hair for some reason.
Not not to knock any of their ex-girlfriends! But I’ve kind of been the fly on the wall for that. And so a lot of that song was me kind of being on the side of the dudes and being like, “Hey, man, don’t listen to these stupid things that these girls are saying to you when they say that you’re not enough, or you got to quit music or whatever.” Which made it even more surprising when it was nominated, and then won, a Grammy. Because for me, when we recorded the song — and this shows how much I know about what’s going to hit with people or not, and why you always gotta just write for yourself — we all looked each other like, “That’s going to be fun to play live, that’s just gonna be like one of those ‘fan favorite,’ album tracks that we’re gonna really enjoy playing live.”
And then all of a sudden, we’re at this show in Wisconsin and we got a text from our front of house [sound] guy who texted one of our guitar techs saying that we were nominated for a Grammy. So, I have a moment in the set where I’ll just kind of sit down at the piano and play a couple of songs. So I’m talking to the audience and all of sudden my guitar player, Joe [Hottinger], runs out on stage — that’s not like him — and he whispers in my ear, “We just got nominated for a Grammy.” I didn’t even know we were on their radar, you know? And I turned to the audience, “Well, apparently we just got nominated for a Grammy for ‘Love Bites.'” And the audience was like: their home team scored a touchdown. It was just awesome.
Let me ask you about one more song: “Freak Like Me.”
“Freak Like Me,” this is the song that I can trace back to that moment where I was an 11 year old and found out I was not cool, that I was not like the other girls. Like I said, I’m loving Alice Cooper and Dio and Black Sabbath. And not necessarily relating to the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears generation that apparently I’m part of.
It’s interesting because when you’re a kid, you think that’s a bad thing, because everybody wants to belong. And there came a poignant point in time, and this was shortly before we started the band, but the band kind of solidified that for me… I started using those feelings as my “superpower.” Even beyond liking different music. Dressing differently than everybody. If there is something on trend, you go the complete opposite way. When we started the band, I would get “interventions” from my teachers in middle school. And I was a good kid, I was an A or B student. I did my work.
But everybody seemed to be wanting to pull me in a different direction and drag me off of the path that I was carving. And I took that as encouragement as well. “OK, this not only is something that none of my friends are doing, something that nobody but me can really relate to, but even my teachers think it’s a bad idea. So I should absolutely do it!” And I was very lucky to have parents that were very encouraging of that.
My parents have always been weird and have always had this childish reckless abandon approach to parenting. If you really want to laugh, some of our earliest videos that end up popping up on YouTube were from 1999. And we we had made our own pyro and we built this rotating upside down and drum kit for my little brother drummer [Arejay Hale].
In recent years, I’ve asked my mom, “Why did you guys allow us to do that?” And they recently admitted to me that they were terrified. And they’re like, “We saw in your eyes that you were gonna do it anyway. So we were gonna be supportive and we were gonna be there with you and we were going to go to the bars with you and be in the audience and make sure that the stuff was running right. And make sure you’re not getting screwed over and that you’re getting paid for the gig and all of that.”
I was very lucky to have parents that understood my weirdness. But getting back to the song, I really wanted to have a song that depicted all of that, but did it in a very celebratory way. I’m not talking about, “Nobody understood me” [in a negative way]. I flipped the script: “Nobody understood me: that’s awesome!” I felt like it’s just such a part of who I am and a part of my history, and it has become my mission statement: “Let let your freak fly!” And also to encourage other people and just kind of being that person saying, “I didn’t know anybody in the business. Everybody said not to do this. And I did this anyway. And if I can stand up here on this stage, absolutely, so can you. And you can do whatever you want. If you want to be a rodeo clown, go do it. Yeah. No matter how many people think it’s ridiculous. Nothing is impossible.”
I gotta tell you, man, I love playing that song live. It has become such an amazing anthem for our community. The fans took it upon themselves to change their branding. They used to call themselves “Storm Chasers” in the beginning years of Halestorm. And since that song was released, they’d started calling themselves “Freaks.” And now there’s the “Freak Family” on Twitter. And all these people that are just doing this, they did this all on their own. So it’s really neat to kind of sit back and and see that.