American rockers Halestorm are getting ready to swap their cold freaks for their hot freaks. That is, the band from Pennsylvania will be heading over to play for Australian fans (freaks) in December. Halestorm, now two decades into their career, completed their maiden voyage in 2015 and followed this up with Download Festival in March this year. Such a short gap between visits is unusual, but apparently there’s good reason for it. “We keep saying if ‘rock show’ was a verb, then Aussies know how to ‘rock show’,” vocalist and guitarist Lzzy Hale laughs. She reckons Australian (and European) audiences have even influenced people back home, with Americans now treating shows more as events and not just something for casual entertainment. “The first time that we travelled, it was a vast difference that we saw, as in, it was so much better when we left the US, and now finally, it’s starting to even out. What I love about Australia is that rock specifically is still such a culture and is not just a form of entertainment or genre to most of the people that I meet there, so it’s a special thing to visit.”
A lot of the love for Down Under has to do with the people, according to Hale, who attempted to get lost every day of the first tour to meet some locals. “We met a couple girls and they just hung around with us all day and showed us the sights, and then we had far too much to drink and everybody partied till four in the morning. We like to go to some of the local rock bars, so it was wonderful to finally go to the Cherry Bar and go down AC/DC lane – all those little cheesy things that as a rock fan you just want to experience.”
The frontwoman has also made the most of her visa on occasion, which deepened her love of the lifestyle, as well as resulting in two songs. “Every time we come over, I’m like, ‘Man, I could live here’. I’ve spent some vacation time just on the tail end of some of those tours; I ended up staying for another five or six days. The last time I did that, we didn’t bring any instruments with us but we’re humming on the beach and … I think Killing Ourselves To Live and Do Not Disturb came out of those trips, so there’s some voodoo in the air,” she laughs.
So, what can audiences expect from Lzzy, Arejay Hale (drums), Josh Smith (bass, vocals) and Joe Hottinger (guitar, vocals)? They did release fourth album ‘Vicious’ in July, but now they have so much material, they like to change the set every night – this four-city run will be no different. “It would be unfair, not just to us, but it would be unfair to do that to an audience: ‘Oh, we’re only going to be playing this one set with this collection of songs’ … We’re doing that not just for ourselves, to keep everything fresh, but we have a lot of fans who come to eight shows in a row, and so it’s fun to switch it up every night so they get some different material.”
Over the past couple of years, the band have also added moments of improvisation. They’ll decide just before the set which song they’re going to play, and at the end of that song, the fun begins. “The song will end but we won’t stop playing, then we have to listen to each other, and somebody will take a lead then I’ll take a lead and then you throw it to the rhythm section, and they do something. It’s a beautiful exercise in togetherness. We don’t play with click tracks or tracks or anything, so we can use the time, we can be elastic with that and it forces us to listen to each other and then create these moments. When the audience realises that we don’t necessarily have a plan but we’re jamming with each other – when they get on that same wavelength, we can peak it in a way. It creates this involuntary ‘woo’. It’s just a magical moment because that same thing will never happen again … It’s part of the risk factor you get addicted to: ‘OK, this could go horribly wrong’. It’s that beautiful panic.”
For some in the audience, neat additions like this are just one part of being in the Halestorm fan base – one which now refers to themselves as freaks. “They started doing that on their own,” Hale says. “On a local level before we were signed and touring recently, our fans were calling themselves ‘storm chasers’ and then when we released our second record and had a song called Freak Like Me on it, our fans started adopting that and so we kind of didn’t have a choice. Then I started referring to them officially as freaks and all hell broke loose.”
She brought this up with Alice Cooper recently, which reminded her of her own story as the weird kid. “We were on tour with Alice Cooper this past summer and I told him this story. When I was about 11, my parents moved us into a new town and the girls in the neighbourhood invited me to a sleepover and I took an Alice Cooper CD – to a girl’s sleepover,” she laughs. “We put the thing in and they looked at me like I was from another planet. I was a complete and utter weirdo. At the time, I was like, ‘Why don’t you like this? This stuff is great. I don’t understand?’ but those were the times when it was like, TLC and Backstreet Boys and I was listening to Alice Cooper and Dio. … Now I’m in my 30s and I’m so comfortable with standing out. You almost wear your freak badge with a sense of pride, or you go out of way to stand out or to be that. I could trace my mission statement back to that moment when I’m listening to this CD and I’m loving this CD, but nobody understands how much it means to me. It’s amazing to be on the other side of that and have an army of people that are just like you and they all, in one way or another, have been called freaks in a derogatory way or have not felt like they belonged somewhere. So, to see that communal aspect from on the stage and looking out into the audience and they are literally calling themselves freaks with a sense of pride, it’s an amazing thing to be part of.”
Hale will get to experience this with Australian fans very soon. Unfortunately, it will be without the band originally booked to support, Black Stone Cherry. In a recent statement, the band says: “Black Stone Cherry deeply regrets they have to cancel their performances in Australia, but due to a family emergency, they will not be able to play the shows. We look forward to coming back soon and putting on an amazing show for all you awesome fans and we thank you for your understanding.” Stepping up to the plate and joining the shows in place of Black Stone Cherry will be New Zealand rock outfit, Villainy.