This vital voice in rock music belongs to a woman

Her voice is like a powerful wave that washes over you, giving you the chills when she’s in full force. That’s how Halestorm’s lead guitarist Joe Hottinger described frontwoman and guitarist Lzzy Hale’s voice.

Singer-guitarist Lzzy Hale screaming with her new namesake cardinal red Gibson Lzzy Hale Explorerbird held out in front of her by the neck with her left hand. She wears a black leather jacket and leather pants and stands in front of speakers on a stage with clouds of grey smoke at her feet.
The singer-guitarist with her new Gibson Lzzy Hale Explorerbird

On the Pit podcast, Hottinger said Hale’s voice is like a wave coming out of the speakers that he can physically see and feel rippling toward him.

His experience sounds much like the feeling that Hale says she got when she first listened to Crazy On You, by Heart. Hale talked about that experience on the streaming radio show Octane. She said, “I remember listening to this Heart CD. It was a live CD that they did in the 90s called The Road Home. And this almost pseudo-a cappella beginning of Crazy On You was this version that they did.”

“She has a chameleon-like talent for adapting her voice to the mood and the moment.”

That version of Crazy On You is a stripped-down, Joplin-esque, blues-gospel rendition that gets close to the roots of rock music. It’s full of emotion and it makes the hairs on your arms stand up when Ann Wilson sings the word cr-a-zy, even when the audio is coming out of a laptop speaker.

As she listened to the song, Hale says, “I just remember something clicking in my brain … I just remember thinking. ‘Well, she sounds exactly the way that I want to sound, the way I want to sing in rock.'” And the seed was planted.

Ann and Nancy Wilson, lead vocalist and lead guitarist, certainly made an impression on her. Ann’s voice stuck with her and Nancy’s guitar playing influenced her music but the sisters influenced her in other ways too.

Hale was listening to two female musicians who looked like her, and it “made that gap a little less and that dream just a little less impossible by seeing these women do this,” she says.

Hale grew up to be the lead singer in a female-fronted rock band as lead vocalist, guitarist, and composer, likely influencing the next generation of girls who dare to enter onto the male-dominated heavy metal terrain in rock music.

But she’s flexible. She has a chameleon-like talent for adapting her voice to the mood and the moment. You never know what to expect, except that it’s going to be interesting. On Halestorm’s cyborg version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, Hale sounds like a man. Not to say that it’s a bad thing. Lots of men are good singers. Up until the Christmas that her mom gave her a basket of CDs by female musicians, Hale listened exclusively to male rockers. She didn’t know that women could rock.

In Bad Romance she goes deeper than Pink one second and wades into musical territories belonging to Pat Benatar the next, even sounding like her at moments. In the duet Out In The Rain, which she does with country music artist Cory Marks, she becomes a balladeer.

In Freak Like Me, a video collage of antics behind the scenes and on-stage footage of the band, Hale in her prime, her voice, like an instrument atop head-on melodic metal rock. The music is similar to the classic Halestorm sound in Love Bites (So Do I) with hard and fast percussions, a choral overlay and riveting guitars.

Amy Lee and Hale hang out in what looks like an impromptu jam turned into a recording session in someone’s basement studio. The resulting production is the song Break In (featuring Amy Lee) from the album of the same name. Their voices meld together to make a third note at times. It’s hypnotic. Dopamine-inducing.

Halestorm – “Break In” (featuring Amy Lee)

Lee’s voice is silkier and Hale’s has a grittier, more guttural sound, usually in live performances, as in a version of Love Bites Halestorm played for the Alternative Press Music Awards.

Comments like this one on YouTube suggest that people think that it’s Lee singing in certain parts: “The moment Amy came in just chills! Her vocal timbre is so distinctively iconic” (DLastOne2go). You would assume it’s Lee but in the video it’s actually Hale. Lee doesn’t come in until 1:56. Hale sings the chorus then Lee comes in singing the higher part.

On another video (posted by someone named “tissue timmy”) Hale sings with her back to the audience while playing the piano. She hits a high note at the end of the chorus at 1:55 that you would expect from Mariah Carey. You can’t see her face but the voice and piano sound like they are coming from the same microphone. Seconds later Lee steps out from behind the piano and starts off singing in a lower register.

Halestorm – “Break In” (featuring Amy Lee) live

A vital voice in rock music

At the recent ceremony for her induction as ambassador for Gibson an executive called her a vital voice in rock music but it’s not just because of her vocal abilities. Another reason is Hale’s consistently bold voice, as if passing the torch on women’s issues and social justice. She has an unapologetic attitude but is extremely generous to people who are going through hard times, regardless of their gender. 

Last year she was on a panel to talk about mental wellness and how it impacts the music community. Hale also performed for A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day! with proceeds going to Save the Children. All four members of Halestorm — Hale, Hottinger, bass player Josh Smith, and Lzzy’s brother, drummer Arejay Hale — have performed as a group for countless charities like MusicCares to help people in need.

In her diary on Tumblr she writes frankly to her Freaks about the days when she and her bandmates were so poor that they had to shop for food at discount goods stores. She talks about mental health support for musicians, feeling comfortable in our own skin, supporting the Black community, knowing the difference between good and evil, and embodying the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll—the music genre that has always been a safe haven for outcasts.

Hale writes, “The WHOLE idea behind the Rock N Roll spirit is to rebel and stand up against injustice!”

Last year Hale took on a new adventure by saying yes to AXS TV to host A Year In Music Season 3, a show about the most memorable events in music history.

She traded her long red hair for short black, but kept the bangs, added a studded leather jacket, red lipstick and 7-inch red bottom heels for 2018’s Vicious. Not that the heels are anything new. Hale has been wearing them on stage for so long that it’s hard to flex her foot to work the guitar pedals, she confessed on the Pit‘s podcast.

Her hair is brown or blond, from one day to the next, but this short black cut was adopted for the video for the song Vicious from the album of the same name. It gives her the edge and style of Benatar, and of the guitar-slinging female lead singers from a decade or few before her who influenced her music, like Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Suzi Quatro — women who rock. 

Touring with Evanescence, Stone Temple Pilots

I wrote this piece and the other article about Halestorm months ago on July 15, 2021, the day Hale formally became part of the Gibson team, and was waiting for the right time to publish it. I guess this is it.

The band finished and released their fifth studio album just last month, May 2022. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Mastodon, Alice In Chains) and co-production by Scott Stevens (Shinedown, Daughtry, New Years Day), Back From The Dead “is the story of me carving myself out of that abyss,” during the pandemic, says Hale. “It is a journey of navigating mental health, debauchery, survival, redemption, rediscovery, and still maintaining faith in humanity.”

Hale’s band planned to do double-bills with another powerhouse songstress Amy Lee and her band Evanescence on tour last fall in stadium venues mostly on the West Coast of the United States. Halestorm also planned on touring Europe in 2022, which they’re in the middle of doing right now with openers Stone Temple Pilots, Mammoth WVH, and Black Stone Cherry. In August, The Pretty RecklessThe Warning, and Lilith Czar share their stage when they feature all-female support acts.

by Cherryl Bird – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Twitter @ladycbird | Instagram @cherrylbird

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