» Arejay Hale - Halestorm
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Interview conducted February 15 2016
Interview published February 22 2016

A few hours prior to the American rock/hard rock outfit Halestorm's gig in Stockholm, Sweden, Metal Covenant had the pleasure to meet up with drummer Arejay Hale. Arejay seems to be very happy with where he's at musically and with his whole life situation and being out on the road for long periods of time doesn't seem to affect his good mood.

Tobbe: Into The Wild Life was released about 10 months ago and when you look back at it, when you now have some distance to it, what do you see at this point?

Arejay: Well, it's been almost a year and I think that with every album, every time I listen to any of our records, I think about all the things I could have done better and all the ways we could have improved it. I think that all of us are pretty hypercritical of anything that we put out, but it's one of those albums that I think is just one step closer to just really honest Halestorm, you know. With every album we try to get as close as we can to capturing what you see live on record, you know. This recording was very organic compared to the last records that we did. We recorded it live all together. Most of the songs and lyrics were pretty genuine, you know.

Besides a couple of co-writers, which happens, you know, with everybody, and which we like to do anyway, 'cause it's good to have somebody to bounce ideas off of. But definitely, musically, it's a 100 percent genuinely written by us, and played by us completely, with really minimum overdubbing and minimum editing. Except for a couple of songs like Scream and Dear Daughter which are like kind of rhythmically electronic. Just for fun we did that, but most of the songs are pretty much the 4 of us just recording together like we do live, you know.

Tobbe: You were talking about sometimes going back looking for improvement. So if you had a time machine, what would you wanna change on the record?

Arejay: Oh, man. I don't know. I probably would have… I don't know. I think… I feel like if I change anything, it probably wouldn't be the same, you know, 'cause when we recorded the record I was going through a very, very vulnerable moment in my life between my relationship with my wife, now, my girlfriend at the time [Jessie Covets], and there was a lot of shaky things and a lot of uncertainties of what was gonna happen. It was kind of a weird time, 'cause we are constantly away and constantly traveling. I mean, yesterday was Valentine's Day, and that kind of sucked that we weren't together, but she's a trooper, you know.

A year ago or a year and a half ago or something like that, when we were recording, it was kind of like uncertain what was gonna happen. Was it a year ago, or was it 2 years ago? 2 years ago. It's about 2 years ago, yeah. We've been married for 2 years, and, yeah... [Laughs] Yeah, I should know this. I'm in trouble. [The couple got married in October 2014.] I feel like the thing that I provided for this album was just a very honest, raw and fearless inhibition to really tap into like the real honest side of your soul and talk about very personal things, you know. And it felt very liberating, very good. So a lot of my contributions to the writing and also pretty much all of the musical contributions, including drums and whatever else I added to the mix…

In fact, this whole process, making this record, I really started feeling like "Wow!". I really feel like my songwriting has strengthened a lot, because of everything that I went through and also the process of recording it. I don't know if I would change a thing. I'd probably change a couple of things like I'd probably want more ambient sounds in certain places. But I'm really happy how it turned out. I think it would be unwise of me to change anything. [Laughs]

Tobbe: There's always time for another record, so…

Arejay: Oh yeah. That's exactly it, you know. I wouldn't change a thing on any of our records, but I think about these things when we're going to make the next one. I think with every record we get closer and closer to like feeling completely free in the studio, like we do on stage. On stage we feel so comfortable. That's our zone, you know. Like we can do anything. We improvise most of the set. In the studio it's a little bit kind of under a microscope, so you're kind of more concerned about "I gotta be careful when I play, 'cause this is gonna be recorded and captured forever.". But I think with every record we get closer to just being like, you know "I want to add that spontaneity.".

You know, whatever I'm feeling at the time, I'm gonna throw it in there. And I try to do that a lot with the drum tracks. I try to go in cold, you know, focus on the song, and then when I go and record the drums it's like a last minute call for me, like whatever feels right in the moment. "I know the structure, I know the song, I know the music, I know how it speaks to me and I can express how I feel about the music through my drums, so…". That's kind of how I like to do it anyway, but I think with the next one, we'll just have that much more experience, you know.

Tobbe: When you guys write the songs, do you start off with a riff, or a great vocal line to fit a chorus, or maybe a drum beat?

Arejay: Honestly, it's never ever, ever the same twice. The best thing that we can do is just all get together and start off all together on our respective instruments and just jam together. You know, we've been playing live and we've been playing together for so long. Over 12 years, all 4 of us. We got Joe [Hottinger, guitar] and Josh [Smith, bass] in 2003. And even before the set we get together. I got my practice pad and they got their practice amps and we just jam on stuff. We've all been frantically writing, separately and together and with some other people that we know. So there's a million ways to go about it. Yeah, there's really never the same twice. I think that's the beauty of it, you know.

Tobbe: It probably creates a diversity to the songs as well.

Arejay: Yeah, it really does too. And I think, all of us writing separately helps too, because the songs that I'm writing personally are like very, very different from like the kind of typical rock sound, you know, that we've churned out for the last 2 or 3 records. I speak for all of us when I think that we've matured a lot with our writing and we're all dabbling into uncharted territory. It kind of keeps it fresh and fun. It keeps touring fun, like usually in a dressing room or a hotel room or even on an airplane I'll take out my laptop and I'll start working on my Logic, on my recording software. So it's been kind of fun and of course getting to go to all these cities is really inspiring, you know. There's always something new to write about.

Tobbe: The record is in some fans' opinion a little bit softer or lighter than the 2 previous records. Are they right or are they just out on an early nostalgia trip?

Arejay: Well, that's interesting you mention that, 'cause some people have come to us and said "Wow! You guys wrote the heaviest record you've ever written." and then some people are coming to us saying "Wow! You've wrote like the softest and most intimate record I've ever…". I think the thing with us is like with every time we went into the studio to make a record our listening tastes had broadened so much. You know, they just keep expanding. So I think the dynamic of the songs between the first, second and third record, I think with every record, has gotten more and more wide and more and more vast.

On the first record [Halestorm] the only soft songs we had were like Familiar Taste Of Poison, Better Sorry Than Safe and Bet U Wish U Had Me Back, and they were kind of pop songs. And then the heaviest songs we had were probably like maybe Dirty Work and Nothing To Do With Love and all these kind of cheesy, like heavy, 80's kind of style rock songs. So I think that was kind of a narrow range and narrow dynamic on the first record and I think some of that was just because we never had studio experience and we were kind of more coached with producers and with our record label [Atlantic] then than we are now. Now we feel so lucky we can go in the studio and our record label and everybody will just trust us to give 'em something good, you know. I feel so lucky in that sense, 'cause I know so many bands that have the record labels on 'em like a microscope in the studio, like "We need this kind of song." and "We need this kind of thing.".

I feel lucky that, especially after winning the Grammy for Love Bites [(So Do I)] on Strange Case [The Strange Case Of…], when we went in to make [Into The] Wild Life, we were expecting them to be like "Okay. We need to recreate this stuff because it worked.", but it didn't happen. The thing is radio changes constantly, so the best thing to do is just chase whatever gets you excited at the time and just hope that you're ahead of the time, you know. I hope that answers your question. I kind of went off there, but you know what I mean though.

Tobbe: You mentioned something about outside writers, so how much does the outside writers actually write of the songs?

Arejay: Oh, it depends. For me, personally, when it comes to co-writes I don't like to think in percentages and like nitpick parts. It's like "Hey. Do you wanna write a song together?". Like this one guy that we wrote a bunch of songs with, called Scott Stevens, was really cool, and from what I acquired, I don't know, I really wasn't involved in the business end, but from what I have acquired about our band, I think we like to kind of keep it organic. We're like "We can write a song. We'll split it down the middle. Let's bounce some ideas.".

I think that comes from experience and working with a bunch of people and kind of knowing what writers to work with and who really holds their way. And I'm excited, 'cause when I go home, I know a lot of, not like official writers, but like just a bunch of friends that I know that are musicians and writers that I like to get together with. We like to jam on stuff and come up with ideas. If you get stuck in a rut, you just like "Here's this first half of a chorus. How can we finish this?". And it kind of makes it fun. It kind of makes it interactive, you know. And it's never really the same way twice really. I mean, any song that is written is like a fingerprint. Every song is organically brought up in a different way.

And it's weird, 'cause you never really know when you're like "It's done!", like "I don't know. Is it done? Is it not?" and sometimes having an outside ear helps, you know, like "What do you think?" and some people are like "Well, you could use some improvement..." and then other people could be like "No. It's perfect. Leave it. Less is more.", you know. It's like songwriting boot camp, for me anyway. It's kind of like training. Getting to see how another songwriting mind works kind of makes you think about thinking in different ways when you're going to write yourself, so.

Tobbe: How important is your lyrical content to you guys personally?

Arejay: I think for all of us it's super personal, except for like, you know, the occasional song that has to be kind of written from like a chick perspective, like Apocalyptic. You know, us dudes can't relate to that, but songs like The Reckoning and even Dear Daughter, even though it specifically talks about a daughter/mother relationship, for me it can be any kind of relationship. Between 2 people, between any family member, a friend or something like that, you know. There's a couple of lines in there that I felt related to. I think for anyone maintaining a relationship with somebody for a long period of time is difficult. You're gonna have up and downs, you know. Love, pain, hope, fear, or something, I don't know.

All those words that pop in your mind when you're in a relationship that you wanna keep alive, but it's kind of shaky and you don't know where it's gonna go. So we have songs like that, you know. I Am The Fire is a big one and Amen is kind of about taking the reigns of our career. We're feeling so lucky to be at the point where we have more say in how the writing goes about and how the song structure goes about and how the album will be and put together. The whole record, I think, has a message of just self empowerment and getting to that fearless point where you can take over something and take control of your life.

Tobbe: How do you develop as musicians with every record made?

Arejay: Well, with every record made we have another 2 or 3 years of touring experience. I talk about this to a lot of new bands that are coming out. You know, that, like, are really promising songwriters and really good, talented players, but they don't quite lock in and when you see them live, you know they're good, but you can tell they need work. Going on tour makes your band super, super tight, 'cause you're playing every single night. It's one thing for a band, if you're not touring and you practice like every day, to get really tight, and that's important.

We used to practice, like 5 or 6 hours every day in our parent's basement, but once we went on tour we noticed how tight we got, 'cause you've gotta be on it, you know. You're playing every single night and it's gotta be good. So yeah, every time we're going to make a record we just have one more album cycle of record making experience and touring experience and playing together. Yeah, I think that's how we kind of measure our milestones.

Tobbe: How much material do you have for a forthcoming record?

Arejay: Oh God! I'll be totally honest with you. We're not even thinking that far ahead right now. We were on tour for like 270 days out of last year, so we had less than a 100 days off. It was just ridiculous. So we were on for like 9 out of 12 months. We had so much time on the road. So this year we were just like "You know what? We're spending all this time on the road. Let's try to make it productive and let's just keep the creative wheels turning and be just kind of in a mentality of like it never hurts to over-prepare.". So we're just kind of starting now and getting some personal ideas out.

Tobbe: Will you keep your 3 year span between full length studio records? It's been April 2009, April 2012 and April 2015 so far.

Arejay: You know, it just coincidentally worked out that way. I don't know how. It's probably a good thing. I think the last album cycle was a bit longer than the first record, 'cause the singles were doing better. They wanted to squeeze the life out of Strange Case before we went in to make Wild Life. I think it's important not to come out with a new record too soon, 'cause, you know, timing is a weird part of it. We were supposed to make the Wild Life record in like 3 months. We had 3 months of studio booked, and that turned into like 9 months, of course. So by the time it finally came out everybody was really itching for it. Luckily it did well on its first week, so.

Tobbe: Can you believe like in the 70's or the early 80's they released albums every 6 months or something?

Arejay: So crazy, you know. Well, I mean, that was back when records were selling. The thing is like now it takes so long to get to a point where your record sales are good enough to be able to go back in the studio. Back then, you know, everyone would make money on record sales and the touring would just be a way to promote the record. Now touring is all we have. You know, that's our only income now, pretty much. We have to tour all the time, you know.

Which isn't a bad thing, 'cause we love doing it, but I'm hoping before we go in to make the next record I can have some time off to be a husband, before my wife disowns me. God bless her, you know. She's a strong woman and she's so patient with my touring schedule. She's a singer too, in a band out in L.A.. An all-girl band called True Violet. She's so talented and so married to her music, just as I am, that we have that mutual understanding like "Sorry, baby. I love you, but music comes first.". And we're both cool with it. It's great. It works out.

Tobbe: About you and your sister [Lzzy Hale, vocals and guitar]. Does it always work out great between you and her? Remember that you're her little brother too.

Arejay: [Laughs] But it really does. But if she starts becoming pain in the ass big sister, I'd put her in place and "Hey! Take it easy.". But no, I think I'm the one giving her a gray hair actually. It's a really good thing having that family chemistry in the band. We have a very similar mentality of the music and the writing and the way that we're running this band. It really helps having that. We've never like felt competitive with each other. Like we've always just been very encouraging and I feel lucky to have that relationship with my sibling.

But now Joe and Josh are practically my brothers, so like now all 4 of us are very family oriented. I think that initially that family vibe kind of rubs off on everybody, as far as like our other bandmates, our crew on tour, our manager, our record label. It's all very family vibe. It's gotta be like that and especially with the touring, 'cause we're touring so much. We're on a bus with 12 people, you're face to face with everyone and you got to get along, you know. Personality goes a long way with us, for hiring crew guys, like it's gotta be a very personal thing, you know.

We're all like family and we're all traveling best friends, so we're lucky in that sense. It makes touring so much more enjoyable, if everybody likes it. I know bands that hate each other, bands that don't get along with their crew, bands that are like very employer/employee. It's not like that with us. It's like we always strive to make it a fun thing that we're all doing together. It's like bandcamp, you know. It's fun.

Tobbe: Even if you have been around for a long time now…

Arejay: Longer than people think.

Tobbe: Totally. …but you're kind of in the beginning of your career regarding record releases, so how do you look at the future?

Arejay: Yeah, we're only on record 3. Right now we're still really dedicated to, like, going in and begin a 4th record and releasing that. We don't really wanna take too much time off, but I'd like to take a little time and try some other things and, you know, get my feet wet in different areas. I've been playing drums since I was 3 years old. Like when I'm home, you know, obviously I'm writing for the record, writing personally for me and in my honest areas, and dabbling in co-writing, and writing for other artists, and singing and playing guitar. You know, I'd like to experiment a little bit, 'cause I feel so lucky that we're in this position now where we have so much freedom to just be able to do whatever we want.

I mean, a good example is, you know, my sister got to sing with Slash, she got to sing with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, she got to sing with Machine Gun Kelly, and Lindsey Sterling, and like all these people. And I've gotten to do some sessions. I got to play with Corey Taylor from Slipknot, for one of his solo shows. I got to play for a couple of different artists, like Rob Decoup. That was a while ago and I haven't seen him in awhile, but that was a very fun session. I got to work with the guy that engineered our 2 first records, Mike Plotnikoff. I got to actually go in the studio with him. He was producing this artist, so I got to play drums on his record. I got to work with Plotnikoff in a different project besides Halestorm, so that was fun. I play drums on my wife's record, and she is probably, maybe for her genre and for her age, the best like just natural talent I've ever met in my life, you know. I'm not taking anything away from us or from my band.

We've all developed into decent songwriters and great live performers, but my wife, like since she was 16 years old she was writing incredible songs. Like she's a songwriter first and her voice is just incredible. She's got this range where she sings opera. She can sing, like, just everything, you know. She's super talented and she's starting to get off the ground and her band is starting to develop, but I got to do some drums on her record. Her producer wanted someone with studio experience to play drums, so I came in and laid down some stuff.

Tobbe: The tricky parts, I guess.

Arejay: Yeah, yeah, but her drummer is actually one of my students, so I've done a little teaching and Kayla Miller is awesome. She's a kick-ass drummer and she's improved so much since I've worked with her. It's been fun to, like, dabbling those things, and writing, and teaching and everything, you know. So as far as the future goes, it's just, you know, "Bring it on, man." The sky is the limit.

Tobbe: So honestly, regarding popularity. How far will Halestorm eventually go?

Arejay: Oh God, I don't know. As far as we're gonna kick that horse, man. I don't even know what that term means. It's terrible. [Laughs] As far as we can push this band and as big we can get it. The one thing that got us to where we are is being so true to ourselves and never feeling like we have to sell out, never feeling we need to use backtracks or need to use anything. You know, we've always strived on just trying to be a really organic and real band, you know.

And also interacting with our fans, like I'm constantly on Twitter. All of us are constantly interacting with our fans and it makes it fun for us and it makes it fun for them. I feel a really close personal relationship with the fans that we've met, especially over here. You know, it's so far away from home, but they make us feel that we're right at home, so. So I think as long as we stay true to that we'll just keep on going until it decides to not go anymore.

Tobbe: A lot of the bigger artists have been for around for like 30 to 50 years…

Arejay: Well, we'll not quit anytime soon, so. [Laughs] We love it too much. We don't wanna stop.

Tobbe: …but is it even possible to see such a distant future?

Arejay: I think so. There's a thing I say to a lot of up-and-coming bands when they ask me for advice. Like "How do you get to that level?" and one of the greater pieces of advice that I've given was "Don't break up!", because I've seen so many bands that get so close, and then something doesn't happen and they just kind of break up and they give up. But it takes so many tries before you finally hit something, you know. We had so many opportunities to be dropped and done and gone, but we just kept on going, you know, 'cause that was our mentality.

We never tried to be famous. We didn't care about that. We didn't care about success. We cared about making the music, you know. So doing it for the right reasons is the best way to go about and I think that the reason that a lot of bands actually make it to that level is because they don't stop. Because they love it so much that they don't wanna stop, you know.

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