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.
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
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.
Tobbe: There's always time for another record,
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.".
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.
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
], 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.