Photo by Jimmy Fontaine
I’ve only seen Halestorm perform live once (so far), but that’s all it took to realize how much talent and passion all their members embody on stage.
They first performed in Fargo eight years ago at The Aquarium, and they’ve been back in town several times since. I saw them the last time they were here in 2016 with Dorothy and Lita Ford, and the night of amazing hard rock and female empowerment totally blew me away. Now they’re back to do it again with another The Runaways veteran.
Halestorm is one of the special guests for a show with headliner and rock legend Joan Jett & The Blackhearts at the Bluestem Amphitheater on Thursday, Aug. 9.
Both female-led groups are known for touring heavily all around the world and empowering people of all ages and genders to not be afraid to rock and express themselves.
Halestorm just released their fourth studio album, Vicious, on July 27 and are in the middle of a tour with In This Moment and New Years Day.
I got the chance to chat with drummer Arejay Hale before their show on Thursday about his passion for music, what he loves about their new record, his thoughts on Fargo and more.
Where did your passion for music come from, and how has it morphed over the years?
Arejay Hale: As most Halestorm fans know, our very first bass player was my dad. My dad was a bass player and growing up, we’d go to church every Sunday. We were nice, little, you know, church kids from central Pennsylvania, and my dad was playing in the church band. Just seeing my dad on a stage, or on at least somewhat of a stage, playing with a band and performing was definitely a driving factor for me in looking up to my dad and also wanting to go up on stage.
I remember going to concerts. My parents used to take me to shows. Growing up, The Beatles was like our favorite thing in the world. We watched all The Beatles’ movies, all the Beatles’ live videos, the Ed Sullivan show, Coming to America and all that. I was always just so intrigued by the drums, by watching all the Beatles and watching Ringo play the most weird looking instrument and as a little kid thinking, ‘what is that?’ and my parents explaining, ‘it’s drums, he’s a drummer.’
I guess the most drastic thing we could do was just be as genuinely honest as possible. Just kill everybody with our honesty…
My dream as a little kid was to be able to play with my dad, to jam with him on stage. So I started playing in the church and learning my gospel chops from a young age. That still is a big influence on me. I’m not much of a churchgoer anymore, but still, when my dad started playing with me, it was just so cool. It was just so fun, it was just such a rush that I wanted it to keep going, you know?
Your fourth studio album, Vicious, just came out. I thought it was more hard rock and just more raw and energetic. So what would you say makes Vicious stand out from your previous albums?
Hale: We’ve discussed this a couple times in interviews, but I don’t think any of us really broke it down to the point. If you listen to our first two records, and even more so especially our first record, it’s very linear, it’s polished and clean and edited to perfection. It sounds a bit more manufactured than our latest two records. I guess for me, seeing modern rock music get almost to a kind of generic, lame place, for me, it’s just like, we have to do something drastic.
I guess the most drastic thing we could do was just be as genuinely honest as possible. Just kill everybody with our honesty, not only with lyrics but with music, too. The music of the record, the sound of the record, is very much in a stripped down and raw direction. And I think the only way you can kind of get out of the generic, cookie-cutter kind of modern rock sound is to just go in a complete, opposite direction to try to make it super raw. And I see a lot of rock bands doing that, like Theory of a Deadman went in a really different direction, the new Godsmack is in a really different direction, and our new record, I think, is a departure, to a point, from our sound, but also probably the most genuine and honest sounding Halestorm record to date.
We’ve been saying that this record is probably the closest we’ve come to capturing our live energy, which is kind of what we pride ourselves on; being a live band first and always kind of struggling to capture that on record. I think that this time we’ve gotten as close as we’ve come so far.
We’ve been saying that this record is probably the closest we’ve come to capturing our live energy.
I really liked that a lot. I listened to it and it seemed like it captured a lot of the energy. I feel like that must be really hard to do, to capture live energy on a record.
Hale: It is, it’s a totally different environment. When you’re in front of an audience, you naturally put in a little extra 10 percent of energy. So the good thing, the advantage that we have in the studio is that [producer] Nick Raskulinecz is a genuine fan of our live show, as much as we are a fan of him and the work that he’s done. So having him in the studio was a big help for me because he just constantly encouraged me to play with more energy.
The go-to, default move of any producer, especially from a drumming perspective, is to simplify everything, to dumb it down, to play it perfect and to play it on the grid, but Nick didn’t want that. He wanted me to play like I do live, with a lot of energy, a lot of crazy beats and he even encouraged me to do the kind of live showman antics in the studio, which I kind of felt silly doing, but after a while, it seemed to get really good takes, so that’s what he was going for.
Yeah, that’s really cool. What’s one of your favorite songs on Vicious and why?
Hale: Ooh, that is a good question. I think as of now, my favorite is probably our song called “Skulls.” The writing process of that song was around the time that we were kind of hitting our stride in the studio and we were feeling a little bit more confident to try different sounds, to try to write something that’s a little bit more different sounding for us. I like the way that one turned out. It sounds very heavy but also it’s got some cool bass lines.
I’ll say this, though. My favorite thing about the record, the number one thing that I love about how the record turned out, is the fact that you can hear Josh [Smith] playing on it more. With every record before that, the bass was kind of the complementary character to the sound, but with this one, our producer Nick is a bass player, so he really brought amazing things out of Josh. I’m really happy that his talent is heard more.
You guys have been to Fargo and Moorhead a few times before, so what’s your impression of our area, or what were some preconceptions you had before you got here?
Hale: Well, the first time we ever played Fargo was in the dead of winter, and you know what? It was really fun. We played this little, tiny bar and I think we were on tour with Adelitas Way a long time ago; this was 2010. It was almost eight years ago the first time we came up there, and I’ll tell you what, man. Those people know how to party. Every time we’re there, it’s just such a party. It’s just so much fun, we love it up there.
The next couple times we were there, it was warmer out, so I got to walk around and it’s really cool and kind of eclectic. I like the fact that there’s still mom and pop shops. I like the vibe of the area, you know. It’s really cool, and the people there are super sweet, super awesome. My only [previous] impression of Fargo was the movie, Fargo, until I actually got there and saw it for myself.
So what are your plans for the future as a band, and where do you go from here?
Hale: After this run with In This Moment and New Years Day, we go to Europe and we’re doing a tour with a band called Devilskin and also Avatar. In the winter time, we’re back in the states again with In This Moment and New Years Day. We’re doing the same lineup three times this year, it’s just been such a perfect lineup.
I feel like you guys have toured with so many different amazing bands. Are there any bands that you want to tour with but haven’t yet?
Hale: Oh there’s so many bands that we haven’t toured with yet. I’d love to tour with the Foo Fighters. I wouldn’t mind touring with Muse, I’d love to tour with Nine Inch Nails, Tool, or Korn too, I’ll always have a soft spot for those bands. I also want to tour with System of a Down. Those are the heavier bands that came out when I was a teenager or when I was an angry, teenage, heavy-music-loving kid, so any of those bands would be pretty cool and very nostalgic for me.
But honestly, I would like to tour with some more different acts. I don’t know how it would work music-wise, but I’d love to tour with Kings of Leon, Sia or Portugal. The Man. Bands like that, bands in the alternative genre, which I really like.
What advice do you have for future musicians wanting to make it in the music industry?
Hale: The music industry is constantly changing, but one thing is consistent: learn how to master your craft before you get out there and it’ll make your life a lot easier. Before you start playing shows, make sure that you, and if you’re in a band, the entire band is tight and rock solid. But also just start going out there and playing shows.
The best way to get tight is to just play and play and play your ass off and play in front of as many different audiences as possible because once you play a live show, that’s when you understand where you’re lacking or also where your strengths are. So I would say just get out there because you could have the best music in the world, but if it’s just in your bedroom on a hard drive, then it’s not getting out there.
There are so many different outlets you can use: social media, YouTube, SoundCloud, etc. You could easily put a record together and put it on iTunes. The most exciting thing about starting a project and putting it out in the world is to watch it grow.
As soon as you believe in it and you love it, I would say don’t settle for the kind of music you think other people will like or you think will sell. Make music that you personally love – absolutely love – because if you love it and you believe in it, guaranteed someone else out there will, if not hundreds of thousands of other people will, or they’ll be able to relate to it or connect with it.
Check out their top tracks on Spotify:
Find out more about Halestorm on their website. The all-ages show will be Thursday, Aug. 9 at the Bluestem Amphitheater. The gates open at 5 p.m., and the show starts at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $41.50 in advance and can be purchased here.