Halestorm are Back From The Dead as the Grammy winners bring their ‘An Evening With…’ shows to venues across the UK. Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth caught up with guitarist Joe Hottinger mid-run. 

Rushonrock: How does it feel to finally be back doing what you do best in front of your British fans?

Joe Hottinger: It’s amazing. We’ve missed this place so much. Lzzy [Hale, vocals] and I have been walking miles through the various cities we’ve been to in between shows because we just love being back here. It’s fun and it’s such a great country. We’ve missed the UK and we’ve missed travelling. It’s so nice to be somewhere else other than the US for the first time in two years. We’re doing these special ‘An Evening With…’ shows and it’s awesome to hear the fans singing back every single word to every single song — even the weird and obscure ones!

Rushonrock: Did you ever worry you might never experience this again?

JH: We didn’t know for a long time what was going to happen in terms of whether we’d get back out on the road again. I even took up golf to fill in some of the spare time when things were up in the air. Our booking agent, John Dittmar, said ‘come golfing with me — I’ll get you a set of Alice Cooper’s golf clubs that he gave me’. So I said ok that sounds cool. This was the summer of 2020. I discovered I was fine with golf — not great but not terrible — but after we’d been on the course for a while John said ‘just so you know, I don’t think you’’ll be playing any shows this year’. Even at that point I said ‘really?’ because I just didn’t think things would be that bad. It kinda blew my mind. The he was like ‘I’d prepare yourself for not playing in 2021 either’ and I thought ‘holy shit’. That really messed with us. 

Rushonrock: How did you adjust to that sense of uncertainty?

JH: I talked to Lzzy about it and we just didn’t know what we were going to do. Everybody’s had their own experience with the pandemic but for us, as a band, with live music central to everything that we do, it was a tough time. There’s no feeling like the rush of performing and especially the way we do it — there are no tracks or anything. We just dive in and go for it and there’s something beautiful about jumping off the cliff like that together and seeing where it goes. We’re used to playing hundreds of shows a year and it’s such a high. We’re flying free and hoping we land together! It turns out there’s nothing that really fills that hole — not even playing golf with a set of Alice Cooper’s clubs! 

Rushonrock: Looking back, how did those early days of the pandemic affect you and your band mates?

JH: I can’t speak for Arejay [Hale, drums] and Josh [Smith, bass] but I know Lzzy’s talked about how tough the pandemic was for her personally and how that shaped the new record. We talked about it a lot and still do. Around September or October 2020 we’d been writing for six months straight and we hadn’t even been able to set foot in a studio as a band. We’d made so many demos and recorded so many songs and it got to the point where we just asked ourselves why are we doing this? It seemed so pointless with no end in sight. We knew that there was a good chance things would return to normal at some point but we were even starting to question whether we even liked music any more. It was so long since we’d had the high of a live show and it just doesn’t cut it playing on Zoom. We did plenty of acoustic things and joined up with different folks remotely but it’s just not the same at all. At our lowest we actually stopped writing for a few weeks and just hoped we’d figure it out. Then out of nowhere you have a little win — you write something again after a while and it turns out to be pretty cool. And you think ‘let’s keep going’.

Rushonrock: How much time was Halestorm apart?

JH: Lzzy and I live together but we didn’t see the boys properly for six months. We saw Josh and his kids outside for a birthday party and that was just about it. Like a lot of folks we took the information we had at the time and tried to react intelligently to it but nobody really knew what was going on at that point or how the various strains might be transmitted. The only chance we took was seeing Josh and his family outside at that birthday party — other than that we just stayed away from people. We didn’t want to catch Covid or spread it. So Lzzy and I just started making demos on our own and any ideas the boys had they’d just send in as and when. We didn’t want to do too much when we were apart but we did decide to write as many songs as we could with the aim of figuring out what to do with them when we eventually got together.

Rushonrock: On reflection is Back From The Dead a stronger body of work given the unique backdrop to its conception?

JH: Every record is a journey but when we look back on Back From The Dead I think we’ll realise we’ve made stronger record because of the circumstances we faced and the stuff that was going on. None of them are easy because if making albums was easy then everyone would be doing it all the time. On this one everyone felt burnt out at one time or another but we kept going and dug deep and wrote some killer songs and then some not so good ones. We realised we needed more and Lzzy said ‘I wanna go and write some stuff with my buddy Scott [Stevens]’. We’ve written with Scott in the past but we weren’t sure whether it would work out. We’d just got vaccinated — it was early last year — so Lzzy wanted to give it a go. She decided she needed a new perspective and they do work well together. They have a lot of the same ideas lyrically and the first thing they wrote was Back From The Dead. I heard it and I thought ‘wow, that’s awesome and we can work with that!’. It was exactly what Lzzy had been trying to say. The next song was The Steeple and I thought wow — rock and roll!

Rushonrock: The Steeple’s sense of community and defiance could be the ultimate Halestorm anthem…

JH: That sense of community is the whole idea behind The Steeple. Lzzy is very connected to the Freak Family — as they call themselves — and she’s talking to them all the time on Twitter or whatever. It’s created a really neat little community and that community helps Lzzy out when she needs it and she tries to do the same for them. They all use each other. It’s really cool and they’re all nice folks. The Steeple is inspired by this neat community that Halestorm’s music has created. There are always more people showing up and it’s awesome.

Rushonrock: So what was the idea behind the ‘An Evening With…’ format?

JH: We thought the ‘An Evening With…’ thing would be something fun and a different way to present ourselves. We’re doing two sets — opening up for ourselves with an acoustic set and then coming back after an interval with a full electric set. Every night is a different setlist and we’re using these shows to switch things up and challenge ourselves. We’re running through songs and relearning them right before we go on! It’s a blast. I was really nervous the first night. I had no idea how it would go and my big fear was that people would get bored. We take a 20-minute break between sets but two-and-half hours of music is still a long time. But it hasn’t felt like that at all. There’s a real energy coming from the crowd during the acoustic set as much as there is during the full-on rock show. We show our fans a different side to us and then show them what we do best. 

Rushonrock: Is the gamble paying off?

JH: I think so. These shows are really fun. It’s nice for people to see a mellow side to Halestorm. We bring the couches out on stage, just chill and tell some stories. Arejay tells some jokes as he fancies himself as a bit of a comedian but he’s really not…his jokes are so bad. They’re so terrible. We get to screw around and loosen up and then come back later with the full production. People are ready for it by then and so are we — we’re warmed up, loose and ready to rock. There might even be the odd costume change! And when we do come back the crowd’s just crazy. Our sound guy’s been telling us he has to cover his ears!

Rushonrock: Is there a real appetite for live music again?

JH: For a lot of people this could be their first show back after more than two years and looking at the comments on social media we know that’s the case. It’s awesome. And I know what it’s like to feed off that experience as a fan. I remember seeing Muse at a club in Philly in 2003. I was an incredible experience. When you fully lose yourself at a show there’s nothing quite like it. To see our fans doing that again is phenomenal. That was me 20 years ago and I know how good it feels.

Rushonrock: How does it feel to be so far from home when war is raging in Europe?

JH: I’m following the news but right now I’m not too worried. Here in the UK we feel a little bit separated from what’s happening in Europe. We were supposed to be in Europe four or five weeks before this UK tour and we’d have been in Poland, for instance, and getting pretty close to Ukraine. We were so looking forward to getting into Eastern Europe and bringing the fans over there a real rock show. It’s unimaginable what those poor folks in Ukraine are going through right now. We do a lot of stuff with the US forces overseas and play army bases abroad. It’s a tough job. It must be so stressful for the soldiers and the civilians over there but music heals. Maybe in some small way it can again now.

A limited number of tickets are still available for An Evening With Halestorm in Newcastle (March 9). Cardiff, Sheffield and London are sold out.
New album Back From The Dead is released on May 6 via Atlantic Records.