Interview: Josh Smith of Halestorm

Averaging a few hundred gigs a year, Halestorm always seem to be on the road. 2020 see’s the band back in the studio busy working on a new album. To tide fans over, the band has released a new EP; ‘Reimagined’, and we spoke to bassist Josh Smith about the EP, as well as his own personal highlights from the last decade or so, as Halestorm go from strength-to-strength.

Halestorm are relentless road warriors, is this the longest time that you’ve spent off the road, and at home?

Absolutely, yes. Before we made the last record, we had a pretty good break, we still had some shows, but we were off the road for close to a year. We were off the road as such, but we still had shows here and there. The last show we played was ‘Shiprocked’ cruise in February, so somewhat, fortunately, this year was for us a studio year. In the studio writing and preparing a new album. We did have some shows booked this year, but we aren’t missing complete tours; the thing that we feed on!

It would have been so much worse if you had a new album planned for a Summer release?

Yes, there are so many other bands where it didn’t work out for them, it’s such a damn shame.

The ‘Reimagined’ EP has been out a few weeks now, it was always planned, wasn’t it? It wasn’t an EP born out of quarantine, it was recorded last year?

It was, yes, our go-to thing was cover version EP’s, I can’t remember correctly, but initially, that was the thought; let’s do another cover album. We mulled it over, then we came to the idea of breathing some fresh air into songs that we have been playing for ten years or so. These talks were happening over a year and a half ago and we were just picking the songs to try out. Some were easier than others, but yeah, it’s been planned for some time now. But they usually are, it might seem like; hey, it’s only five songs so it will be easy! But it takes time.

I’m curious; were there any songs that you tried in this format, but just didn’t sound right and were dropped from the EP? Or are the five Halestorm tracks featured on ‘Reimagined’ the ones that were always planned?

Oh, good question! To be honest I can’t remember! But there were a few, ‘I Get Off’ for instance; I think that we did about four variations of that one before we landed on the one that worked. ‘I Miss The Misery’ took a while, so those are the two that stick out for me as going in trying something, then scrapping it and trying something else, scrapping that then finally getting one that felt right.

You mentioned ‘I Get Off’, the main talking point on the EP is, of course, the incredible version of ‘Break In’ with Amy Lee, but I felt that ‘I Get Off’ ran it a close second. I loved the ska-like groove to the guitars, a little bit funky and totally different from what I was expecting!

That one was really cool! Joe has a guitar pedal called a Slicer, and it makes the effect that you’re talking about. It makes a lot of cool sounds. It was one of those situations where you get one sound and it’s like; alright, there’s the verse right there, and you build from there. This one was a lot of fun, and I was just listening to it yesterday thinking; man, this one is cool. What’s really cool about is that it translates really well life, once we had it figured out a few tours ago we added that funky outro to the song when we played it live. People were like; “Oh this is different!”, but they didn’t know that we had been working on it a lot and it was a case of; “Wait until you hear the EP!”.

There’s a lot of stuff that happens organically live like we always do a jam at the end of ‘I Miss The Misery’, this sort of just happened and we thought…let’s just go with it. (Laughs) Some nights it’s a total trainwreck, but it’s fun! That outro to ‘I Get Off’ is great fun. We always think like that with songs, we’re working on new material right now and we just finished a song that is going to be so much fun to have a jam section on.

On the subject of new music…what can you tell us about what you guys are cooking up in the studio?

It’s the best stuff that Lzzy has ever written, and I know that I’m biased, but, I was like; “Woah, I really hope that we can play arenas again because these are really big!”, I’m so excited about it.

I would imagine that right now you would take any venue never mind arenas?!

Right! Anything yeah! We were on Lzzy’s show ‘Raise Your Horns’ and she was talking about the worst show ever, and I was like; “Man, what I wouldn’t give to have even my worst show right now!” They would be better than no shows at all.

Excluding the ‘Reimagined’ EP, the last eight months or so have been relatively quiet on the Halestorm front, but what have been some of your own personal Halestorm highlights so-far to date?

Man, there’s so many! Mostly live shows; the first time that we went to Europe, and we were in this modified bread truck! Driving around the UK and Europe in this truck, and it was like roughing it, again that was something that we talked to Lzzy about on her show. At the time, it was so hard, but then they make for the best stories to laugh about! Memories like that, and myself and Joe driving our old RV around the country, lapping the country!

Obviously winning a Grammy was a big one, winning it was really cool but just to be nominated was equally as insane. Then seeing the progress of the band, graduating from clubs to larger clubs, then bigger headliners, it’s just crazy. I know that no matter how hard it is right now that we’ll get it again. It’s cool to see all our fans, the super-fans that are still there, and new faces, we’re not getting any younger so it’s amazing to see fans our age coming to the shows like always but maybe now they have kids, and they are bringing their kids to the show with them. We’re not at the stage where it’s becoming a generational thing, but you really do see that the crowds are starting to look different and the whole family is out.

Headlining the second stage at Download Festival last year must have been special?

Yeah, that was huge! Download has always been special, the first time that we played there we played the tent, and that blew my mind. Every time that we’ve gone back has been crazy, but yeah you’re right, headlining that festival is a special memory. Just seeing a sea of people in front of you…

Sinking into the mud…

Gosh, yes!

Did you have time to stop and take it all in, enjoy the day? Or was it a busy day for you beforehand?

I think that we had a day of travel by bus to get there? I’m sure that when we woke up we were there, we spent the day onsite as festivals are fun backstage. They are a reunion, we catch up with bands and crews that we’ve toured with in the past, and we look forward to it so much, it’s great saying hi to old friends who are doing the same as us, like ships passing in the night!

After the show, it’s a celebration!

It must have been fun watching the show back on Youtube recently during lockdown?

Right, it was so special just to watch it back, but, to also interact with the fans on the chat function. They were from everywhere, people were saying; “Hello from Brazil”, anywhere, you name it, it was crazy seeing people saying hi from everywhere! We had so much fun doing that. I told people that during the first song we walked out on stage and I had forgotten to turn my guitar pack on, so if you listen to the intro to ‘Do Not Disturb’; my guitar is not on until the verse! The biggest show that we’ve ever played and my guitar is not on!

It’s moments like that where you just have to put your hand up and say…oops!

Yep, my bad!

Totally yeah! It must mean a lot when you go back to a city and you drive by clubs that you played in the early days, by the larger clubs, by the theatres, and then stop outside an arena? That must be mind-blowing!

Yeah, it truly is. You’re Scottish right?

Guilty as charged!

Okay, well Glasgow is a perfect example then. To play the arena after starting at The Garage, then the larger clubs, then the Barrowlands I believe it was?

Yep, that’s the one…

Right, so that’s a great example of starting off in small clubs and working your way up. The promoters up there are so good to us.

With a few exceptions, there is no hype in rock music, if a rock band gets to the arenas, then it’s through sheer hard work. Pop acts, for instance, might have a massive single and debut album, bypass the clubs and theatres, and get booked straight into arenas, then album number two flops and they are on a downward spiral. It’s great to see bands like yourselves, Black Stone Cherry, and Alter Bridge playing the arenas…

It’s a great feeling. If we have to play smaller venues again then we would be more than happy to, but it’s mindblowing playing arenas, it does bring pressure but it’s good pressure. The kind that makes you want to play better, and keep playing to more people each time.

When you do play smaller shows, like the ‘Evening With Halestorm’ shows a few years back, where you opened for yourself by playing an acoustic set first, that makes them all the more special…

Yes, we have spoken about doing this kind of shows again, but it would have to be perhaps fewer shows as Lzzy would need time to rest her voice. Singing for two hours each night takes it out of you; I mean, I’d be fine…

As long as you remember to turn on your pack…

(Laughs) That’s right! I’m just the bass player, no-one even notices!

They will now that you’ve mentioned it! Now, one thing that Halestorm is renowned for is taking out amazing, eclectic opening acts; Avatar, Rews, Wilson, New Years Day, In This Moment, Nothing More, to name but a few. From a purely selfish point of view, who would you like to have out on the road as an opening act?

Man, you named so many good bands there! I miss the Nothing More guys and crew, we had a lot of fun with them, incredible band. Jeez, who would I like to take out with us? There are some really great bands here in Nashville, there are two girls, and they don’t need to open for us, but to share the stage with Larkin Poe would be special, they are unreal.

You know what would be fun…it would be fun to take out a comedian! That would be great! We always tell Arejay that he should open for us, him doing five minutes of comedy; drum-taps at the end of every joke – ba-dum tish!

Arejay with his comedy over-sized drumsticks could work! The flip-side of who would you want to open for you would be; who would Halestorm give up headliner status for? Which band or performer, if they called you up and said “Next Summer, two months of stadiums worldwide, are you in?” would make you say yes?

The first band that pops into my head is Foo Fighters. I think that would be wonderful as I’ve been to their shows and it’s such a great vibe. That would be worth pushing back a headlining tour for a few months.

That would be a great matchup for sure. Now, lastly, and I will understand if you’d rather not answer it as I’ve had a few American musicians politely decline to answer it; Jason Isbell recently caught some flak on social media for sharing his political opinions, the old-favourite “just stick to the music” comment was rife, but surely any musician with a platform should use it as music has always been a form of protest?

It’s always been about protest! And for someone to say “just stick to the music” is so backward, the whole point of music is protest and self-reflection, and seeing things and telling people about them lyrically. I saw this recently with Tom Morello, and I think that someone said the same kind of thing to him, I mean, he has a degree from Harvard in social science! So who better than Tom Morello to talk about it?! I think it’s a ridiculous thing to suggest, and I love following Jason Isbell on Twitter for that because he posts, to put it in a good way, thought-provoking things. Someone replied to one of his tweets in a very narrow-minded way and Jason responded along the lines of; “We speak the same language and we’re saying the same words, but you’re not hearing what I’m saying…” words to that effect. Whatever way he put it was just brilliant. I think it’s important that people use whatever platform they have to provoke debate, especially someone like Jason Isbell who plays to a country/Americana audience that perhaps sways differently from what he is speaking about. It makes it even more enjoyable to see that.

He doesn’t lose many arguments put it that way! Neither does Tom Morello, especially when he has to point out to keyboard warriors bemoaning his politics that the name of the band is Rage Against The Machine for a reason!

Exactly! What do they expect? It’s such a thoughtless attempt at trying to put someone down. Let’s put 2020 behind us and get back to touring, and everyone being nice to each other again!

Amen! 

 

Pick up ‘Reimagined’ here.

Interview – Dave

Live images – Dave Jamieson/Rob Wilkins

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