By John Benson
Books aren’t the only things that can’t be judged by a cover.
For instance, members of rock act Halestorm, a rock-radio favorite with a decidedly youthful, female following, learned this lesson in Youngstown a few years ago when it played an outdoor event filled with all types of folks.
“It was one of our first experiences playing ‘Bet U Wish U Had Me Back’ from the first album,” said bassist Josh Smith, calling from New York City. “We’re looking out into the crowd, and there’s these picturesque bikers. These guys were big dudes with tattoos, leather jackets and singing with passion the lyrics to a love song. That was pretty cool.”
A few years later, Halestorm is still breaking down expectations with its recently released sophomore effort, “The Strange Case of …” The new CD made history with its lead single, “Love Bites [So Do I],” reaching No. 1 at Active Rock radio outlets nationwide, which was a first for a female-fronted group.
Then the band’s new track, “Here’s To Us,” hit No. 1 on iTunes’ Top Rock Songs after it was featured in a February 2012 episode of Fox’s hit series “Glee.”
“I feel like people’s expectations are they see us as one thing — this hard, aggressive, sort of modern-rock, female-fronted band,” Smith said.
“The one thing this album shows is we do like other kinds of music, whether we’re pop-minded or ballad-minded. We have a new song with just a piano called ‘Break In’ on this album that displays our eclectic diversity of music. And yes, I guess ‘Glee’ took it there, and that’s cool. It was an interesting little twist on a song we had a great time making.”
Furthering Halestorm’s current image-breaking theme is “Here’s To Us,” which finds frontwoman Lzzy Hale dropping “F-bombs” with impunity. Smith said this led to some interesting, if not awkward, moments when he played the new tunes for his family for the first time. Specifically, his grandmother questioned why Hale had to curse so much.
Obviously, Hale is hoping to shed her comfortable skin and paint Halestorm as a rock act with a message that keeps people guessing. Take for instance “Love Bites [So Do I],” which Smith promises is not intended to capitalize on the vampire craze.
“I think a big thing from Lzzy’s side of this was on the first album, it was very tongue-in-cheek,” Smith said. “Everything was being the tough girl and putting the guy down. I don’t know, I think ‘Love Bites [So Do I]’ is kind of her siding with the guys and understanding that girls can be crazy sometimes.”
Finally, the one crazy thing about “Here’s to Us” is that it features background vocals by none other than current Van Halen bassist Wolfgang Van Halen.
“Wolfie is a huge Halestorm fan, and he hung out with us quite a few times in the making of the album,” Smith said. “He’d just come over to our apartment, and we’d jam. We were finishing up the record and we had some gang vocals to do on Halloween, and he was going out with us that night. So he was at the studio, and we asked if him if he wanted to add some vocals, and he said sure. So we were just up there being goofs.”
Hmm, maybe one day he’ll repay the favor and let Smith play bass with Van Halen?
“I don’t know. I’d have a hard time leaving this band, even for Van Halen,” Smith said. “I don’t want to dip my toes in that soup.”