By the end of 2019, Halestorm had an album’s worth of songs ready to go, then scrapped it all and started from scratch. Whatever was written before 2020, before the pandemic, seemed irrelevant. “We lost a lot of our earlier songs that we were writing before COVID, or ‘B.C.,’ because the state of the world changed and we were faced with this unknown future of ‘are we making a record’ and ‘are we ever going to be able to tour again,’” says singer Lzzy Hale. “All those songs that we were doing before just seemed very unimportant, so most of the new songs were very much written in the now.”
Searching for her own intervention to pluck her from the darker ends of isolation, Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith, and drummer and brother Arejay Hale, began writing an entirely new storyboard of songs for their fifth album Back From the Dead.
“It was therapy for me,” says Hale, who admits to having some form of an identity crisis during lockdown which was mended through writing. “You look at yourself in a different way when this thing that you love to do so much is no longer there and no longer guaranteed,” she adds. “The thing I realized is that this extension of my personality, or whatever this thing is that I do, that hole can’t be filled with anything else—and believe me we tried. We had a lot of beer over the pandemic, and it doesn’t work.”
Back From the Dead was built on the necessity to document in real-time where her head was at the time, which turned the album into a rollercoaster ride, says Hale, delving into her fluctuating mental states. “There’s definitely plenty of debauchery, stories of survival, and how you crawl out of that hole,” she says. “In a lot of ways, I was writing myself out of a dark place. I wanted to kind of keep my head exactly where it was, whilst writing and letting go of the idea that I’m writing for our fans, or I’m writing for the album, or because we have a label, and because it’s a career. It wasn’t like that this time. It was more of a personal journey.”
Starting from scratch, except for the track “Bombshell,” which was held over from the initial session in 2019, Hale worked her way through some of the mental trenches incited around isolation and uncertain times—and no longer be “Lzzy Hale.”
“When you are 95 percent of the time Lzzy Hale the rock star, and then all of a sudden, you have to face this Elizabeth Taylor in her pajamas on the couch, I was like ‘who are you? I haven’t seen you in a while.’ There was a lot of me trying to parent my inner child and really getting to know myself again, in a different way.”
Shouting I’m back from the dead is where the story begins on the title track, and the angsty don’t call me angel of “Wicked Ways,” a flip on the Juice Newton ’80s hit “Angel of the Morning,” comes to terms with the fact that people are never completely good or evil. “We all have a dark side,” says Hale.
Produced by Nick Raskulinecz, who also worked on Halestorm’s fourth album Vicious in 2018, and co-produced by Scott Stevens, Back From the Dead touches on the perverse with tongue in cheek anthem “Bombshell”— You better suck it / you’re never gonna shut me up—and “I Come First,” while the band recognizes their communion with one another on “The Steeple” through to the ballad of “Terrible Things” and raw lyrics We are heartless and immoral / We carry hatred like a bible… I see terrible things / I see sickness in a world on its knees.
Writing during the pandemic altered the way Hale approached songwriting and being her most authentic self. “During the pandemic, we all basically said, ‘This is it. This is what I can do, and this is what I can contribute to the world, and I don’t need to do it for any other reason than I want to do it.’ I knew I needed to do it in order to figure my own things out.”
The difference between Hale pre-pandemic and now: “I have maybe one more fuck to give,” she says. “I’ve given them all away.” The other silver lining: taking very little for granted. “We’re a very stop and smell the roses kind of band, but when you think all of these things are going to last forever and then all of a sudden it’s stolen you’re asking ‘what really am I doing this for.’ The beautiful thing is the rediscovery of ourselves, and a rediscovery of myself, and a rediscovery of my love of writing and music.”