On April 10, 2012, the Pennsylvania hard rock band Halestorm released their sophomore album titled The Strange Case Of … Now, what makes this particular piece of information interesting is that it is now December 2013 and that record is still going strong, with another hit single this fall in “Here’s To Us” that features a guitar solo by Slash. Nothing says success like that. For a young band only on their second full-length recording, the success smells sweet. Down-to-Earth with killer licks and a vocalist who can kick your butt one minute and purr in your ear the next, Halestorm quickly became the band to watch, with Lizzy Hale overtaking from Paramore’s Haley Williams the title of favorite female rocker.
Currently on a short tour to wrap up the year, I spoke with the band’s guitar player Joe Hottinger a while back about his musical roots and what made this album bigger and better than their first one.
Now Joe, anything and everything you want to know about Lizzy and Arejay is out there everywhere. But you’re a little more of a mystery. So are you prepared to reveal your deepest and darkest secrets?
(laughs) Sounds good
Well, why don’t you tell us where you grew up, what you were like as a kid and how you discovered music.
Alright, well, I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin called Hartford and pretty much grew up there until I was in seventh grade, about eleven or twelve years old, somewhere in there. I really didn’t get into music until right before I left Wisconsin when I was in seventh grade. I remember distinctly I was going down the road after school and it was like in the mid-nineties and I heard Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and all these bands and I didn’t know what it was and I was like, Oh my God (laughs). I immediately took guitar lessons and for whatever reason, I don’t know, but it made sense to me and I understood it right away. I got it, you know. And I started learning how to play those Nirvana songs. It was awesome.
My family moved to England for one year and I went to school there and took a few guitar lessons there and I kept playing and at Christmas I got my first electric guitar, an Ibanez G270, green; that’s why I liked it (laughs). I moved back to Pennsylvania in the States, resumed high school and started my first band shortly thereafter and it’s really been tunnel vision since I picked up the guitar. All I wanted to do is what I’m doing right now. I got lucky, you know, that my personal dream came true.
What was it about Nirvana that attracted you and blew you away when you first heard them?
I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t like I was angsty. I wasn’t an angry kid. It was big drums, simple melodies, I guess, and loud rock. When I was a kid I wasn’t a troublemaker. I was a good kid (laughs). But I loved the way it sounded and everything and it corresponded with me learning guitar and I got it and it was simple; just big dumb simple rock, you know, and I could play it (laughs). I don’t know, just something about it made sense to me.
How did you first get into the guitar and did learning to play it come natural or was there a lot of frustration trying to get this thing figured out?
It was in music class in like fifth grade. We had a bunch of cheap, shitty little guitars and everyone that showed up were given basic chords, you know, and to play a few chords you put your first finger on the B string and then first fret and I remember being the only guy in class that was flying through it and it made sense to me. I was totally able to fly through those and expand upon it and started taking lessons at the local music store.
Do you remember your first time playing guitar on a stage?
You know, I think I did something for the teachers when I was in England but I don’t know if that counts. I remember my first show with my band in ninth grade, maybe tenth grade at that point. Fennario, a little coffee shop in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and I remember we booked a show there over the summer and they cancelled our show cause it fell on the day of Jerry Garcia’s death or something and they were celebrating it and closing the shop so we didn’t get to play (laughs). But we booked it again and all our high school friends came out and it was awesome. In the early days to just go up there and go crazy, you know, and try to have fun with it. I don’t remember there being much pressure. Just play for two hours and have fun.
Did that seal your fate to be a musician?
That was kind of sealed when I heard rock on the radio. I immediately started getting Guitar World Magazine and reading about booking gigs in clubs. I was always the motivated one in the bands I was in. I’d do all the booking. I’d read all the business books trying to figure it out. So it’s been all I kind of thought about. I guess I’m lucky in that I get to do what I’ve wanted to do. And it wasn’t only guitar playing, I just wanted to be in the music business and be a part of music and surrounded by it. So I went to college cause I thought, no chance I would actually play guitar in a band, lead guitar, so maybe I can work in management or something. But lo and behold, here I am playing guitar (laughs)
Halestorm has played with a lot of great bands over the years. Which of these bands, or particular musician, do you think you’ve learned the most from about the business, about performing, about playing guitar?
I’ve got a good friend, a guy named Eric Friedman from California and we met him when we were working on our first record and he was in a band called Submersed and they did some touring but then he had a falling out or something with the band. I met him, I think, in 2008 or something and he’s an incredible guitar player. He’s just one of the best, you know, in his tone and his style and this metal blues thing, which I’m all about. We met and just hit it off and started playing guitar a few times a week. He’d come up to my apartment or I’d go down to his place, and we’d sit there and trade licks for hours. It was mostly him teaching me how to play stuff. I’d been in a rut for a few years at that point. Before we made our first record, I was kind of stuck on the guitar. I didn’t know what I didn’t know anymore and I was having trouble learning new things. I was just stuck in a rut and he completely pulled me out of it and showed me how to play metal properly and also showed me how to play some blues properly. He saved me on that record and every time I see him, we play together and it’s like, “How do you make that sound?” (laughs). You know, he’s been through it and been with a band at the time that made a killer record and then they got dropped. But now he plays in Creed. He’s like the second guitarist in Creed and he’s in Mark Tremonti’s solo project and did something with the Sevendust guys [the band Projected]. He’s just really such a good player. But, yeah, I’d say he’s been, out of the people we’ve played with, my biggest influence by far.
Tell us about The Strange Case Of …?
Oh man, I am so proud of it and so proud of Lizzy on this record. I think she took it by the reigns. Before that, she was very respectful to us guys in her band and the topics she was singing about. She made it a little bit ambiguous and this time we encouraged her and were like, “Lizzy, you got to be Lizzy on this one or you got to be your character.” And there are two sides of her on this record – there’s a Lizzy Hale rock star and there’s Lizzy Hale the sweet girl that we all know and love. And she really is a sweetheart. If you ever met her offstage, she’s kind of quiet and really nice and just a sweetheart as a person.
It’s so funny, we see her onstage and she’s like this tiger, you know. She’d rip your head off with her voice and she rocks so hard. But offstage she’s like a little girl almost and I think that kind of came across on the record in a really cool way. So I’m proud of her on it and I’m proud of all of us. Like, Arejay played his ass off on it and it feels more like a Halestorm record than the first one. It’s something that defines our sound a little bit since the beginning cause the first record was our first time really recording in a big studio and making a record and not knowing what to expect. And this time we were a little more comfortable and our personalities started to come out a little bit more. So I’m excited for the next record.
You wrote a song with James Michael of Sixx: AM. What was it like working with him?
We went out to his house for like a week one time and a week another time and he’s the coolest guy in the world, truly. He’s awesome. He lives in this awesome mansion in Nashville with a killer studio in the basement and he’d always take us out to lunch and we had just a killer time making music. And just hanging out, you know, just being people with him and that was a real pleasure. I hope one of these days we get to, if not make a record with him, then an EP or something with him, because he is a blast to work with. I couldn’t tell you enough good things about him because he is so talented and I’m so glad that he decided to sing on the “Private Parts” song with Lizzy because it sounds so cool. On the demo, the two of them singing together, he was like, “Yeah, you got to get somebody cool to sing this,” and we’re like, ok, and in the end we’re like, “Dude, just sing it.” (laughs). “You are somebody cool.”
Are you going to be touring the rest of the year?
Right now we’re just on the road [through December 15], putting on a killer show and doing what we can to promote this record, you know, and just keep doing what we do.