American hard rockers Halestorm have been on the road all around the world for over a decade and with Grammy wins, gold records and a burgeoning fan base they are starting to reap the rewards of their hard work. MetalTalk caught up with bass player Josh Smith before their headlining show at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro.
Words and interview: Ian Sutherland
Pictures: Mark Holloway
MT: You’re part of the way through your first headlining arena tour. How’s it going so far?
JS: We started in Europe by playing some club shows and then we played a really big show in Amsterdam. That was the beginning of the bigger venues and now it’s the freaking Hydro which is just awesome. Our first headlining shows here were at The Garage and the ABC and we’ve kind of played all the venues in Glasgow so now this is a trip; it’s going to be a fun night.
MT: As it’s an arena tour did you do anything differently when putting the show together?
JS: It’s always fun to play a headline show. There’s so much more flexibility within that – it’s just more relaxed. We go out and have a good time, play different songs, ask fans what they want to hear, make our setlist a little different every day. Fans will make requests and we’ll try and learn it before the show. maybe throw in a medley or something.
The real upgrade for us this time is our production. We wanted to pull in our own lights, our own set up similar to what we have back home to just make the show arena worthy. We have a whole bunch of light and just really a great stage set which matches what we bring, four people on stage rocking and having fun with the crowd. It looks great.
MT: Talking about the setlist, you can see online that it’s different every night. How do you go about putting that together?
JS: Usually Joe will just write something out and show it to us and ask what we think, and we say great or sometimes if we’re all in the same room together we’ll say let’s play this or that tonight, or how about we start with this. It’s usually just Joe writing out the set list though.
MT: I noticed on the tour schedule that this is the first show since Amsterdam so you’ve had four days off. That’s a lot for you guys on a tour.
JS: It is! The Amsterdam show was the end of three in a row and that’s something we’re doing less of. Three in a row seems to wear on all of us and especially Lzzy’s vocals. Most of this album cycle we’ve tried to keep it to two shows in a row then to have a day off. The schedule just worked out that we had two full days off and then a day of travel so we just stayed in Amsterdam and hung out.
MT: What does Halestorm relaxing look like?
JS: My wife’s over here right now. We have a two-year-old and when I’m gone she’s a single mum and I’m gone a lot!
MT: I was going to ask about that as you’re the hardest working band in rock’n’roll it seems, always on the road. The amount of touring you’ve done over the last ten years and more is insane. As the only married member how do you cope with that?
JS: I managed to find a very strong individual! She’s amazing to put up with this schedule that I have and basically raise our son when I’m not there. I Facetime, I’m there as much as I can be but when I’m out here working she’s making the house a home. Anyway she’s out here right now, she’s here for a week. She dropped our son off with my parents in Philadelphia and flew over to Amsterdam. In three days we’ve managed ten hours of sleep a night, we’re just sleeping so hard! I know she needs it to catch up and I do too because when Lexi is at home with him, I’m on their schedule. I stay up to talk to them at breakfast lunch and dinner however that lines up. Over here dinner time for me is midnight or whatever and I’ll talk to them until bed time basically, 3am or something.
MT: So your body clock must be totally screwed up!
JS: [laughs] Yeah, totally screwed up! There’s no point in changing as well. They’re on US Central time so I’ll sleep until 11am or something. After this we go to Japan and Australia. So many days are lost in travel that you just kind of pick up where you left off and go about your day or night or whatever.
MT: That’s interesting because it’s really rare for a band to do as much touring as you for such a long time and manage to keep the same line-up. How have you managed to keep it all together for so long?
JS: This is what we know and this was our dream from the very beginning. I think it’s a lot of people’s dreams but this lifestyle of travel is not for everyone. I think for us this was something the four of us were fully committed to from the beginning. This is what we want or lives to be and we really enjoy it.
We used to play three shows in a row often and like I said we’re scaling back on that yet are probably still playing the same amount of shows as we used to, it’s just a little more spaced out. We’re pulling back on our schedule a little bit but we’ve still been out for a year and a half with this record with more to go! Maybe one day in the States we’ll become weekend warriors but that’s down the road.
MT: As an admirer of Lzzy’s vocals I worry about how she pushes her voice so hard every night, so it’s great that your schedule is helping her to manage.
JS: If Lzzy loses her voice you can see how deeply that affects her – to have to miss a show is the last thing she wants to do. So we go to look out for number one, she’s it. We want to keep that golden voice intact.
MT: Watching you guys on stage it always seems like you’re the quiet rock holding things together in all the mayhem around you. Is that how Halestorm works?
JS: That’s what everyone says, I’m the glue of the band. There’s a lot of jokes about musicians and it’s always who’s the bass player, no one cares, anyone can play the bass. I do think that’s true to an extent but to be that glue, to be that mould is really something. You’re literally combining the rhythm and the melody together, I really enjoy it so much.
I think as we’ve matured as a band and gotten tighter my job has become a lot easier but all of our jobs have, we just mesh so much better together. I try to be the foundation and not play anything too wild.
MT: It looks to me that Arejay used to freelance a lot more than he does now?
JS: Yes, he’s come on a lot as a drummer and he’s still doing his flashy stuff that maybe he’s toned down a little bit but what he’s gotten better at is his tempos and his fill choice. He used to play these fills and we’d look at him and go come on man, four beats [laughs]. He’s become much better at being intentional with his fills and that’s vital, especially in a place like the Hydro, in an arena.
The size of the room you’re playing really has to be a consideration and how easily things can et lost in this kind of void. It’s important to choose your notes wisely and sparingly and to give each note its value so it has time to carry over. Instead of playing an eight note fill you only play a five note fill or something. It’ll be interesting tonight for sure – we’ll have to be extra mindful.
MT: Who are your own musical influences, on bass and just generally?
JS: As a bass player I love Paul McCartney. His voice is as unique an instrument as his playing on anything for that matter; he was always a big inspiration. I’ve always loved how’s he’s moved up the neck – I tend to go that way as well.
Outside of that I’m a big jazz fan. I started learning jazz on the bass, I was a classical pianist and a jazz bass player! I always love hearing piano, that’s my first instrument and I probably approach the bass like a piano in a way. There’s a guy I listen to right now, Oliver Nelson, I really look to jazz phrasing when I’m playing be it Charles Mingus on the bass or any horn like Coltrane or something that has really unique phrasing within songs.
MT: So you can bring something different to the table with Halestorm tunes?
JS: My favourite album recently has been James Brown, ‘In The Jungle Groove’. That album straight through is just so tight and it’s amazing to think how James worked, the band were watching him, getting their cues from him. You can hear them making mistakes and him yelling at them “Take me to the bridge” [laughs]. That blows my mind from this recording, this insanely tight recording of James and his band which is so good.
MT: If there’s going to be another ‘Reanimate’ covers EP, what songs would you like on there? James Brown maybe?
JS: I would love to do some funk! We’ve talked about doing a Sly And The Family Stone song, maybe some day! Stay tuned, we’ve got new music coming out for you, there might be covers on it, something a little different. I don’t think I can say anything more about that yet though!