Since penning a deal with Atlantic Records nine years ago, it was with thanks to their relentless touring schedule and never ending promotional campaign that Halestorm burst onto the scene with their self-titled full length album in 2009. Since then they have gone from strength to strength, playing clubs, arenas and festivals far and wide, winning a Grammy for Best Rock/Metal Performance (Love Bites) and now they release their 3rd full length album alongside their continuing tour in April 2015.
Josh Smith completed the award winning line up alongside Lzzy Hale, Joe Hottinger and Arejay Hale in 2004. An intense and funky fingerstyle player, his work is reminiscent of his heroes; Paul McCartney and Rocco Prestia, helping to make Halestorm more than just a metal band.
It is cold, it is rainy, but hey it is Manchester and a big American band is in town, what else did I expect! As I make my way over to the Apollo stage doors, squashing my nerves, I ring Olly, their friendly PR guy who tells me that Josh has just nipped off to the gym and will be back shortly.
A few minutes later, as it happens, Josh is stood chatting to someone outside, quiet and unassuming. His presence is barely noticed by the fans already queuing up to get in, some three hours before the doors open in this appalling weather.
After being led up the stairs and being introduced to Josh, Olly leaves us to get chatting when I realise my Dictaphone has broken. Phone to the rescue; cue much hilarity from Josh and a brief discussion about how technology is an utter git. Never mind, soldier on I shall?
The first thing we hit on is the joy of Manchester and all it has to offer “We just love it here…Halestorm are, enormous fans of you guys, just truly. We’ve had some amazing experiences here”
I first saw them supporting Shinedown and Alterbridge at the Manchester Arena, a collaboration that was not the first nor I imagine will be the last. As I ask who the dream collaboration would be a look of quiet terror descends. Luckily nervous laughter ensues, somewhat easing my guilty conscience. “Paul McCartney," is his eventual answer. "He’s a living legend and any time you see him in an interview or performing he looks so effortless. He really exudes that sort of placid demeanour about everything, he always looks happier than hell. So yeah, hell yeah, I’d love to collaborate with him.”
Interesting, this coming from the quiet man, ever present, yet lurking in the back ground all at once. He declares how much fun he has, so I decide to delve a little deeper “…That’s what it’s about. I mean my job, simply put is to entertain and in that it’s an escape for everyone who comes out to a show - it’s their escape and as it is ours. So I mean if you wanna call it a job, it’s hard to say that for me 'cos it’s just such an amazing job
“It’s like a dream come true is what it is, so yeah I mean, that’s my take on it and I think, some nights are hard if we’re not meshing on stage but it’s still awesome and you are still connecting with the crowd or there is always some sort of connection going on and the only time its hard is when you’re sick. Poor Lzzy can vouch for this right now, although she’s on the upswing, she had a nasty chest and head cold and had to sing two nights ago in Southampton, you know her poor voice, she was just fighting through it. You know that’s when it’s hard, when you’re sick but you can’t take a day off, you can’t cancel, you just have to fight through it.”
So there has to be a down side to all this touring? “You get to meet interesting people, like you, and get to jog around Manchester and play a show, the travelling can be hard but it’s the best job ever, It’s like if you don’t like to travel you’re not meant for touring, it’s not difficult it just is.”
So if that is the worst there is? “Exactly its ok, I’ll keep my problems, I’ll keep ‘em.”
As we are talking touring, I wonder what is like to go on stage, especially to our wonderful Manchester crowd. I reflect that the Manchester crowd is very passionate about their music and although Josh agrees, I won’t let him steal my words.
With a burst of laughter and a glint in his eye as he retells an obviously well-loved story “Noooo but it’s true, I mean literally the first time we had a Holy Shit moment, was overseas, not only that but it was over here in Manchester. Typically at the time we would go out after our set before the headliner went on, to the Merch stand and sign things for the fans, say hi, you know and the crowd was getting bigger, we were still the baby band but then here at that show there were barricades blocking the Merch and literally the fans were like moving the racks and Security came over and were like “You can’t do this, you have to go now” We were just stunned like “Ok we gotta go.”
Unprepared for their success, it came as a shock “We were the baby band, first on, people are getting beers, it was the first time it happened anywhere, period; the states, anywhere. So in Manchester we know how rabid the fans are, and this show in particularly is a great way to cap off the run of shows in the UK - to end it in Manchester we know we are going to end it on a high note and we know that it’s just going to be a great night.”
It is clear that there is such a strong bond between them all, visible on stage to a degree, but the love and respect Josh has for his band mates and crew shines through. "I’ve been having so much fun touring and we as a band along with our crew, our touring family, we just have so much fun together. Even when we're not on tour we have these big group chats, being goofballs even though we are not together being goofballs…my wife is like come on put the phone down.”
With this new tour occurring around the album launch time, the UK release; the 13th April, I query the name “Into the Wildlife”, Josh delivers an impassioned response. “I think an easy way to put it, is it’s something we have experienced along out entire journey and that’s just new experiences it seems as though with each album each tour and everything you are venturing into unknown territory, with one thing or another and you know.
Usually it’s pretty small but we like that and it excites us so much to experience new things, be it wild things, new places and that’s the root of it, that kind of idea and here we go again headed out into the wildlife.”
Produced differently from previous albums, Wildlife, has been discussed across the media for the radical change in the recording process, there is motivation behind it “Our first two albums we recorded with Howard Benson and it went great, everything went so smoothly and we had it down, and our second album Strange Case just moved along so quickly and efficiently we were working so well together.”
“We were looking for something, someone to take us out of our comfort zone or although it’s truly not, I suppose the thought of going somewhere with a new producer that in itself takes you to a different place, out of your comfort zone. We got in there and got into the studio with Jay (Jay Joyce, ex In Pursuit member and guitarist with Iggy Pop) who told us to bring all of our gear, all the gear we use on tour and play with all the time, we recorded on all the gear we play with live and he set up and hit record and once we got moving it was really cool and I think it brought us closer.”
“The ultimate goal has always been to bridge the gap between the albums and the live shows.”
Josh continues “We want a proper representation of us is what we want, regardless of that there will be deviations from when we are on stage. We don’t have a separate keyboard player or auxiliary percussion so there will be some but by recording it live all of us in a circle, I think we captured something we didn’t have before.”
Have they managed to capture the excitement and energy off stage to their album? Josh speaks excitedly and with animation, gesticulating and smiling constantly, so proud in the production “…This is by far the best representation of us yet… I am so glad, so glad we have rolled out a few singles, I just can’t wait for you guys to hear the whole thing.”
With talk of the new album and the passion palpable I question if we will hear anything new tonight “Actually you are going to hear a few new ones tonight, probably four, there is so much more depth to the new album, there are so many like just Easter Eggs everywhere that just. This album is just a complete thought and as I said I am so very happy and can’t wait for you guys to hear it and to hear some feedback on it.”
With the unspoken elephant in the room; that Grammy win and having beaten off giants such as Lamb of God, Megadeath and Anthrax, Josh still seems blown away by it.
“It was crazy, I feel like it’s not like the Grammy was in our rear view mirrors as we went into the studio but we know our capabilities as performers and that the studio is ultimately a controlled setting and were going to create and put out the best thing possible. The one time I felt the Grammy looking over us was after we had won it and we were gearing up to go back on tour.
“Well we won that Grammy for best rock performance and then we were going out live to perform in front of people and it’s like you know oh shit, we just got recognised on the highest level for our performance. We gotta step it up…we gotta bring it, every night, prove that we are in fact worthy of the Grammy, I think that was the one time that I was a bit, had a few bad dreams before the tour started, but that well it’s something that we pride ourselves on, our live show so I hope it’s good, I think everyone seems to like it.”
Looking at their performances, Josh describes how it is the crowd that makes the concert, that the band and to a degree the venue is just a small part of it “I most prefer an energetic crowd, however which way that comes, be it small, be it 50 people stuffed into a bar us playing into a corner. I prefer that connection with our fans sometimes that can get lost at festivals, sometimes it can get lost at clubs.”
“I mean I can’t say I prefer either way, I will say I love the intimacy of a club on the converse it is really sort of disorientating to stand on a stage with tens of thousands of people that don’t even look like people, it’s like this moving organism and that is just like, you have to catch yourself, the first festival or 2 you do of the year you know you just, almost entrancing seeing this wave of bodies is pretty crazy.”
Into The Wildlife is by far the best representation of us yet… I am so glad, so glad we have rolled out a few singles, I just can’t wait for you guys to hear the whole thing.”
With talk of hectic schedules and a diary that does not seem to let up, I wonder what does an internationally successful band member do when they come off tour, Josh explains “Well my gals got a honey do list for me, she always keeps me busy, you know hanging shelves or what have you…its quite the 180.”
So rock star, it would appear, holds no weight with the missus when there is stuff to do around the house, “Yeah, it’s like honey do the wash”. Revelling in domesticity, he continues “ I like that as polar as it may seem it’s, I love it, I love having my own little world to go home to, it’s just enough of a reprieve before going back out again.”
The convivial atmosphere in the room, the discussion and laughter is so very light hearted almost as if we have known each other for years, with no ego, Josh really comes across well, joking and laughing as much as I am.
Realising that we have already gone 10 minutes over the allotted time, I apologise but he doesn’t seem bothered, in fact asking if I had all my questions answered as there was no rush.
Finishing off with a ridiculous yet unintended pun I question who a talented guitar player puts on a pedestal “You know I saw, this stuck with me, when the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, got inducted into the hall of fame, they all accepted but Flea got up there and made an amazing speech so passionate and you could tell how much it truly meant to him. Now at home he does some sort of conservatory of music to try and keep a music programme going in the schools, 'cos a lot of schools in the state, as soon as there are budget cuts the music is the first thing to go. And I think that’s like totally hero worthy, he does so much more than go on stage and play every night.”
Finally in a throwback to Radio 2, what would be his desert island disc “Something by George Harrison” is his immediate response.
So, picture taken, kisses given, hands shook, I womble off outside a little in awe of just easy that all was, how lovely and at ease Josh was and how welcome I was made to feel eagerly awaiting the gig, via the pub and a pint of course.
Words: Kat Hilton