GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – NOVEMBER 24: Lzzy Hale of Halestorm performs on stage at The SSE Hydro on … [+]
Every few years you hear some tired, hackneyed, lazy journalist write about, “Is rock dead?” For anybody who remembers the brilliant baseball film Bull Durham there is a wonderful sequence where Kevin Costner coaches Tim Robbins on sports interviews with a litany of cliches. Well, the “Is rock dead” question is at the top of music cliches.
To answer the question, NO! Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Metallica and more have been selling out arenas and stadiums since the ’80s. But rock isn’t always on radio or top of the charts anymore.
That does not diminish the fandom and community that millions of rock fans around the globe feel. That is the main theme of the new documentary, Long Live Rock: Celebrate The Chaos, which focuses on the rock scene with interviews with countless artists, from Korn’s Jonathan Davis and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich to Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale, Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, Tom Morello, Rob Zombie and more.
I spoke with producer Gary Spivack and Hale in a joint conversation about the film, the rock community, how the loss of Chris Cornell impacted the film and much more.
Steve Baltin: One of the things I love about this film is that when you talk with musicians, there’s always a camaraderie and community. No one wants to be embarrassed when you go on stage. It’s especially true in the rock world. So for you guys, making this film, did you find that to be the case?
Gary Spivack: I’ll start by saying, yes there’s camaraderie. But make no mistake, when Halestorm walks on stage they want to kick everybody’s ass. I know that. Jacoby [Shaddix] of Papa Roach and Ivan [Moody] of Five Finger Death Punch they want to take the day. And that’s one of the beautiful things about a festival is that it is kind of like this boxing match. Or a great tennis match. At the end of the five-hour marathon between Rafael Nadal and [Roger] Federer, they’ll hug. But they want to destroy each other. So when we started this film we really didn’ have a story arc. The director, Jonathan McHugh, is a dear friend of mine. We worked at record labels together and he got into the film and TV business. And he always wanted to shoot in Columbus, Ohio. And I booked Metallica in 2017. I said, John, “I think this is our shot. If you wanna come, I’ll get a film crew going.” And I didn’t want to have just a live performance movie. I thought that’d be kind of boring after awhile. I wanted to get into the fandom and into the fly on the wall stuff that the rock fan doesn’t get to witness a lot. That’s what we had in mind. The Martin Scorcese thing. Just shoot and edit later. So we have story arcs and the beautiful thing about a doc is story arcs kind of found themselves. And one of them, I’ll tell you, was I found there was a lack of female presence in Long Live Rock. Until Lzzy came aboard. Jonathan has a real background in television and film so he was very enamored with Taylor [Momsen] of Pretty Reckless. So we had her booked. And she was to be the third interview. We had Lars [Ulrich], Chris Cornell and Taylor. Chris, as we know in 2017, tragically took his life. Taylor could not get on camera. It was everything for her to do that performance on Rock on the Range. Chris Cornell was her John Lennon. So fast forward to Louder Than Life in 2017 and John admittedly isn’t as versed in rock and metal as you are or I am. And he saw we had a line up with Lzzy of Halestorm. He ended up getting a camera crew to San Francisco and shooting Halestorm at the Warfield. And there was an in-store at Amoeba records. So we captured Lzzy and I was so happy about that because I knew she would really come alive on the screen and she did.
Baltin: Where was Rock on the Range in relation to Chris passing?
Spivack: We had Metallica on the Sunday. And Soundgarden was to be our Friday night headliner. And I guess it was Wednesday in Detroit. Or Thursday morning at midnight or whatever he took his life. I got woken up at five a.m. on Thursday morning. I was in Columbus, I had arrived the night before. Danny Wimmer, my partner, called me and said, “Gary, Chris Cornell is dead.” So not only do we have a festival of 40,000 people a day to deal with, we had lost one of the greatest lead singers in the past fifty years. And he was our Friday headliner. And that’s how the film started. So everybody that we interviewed – and Lzzy, you weren’t there this particular night – everybody from Jonathan [Davis] of Korn, Jacobi and Lars. The interviews started with, “Do you want to talk about Chris?” And that became a story arc.
Baltin: Lzzy, where were you?
Lzzy Hale: We were on the road somewhere. But it’s similar, when [David] Bowie passed away. I remember we were in our old apartment. And I remember how the room felt and stuff. But then with Chris, because we were out, it’s almost like your brain protecting you from something. You just like blur it out. And I just remember everybody talking to me about it. And I couldn’t really wrap my head around it. Taylor was out on tour with them at the time. And she was telling me, this was just so great and they were getting to know the band and Chris is amazing, he gave me a hug. And with Chris, as far as voices go, personally I wouldn’t be the singer that I am today without hearing that. It’s just weird, same thing like I said with Bowie. These people are so much more than people to us. They’re the rock gods. They’re the people that carved out a space that now you are able to live in because they carved out that space. It’s like, they can’t die. It was a really strange time and it’s still ongoing. This is an ongoing conversation that I have with all of my peers about that great loss.
Baltin: Lzzy do you feel that same community as a musician?
Hale: That’s something that I specifically love about the rock and metal community is that it’s so much more than just music, so much more than genre, it’s more than a career choice. It’s a family. One thing I love about playing the festivals every year is it is the family reunion. That’s when you get to see all your brothers and sisters. Being a musician is a unique thing. Nobody else in the world is going to understand how you feel, your day to day life, your psyche or your goals. No one else in the world can understand that. Not even your own family can understand that as much as your brothers and sisters in this community do. This is the longest I’ve ever gone being in the history of my band without playing in a live show or a festival. I was just telling my tour manager this the other day, “We’re gonna need to get me some dark sunglasses when we get back out man. The waterworks are gonna flow.” It was just such an honor to be a part of this film and to do the song. Gary, thank you so much for asking us to do that because it made us feel like we were back doing that again.
Spivack: To echo what Lzzy just said, that’s the theme, that’s the arc of the movie that we found. It’s that yes, there is this community, this spirit, this wonderful loving family of fan bands in this very loved but misunderstood genre. That’s the discovery that I kind of knew and Lizzie kind of knew, but I think the film really highlights that.
Baltin: Lzzy, when did you first tap into that?
Hale: It was the local Pennsylvania rock scene was the earliest I can remember. Because I’d been in this band since I was 13 years old. I feel this genre specifically, but music in general, chooses you, not the other way around. I talk about that a lot. Because all of us have the same narrative. There wasn’t like “the decision.” It was like you’re being told, “No this is what you gotta do.” So I’ve been in this band since I was 13. And early on the rock community really took us under their wing. The fan community is amazing too because it’s just an extension of that family and that community.
Spivack: For me, “Freak Like Me” is kind of a theme song for this movie. That is a theme of Long Live Rock. You don’t realize what you got until you lost it, right? And I guess in a way, not having these festivals for what would be 18 months, minimal. You realize, what a family. It is like summer camp and to see the camaraderie between the bands, but not only the bands but the road manager and the guitar tech that I see ten times a year. And the guy in charge of catering and all that. It’s a really wonderful format, it’s the genre of hard rock. We are like the other side of the tracks. We’re the kids on the grassy knoll while the preps and the jocks are at the lunch table being cool. We’re the ones with the comb in our back pocket. And the cigarette on the sleeve.
Hale: Yeah, sneaking the cigarette in the high school bathroom.
Spivack: That’s rock and roll right? It’s supposed to be the other side of the tracks. And I think we are and we celebrate it.
Hale: That’s the beautiful thing, because we’re in this genre we are on that other side. I remember coming up in Pennsylvania and being that weirdo. I was11 years old and I took an Alice Cooper and a Ronnie James Dio CD to a slumber party. And this was the days of like Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey. So I’ve been owning my weird for a long time but this community, both the fandom, and the fans of the music and the musicians of the music and the roadies we’re all there for the same reason. Because we needed a place to belong and we give each other that.
Baltin: As you were making the film were there interviews in particular you did that really surprised you the most in terms of people had to say?
Spivack: A couple. And it came to be a running theme of how music, like this music in particular, is a healing force. Whether it’s Jonathan or Jacobi come to mind with substance abuse or depression and how playing the music and listening to the music and playing a show is the ultimate high. And that was a real wonderful thing to hear. How Taylor, Pretty Reckless again, how playing music and making music – music saves.
Baltin: Lzzy, I’m sure you’ve known the Who song, “Long Live Rock” your whole life. But when you do a song, it’s so different doing a song than listening to it. So as you started doing the song as you got ready to record it, are there things that you heard differently or appreciated differently about the song?
Hale: I’ve known the song but I don’t think I had ever really dug into the storyline that is within that and the lyrics. “We were the first band to vomit at the bar.” And they’re talking about the promoter. And what I love about the song and dude, I was laughing the entire time. I’m sure if you really listen there are some giggles in there because I know what that feels like to come up as a band and to have all of those memories with your band. But what I love about this particular song is it’s not just about the band, they’re talking about the fans, they’re talking about the guys selling the bootleg stuff out front, they’re talking about the promoter in the back, they’re talking about the bartender. And so, honestly, Gary, you couldn’t have picked a better song because it’s about everybody. It’s about the roadies, it’s about the promoters, it’s about the guys that are booking the shows, it’s about all of it. So it’s really neat because when you asked us to do the song we’re like, “Oh yeah, great.” My little brother, who is in the band, my drummer Arejay, he idolized Keith Moon growing up and we listened to all that stuff. We would study live footage of Keith Moon. He literally wouldn’t be the drummer he is today without it. So to see him be able to go nuts and be his full Keith Moon self was great, too. But like I said, we knew the song but it was so great to be like, oh no this is on such a deeper level, such a perfect song for this film.
I have written for Billboard, Rolling Stone, the L.A. Times, Yahoo, Vice and every other major publication as well as host the Hulu interview series Riffing With and