By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — For most bands, the seemingly endless string of live shows become a blur.
Not so for Halestorm.
The chart-topping rockers from Pennsylvania remember their last time in Traverse City vividly.
"We've only been there once before, and it was the day our first record came out," guitarist Joe Hottinger said. "It was at the same place: April 28, 2009. That was a fun one. It was a good night."
That self-titled album produced four top-40 mainstream rock hits.
Cavo and New Medicine are the opening acts for Halestorm's show Saturday, Aug. 25 at Ground Zero in the Streeters Center. Tickets are $15.
"Last time we were at this venue, it was Trapt and Red and us," Hottinger said. "And this lineup kicks that one's ass."
Halestorm's newest CD — "The Strange Case Of"¦" — was released in April and has already spawned two hits.
In May, the band made history by becoming the first female-fronted act to top the active rock airplay chart with their song "Love Bites...(So Do I)."
"I think 'Love Bites' is one of the weakest songs on the record, so I'm interested to see what the rest will do," Hottinger said. "I'm feeling good about this one. It's a good record, front to back. I think Lzzy (Hale) really came out on this record, lyrically and her personality and her voice. She found a new gear or two in her voice, a new place she had never gone before, like with some of the ballads."
Hottinger cites the tracks "In Your Room," "Break In" and "Mz. Hyde" as some of his favorites, even though "Love Bites" and "I Miss the Misery" are already both in the top 10.
He said the band has come a long way from when it first stepped into the studio to record its first live songs years ago. The band put out three EPs before it was signed to a major label.
"The great thing about Halestorm is that it's all out there," Hottinger said. "From when Lzzy and Arejay started the band and their dad was playing bass and they were spinning Arejay around on the drum kit, you can see it all on YouTube. So you can't really embarrass us. Some of the early songs we wrote after I joined in, those are on our first live EP. They're not the greatest songs. They're cool. It's like a time piece. They bring back memories, but I understand why they would never go on a record these days. Compared to the record we just put out, these (new) songs are just awesome. The lyrics are focused, there's a point to everything, the music is more focused and we can all play better.
Working with siblings — Lzzy and Arejay Hale are the band's two founding members, forming the group in high school — isn't a problem at all, Hottinger said. At one point, their father Roger was the bassist, before Hottinger and bass player Josh Smith came aboard a little later.
"For one, Lzzy Hale is the sweetest person you will ever meet in your life," Hottinger said. "All around, the nicest, most tolerant, patient person you'd ever wish to be in a band with. She gets on stage and she's this turbo badass. She really is 'Mz. Hyde.' It's awesome. And Arejay is the craziest person you've ever been around. It's equally awesome in a totally different way."
Hundreds of shows later they still remember a spring night in Traverse City, one when they were so new to the business that they stood out in the entryway after the show was over and signed autographs and posed for pictures with every fan who wanted one. Lzzy gave away bracelets to some lucky fans that she fashioned out of old guitar strings. Arejay played a song with comically-oversized drumsticks and later made funny faces as he posed for photos.
Those are some of the traits Hottinger said the band wanted to incorporate in their latest album.
"We wanted to get more of our individual personalities to come out," he said. "Arejay is one of the craziest drummers in rock and roll today. To try to get that to come across on the recording, we recorded the drums with two-inch tape. We went to the old sound set sounds. We went to the old VanHalen room in L.A. It was really cool. And I think it sounds better, and he sounds better, because of it.
"It's been a total evolution the last nine years. And I don't know that we even totally nailed it on this record in getting all the personality out there. I'm already interested to see what the next one will be like a few years out."