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Relentless Hard Rock

Halestorm—Lzzy Hale (vocals and guitar), Arejay Hale (drums), Josh Storm (bass and vocals) and Joe Storm (guitar and vocals)—has been dishing out aggressive, highly energized rock since 1998. On March 28 of this year, the band’s single “Apocalyptic,” from their third album release, Into The Wild Life (Atlantic Records), earned the Number One spot on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart. In April, Rolling Stone magazine noted that Halestorm was the first female-fronted band to achieve this ranking since 1990, and declared lead vocalist Lzzy Hale to be one of “hard rock’s most recognizable and dynamic female voices.”

The quartet will tour the U.S., Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the UK into February 2016, and they have kept front-of-house engineer Mike Mahar “very busy” since he joined their camp in February 2012. “This band tours relentlessly,” Mahar says. “We do a tremendous amount of dates worldwide so it has been an exciting time for everyone, if not a little exhausting on occasion. Things are going well so we don’t expect that to end any time soon.

“The gigs we do are so varied in size and setting that it really keeps you on your toes,” Mahar notes. “One day you are outdoors in front of tens of thousands of people and the next night you could be in a small nightclub, so you must be able to improvise, adapt and overcome on a day-to-day basis. Temperature, humidity, building shape and construction materials—literally everything—changes every day, so you never get bored.” [Laughs]

Mahar notes that the tour is not currently receiving production support and that he must mix on venue-provided consoles and P.A. systems. “We do carry the basic stuff needed to provide at least a base level of consistency: microphones mainly, along with cabling and stage boxes—things you really need to pull off these quick, no-soundcheck festival changeovers. I am using Sennheiser 935s on the vocals. It has a smooth response and is very sensitive with a crisp, clean top end.

“I am going for a pure reproduction of Lzzy’s voice,” Mahar continues. “Her brother, our drummer, really brutalizes the cymbals and bleed-through is always a challenge. I do a lot of fader riding. Lzzy is incredibly dynamic and uses the entire field of the microphone area. Sometimes she has her face right on the mic and other times she is a foot or more away and projecting really well. I will use a couple of compressors in series with different attack and release times to grab certain things in different ways—and of course that can really affect the response and ambient bleed-through, too.”

On guitar cabinets, Mahar uses “421s paired with 57s, which is something I learned while working with Bud Snyder for Dickey Betts years ago. Dickey’s tone is so huge and that combination worked really well to provide a blending of tones from the microphones. I do not EQ guitars. If something needs to be done I will work with our tech at the amp level to get what we need. I like the Beyer M88 on the bass cab. Using kick-drum microphones on the bass cabinet has never worked for me. I find I always end up pulling out a bunch of lower frequencies to get the definition I like so again, I try to pick a microphone that will do that for me closer to the source. [I use] Audix D6s on all my toms. I like a huge tom sound. It is a variety of the usual suspects elsewhere on the kit and backline.”

As for building his FOH mixes at each summer gig, amidst hectic conditions, Mahar says it all depends on what the band gives him from their downbeat onstage. “They will come out and open up with a full throttle barn-burner like ‘Love Bites’ and you are like, ‘Holy crap!’ It is a full-on assault so I just try to prioritize depending on how it comes out of the gate: Get the vocal level set first and then work back down the chain working in the rhythm section bit by bit and listening to the comping, getting the drums settled in, etc.

“It is very dynamic and sometimes hard to control, which is in the end exciting, and gratifying when you can actually achieve your goals,” says Mahar. “Generally speaking I can have it in pretty good shape in a song or two. It takes a little longer to get the broader aspects dialed [in], low end in particular. By 20 minutes in I have had enough dynamic opportunities to get everything sitting pretty comfortably. We don’t use any [backing] tracks at all, so we have a genuine four-piece rock band here. They are human beings, things change from night to night and that plays a big part in the sound from night to night as well. 

“It is awesome to be able to work with a vocalist that possesses the sheer power that Lzzy does,” Mahar adds. “She really is amazing. Overall it is a dance, as are all the other aspects of what we do out there as engineers—a remarkable experience for sure!”