When Lzzy Hale first met Ashley McBryde, the Halestorm singer presented her with a gift that sartorially summed up the hippie and headbanger sides of the Arkansas native’s personality: a leather jacket with country fringe, heavy metal studs, and a monogram on the lining that read: “Ashley Fucking McBryde.”
“She’s a rock-and-roller at heart, but she also wears that beautiful soul on her sleeve through her voice,” Hale says on a video call from London where the band is nominated at Friday’s Heavy Music Awards. That combination made McBryde Halestorm’s ideal choice when the group decided to remake their song “Terrible Things,” off 2022’s Back From the Dead, as a duet.
“We could have had some kind of rock dude on there, or even one of my sisters in this genre, but it’s such a broad song that we thought, ‘Why not shake it up a little bit and have somebody that’s just a little outside of our lane?’” Hale says.
The end result is a showcase for two of the most powerful vocalists in their respective genres and arrives with a music video that finds Hale and McBryde singing to each other on a downtown Nashville parking deck. The rest of Halestorm play anonymous characters in the treatment (bassist Josh Smith is a store clerk, drummer Arejay Hale and guitarist Joe Hottinger are a pair of homeless men), which follows a runaway teen as she tries to make sense of her future while grappling with mistakes of the past. “We are human/we are violent/we learn our lessons, then defy them,” Hale sings in the opening verse, before reminding her listeners that, ultimately, we’re not defined by the bad things we sometimes do.
“It’s about some of the disparaging aspects of our life and world that we live in. But you’re also trying to maintain that hope and faith that things can get better,” Hale says. “When [Ashley] got back to us with the track, it just reflected that so beautifully. Anybody that loves Ashley is really going to love the way that our voices meshed.”
“When I got a call about singing on a Halestorm track I immediately said, ‘Are you fucking with me?’ When I heard it was ‘Terrible Things’ it was an even stronger yes,” McBryde tells Rolling Stone in a text message. “The subject matter resonates with me so strongly. The way Halestorm capped it off with ‘look at me and you’ll see, I’m not these terrible things’ floored me. It’s recognizing that we have our heads in our ass a lot of the time, but we have the ability to not be that way and not be part of the problem. It takes effort, but we can do it.”
The “Terrible Things” collab with McBryde isn’t the first time that Halestorm have worked with country’s elite. In 2014, Halestorm, who are based in Nashville, opened for Eric Church on tour, and Hale joined him onstage at that year’s CMT Music Awards to shred on his “That’s Damn Rock & Roll.” Coincidentally, it was Church who also helped boost McBryde’s profile, bringing a then mostly-unknown McBryde onstage during his 2017 Holdin’ My Own Tour to play her song “Bible and a .44.”
For her part, McBryde’s been a fan of Halestorm since the band’s 2012 breakthrough hit. “The first time I ever heard Lzzy sing was when my brother texted me and said, ‘Check out the song ‘Love Bites (So Do I).’ I listened once and immediately downloaded the entire album,” McBryde says. “I just knew I had to see her live. The ease with which she delivers such power is incredible. I’m a huge, huge fan of her voice.”
Hale hopes to perform “Terrible Things” live with McBryde someday, but for now, she’s still ruminating on a question the country singer asked her on the video set. “She’s like, ‘I have a question for you: Who would you fight in the back of a Chili’s parking lot?’ I said myself, because that was me in that moment,” Hale says. “But it’s such an interesting icebreaker! And now we can’t go by a Chili’s anymore without asking that.”