Fans of American Idol (or televised vocal spectacles in general) likely remember Allison Iraheta from the show’s 2009 season, when she appeared alongside Adam Lambert, belting out tunes by Kelly Clarkson and Aretha Franklin (Those of our Spanish-speaking, Telemundo-loving readers might even remember her from Quinceañera: Mamá Quiero Ser Artista, where she appeared from 2006-2009.) However, since 2012 she’s been fronting Halo Circus, a band that is far closer to something you’d expect to see at Ozzfest or the Warped Tour than a network television pop music competition. Based in LA, Halo Circus are made up of veteran musicians and producers known for working with the likes of Scott Weiland, Mandy Moore, and Jeff Beck. They are one of the most interesting bands of the “hard rock” persuasion to come about in recent years, but with an obvious nod to classic soul, ‘90s alt rock, and Americana balladry. Duran Duran’s John Taylor has proclaimed the band, ‘the best live band in the U.S.A.’ and earlier this year they successfully funded a fully crowd-sourced US tour. Halo Circus’ debut LP, Bunny, hit shelves this summer and they’re currently in the middle of that crowd-sourced tour, which will be at the extra-super-intimate Bourbon & Branch this Monday, October 17th. Allison Iraheta recently took some time to chat with me about the origins of Halo Circus and what we can expect of Monday night and the band’s immediate future in general.
Izzy Cihak: Not to start with a big question, but what have been some of the highlights of Halo Circus for you so far? You’ve gotten a lot of amazing acclaim and achieved a ton of super impressive accomplishments.
Allison Iraheta: It’s been pretty great. Based on my musical background, I think people were prepared to put me in the fluff or disposable category. But we’ve worked really hard on this album and it seems to be connecting with audiences. I couldn’t ask for more. As for the highlights, I’ll start with our fans giving us our first fully crowd-funded 30-city US tour. This has to be one of our biggest achievements. We realize it isn’t something every band can say and our fans helped make it possible. Something else we are extremely proud of is our promotional bundle with BitTorrent where our song “Desire (Lo Qure Vale La Pena)” was downloaded 650,000 times in 4 days. That was huge. We had no idea that was even possible for us. We’re extremely proud of our journey. Our fans have been so good to us and it also doesn’t hurt that ASCAP and the Grammys have played a huge part in the Halo Circus journey. With their support, we were able to play on the first Grammys Woman Who Rock Cruise with Emmylou Harris, Heart, and many other incredible names. Again, we’re very proud and grateful with where we are.
Izzy: Have you had any particular favorite reactions to the band?
Allison: Audiences are the best. There’s nothing like playing for an audience, whether it’s a crowd of 10 people or 10,000. Our Hotel Cafe residency was an eye opener. That’s when we started to really experience our crowd singing and knowing our songs. There’s a special feeling that comes with that and that’s the connection between us and the crowd. It feels really good to be on the same level as our audience and I’ll never forget those first times it felt like we were sharing conversations with the people that came to listen and watch us play.
Izzy: Halo Circus is obviously a little bit different from the music that you originally gained notoriety for singing. Was this always the goal, to be making music like this, or do you like the option to have various outlets to explore various genres?
Allison: After over a decade of singing professionally, I got to the point where my options were to either stop doing music all together or to really dive in and try to make some sense of it all. We were tapping into a lot of my upbringing and musical influences. The musicianship in Halo Circus is on another level and I think there’s freedom in being able to go Latin, pop, rock, or even crooner and not blink an eye. It felt appropriate for this album to use of those influences. It all makes sense to me.
Izzy: How did you all come together and how would you characterize your process of writing and recording together, if there even is a particular “process”?
Allison: Matthew [Hager] and I met during a session and Brian [Stead] came from a mutual friend. When Matthew and I started writing together, naturally my influences and upbringing started becoming its own voice. It made sense that these songs and lyrics deserved a real band that could grow with the music. Looking back, it feels as though those songs appeared on their own and so did the band. Everything just formed into what it needed to be. When it came to the actual process of writing, it would start as a musical conversation. We would start with melodies and then if something felt good we would develop it. Later we would have a conversation about lyrics. It all had to have honesty to it.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the most significant influences behind Halo Circus, both musical and otherwise?
Allison: We started out looking back at the ‘90s and thinking about those big, dense records: Amy Winehouse, Radiohead, Bjork, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. That was the starting point and we just let ourselves evolve from there. Once Matthew and I realized that we were both huge fans of Paul Williams’ writing, everything weirdly made sense. We both grew up obsessively attached to the music that he wrote for films. For Matthew, it was Bugsy Malone and for me, it was Phantom of the Paradise. His lyrics and melodies are just very exposed and revealing, which I think is kind of the opposite of where a lot of music is at now. We like being revealing and open. Growing up where I did definitely also influenced my perspective on things.
Izzy: And not to detract from the music, but you have a really awesome sense of personal style, so I have to ask if you have any particular “style icons”? Is that the kind of thing you even think about?
Allison: Thank you so much. It’s funny, I actually don’t follow style that much, but I do appreciate it and respect it as an art form. I think my style is just an extension of my music, which is a combination of light, darkness, and curiosity.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live show when you’re in Philly, or Philthy (as we call it)? You’re playing a super intimate venue, which I imagine will be tons of fun.
Allison: A very fun night. We put on a show and the music comes to life on stage. We love when we have intimate shows; it gives us the opportunity to have more of a family-and-friends feel, as if we’re having a conversation on stage with everyone. We can’t wait.
Izzy: And what’s next for you and Halo Circus after these dates wrap?
Allison: We’ll be talking about this tour for a long time I’m sure. So far, it’s been mind-blowing and unforgettable. I’m excited to see what we come back with in terms of songs. Who knows? You guys might be hearing some of our tour stories through new songs that we’ll write when we get back. I think our biggest priority is promoting this album that we spent years on. We genuinely want to go everywhere and spread the word of Halo Circus.
Izzy: What are you most excited for in the end of 2016 and the first part of 2017?
Allison: We’ll probably take a nice breather in December and reflect on the awesomeness that we’ve all experienced this year, but there has also been a conversation with our fans in Latin America and overseas about going out there. So 2017 should be filled with lots of good surprises for everyone.