The last time we caught up with Halo Circus they were on a crowd-sourced tour, promoting their debut LP, Bunny, a hard rock record with an obvious nod to ‘90s alt rock. At the moment, they’re touring behind their recently released follow-up full-length, Robots And Wranglers, a fashionably abrasive exploration of electronics. The particular sonic amalgam could easily find the band on a bill supporting either Dorothy or Lady Gaga, alike. Fronting Halo Circus is Allison Iraheta, best known as one of the finalists of the 2009 season of American Idol. Iraheta is joined by producer, musician, songwriter, and husband, Matthew Hager, best known for his work with Mandy Moore. Although Halo Circus began as a four-piece more than half a decade ago, they recently re-established the band as a duo and, for the first time since, they’re returning to the ultra-intimate stage of Bourbon & Branch tonight. And although Allison has been a bit sick, they apparently had a great show last night in Boston and are ready to do it again in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. Yesterday I got a chance to chat with Matthew Hager about Halo Circus’ latest album and what they currently have in the works for the rest of the year.
Izzy Cihak: The last time we talked was in October of 2016, shortly after the release of Bunny. What have been some of the highlights of Halo Circus since then?
Matthew Hager: It’s difficult to measure Halo Circus in highlights. In many ways, every day seems like a highlight. We’ve released an EP and our brand new album since then. We are on our third US tour and have a new single at Alternative Rock radio. We just seem to keep going, like Bunnies.
Izzy: You just released Robots and Wranglers. How do you feel like the album compares to Bunny? It definitely seems to be in a bit of a different direction.
Matthew: It’s funny, we realized that we were headed into new territory, but never really considered it a different direction. Bunny was a four-piece alternative rock album, The East Lansing Sessions was Americana, and Robots And Wranglers is electronic. Each album maintains our approach to writing and our commitment to raising the bar. In 1982 this album would be considered a rock album by a rock band exploring new ideas. Everything is so divided right now that these things seem like major leaps, but they aren’t. If there’s a major leap forward, it’s just that we are better writers than we were six years ago.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the most significant influences behind Robots and Wranglers?
Matthew: The most significant influence on Robots And Wranglers is the year 2018. As a culture, we’ve spent decades towing the line and 2018 pops up like an editorialized nuclear accident. Social media has turned everyone against each other and the age of the entrepreneur has given the power of marketing and manipulation to the common man. Experts are now obsolete and truth is now subjective. If this isn’t a time ripe for a new way of looking at art, I’m not sure what is.
Izzy: I really like the whole album, but I especially love “Pledge of Allegiance,” which just reminds me of the best kind of 21st Century synth-pop anthem. How did that particular track come about?
Matthew: Thank you. Even though sonically that track is a wild adventure, lyrically the objective of that song was surrender and honesty. Look at everything I have in common with you. The things that separate us don’t matter. We are told they matter. They don’t. Look at Hurricaine Harvey and Houston. Everyone got out of their house and helped their neighbor. They didn’t check who they voted for or what they thought about guns. They just did the right thing. Not doing the right thing is a joke, and we are drowning in it. And you can dance to it of course.
Izzy: I really love your video for “Narcissist.” What is it that inspires the visual components of your work? Are there any visual artists or works of visual art that you find to be especially inspiring, or just especially cool?
Matthew: I’d like to believe that our music has a visual component to it. Specifically, this album has a very sci-fi tone to it. Visual artists are always our reference points, but I can’t say we’ve borrowed from any in particular. I think we are just trying to find our way in it. Certainly Laurie Anderson and Andy Warhol have made their mark on us. We’ve both have had such long careers. Our goal is always to honor and evolve from what has come before us.
Izzy: You’ve been on the road for a little while now. How have these live dates been going so far? Have there been any particular highlights?
Matthew: There are so many highlights. What is amazing about this tour are the venues that have wrapped their arms around us and supported us. To be so far away from home and be treated so kindly is new for us and something we do not take for granted. Meeting new people and watching new fans discover Robots And Wranglers has been a big highlight, too. We are definitely finding our audience this time around. Allison even has hecklers now, which means we must be doing something right?
Izzy: What can be expected of the live show when you play Bourbon & Branch?
Matthew: Well… Allison had laryngitis and had to cancel the New York show, so we are hoping people can expect her back in her normal top shape! Aside from that, people are going to experience the new album. They’ll feel like they are at a party and are going to have a great time. If they are fans of Bunny, we’ll be playing songs from that album as well. There are always surprises and we try to bring something new to every tour. Can’t think of another act doing what we are doing. This one definitely raises the bar.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for Halo Circus after these dates wrap? How are you hoping and planning to spend the second half of 2018?
Matthew: That’s a great question! We are planning on doing a West Coast tour and start playing some festivals after this run. We are encouraged and excited by the response so far and we want to take Robots And Wranglers to the world. Starting in Philly on Wednesday!