The scene fades to a dinner table party where a grand ole feast is currently taking place. The dining room is full of attendants celebrating in jubilee with articles of clothing and empty cups and goblets riddling the dinner table. At the head of the table, the host is seated wearing an unusual bunny head mask quietly motioning guests to continue to partake in the festivities. Further down the table, a beautiful, pink-haired siren belts out rock melodies to a Duran Duran song inviting listeners to the Alice in Wonderland –themed soiree. This is only a glimpse down the rabbit hole that the new up and coming, Los Angeles-based rock band, Halo Circus, is offering its many fans in one of their recent videos, “Do You Believe in Shame?” Produced by RAPP and directed by Mazik Self, lead singer, Allison Iraheta is thrilled on how well received this video has been. According to Allison, it was the band’s first professional, big budget music video that essentially captured the world of Halo Circus. A world that can be best described as liberating where honest, free expression is encouraged musically, and cultural heritage is embraced proudly and unapologetically. The name itself projects the band’s own experiences and current state of creative exploration and individual, yet collective identity. It is the culmination of everything that is good and pure in their lives as human beings and the wild, crazy existence that they have endured continuously during their journey down the proverbial rabbit hole that has brought them back to the Troubadour where they had their debut performance three years ago. Now, on December 14, 2015, Halo Circus will be returning home to greet fans after an odyssey of playing several venues, photo shoots, and invading the World Wide Web with music videos and live performances. The event, “Say It Loud! A Night of Cultural Disruption,” brings the self-described “bilingual alternative rock” band back to headline the evening’s rock n’ roll extravaganza where other notable artists such as David Garza, Project N-fidelikah, Heliotrope, and KC Porter’s Cruzanderos will be sharing the stage. Delving deep into herself and pulling from her Mexican-Salvadoran heritage, Allison writes and sings her songs passionately allowing audiences to witness the 23-year old, South Central native echo the halls with commanding maturity and rebellious sincerity. She described her journey with the band as a period of personal growth and acceptance which she had not been able to tap if not for the band and its producer Matthew Hager. Her journey into the music industry’s labyrinth of celebrity and limelight started with the 8th season of American Idol where she was a favored finalist, but her real education of the music industry started with the band that she loves so dearly.
A Nice Chat with the Siren of the Circus
Luckily, Allison was so gracious to spend some time away from the recording studio to discuss her experiences with the band and her insight on music and the industry that had opened her eyes to it. Sit back and enjoy my chat with the Siren of Halo Circus, Allison Iraheta.
JD: I understand you guys are working on a big album. What’s it like?
Allison: Oh man! It’s amazing!! I mean I never been happier with the sound of it and the people that are involved and just the time and places that we are right now. Everything just couldn’t be better. I’m super, super excited. And it’s so ready. I mean it’s so close just being put out there and ready to be shared with everyone. I’m really thrilled.
JD: Awesome! I watched one of your performances on YouTube. You did a rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” which really blew my mind away because I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan.
Allison: Yay!! I’m so glad you liked it. It was hard. Personally, I came from American Idol and what all they did were covers. But I think like no one should ever do covers like that. No one could ever sing a Led Zeppelin song but Led Zeppelin. That should be it. But, in the world we live in today people love listening to those songs. They’re beautiful and incredible. They’re part of their childhoods. You could only hope… I could only hope that by doing covers like that you’re giving them the respect they deserve so that people could enjoy them. So, I’m really, really glad you enjoyed that.
JD: What were your musical influences? I imagine you have so many that have shaped your song writing. What were the big influences musically in your life that have shaped your style?
Allison: When I was growing up, I used to sing Rancheras. So Linda Ronstadt played a big part of my childhood. Paul Williams, who did Come Sing Along and Phantom of the Paradise, and wrote the Rainbow Connection songs, I was obsessed with him when I was little particularly in the Phantom of The Paradise songs. I just loved how sad and emotional and beautiful he sang at the same time. I think it’s because I heard Rancheras growing up and Rancheras are the saddest and most emotional songs you could hear. Then, I went from there to country and Brenda Lee and Julieta Venegas in Spanish. In my teenage years, I started loving Lauren Hill and Tortoise Head and it’s a whole big bucket of different roots and colors and sounds that I grew up with.
JD: I noticed that you’ve been performing since you were a kid up until American Idol. You’re pretty much a veteran when it comes to performing live. Tell me about your experience going through American Idol. You were doing very well. You got praise from Paula Abdul. That must’ve been fantastic. You must’ve been euphoric hearing her praise your singing.
Allison: I was surprised I made it that far. I told many people was that when I auditioned, my goal was to at least make it to Hollywood the first week, and I just kept making it every week. I felt like I surpassed my goal. It was a party. It was fun. I wasn’t competing. It felt like we really got to know each other the whole season. It was like a bunch of brothers and sisters being silly every week. Then, being given really good feedback on the show felt really good. When you don’t have anyone saying anything about your singing, it is terrifying. So, it felt good. I learned so much. I also was a kid, so much of it I don’t remember. All of a sudden, I’m a teenager. Whoooaaa! Aaaaah! I’m just having fun. I was loud and probably obnoxious and was having so much fun. So it was like the best high school a teenager could possibly go to that wasn’t getting any sleep and writing songs, and getting probably yelled at onscreen every week.
JD: After American idol, you did a solo album. How old were you when you did your first album?
Allison: Well, when I did my first, FIRST album, it was called Mis Primero Sentimientos. Oh my God! I was like 6 or 7. But the real, real album was after Idol happened. Jive signed me. I think I was 17, and we recorded it while on the American Idol Tour.
JD: What did the experience teach you about the music industry at that age? Obviously, you must’ve had a different perspective before you started this adventure. Once you went through the whole producing and recording experience did your perspective change about making music or how an album is created?
Allison: It changed a lot. I mean the perspective when I was essentially on the show was little…I had little knowledge of the music world. This thing about Idol was that…They kind of…What they do is, and this is the beauty of the show and why it was so successful was that you go on a show that you audition. You skip a lot of steps that you would normally take as an artist. And you’re like at the top. So, you have managers, you have a label, you have a stylist, you have someone telling you what to wear and what to eat, where to go and how to sleep. They skip a lot of steps. So, that was the tricky part. Being a teenager, and skipping all these steps, and getting thrown into the big leagues of music and careers. They don’t teach you how to cash a check. They don’t have the time to do the things that you would normally be learning as a teenager. They’re working with the artists to do what they do. It’s a beautiful thing but it’s all kind of tricky because when you’re off the show, then after a while when I’m with my band, I had to build this from the bottom up. There was no step that was skipped. There was just straight up, “Oh! This is how they used to do it.” You don’t walk into someone’s office and they don’t always look you in the eye and know who you are. It’s a real transition after the show. I know a lot of idols go through this because you just come off such a high that you see a different perspective. Sometimes, you snap out of it, and sometimes you can’t. You hope you snap out of it so that you’re not holding on to that kind of illusion of being at the top because if you want to maintain it you better almost go backwards a little and then take control of the thing you didn’t know existed around you. It was a great experience; it’s amazing but it’s also kind of tricky. But that’s also the nature of the show.
JD: From there, how did you wind up forming Halo Circus? Was the band already formed? Did you meet up with the producer Matthew Hager?
Allison: Well, it was funny because I was doing a demo at the time and it wasn’t a planned thing making a band. My friend, Brian Stead, who had toured with me and had business with Matthew Hager. He wanted me to do him a favor and record the song for them at the demo. So, I went in and met Matthew and it was cool. I recorded their song. We had so much fun but also it was like a light bulb going off in the room where it felt like there was an instant creative connection between the three of us. So, we said we should write a song together. And it started off during my second solo album, but as we kept writing, the three of us, we…I remember… we got into three songs and it just made sense that it should be a band with the words and the melodies. It was just how raw it was I guess with everything. It deserved four members…It deserved a gang…It deserved kind of…I don’t know… a wall of protection of 4 people…like the fans… And I never have been in a band before. I wasn’t even in bands in high school. The name was awesome because it had no one in the spotlight because there was no spotlight since it was a band. I kind of liked hiding behind 3 people when it formed. It naturally happened and it naturally named itself. The bunny came naturally becoming its logo. Everything since then has kind of naturally become what it supposed to be if that makes any sense.
JD: Tell me about the band members. They seem to have very diverse backgrounds. What are their personalities like?
Allison: Oh my God! They’re incredible. Everyone just got their own special something. Brian Stead is from Michigan. So, I don’t know. He’s like the coolest white dude I ever met. The coolest white black dude I ever met. His guitar playing is just like this clash of classic rock guitar vibe. And he goes into this endless direction. He’s incredible. He’s hilarious, but he’s also just freaking on it. He’s super on it professional and amazing and fast. He’s a fast learner. He’s super fun and very chill. Veronica is from New York so she’s very expressive on whom she is because she is from NY. So, she’ll tell you if she doesn’t like something in the room. We love that because that is the full opposite of Brian who is so chill. But she is going to speak her mind. If there is something she doesn’t like, she’ll call it out. Usually, she’s the one calling things out like we are all kind of lazy on. She’s great, she’s also hilarious, great drummer, she’s one of the best drummers, I’ve ever heard. She used to work for Run DMC and I am super lucky to have her. Matthew Hager, I recently have chosen a new way to describe him. It’s as…and I still haven’t looked up the name for it. So forgive me for this sounding silly but…he’s the guy who’s in front of the airplane giving directions with the orange cones and we’re the airplane. He makes sure that we don’t make a left turn when we’re not supposed to; we’re not going too fast when we’re not supposed to. He makes sure we’re not slacking off and that we’re focused. And also he’s done that with our sound, our energy. He’s our producer. He’s the one that finds the one thing that makes it all connect and makes sense and makes the sound. He’s the big reason that why this is a concept album because it’s a story. He’s made this a story and a journey. He’s an incredible writer and musician, also very hilarious, I’m just around really, really good people. I love them so much. It’s been so much fun with these guys.
JD: I understand that Matthew had an influence on you with respect on how you went about writing your songs. How did he do that?
Allison: As soon as we met and started recording this song, he started pushing me in directions that I had almost kept to myself musically. I would sing something, and he would go, “Do that!” I know I was probably keeping that one thing to myself and I was afraid of bringing it out or I didn’t know that it was weird or special or different. So, Matthew just brought out the weirdness and the things I’ve been keeping to myself like my influences. He brought that out in me, and it felt really good because he also gave me a perspective on whom I was as a human being. Because I always kept these things hidden for a very long time, because everyone saw me as the rock chic on American Idol. So, I was just like, “Yeah! I guess I am the rock chic on American Idol.” And there were so many influences that I have forgotten about like the Rancheras which was a part of me and he brought that out. He made me realize that that was super cool. That’s very different, and I love Rancheras. To be able to bring that out again in a different way in my writing has been such a gift. He’s the reason for that. I probably wouldn’t have even thought about my Ranchera background if I hadn’t met him. We wouldn’t have written these songs and I would probably still be wondering who I am as a human being if I hadn’t started this band. So, he’s done a lot.
JD: How would you describe yourself back then as opposed to now?
Allison: I think back then… I was super nervous around people. So, to counter that nervousness I would be really silly just because I’d try to make people laugh and make myself be the clown to offset the room because I was so nervous and scared of people and didn’t know how to talk to them. Now, for the past 4 years I’ve been working so hard with this band and with people in general I think I definitely take myself a little more seriously because I know there’s so much more to lose. I worked for this life I have now. I worked really hard to be happy, and I don’t want to lose that. So, I’m going to take this more seriously now because I don’t want to be unhappy. I’ve been unhappy, and it’s not fun. I like being fun and silly and making people laugh. I never ever want not to get along with people, but I have something to protect now. So, if there’s something or someone that’s not in my best interest, then I won’t want to waste my time on that. I think a lot of people do that.
JD: What would be the driving force behind your singing or song writing? What really motivates you? What really drives that passion of yours? What makes you want to just belt out those hard notes?
Allison: There was always a moment for me. When I step onto the stage with the band or when I write. There’s always been a sense like, “Ok. I gotta do this like it’s the last time I gonna do this. I’ve had lows before, and these songs and this band is really the only reason I’m even looking at the music industry right now. It’s the only reason why I decided to come back because I wanted to quit for a minute. I thought it was too hard. I thought it was a scary place. It was sad. People lie and cheat. I was so overwhelmed by that. This band really has given me hope that I can truly be happy with what I built for myself and share that. That is possible. Not only with me but it’s possible for a lot of people. That gives me hope and that I always want to belt it out and make a statement that this is possible. It doesn’t have to be like everyone else is saying it has to be. Not everything should be one-dimensional. You can make a statement. You can make disruption. Make people uncomfortable because you’re saying what you’re feeling. It’s ok; it’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to feel anger. That’s ok too. That’s all I’m getting out of this. I’m getting the ability to feel everything a normal human being should feel. If you’re feeling sad, you should feel sad. I think a lot of people are just like, “No, don’t feel sad.” They’re used to saying that. I really believe in the opposite that we all should be able to feel. So, yeah! That’s where I get it from.
JD: Basically you developed a second family with the band. They gave you that support.
Allison: I think it is my family. If I have to say it, this IS my family, this is my home, and this is my foundation. This is where I come back to when I go out or go to work or go do whatever else I do as Allison. This is my home, my band, my music. These songs, this band and these people!
JD: Now, you guys are going to be performing at this new event on Dec 14 at the Troubadour.
Allison: Yeah! The event is called “Say it Loud! A Night of Cultural Disruption. We have great people and incredible artists. It’s going to be a great night. I’m so excited. The name is “cultural disruption” and comes from us wanting to stir up the normal in Hollywood at night for live music. It’s really hard to find an event right now with different artists with different cultures, identities, and sounds. If you go to a show right now, you’ll find all the same kind of music all night. So, we wanted to make something up. Let’s make a statement. That we are missing different colors. We’re missing different cultures. That we’re missing the respect for roots. Everything gets so diluted right now because unfortunately we have to make money and we have to sell. I respect that, but I also want to respect what has survived which are the sounds of unity with power and culture. It ties in with what I was saying about emotion. There’s no other way I can say it. This night is just saying we got to make some changes. It’s time to change a few things. With all this stuff and horrible things that have been happening in our world lately, we have to unite. We have to make some changes. So, that’s what it is all about.
JD: How do you feel that you are coming back [to the Troubadour]? Do you feel more confident? Or is it the same kind of anxiety that you felt before?
Allison: It’s a different kind of anxiety. It’s almost like normal stage fright I get before every show and just hoping that people will you know just be there and fill up the room and hang out till the finish. And will like us. It’s just not the same anxiety but different and probably more because we’ve been out there for quite a while. I am scared and nervous, but it’s a good thing. I don’t think I can ever lose the anxiety I get before a show. It almost gives me the energy to just get up there and just play it like it’s my last time… The Troubadour was the first place we ever played as Halo Circus. It was terrifying, but what a perfect way to play for the first time. It was a full house! When you’re a brand new band, you have to play a lot. So, we played a lot and we played in clubs with some 10 people and then played a venue with 3000 people then played for 300. We played the numbers and learned a lot. We were able to build a following from scratch and build a sound. So, I think it’s time for us to go back with what we’ve changed and accomplished. The growth, everything that we’ve done since then and go back to give the audience that was there from the beginning a big thank you and let them in on who we are by making them a part of this event.
JD: I can’t wait to hear the whole album once it’s finished, how long do you think it’ll take before you complete it?
Allison: I can’t wait. I definitely can’t wait to share it with you guys. It’ll be done next year. We’re currently mixing now with Craig Bauer who is a Grammy-award winning incredible [guy] who has worked with Kanye West and Ed Sheeran of Smashing Pumpkins. He’s made the album sound the way it should sound. It’s hard to describe but he’s capturing…it’s almost like he’s capturing our live show and making it massive and making it on the album the way it sounds like that. So, I’m so excited. I can’t wait to share it with you guys. He’s great. I’m so happy.
JD: Do you guys have a website or a fan page where people can follow what you guys are doing?
Allison: Yeah! We’re pretty much on Twitter, Instagram, and Halo Circus, The Real Halo Circus, and Facebook. We’re just Halo Circus and you can check us out there. We update all the time, and answer to emails, the tweets, and pictures. We like “likes”. So feel free to like us.
The journey for Halo Circus, especially for Allison, has been one of self-exploration and growth. A maturity that stemmed from the love felt among the band members and their fans. They derive their sound not only from a single well of inspiration but a multitude of fountains to tell their story and invite their audience to listen and feel. Their album is a concept album. A concept based on honesty in musical expression. A concept that encourages acceptance of one’s self and the courage to present it to others, uncensored and raw. The bunny logo which adorns the band’s covers is a symbol of the sacred purity of the human spirit. It is a metaphor for the idealized goodness that exists in today’s chaotic world of digital commercialism and societal angst. The outgrowth of the band’s mantra is simply the organic journey toward self-discovery and acceptance, which can only happen if you are willing to jump into the rabbit hole and pass through all the surreal, unusual, craziness that will meet you along your way downward. It’s a bold invitation that the band is offering its audience. The question is, “Are you ready to jump into the rabbit hole?”