A few weeks ago, Allison Iraheta and fellow Idol alum Haley Reinhart totally smoked out the Popdose servers when we spotlighted their triumphant new albums (read it here). When the opportunity arose to host the world premiere of ‘Nothing at All’, the brand new video from Iraheta’s band, Halo Circus, we jumped at the chance. Iraheta and her partner on stage and in life, Matthew Hager, also answered a few of our burning questions.
‘Nothing at All’, directed by Len Rosen, is a visceral performance piece that gives fans a good taste of what to expect when they hit the road for their 2016 club tour. This will likely be your only chance to see the band in venues this intimate as their popularity snowballs to bigger and bigger gigs (tour info below).
‘Nothing at All” is from the band’s long-awaited full-length album, Bunny, that dropped last month. In addition to glowing reviews like ours, the album has already received four LA Music Critic award nominations: Best Rock Band; Best Pop Female; Best Single (Desire); and Best Video (Desire). Now it’s time to break out of their Sunset Strip residency in LA and take the show on the road.
Plenty of bands have crowd-funded their albums, Halo Circus made music history by crowd-funding its tour. Back in February via Road Nation, the band declared that any town in America that raised $600 would get to host a Halo Circus show. Within weeks, the campaign reached 100% fan backing, setting a record for the largest US crowd-funded tour to date, with 30+ cities on the schedule.
POPDOSE: As Halo Circus came into being, you honed your craft and gigged up and down the legendary Sunset Strip. Could you feel the presence of legends backstage or when you stepped into the spotlight?
MATTHEW HAGER: It’s amazing to play those venues and think about who has been on that stage. Occasionally while backstage, you can see where performers graffiti’d their band name or anything that was important to them at the time.
What were these early Halo Circus gigs like? Were you foraging new fans one at a time or did Idol and Telemundo fans turn out wanting to hear hits from the first album or your legendary covers?
ALLISON IRAHETA: Introducing anything new to a group of people that have followed you for a long time can be interesting. Some might be disappointed that I’m not doing exactly the same thing they fell in love with, while some are curious and excited to see who I’m becoming. We have experienced and still experience a mix of it all. Our goal is to introduce ourselves as a brand new idea. Everyone that knew me or didn’t know me from my past is welcome to be a part of our weird world. Initially, we thought that Bunny would be a natural evolution from Just Like You, but we learned quickly that this concept was very different. We had to go out there and fight for this new concept.
Bunny is such an adorable title for such a fierce and ambitious rock album, where did the name come from?
IRAHETA: It’s funny, we were going to name the album Bunny from the very beginning. I have very old playlists that say ‘Bunny’ from four years ago still on my computer. Writing the album was a big transitional point in my life. When I first started writing it, I was intrigued by the idea that bunnies are these little, cute, beautiful, harmless creatures that are also prey. They have cotton tails seemingly specifically designed for hawks to spot them. There was something about being adorable and at the same time being a target that had my attention, and the idea has kind of taken on a life of its own.
Speaking of targets, modern pop stars seem to be marketed exclusively on looks, and women especially seem to always sing from the POV of being the object of sexual conquest. You’re beautiful and your fashion is fierce, but looks are easily 25 things down on the list of what makes Halo Circus tick. Tight songwriting, monster hooks, powerful performances, ambition — those are as core to you as your trademark hair. Does rock music give you the freedom to express who you really are?
IRAHETA: For me, rock has always been an outlet for extreme emotion. For this album, the more we played, the harder we became. It’s an emotional time out there and the need for curiosity, frustration, and sadness should be addressed. Rock definitely gives those emotions freedom and safety. I think we could all use a little more of it these days.
HAGER: People think rock is about aggression, but it’s not. It’s about un-flinching honesty and vulnerability. The aggression makes it fun.
What does success look like for a band in the era of streaming? In the old days of a few years ago, you counted units sold. Now, fans can stream your song a million times and you earn enough for an In & Out Burger and possibly fries.
IRAHETA: Success is currently re-defining itself in this business. We don’t even report our album sales to Billboard anymore. Streaming works well for some types of music and doesn’t work so well with other types. With the current laws in place, streams don’t pay. YouTube ad revenue is really more for YouTube performance artists and cat videos, and licensing has seen better days. At every turn, there are corporations demanding more than their legal share of your composition and the metrics aren’t very accurate. For example, how can a potential Halo Circus fan find Halo Circus on iTunes if they claim that we are similar to someone who came in 3rd place on The Voice who is trying to be the next Katy Perry?
Our music sounds nothing like that but because I was on a show eight years ago, they assume we are all similar. This attitude trickles down to venue bookers, talent agents, etc. The most effective way for us to market music is still radio and it still costs a fortune. Therefore, our goal has become less about money and more about a conversation with our fans. We aim to keep our ticket prices low; the fans who can afford it help us out greatly by funding our tours and pre-ordering our album. Ultimately, we will need to be playing arenas to cover our overhead. It’s an impossible reality that we continue to trudge through hoping that somewhere along the line somebody will come up with a sensible solution. There are some incredible musicians out there doing incredible things right now. I just hope everybody will be able to hear them someday.
You’ve been a pioneer in inventive physical media for this release. What options to fans have to experience Bunny?
HAGER: When we finally wrapped our head around releasing the album, we thought to ourselves, “Ok, we’ve spent years on this, we have Craig Bauer (Kanye West/Smashing Pumpkins) mixing the album, Eric Boulanger (Imagine Dragons) is mastering it, Nick Egan (Sex Pistols, The Clash) shot the photos and Patty Palazzo (Duran Duran, Punk Masters) did the art design. In my opinion, we have one of the greatest singers of our time and the band is starting to get critical acclaim. So do we just upload it to the internet and let it sit there and get lost? If it sounds different and looks different, how can we expect anybody to really listen while they are scrolling through Facebook and fact checking politicians?”
So we decided to reimagine the physical album. Yes, we want a CD and we would love vinyl. But why and how would someone who has never heard of us want either of those? So, we came up with the Bunny “Faux Curio” Keychain that doubles as an album. Using USB technology, we designed a keychain that holds the entire album, 2 music videos, plus a never-before-released bonus track called ‘Hello Love’ which is a fan favorite. But then, we realized that we could start a real community. So we left enough room on the hard drive to allow for exclusive free content and downloads in the future. Keychain holders have the ability to plug into our iPad on tour and download something new the same night of a show. Or they could receive an email from us 6 months from now with a new song that we felt like recording in some crazy tour stop. The possibilities are endless. Once we wrapped our head around that, it got really exciting. The future is completely open right now. It isn’t easy, but it’s open. We don’t like the rules that have been provided for us, so we aren’t going to follow them. I think a lot of people feel that way right now.
While most bands are focused on singles these days, Bunny feels like an album — best experienced start to finish. What albums influenced you growing up or while forming the concept for this record?
IRAHETA: Our goal was to create a concept album in world of singles… to be a band in a time of duos and dancers. When writing the album, Matthew and I would talk about our mutual influences, which were very random and obscure, but nonetheless brought us together. We both grew up listening to Paul Williams and agreed that his timeless melodies and emotional lyrics would help craft our concept.
Our album emphasizes patience and listening as it tells a story from start to finish. We might be entering a point in our culture where things are more complicated than bumper sticker slogans or talking points. I grew up singing all types of music from Rancheras to Country. Meanwhile, Matthew worked with artists such as Scott Weiland, Duran Duran and Mindi Abair. There were too many influences at the time to try to limit us to a 3 minute song and leap into an oversaturated popularity contest. We also have 90’s music to thank for our influences. Both of us loved the loud chaos behind punk and grunge, so why not bring that into our little world of beauty and sensitivity? We like to say this is an album for introverts and we have Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Julieta Venegas and Amy Winehouse to thank for that. They were definitely loud reference points for us.
‘Nothing at All’ video credits: Len Rosen (director), Christopher Rucinski (editor), Grzegorz Gill (cinematographer), Bryce Holden (1st assistant camera), Faust Pierfederici (colorist), Scott Freeman (conform editor), Matthew Hager (producer, executive producer), Craig Bauer (executive producer)