An interview with Halo Circus: love and controversy… they lay it on the line

Halo Circus is a bilingual alternative electronic rock duo based in Los Angeles, California, composed of vocalist Allison Iraheta and bassist Matthew Hager. That’s the official story. The real story is they are the best band out there that has not yet won a Grammy. I say that because their newest album, Robots and Wranglers is light years ahead of anyone else on the rock scene. It has propelled a successful 30-city tour, been met with rave reviews and generated some fiery controversy.  It has three nominations for LA Music Critic Awards and it has been proposed for Album of the Year. The husband and wife team are back home in Los Angeles recouping from far too much traveling, but they agree to spend a little time with us today.

Patrick. You are home now after an incredibly ambitious tour.  Are you tired, relieved, excited, wiser…all of the above?

Allison. I think all of the above.  We learned a  lot.  It is good to be back home, for sure.  As a band, going out and hustling a brand new idea is terrifying.  It was also a lot of fun and we learned a lot.  We are celebrating our victories now and breathing.

Patrick. The critical reaction to the new album has been overwhelmingly good – “rave” is the term used a lot.  But I understand that it created some controversy on the road.  How did the fans like it ?

Matthew. The fans were great.  Being able to play the new material and find a new audience was exciting.  But I think that because we wrote this in 2018 and really tried to get in there, it seems to be resonating with a lot of people and upsetting a lot of people.  We had venues that got hate emails and phone calls ahead of our coming.  I remember that in Houston,  a lot of people called up the venue and said “how can you have the Trump haters”  – and we have never claimed to be Trump haters – we had hecklers for the first time.  I think 2018 has embolden a personality type who doesn’t mind screaming at a female singer while she is performing, and saying really rude things, shelling out tons of money and then threatening people.  We had someone try to set our set on fire.

Patrick. Unsuccessfully I hope.,

Matthew. Yes.  He was unsuccessful because Allison kicked him in the face.

Allison.  Laughter

Matthew. That’s the thing.  People assume that Allison is the sensitive one and I am the muscle. That couldn’t farther from the truth.  She doesn’t get freaked out with stuff with this.  I think it is because she has been brown all her life that she doesn’t get freaked out, but it upsets me, it makes me sad for the country.

Patrick. Allison, I know that you raised in Compton and  you saw some pretty grim things on the streets in Compton, so you are tough.

Allison. Yes, but not only having that as a background helps, but having the American Idol background, the reality TV background, the LA/Hollywood music industry background.  I expect people to light my shit on fire, I expect  I expect to  be heckled. I expect that kind of stuff  – the more …

Matthew. She expects to be lied to.

Allison. Yes, I expect to be lied to. I can still show up on time and be happy to do my job .  My point is that it appears to be getting louder and heavier as every year goes by.  As a Halo Circus member, it is very hard to fight for “well I am just going to be creative and have conversations of curiosity and questions”  – because that what art is, or used to be.  But now I am not feeling so good – it is debilitating.  It is really hard to just have a creative conversation or a creative idea and really, really fight for it when you are getting punched in the stomach by today – by everything today.  It is really rough.  I turned 26 on tour this year and it was very eye-opening — 26 going on 99.

Patrick. Maybe that is why your lyrics and your music are so sophisticated – you are an old soul in a young body. I know there is a story behind the shift from your previous alt rock quartet to an electronic rock duo with powerful social messages…it was kind of born out of necessity.  But was it kind of always there, both the sophisticated composition and production and the social messages.

Matthew. That is a great way of asking that question because people assume that Robots and Wranglers was a real departure for us, and we didn’t feel that at the time.  We felt that it was an evolution.  Bunny was  written 6 years ago, believe it or not, but it took several years to be recorded and released. We were different people – younger people at a different time.  Bunny had a social conscience, but it was all about first person.  It was about how does this affect me, how do I feel about it, this is how I process it, this is who I am. It was Allison’s diary and an album was written about it.

Patrick. How is Robots and Wranglers different?

Matthew. Robots and Wranglers is not really first person for the most part. It is about storytelling.  We evolved it as writers.  Specifically, the social angle, the same things that are in our hearts now were in our hearts in Bunny, but with Robots we tried really hard to take was being said and felt in the zeitgeist in America in 2018, and write songs about it — what people are dealing with, what people are worried about. This is the week when they are holding all those children on the border and separated them. But we are at a point where if you stand up and say I have had it, I have kept quiet long enough, gosh darn it,  we don’t want children separated from their families or imprisoned with their families.  And even that can cause backlash

Patrick. So what does that say about us?

Matthew. If we are at a point where standing up for children can cause backlash, then I guess we have the wrong message. It’s not more complicated than we have to parse the hearts of people who would stand up for children. And I don’t give a shit about politics.

Patrick:  The lines from the song Narcissist that are apparently causing the controversy are “ I hate you//but I want you to love me”.  Did you two write that together?  Did you realize that it could be polarizing?

Allison,  Oh my god, I don’t know how that one happened.  I think it was Matthew “spitting.”  Like, if he really wanted to write something interesting or different this time around.  He wrote the first verses while he was in the kitchen and it was like he was spitting.

Matthew.  What!?  That was probably the line that had the most force behind it.  It feels like now that was the one that released the most anger.

Patrick: You have created music that is far into the future of rock, but the messaging is right now…this is your society, our society. You talk about social media on that song…but you are a powerhouse on social media.  It seems like one has to be what Allison calls a “narcissist” to survive today, at least in the music world.

Allison  Oh yeah.  We on were tour and we saw the album is holding up a mirror to 2018 and holding a mirror to ourselves.  In the East Lansing tour, last year or the year before – I don’t remember now – we realized how powerful social media and the internet is. That is how you reach people.  It is almost like we are going to fight fire with fire – surrendering to the reality of what we have against us as artists and use it.

Matthew. I think the DYI movement in music has a shelf life  The idea that artist can go out there and do everything  – that one or two people can do it all and sustain it is insanity.

Patrick: You make a statement about what you need  in your song Oh Money.

Allison That one went through many versions – We had a few fun  “discovery moments” in the studio.  Writing this album with Matthew has been one of the best experiences of my life

I have never been this hands-on and invested in something.  I have learned so much from Matthew as a lyricist and a producer and I have had so much fun experimenting with him.  And it is great because when you work with Matthew you finish things, which has not been my history. That song Oh Money was the hardest song on the album – went through so many phases, so many versions.

Matthew. We don’t really know what we are writing until we are done.  Some songs come very fast and clear. Oh Money came very fast and then kind of stopped.  For about 6 weeks it morphed one way and then another way. It was the first song we wrote and the last one we finished.  The fact that it is first on the album and is being discussed as a single is really a fun surprise for us.  By the time we were done, I probably would have hidden it at the end.   I had no idea – you lose perspective .

Patrick The one song in Spanish on the album, Y Para Que, feels like the Spanish take on your song Contact – “talk to me, love me, save me”.  Is that another comment on an autonomous society?

Allison.  Yeah. Especially for my fellow brown women- or especially for whatever you are outside of the norm. If there was a female version of David Byrne in the 80’s  that is what she would sing about. That is what she would sound like and in the order she would list the necessities of the lifestyle of a woman.  It’s so specific, I love it –like you are reading it on a paper – simple, direct.  Here is what we go through and need..

Patrick Where should people go to get your music?

Matthew.  Spotify.  Everything is Spotify.  Listen to the album for free.  Love it and download.  Since this is a DIY world, everything revolves around Spotify.  It doesn’t pay well, it is not fair, but that is where we need to be.  If you love it, download it on iTunes.

Patrick Thank you both.

by Patrick O’Heffernan. 

Host, Music FridayLive!, Co-Host MúsicaFusionLA

Halo Circus

Robots and Wranglers.  Available on Spotify and iTunes.

Watch here

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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