Interview with Matthew, Alison Irehata, and Brian Steadman of Halo Circus
When I first saw Halo Circus at a club in LA, my head swiveled around as I said “who is that band?” I had not heard anything like it before, and the visual spectacle was also impressive. Precise, melodic, deeply emotional rock delivered by pros and fronted by a pink-haired Latina banshee with the voice of an opera singer and the eyes of a seductive wise woman. I know now why people say lightning struck when singer Allison Iraheta (“American Idol” Season 8 finalist) joined with producer and bassist / keyboardist Matthew Hager of Duran Duran. This band is extraordinary, and I see a lot of bands so that is not idle talk. And neither was the talk when I had the chance to kick back with Matthew and Brian and Allison.
Patrick. You have an album in the works now , your debut album. what can you tell us about it. and why have you waited so long?
Matthew. That is very good question. We have been doing this for a few years now and our fans ask the same question. We recorded the album originally a couple of years ago, but what seems to be happening now is the way you record an album is that you have a home studio and you do some pre-production and then you go into a real studio and you record some drums and do some overdubs and that is the album. That is how we started it when we were playing live – and still do – but as we started to play live more we interacted with the audience more and found a connection between music and the audience; we learned how to play songs for people.
That changed all of our perspectives on what a song should sound like, so I wanted to bring the whole band into the studio like we used to, record for 6 weeks – have a lock out – keep the drum kit set up and the bass and everything there. We could record live anytime. That has made a big difference. The sound is more aggressive, we incorporate more instrumentation. We had the opportunity to expand what we were doing and how to connect to audiences. So we re-recorded the whole album.
Patrick. you have built a reputation and a following from your live shows. Do you get your energy and creativity from touring – from the live shows and the live audiences? Is that your fuel?
Brian. Yes, I think so. It is just the chemistry between the four of us, playing together and playing off that energy that drives the band. Everyone in the band is so talented so it is inspiring for me to jam with everybody.
Patrick. The song Do you Believe in Shame – you recorded it as a cover of the original Duran Duran song. Your arrangement and instrumentation puts more urgency in it, more gut wrenching emotion. And your drummer is philharmonic in the way she plays it. Tells about how and why you recorded that song?
Matthew. Our drummer, Veronica Belllino is very talented. We love her and her drumming on that song was beyond great. We recorded that on the Making Patterns Rhyme Duran Duran tribute album for Amnesty International.. A lot of great people are on it – Moby, War Paint, others. We were lucky to be involved it was a great project and all the proceeds went to Amnesty International. We are very happy about that.
Patrick. You also played at the Oness charity benefit, you have supported marriage rights and human rights. Your twitter page says “I think that people should feed the poor, heal the sick and pay for music.” – all of which I completely agree with. Is music with a purpose really important to the band?
Matthew. I think that is what we are in it for. I first met Allison in my studio to do some vocal work. I had heard about her, but I was blown away when I heard her sing in person. I heard the rock, but I heard other influences – ranchero to soul …many things. I suggested that we write together. I discovered that her range was so broad. I had been making a living in music for many years and so had she – she started singing at neighborhood events at 6, she was on television at 14 and went on to Idol. That is what I heard, a sort of roundness to her perspective that I hadn’t heard for a long time. As a producer I wanted to open those flood gates and let her voice come out from her background, her Spanish, her values. And we are a bilingual rock band. That is who we are as a band. That is what drove the Duran cover – we connected to the lyrics.
Patrick. In your song Gone, you open with a beautifully paced intro; you give the listener a chance to get in the groove. The drumming on that is right on the metronome. I would worry about speeding up, but Veronica was perfect, never rushed. Did that take a lot of takes. And how did you recruit Veronica?
Matthew. There is a funny thing about music where if you go a little slower, there is always this tension, which I really like because it builds the mood and lets the lyrics shine if you are more patient. We didn’t recruit Veronica, she auditioned. But she came a day early to find out our likes and that impressed me. When we heard her, she was it.
Patrick. Are you still involved with Duran Duran? They released a great new album today. I wasn’t a part of this one.
Matthew. I was with them for many years and I produced some of John Taylor records, but I am 100% focused on Halo Circus, but if they need anything I am happy to help them out. Thirty-five years and counting, and they are still going.
Patrick. Allison, do you have a Latino fan base?
Allison. Yes, I do, and they are awesome. Before I was on Idol I was on the Telemundo Quinceañera Competition – which I won. I lived in Mexico for three months and gained an awesome following. It was a great experience, I was 14. Latinos check me out on my Facebook page and they follow me.
Patrick. What is next for the band?
Matthew. On the album, we are sitting back and letting the business people do their thing. The album is done and we love playing live and we have had tremendous opportunities in big venues and small venues. Starting next year we will get out there. In the meantime we are putting together a music video for Do You Believe n Shame. Our goal is to launch the album in the best way possible and touring in the best way possible. You know, we are really a new band although we are all experienced musicians. Even though we have a famous lead singer we have to earn followers. We have to knock people’s socks off
Brian. We have a gig Saturday night at the Viper Room and it is our first time there so we are excited. We are working on another show in October.
Patrick. Thank all of you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Allison, Matthew and Brian. We enjoyed it.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host Music FridayLive!
Halo Circus is Allison Irehata, Matthew Hagen, Veronica Bellino and Brian Steadman.
streaming available on Soundcloud.com; albums and songs available on iTunes.