For Allison Iraheta, life before and with Halo Circus is like night and day. The daughter of Salvadorian immigrants, she was raised in South Central L.A., with Spanish as her native language. She draws from her background as inspiration for Halo Circus’ most popular songs: “Yo Me Voy,” “All I Have,” and “Desire (Lo Que Vale La Pena).” Halo Circus is an unclassifiable band described by Iraheta, as creating “anthems for introverts” – songs that reach deep into the places we seldom talk about and roll them out in unforgettable music.
Unlike most modern bands, Halo Circus spent three years developing their sound in front of live audiences and re-recorded their entire debut album when it failed to live up to their own expectations. Their live shows developed such a reputation that The Grammys asked them to headline their first-ever local Los Angeles showcase, which led to Halo Circus being asked to play The Grammys “Women Who Rock – Festival At Sea” with Heart, Emmylou Harris, and other iconic female singers, which led to John Taylor from Duran Duran calling them “The best live band in the USA,” which led to a very successful four-week Friday night residency at the prestigious Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles.
— — —
Sean Ritchie: So, let’s start it off. I know you’re from Los Angeles. What’s something about the city that really stands out to you? What really makes it home?
Allison Iraheta: What really makes it home is the amount of concrete there is here. So, the lack of trees and green and if you’re in LA, you can really miss that. But, also the fact that you can actually get a place with, mountains and trees and greenery is really cool too. I think that’s why a lot of people move out here, because you’ve got the city and then you can go out and drive to La Cañada or, I don’t know, there are so many beautiful trails here that really define LA. Also, the weather! People love summer all-year-round and that’s what we can find here.
Photo courtesy | MLU Fotos
SR: That’s awesome. What would you suggest a first-time visitor to go see if they had to pick one spot in the city?
AI: It’s funny, because when people think about LA they think about Hollywood. They think about Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood sign. I recommend that, because you have this experience visiting that has been around for generations and that has been surrounded by so many personalities and genres. For sure that. Awesome!
SR: Now, tying into your music, where’d you really get your start? What was your initial inspiration and to dive into music?
AI: I think my parents. I grew up in this area, in a very mixed household when it came to music. My mom loved listening to the Beatles and she also really liked her jazz growing up. My grandma was the one who introduced me to like, real rancheras, nightclub-scene Spanish before I could even sing English. Also, when you grow up in the “hood”, like South Central, you’re going to hear a mixed amount of music. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by rap and rancheras. My dad loved Paul Williams.
READ MORE: Travel Profile: Em Rossi
When I started singing, I started working and doing a church festival. I was like eight years old, and after school I’d go work at this furniture store, because they hired me to sing rancheras for three-four hours. Then some days I joined this wedding band and I was the only child in the wedding band. There were like a bunch of old dudes singing country – Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline – and I did that for a while until I was about 13.
Then I auditioned for this show called Quinceañera that was based in Mexico, but on Telemundo. It was kind of like a Spanish equivalent of American Idol for 15 year olds and it was in Spanish. I did all Spanish music and had to fit in that culture. I’ve been surrounded by so many kinds of different shapes of music. Doing Idol, really, was when I was able to be introduced to what pop was. Now that I have a band, I’ve really been able to tap into my influences, and then go back and really capture the voice of rancheras and Paul Williams, and now express that in the songs and lyrics of my band, Halo Circus.
Photo courtesy | Shinya Suzuki
SR: That’s an amazing answer. Fantastic. I had a chance to listen to your music and it was the first time I had ever heard of a bilingual-music group. That was really interesting to me. How do you balance between the two languages? When you approach the songwriting, how do you determine this is what’s going to be English and is this is what’s going to be Spanish?
AI: Aw, cool! The way we’ve done it so far, whenever the songs ask for things in Spanish, we give it to them. Some songs have been translated from English to Spanish entirely by Claudia Brant, this incredible, incredible songwriter. The influence behind even the English-driven Halo Circus songs is very Spanish-heavy. The ones that really do call for Spanish lyrics just call for that. They just appear on their own. Our part is to just listen to that and people get it.
SR: It seems like it kind of falls into place on its own a little bit. I know that your new album “Bunny” is coming out June 24th. What was something different about this album than previous music you’ve put out in the past?
AI: Age is a big factor. I was 16 when I released the “Just Like You” album with Jive. I had to record that album in like three months while I was touring the Idol tour. There was almost no time to really experience it or learn it. Also, a 16-year-old is just going through normal 16-year-old problems. It was a big part of that album cycle. But by 19, I was really lucky to work with the people that everyone else wanted to work with.
This time is different, because I’ve been working on this and with these incredible musicians, and Matt, Brian and Veronica definitely allowed me to venture into a deep part of myself that I was very afraid of. That part is in the album and in these lyrics. This is the first time that I’ve been in a band and it felt it like a gang. We want to speak a certain language and I’ve been having a lot of fun expressing this new, scary thing. I’ve been lucky that people like John Taylor, Paul Williams, Claudia Brant and the Grammys have been jumping on board. People like that have really been good to us. We have, like, 655,000 downloads off of our first single that we released a few months ago.
SR: That’s pretty sick having all those people collaborate in on it.
AI: It’s crazy.
SR: Yeah, it’s crazy. I know you’re going on tour after the album drops, and we’re going to touch on it in a second, but first, I wanted to get your sense of how music and travel fit together for you.
AI: Oh my gosh. Well, it’s a big part of touring and be able to to really be present enough for the crowd on tour and the people that show. Also, I think, the culture of wherever we’re at creates these unique experiences. The thing about travel is you get to experience a completely different perspective culturally. You have to take those experiences with you along for the ride, the journey, and incorporate them into your growth as a musician, singer or artist. I’m looking forward to going on tour for that.
SR: We’re excited for you! Now, your tour is actually going to be the first-ever crowd-sourced tour. Will that make you feel closer to your fans, because they really supported it?
AI: Yeah, it’s personal. It’s so personal. The best thing about this new way of touring is that people have the ability to choose where they want to see you. They also have the ability to have dinner with us in [a certain] town. They have the ability to have me give them wake-up calls. It’s all in the hands of the audience. We got 100-percent funded. We’re doing all these different things. We’re going to be going out on dates with our band. Going to dinner with fans. Even making someone breakfast somewhere. We’ll get to know our fans on a very personal level. It’s fun to really connect with them like that.
Photo courtesy | Steve Zaslavsky
SR: Unreal! Diving directly into travel now, when you do get some downtime and you are on vacation, or maybe just a weekend away are you more the sit back and relax type? I know you mentioned hiking and doing that side of Los Angeles, but is that what you do when you’re away? Are you more active in the center of a city somewhere?
AI: I like the trees. Maybe that’s because I grew up in the “‘hood”, close to downtown, so a lot of buildings. We didn’t have grass on the sidewalks. Trees and grass are really beautiful and amazing to me. I love doing hikes and finding places that allow people to enjoying the greenery. I like going horseback riding in Griffith Park sometimes. That’s another thing you can do here and then go to the Hollywood Bowl and see a show. It’s really cool.
SR: Everyone has a list of destinations that they haven’t been to yet, but they want to hit. What are some on your list? Why?
Photo courtesy | Edmund Garman
AI: Okay, let’s see. I’ve never been to Hawaii and that looks beautiful. It’s really taking a vacation by the ocean. Something about the ocean makes me want to just leave and enjoy myself. I haven’t been to Greece. Everything from the architecture to the food and culture looks amazing.
SR: For sure. And the sights!
AI: That too! I haven’t been to El Salvador. My parents are from El Salvador, and I’ve never been. I still really want to go. I’m looking forward to going and meeting all of those incredible people and getting to know my culture. We eat a lot!
Photo courtesy | Mani Rai
SR: That’s a great coastal country, so you’ll hit the beach while you’re there, right?
AI: Yes! There it is!
— — —
For more on Allison Iraheta and Halo Circus find them on Facebook:
Halo Circus photos courtesy | Nick Egan