When Allison Iraheta, an alumnus from season 8 of American Idol, formed Halo Circus with her husband Matthew Hager, the rock band was a four-piece outfit. Robots and Wranglers, the follow-up to their first album, Bunny, is scheduled to be released on March 16, and it finds the group morphing into an electronic duo. Billboard caught up with Iraheta and Hager to find out about the changes in Halo Circus, what their sophomore album is all about and the story behind their new single, “Narcissist,” which premieres exclusively below.
Tell me about the evolution of Halo Circus from a four-piece rock band to an electronic duo.
Allison Iraheta: Right before we were leaving for the East Lansing Sessions tour some complications arose that left us without our guitarist and drummer. We had the choice of pulling out of the tour entirely or doing it just the two of us. Initially we thought it was going to be a quiet, acoustic tour but that got kind of boring so we decided to incorporate the electronic elements of Bunny and re-imagine it without trying to imitate live drums or having guitars playing through tracks. The new sound started to manifest itself so we went with it. We’ve always seen Halo Circus as an art project. The first album was an alternative rock album, the EP bordered on Americana and this album is the logical next step for us.
Matthew Hager: Sometimes what comes out of necessity reminds you of who you are.
What was your vision for Robots and Wranglers when you began the album?
Iraheta: We wanted to make an electronic album that was cinematic in scope and sounded like it was recorded on a spaceship.
Are there any artists you would cite as inspirations for this new album?
Hager: We are learning that telling people things as simple as who our influences are has become alienating in 2018. If we say we like someone and someone doesn’t like that person then they won’t like our music. We’ve discovered that’s really not how life works but that’s how the internet has set us up. So everyone influenced this album. Every artist from every genre, every person of every religion, every person without a religion, every person with an opinion, every person without an opinion and so on.
What was the recording process like? Did it go exactly as planned or were there surprises along the way?
Iraheta: This album appeared quickly, was written quickly and recorded quickly. We came back from tour with an idea of the album but nothing written. Four months later we had a finished album.
Hager: We were extremely fortunate that Craig (Bauer) was mixing the songs while we were still recording. We’d finish a song and he would start mixing it while we worked on other songs. He started with “Off the World” which set an unexpectedly serious tone for the album that inspired the rest of the recording process. Thanks to our fans, we were able to spend four months locked in a studio after our last tour.
Iraheta: There’s no way this album would exist without the fans’ support. We weren’t sure if they would embrace the new sound on tour, but it slowly led to more and more fans. The success of that tour created this album. This time we didn’t have to crowd source money to record it, which felt amazing and in many ways this album is a thank you to the fans.
What did you learn in the process of evolving from a rock band to an electronic duo?
Hager: We learned that when we opened the door to not knowing who we were, we had more to say.
Carly Simon has never revealed who she was talking about in “You’re So Vain.” Who inspired your song “Narcissist?”
Iraheta: We spent every day on tour on our phones on social media. You get to a point where you wake up, turn to the phone and you’re immersed in that world. Whether you want to be filled in on the daily news and the world’s opinions on it or not, it’s all screaming in your face. All the time. That being said, it is also incredibly fun to sing.
Hager: That overwhelming feeling was the premise of the song in addition to where things are socially.
How do you enjoy performing these new songs live, as opposed to your earlier rock repertoire?
Iraheta: It was really challenging finding the character that would sing and perform this record. Rock is about letting go completely. There’s an element of performance art to this album that forces me to go to places that are exciting and new to me. You still have to let go but it’s a little more controlled, like storytelling. I really needed to get out of my comfort zone. I’m not the same person I was when I started Halo Circus six years ago.
What are your plans to promote the new album? Will you be on the road?
Hager: We have always gone to great lengths to get our music out there and we have always tried to do things unconventionally. This album is already taking on a life of its own and we are really excited to announce our upcoming U.S. tour.
Iraheta: We are starting with 24 cities and adding more along the way. We intend on shaking every hand, recruiting new Halo Circus fans and letting our amazing team get this baby out there into the universe. There are so many more announcements to come.
3/22 – Toad Tavern – Littleton, CO
3/24 The Gas Lamp – Des Moines, IA
3/27 – Wire – Berwyn, IL
3/28 – The Frequency- Madison, WI
3/29 – Shank Hall – Milwaukee, WI
3/30 – The House Cafe – DeKalb, IL
3/31 – The Loony Bin – Bradley, IL
4/2 – The Albert S. George Youth Center – Barnesville, OH
4/3 – The Beachland Tavern – Cleveland, OH
4/4 – 20 Front Street – Lake Orion, MI
4/6 – Hard Rock Cafe – Pittsburgh, PA
4/7 – Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 2) New York, NY
4/10 – Lizard Lounge – Cambridge, MA
4/11 – Bourbon and Branch – Philadelphia, PA
4/12 – Crossroads – Garwood, NJ
4/14 – The Evening Muse – Charlotte, NC
4/18 – Isis Music Hall – Asheville, NC
4/21 – Jack Rabbits – Jacksonville, FL
4/23 – Will’s Pub – Orlando, FL
4/24 – The Attic at Rock Brothers – Tampa, FL
4/25 – The Atlanta Room: Smith’s Olde Bar – Atlanta, GA
5/10 and 5/11 – McGonigel’s Mucky Duck – Houston, TX