Halo Circus / Jena Irene Asciutto / Drew Schultz & the Bad Habits
Thu, Oct 27, 2016 @ 8:00 pm to 2:00amView event on Facebook
Halo Circus is a critically-acclaimed bilingual alternative rock band, featuring its star singer Allison Iraheta. Crafting “anthems for introverts,” Iraheta digs deep into dark places and transforms this anguish into lush, unforgettable melodies.
Halo Circus’ debut earned instant acclaim, with LA Magazine declaring, “Allison Iraheta has moved beyond reality TV, forming a group that Duran Duran bassist John Taylor called ‘the best live band in the U.S.A.’ Think: dark, anthemic rock with a knack for soaring hooks.”
Halo Circus quickly earned a reputation for their impressive live performances, which led to a series of high profile bookings, including: The Grammys “Women Who Rock Festival At Sea” with Heart, Emmylou Harris, and other iconic female singers; a fourweek Friday night residency at the prestigious Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles; and “Say It Loud! A Night of Cultural Disruption” at the legendary Troubadour. Iraheta also performed on The Tonight Show, making history as the only guest vocalist to sing with the show’s band for an entire week.
On February 8, 2016, Halo Circus shocked the music industry by announcing, via Billboard, the first fully crowdsourced American tour ever to be attempted on such a large scale. Through Road Nation, the band declared that any town in America that raises $600 would get Halo Circus to play there this summer and fall. Nine weeks later, the campaign reached 100% backing by fans, making music history with the first successful US crowdfunded tour to date, with 30 cities confirmed.
Next up is the release of Halo Circus’ highly anticipated debut album, Bunny, produced by Matthew Hager and mixed by multiple Grammy Award-winner Craig Bauer (Kanye West, Smashing Pumpkins). Iraheta explains, “our aim was high: play as much as possible, and try to develop a reputation as a great live band before releasing an album. Somehow along the way we learned how to play these songs to an audience and the band actually started to take on a life of its own.”
She continues, “We decided to rerecord what we recorded a year before. We wanted to capture the evolution of our live sound. We wanted Halo Circus to have the opportunity to record an album with the same quality and attention to detail that was given to bands in the 90’s.” And this band’s effort for perfection is paying off. The first single off the album, “Desire (Lo Que Vale La Pena),” was downloaded 647,000 times in its first week of release in a promotion with BitTorrent Bundle. The album, entitled Bunny will be released on June 24.
For Allison Iraheta, life before and with Halo Circus is like night and day. The daughter of Salvadoran 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).”
Individually, the members of Halo Circus are veteran musicians. Prior to forming Halo Circus, bassist/keyboardist Matthew Hager was a No. 1 Billboard multiplatinum producer who crossed multiple genres working with the likes of Duran Duran, Scott Weiland, Mindi Abair, and Mandy Moore. In addition to being an accomplished Cantonese and orchestral drummer, Veronica Bellino’s previous work with Jeff Beck and DMC of Run DMC has helped to shape her live performances with Halo Circus. Brian Stead is a relentless guitar aficionado who evokes energy and charisma. He is a thoughtful guitarist with his own voice, one that makes him unique.
Together, the band is one unstoppable force to be reckoned with as they continue down the rabbit hole and embark on the next chapter of their sound. Iraheta concludes, “Magic happens in this band. It happened when we were writing, when we were recording, and when we were failing. The only thing that mattered was keeping it honest and getting it right, whatever that means. We may be inconvenient, but we continue to attract believers.”
Jena Irene Asciutto: This is the story of a journey. It starts typically enough—a Midwestern girl who wants to sing, dealing with heartbreak and adolescent experimentation and family issues. But then it takes a dramatic turn when that girl is thrust into the national spotlight, sprinting at top speed to improve her craft and keep up with the celebrity whirlwind, only to wind up returning home and trying to make sense of everything that happened to her.
“This album is the story of my becoming a woman and becoming an artist,” says Jena Irene Asciutto of her stunning debut Cold Fame. “The songs are very blunt, very raw and authentic. I think it’s a good thing for girls my age to know that it’s OK to be open and be yourself.”
Cold Fame was written and recorded after a teenage Jena spent six months as a contestant on American Idol, ultimately placing as the runner-up in the 2014 season. Through her performances on the show and the subsequent tour, fans became familiar with her big voice and daring attitude. But given the chance to write her own narrative, she displays a range of sounds and sensibilities that take us through the life of a modern young woman.
“The lyrics just poured out of me,” she says. “It’s everything I was feeling, going back and putting my head in these different experiences. People might think that I’ve changed, but I just wasn’t able to show all of myself on the TV screen.”
Born in a Detroit suburb, Jena started playing the piano when she was nine years old and immediately began writing songs. She made her first recordings in a family friend’s basement when she was eleven. “It was almost therapeutic to me,” she says. “Music was my way of communicating and getting my thoughts out.”
She started a rock band; they stayed together for five years, but her ambitions were pulling her higher. She began writing in a more electronic style, sketching out some of the songs that would eventually find their way onto Cold Fame. Then, on a whim, she auditioned for American Idol, singing “Rolling in the Deep”—and after getting selected, went on to survive seventeen rounds before finishing in second place.
“The show was a great experience in terms of developing my work ethic and finding out if I wanted to do this the rest of my life, turning a hobby into a career,” she says. “I was learning every single day, every day was a new adventure. It’s very stressful, but that’s what it’s all about—how you handle yourself when you’re under pressure like that.”
Jena found that her voice was changing as the show’s coaches were teaching her better control, and her listening was changing, as well. “I loved Paramore, Green Day, Blink 182,” she says, “and then I found out about the greats, about Etta James and Amy Winehouse, and I thought maybe I could put the two together and make my own sound.”
After she returned to Michigan, she digested all she had been through, went into isolation, and wrote most of the Cold Fame songs. Soon, she discovered a pattern emerging; “Everything had a double meaning, where it was about my experience with Idol, but also with a relationship, or with coming home to Detroit.”
One of the first songs Jena wrote was “Innocence,” about losing her virginity. “I remember asking my producer, ‘Is this OK?,’ “ she says. “And he said, ‘It’s your show now—you don’t have to think about what anybody else is going to think.’ And that sunk in, so I just went for it.”
It also became clear, as she searched for a defining sound, that she needed to record her songs live in the studio. “These songs are so personal and so direct, there’s really no other way to present them correctly,” she says.
Jena’s music will be introduced in early 2016 with an EP titled Innocence, followed by the release of the full Cold Fame album later in the year. The first taste of the record was “Unbreakable,” which served as not only a personal anthem, but also a tribute to her hometown. “It’s about me coming back to Detroit and deciding to stay and make my career here,” she says.
The rest of the album takes listeners through Jena’s experiences and growth—from the opening mission statement “Song For Myself” through searching for clues to her identity through experimentation with marijuana and alcohol on “Floating Down the River.” She delves into romantic melodrama with “Wait” (“That’s about me stealing somebody else’s man,” she says with a laugh, adding “I was in the wrong, so I’m making fun of myself and the situation”) and into the pain of her parents’ divorce on “Help Me.”
Having learned lessons and come into womanhood, Jena can finally let go on “White Girl Wasted,” the record’s raucous final track. “That was literally just sitting down and writing down phrases that I use in my daily life, and making a song out of them,” she says. “After getting into all this deep shit, now it’s time to have fun. At the end of the whole journey, I’m extremely happy to be where I am.”
Jena ultimately backed up her feelings about Detroit by signing with local independent Original 1265 Recordings. “I had all these meetings with major labels and it was very intimidating and the vibe was wrong,” she says. “Then I came back to Detroit and met Kevin Nixon and Sarah Clayman and they were just real with me. I could see myself working with them for my career.
“There really hasn’t been much going on with the music industry in Detroit for a while,” she continues, “and to be a trailblazer to shooting the city back up to where it should be is a powerful statement.” (She is also working toward a bachelor’s degree in creative songwriting through the Detroit Institute of Music Education, an accredited music institute where she is studying via their online program, DIME ONLINE.) “Having my record label, family, and school all based in Detroit really keeps me connected and inspired.”
Jena’s mindset is encapsulated by the album’s title, which is taken from a song by Band of Skulls. “The lyrics are about how fame can be abused,” she says. “It acted as a cautionary statement for me—putting yourself out into the public is a completely different world, and the least I can do is be honest with the audience. I think that can only happen if I’m surrounded and supported by the right people.”
In fact, she had tattooed the phrase on her hand before selecting it as the title. “It will always remind me to keep my feet on the ground and make sure I’m proud of what I put out there.”
Rattling off a list of her favorite musicians—Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey, Coldplay—it’s clear that Jena is aiming for something bigger than fleeting pop stardom, and that Cold Fame is a warm-up for all that will follow. “I don’t just want those fifteen minutes of fame,” she says. “I wanted to make an album that would tell my story, and that’s what it ended up being.”
Drew Schultz is a music fan first.
Growing up in a musical family, he was exposed early and often to the sounds of Motown, Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz. While attending the public school system in Shaker Heights, Ohio, he was enveloped in massive music programs that included multiple wind ensembles, orchestras, jazz bands, choirs, musicals, percussion ensembles, and an expansive 300 member marching band. His teacher at the Shaker district was Bill Ransom, a drummer/percussionist who toured and recorded with acts including Gerald Levert, Najee, Patrice Rushen, Beth Hart, and Diane Reeves. Ransom helped Drew become a well rounded drummer and hand percussionist with experience reading music, improvising, and performing in countless genres and studio/stage situations. He also studied with Paul Simon’s drummer/percussionist, Jamie Haddad.
While in High School, Schultz was taken under the wing of two musicians who would help shape his career – original Earth Wind & Fire member Ralph Johnson, and Funk Brothers drummer Uriel Jones, who played on countless number one hits by almost every artist on Motown Records in the 60s and 70s. Johnson and Jones acted as musical mentors to Schultz, giving him advice on his playing and career path. The first articles that Drew wrote and published in Modern Drummer Magazine were spotlights on Uriel and Ralph, who continue to inspire him today.
In 2005, Schultz attended a five week session at the Berklee College of Music, where he studied with Prince / Justin Timberlake drummer John Blackwell, and performed in multiple ensembles. In 2006 he was accepted into the jazz performance program at New York University, where he studied and played with artists including Lenny Pickett of Tower of Power / SNL, Tony Moreno, John Scofield, and more. After assisting in moderating the official Earth Wind & Fire website forums, he was flown to Los Angeles to work with EWF founder/singer/songwriter/drummer Maurice White to assist with a web interview project, interviewing Maurice about his own career.
While attending NYU, Drew founded his own giant funk monstrosity, The New FAMF, which would go on to become the official NYU R&B Ensemble before becoming The Drew Schultz Funk Machine (Jent LaPalm on bass, Emilio Tostado on guitar, John Guari on keys, and Chris Ams on vocals). The Funk Machine held a multi-year residency at the legendary Bitter End night club in NYC, and was a featured part of Don Was’ All Star Review at the 2013 Concert of Colors Festival. The band is featured on the bulk of Schultz’s releases, especially the stripped down “Dovetail Tapes” live EP, and has performed on tour in NYC, Cleveland, Detroit, and even overseas in Prague.
At the age of 19, Schultz met the legendary Four Tops at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Tops drummer Benjamin “Butch” Corbett and conductor George Rountree allowed Schultz to sit in, and it wasn’t long before Schultz played his first show with the Four Tops on hand percussion in Peekskill, NY. This was the beginning of a five year stretch with the Tops where Schultz served as archivist, hand percussionist, touring drummer, and even Musical Director / Conductor across multiple world tours. His work with the Tops opened the door for him to perform alongside countless legends including Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Miracles, The Dramatics, The Contours, Freda Payne, Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Chairmen of the Board, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes, Dennis Edwards’ Temptations Review, “Iceman” Jerry Butler, The O’Jays, The Velvelettes, and many more. While alternating between touring with the Tops, performing with other acts, and studying at NYU, Schultz interned under Harry Weinger at Motown/UMe, leading to pre-production engineering credits on projects by Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, David Ruffin & Jimmy Ruffin, Barry White, and more. In 2013 he was the ProTools assistant in a “Classic Albums” course at NYU co-taught by Harry Weinger and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots.
In 2012, Drew released his debut album entitled “Back To Class.” The CD consists of 16 original songs written, produced, and arranged by Schultz, with 50% of profits benefiting the music programs of the Detroit Public Schools. Featured artists on the album include the Four Tops, Funk Brothers, Melvin Davis, Spyder Turner, Pat Lewis, Lenny Pickett, McKinley Jackson, James Jamerson Jr, Dennis Coffey, Ken Knox of Chairmen of the Board, Joey Kingfish, Rob Carter, and more. The album was featured in newspapers across Detroit, earning Schultz the nickname “Kid Motown” from Susan Whitall of the Detroit News. In 2013, a series of Back To Class singles was launched to continue the education-advocacy cause of the original album. Entires in the series have featured Funk Brothers’ guitarist Eddie Willis, Northern Soul legend Buddy Smith, Detroit Blues powerhouse Thornetta Davis, Mark Scott of The Miracles, and more. In 2014, the Back To Class project was extended to the Chicago Public Schools with the release of “Please (Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams)” b/w “Waiting Game,” an A-and-B-side digital single paying tribute to Curtis Mayfield featuring Reginald Torian of The Impressions, Cecil Jones of “The Story of Curtis Mayfield,” and Lee Goodness of Mayfield’s touring band. “Dreams” was performed live with Schultz as a part of Torian’s sold out 2015 All Things Mayfield Revue in Chicago.
Drew is currently an Instructor of Drums at the Detroit Institute of Music Education (aka DIME), a brand new music institute in the heart of the Motor City that, in partnership with Metropolitan State University of Denver, offers Bachelor’s Degrees in performance for Guitar, Bass, Vocals, and Drums, as well as Songwriting and Music Industry Studies. While at DIME, Drew has worked, taught, and played alongside students and stars, with guests to the college including George Clinton, Madonna, Michael Bolton, Lady GaGa’s MD/Bassist Kern Brantley, Motown artist KEM, and Usher.
Keep an eye out for more from Drew Schultz!