Allison Iraheta has worked with the best in business – from her superstar mentors on Season 8 of American Idol, to legendary Tonight Show/Idol band leader Rickey Minor, to Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Kanye West producer Craig Bauer on her alt-rock band Halo Circus’s just-released debut album. But perhaps her most unexpected – and most supportive – collaborator is Paul Williams.
Yes, the Paul Williams. Of Phantom of the Paradise/”Rainbow Connection”/Daft Punk fame.
The 75-year-old songwriting legend and 24-year-old Iraheta met on Twitter a few years ago, and eventually co-wrote one of Halo Circus’s standout ballads, the grandly dramatic “Band Aid.” Now Williams is Iraheta’s “industrial-strength fan,” describing her as “one of the best singers you’ve ever heard in your life.”
United by a fondness for rabbits (Halo Circus’s three-years-in-the-making album is titled Bunny; Williams used to have a pet “rock ‘n’ roll rabbit” named Bun Jovi) and a desire to make authentic music that emanates from the heart and soul, Iraheta and her Halo Circus bandmate/husband Matthew Hager became fast friends with Williams. “When you start a band and you create music, there’s a language you’re trying to create and an environment. And when someone as special as Paul Williams steps into a room and understands that, you feel like you’re doing the right thing,” says Iraheta, sitting with Williams during a rare (and adorable) joint interview at Yahoo Music.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m olllld,” Williams quips. “At this age, it’s interesting, because I’m probably as excited about writing as I’ve ever been in my life. And every now and then, you have one of those sessions that just feels like you’ve been doing it your whole life. That’s the way it felt with Matthew and Allison. It felt like we’d done this a bunch before.”
Iraheta, who jokingly confesses to “stalking” Williams ever since she heard his Bugsy Malone soundtrack as a child, has fond memories of their “Band Aid” session, recalling their first meeting with a chuckle: “You showed up [at the studio] with your friggin’ McDonald’s, looking amazing, just killing it – like, ‘Let’s do this!’”
Williams didn’t know Iraheta from her American Idol days (in fact, during this very interview, he amusingly accidentally refers to The Voice), but says, “That’s why [Halo Circus] was such a great discovery. There was no context. That’s why it had the impact. When I listened to the first song, I was stunned with the soulfulness… There’s something… Is it the quality of her voice? Is it the passion? What is it about Leon Russell’s voice that makes me say no matter what Leon Russell is singing, I can never pick the needle up and not listen to it all the way through. It’s the same way with Allison.”
Iraheta has struggled to established herself as an independent artist following the release of her one solo album for BMG, Just Like You, in 2009, and the disappointment that came when she and BMG parted ways. (Read about her emotional journey in this frank essay she penned for Yahoo Music at the time of American Idol’s series finale.) Williams, a tireless advocate for emerging artists as the president and chairman of ASCAP, muses, “Is music borne from pain? It’s worth the pain… Music is worth the pain, whatever she went through.”
It’s easy to understand why Williams is such a Halo Circus fan. Aside from his bittersweet “Band Aid” collaboration, other highlights of the wide-ranging but consistently rocking, Bauer-mixed/Hager-produced album include the swaggering glam-rock stomper “Nothing at All,” the sociopolitical immigrant anthem “Desire (Lo Que Vale La Pena),” and the darkly romantic John Taylor co-write “Something Special.” Bunny is an ambitious record, an unabashedly rock ‘n’ roll record, and an important one.
“Every now and then I hear music in my life – I remember the first time I heard a Sheryl Crow record. I went, ‘OK, I will go out on a limb and say this is a career that is forever. This is brilliant.’ And I was right. This is a career that is [also] forever and is brilliant,” Williams gushes, pointing at Iraheta while she blushes. “It’s just that good… I hope I can look at this [interview] 10 years from now and say, ‘I was right, I was right, I was right!’”
Above, check out two acoustic Halo Circus performances from Bunny with Allison accompanied by band member Brian Stead, including “Band Aid.”