If you haven’t been keeping tabs on singer-songwriter Tim Halperin since he appeared on season 10 of American Idol this year, allow me bring you up to speed.
Halperin released his first single, “The Last Song,” in less than a week after not advancing to the Top 13 on Idol. He was recognized by a nationally syndicated radio host, “DJ Kidd Kraddick,” and took part in a Kidd Kraddick in the Morning segment called “Idol Got It Wrong,” where fans could vote on whether his version of an Idol performance was better than the contestant’s version each week. Add in raising $8,000 to make a video for “The Last Song,” a mini-tour and his ongoing work for Komen For the Cure, you could say that Halperin’s managed to keep himself pretty busy so far during his post-Idol career.
On September 26, Halperin spent the final 24 hours of his American Idol contract in “Idol jail” outside a shopping center in Texas, while entertaining 50,000 viewers on USTREAM with live performances of songs from his debut full-length album, Rise and Fall. On September 27, the day after his contract with Idol was up, Rise and Fall was digitally released to iTunes at midnight.
Later that week, Halperin graciously took the time to talk with me about where the idea to go to “Idol jail” came from, his fantastic new album, and what’s coming up next for him.
How was your caged existence on Monday?
[laughs] You know, I see why it’s not fun to be in jail. I did have some fun, though, because my jail wasn’t your typical jail. I had people bringing me Starbucks and coming and hanging out with me and dancing around. I had a piano in jail and for me, that’s not jail at all. It was good. It was long, though. It was very exhausting. I only slept probably 30 minutes during the 26 hours that I was in prison. I really enjoyed it, though.
I had tuned in for an hour or so during the afternoon, and then I tuned back in after your album was released, which was like 9:30-10:00 my time (PST), and you looked so tired by then.
Yeah, the interesting aspect of it is that it was live the whole time. And whenever I have people watching me, I love entertaining people and interacting with people. I felt like I had to entertain and interact with everyone the whole time. Because I’d look and there’d be like 276 people watching, 500 people watching, 400 people watching right now. I’m like, “Oh my gosh!” You know, I thought, This would be like a really good show, like a really good gig to have 500 people sitting there watching me. I can’t waste this time, I can’t waste this opportunity to share my music with people and hang out with people, and talk with people.
I know that doing the “Idol jail” thing was a way to promote your album and also as a way to raise money for Kidd Kraddick’s charity, but where did the idea to do this initially come from?
Well, you know, Kidd had asked me to consider writing the Kidd’s Kids song, and I told him that I absolutely would. So I did it, and decided to put it on the CD. And then I was thinking, Kidd always talks about how the American Idol contract just restricts me from so much and prevents me from having really any shot at making it as an artist, because they hold you down for so long, you know, which is why I’ve been very fortunate to have Kidd Kraddick help me out.
The more I thought about that, the more I thought, You know, people who have followed my story that have become fans or who have known about my music before Idol have known that this has been a tough thing for me, because I’ve had this record that’s been done for a long time, but I haven’t been able to release it. How could I reflect that in the album release; what can I do to bring it all to fruition?
At first I thought, maybe I’ll just wear some shackles, you know, some handcuffs and walk around for a few days leading up to the album release, but that just seemed kind of weird and not big enough. I was telling him about the idea, and Rob [Kidd Kraddick’s audio/visual engineer] said, “Man, that would be really fun to put you in a jail cell right outside the studio.” I was like, “Man, that’s a really good idea, actually.” I started thinking about it more and then we thought we should maybe put it somewhere where it’s going to get some more attention; draw some more eyes, like a public place. That’s what led to putting it at this shopping center in Plano, Texas. So that’s kind of how it all came about.
You know, I remember reading your blog about it and thinking that it was really odd, but almost genius.
[laughs] Almost genius, not quite it. You know, like I’ve said before, it wasn’t anything to bash American Idol. I had a great time on American Idol; I wouldn’t change that experience for the world. It brought eyes to what I was doing, and also brought light to the fact that American Idol’s great, but the contract isn’t so great. It was interesting, and I was just fortunate that it did pick up some steam and caught the attention of some people. It was good.
Let’s switch over to the album, Rise and Fall. How long ago did you start working on it?
I started working on the album in August, 2010 – over a year ago – but I started writing songs for that album about two years ago. I’ve written a lot of material between then and now. The best of it made the record. It’s been a long time coming. It’s a lot of me on the album. I’ve invested a lot of myself in the songs on the record.
What was the ballpark figure of songs you had to choose from to put on the record?
Oh, man. It was around 30 that we had to pick from; a little less than half we ended up actually going with.
How did you go about choosing one song over the other for this record?
With this record, because it’s my first full-length album, I wanted to make sure that it was the most me; that it had songs on it that I felt like best represented who I am not only as a songwriter, but as a person. If the song was an emotion that I felt particularly strong about, or the story or situation that I’d written from was defining for me in my life, then typically I chose those songs. The general rule of thumb for me, the stronger the emotion the more likely people are going to connect with the song and the emotion in the song.
I notice when I listen to your music that it has a storytelling feel to it. How would you describe your songwriting style?
Yeah, that’s a good point. Somebody had told me a couple months ago that they saw even hints of country music, because country music typically has that storytelling quality to it. When I write a song in terms of the storytelling aspect, I generally don’t hide much in my music. It’s pretty clear what my songs are about.
When I initially started writing music, every once in a while I would write a song like that, but a lot of the times I would try and use a TV show – change the names, protect the innocent, whatever that line is – and I would sort of make everything symbolic or, you know, metaphoric. And that’s cool – that’s a great talent to have if you can do it – but I just wasn’t very good at it, I guess. [laughs] The songs that were more real and that people connected with better were songs that were just more vulnerable and more raw. When I write music now, I’m really just led by my true emotions on the page.
Is there a song on the album that you would deem the most personal to you?
Yes…I would say “Memories on the Ground” is the most personal song for me on the record.
Well, “Memories on the Ground” has been one of my favorite songs of yours for a while. I really like the acoustic version, but I was pretty over the moon about the album version as well.
Thank you. That illustrates that point, too. The ones that mean the most, people can feel that emotion. That’s cool. I’m glad you like that one.
Well, another one of my favorites is “Bullet.” For me, it really stands out from the other songs on the album, because of its intense kind of arrangement. How did this song come about?
That’s a great question. I remember I was at work one day – I worked at a digital advertising agency for like a year and half before auditioning for Idol – and this line started going through my head, “She’s a bullet to the gun I hold.” At first, I was kind of scared about my sanity, because that’s kind of a strange thing. It’s kind of a violent line, honestly. I let it sit for a while, and then I was actually on one of the flights to American Idol [for] one of the rounds, and that line kept going through my head, so I took out a pen and paper and started thinking about it more and more.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense, this analogy for a break-up that needs to happen for a relationship that’s gone on far too long. When my producer Jordan Critz heard it, he just had a vision for it right away. I’m glad he did, because where he took the song was to that place it needed to go. It does have this sense of urgency in the song with the arrangement, and with the drums the way they are, with the electric guitar the way it is. It just gives the sense of, you know, this needs to happen, this is urgent. And that’s exactly what the song is, so it’s pretty cool.
If the “The Last Song” does well, and we get a second single and we get a third single, I think “Bullet” is a great third single. It’s an interesting quality of my songwriting that’s not my typical songwriting, but people like it. It’s interesting. I think it would do well, but first I want to get people familiar with sort of my go-to style.
“All You Got” is the lead-off track on the album, and it’s also the song you wrote for Kidd’s Kids. Can you tell me a little bit about the song?
Sure. This is a song that came from a place when I started thinking about Kidd’s Kids, and the lesson that they give is a lesson that I think is so pertinent to everybody. It’s a lesson that I had to learn this year through American Idol. The album title goes hand-in-hand with this, too. There’s mountains and there’s valleys in your life, and when you’re in the valleys it seems that’s when you learn the most. And I happened to be in a valley just from all the critics out there during Idol and on Kidd’s show, because there’s a lot more ears listening to my music and you can’t have everybody love it. That had gotten me down, and I met some of the kids from Kidd’s Kids.
And these are kids that have every right to be down, to be sad for themselves, to wish their life wasn’t in the place that it’s in. But that’s so far from how they actually act. It was a moment, it sort of all made sense to me. And these kids bring this message of hope to everybody that they meet. So, I wrote this song, “All You Got,” basically from the lesson that I learned from these kids. The song is written almost from the perspective of these kids and what they’ve learned and what they share with everybody that they meet.
I love the sentiment behind the song; I think it’s great, but I have to say that the song does lead off your album really well.
Thank you. We finished recording it, and I go to Jordan and I was like, “Dude, that’s the opening track.” It starts [the album] off so well. And when you think about that line – and people who know who I am and know what’s been going on in my world – that’s what I’ve tried to live out for the past couple years, going for it with the music and not being content with sitting around and watching the clock. I think everyone can relate to that message.
With the track listing for the album, was it a conscious decision to alternate the ballads with the more uptempo songs every other track. I noticed it goes from “The Last Song” to “She Sets Me Free” and “Where I’m Going” to “I Wanna Fall in Love.” I was just wondering if that pattern was done purposely?
Yeah. Jordan and I, my producer and I, sat down and put together the song order. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a bunch of singles just thrown into a random order and put on a CD. I really did want the album to have a certain flow to it and the title to match that, the artwork and everything to match what this CD is about. I think that used to be an important quality back in the day of vinyl; it’s been lost along the way.
When we finished the last tune that we recorded, I thought about the title and I came up with Rise and Fall, because I did notice about half the songs were uptempo or energetic and the other half were either moderate to slow tempo songs. When Jordan and I put the order together with the title Rise and Fall, it’s cool, because it almost has that feel when you listen to the record of rising and falling. Those themes are illustrated, and it just has a nice flow to it. We did consciously think through that one.
Is the title, Rise and Fall, more of an overall reflection of the music on the album, or would you consider it to be more of a statement about everything you’ve gone through in the last year with Idol?
Really both, because the music on the album reflects what’s been going on in my life for the past couple years. I think that Rise and Fall first and foremost is illustrating what’s been going on in my world in multiple aspects for me, but also the music as well. You know, from a tempo perspective, but also from an emotional perspective of each of the tracks.
Are you hoping that with this album that it will get you to the point that people will start recognizing you as Tim Halperin and not Tim from American Idol?
Yes. Amen to that, absolutely. [laughs] I was initially hesitant to try out for Idol, because I honestly didn’t want to be associated with it. I’m so glad I did it. You look at several people who were on American Idol, and you don’t even reference them as being from American Idol, like Carrie Underwood, like Chris Daughtry. You just know them for their music that they have out today. And that’s what I want to be known for as well.
Were you anxious at all that people wouldn’t take this album as seriously, because you were on the show?
Yeah, I really was. I was nervous that people would just see this as another former American Idol contestant’s CD; that they put out music that they feel like have to, because they have all these new fans, and just force out some tunes. Not to say that Idol people do that, but I know that there have been some in the past. Unfortunately, a lot of industry people see that when an American Idol person releases a CD right after they’ve been on the show, that they just assume it to be thrown together and not too much thought put into it. I was nervous about that.
So, are you the first from this past season to put out an album? I know other contestants have released songs, but I want to say you’re the first to release an album.
You know, I think I am. I don’t think anyone [has] put out a full-length album.
Is that a little daunting or is it more exciting?
I think that’s cool, I guess. I never really thought about it ‘til now. What I hope is that people who did watch the show will follow up and see what I’m up to. American Idol is incredible exposure and the fans are very supportive. I hope that they do follow up and listen to the CD.
The album’s been out for a little over a day now, how have you felt the overall reaction to it has been?
I feel like it’s been really good. I’ve been so just impressed with the amount of support it’s received and the amount of people that have bought the record. And that’s really what my whole situation is about. I’m independent, and the only way my music gets heard is people who support me, go and buy my record, and tell their friends about it.
Now that the album is out what is next for you?
For me, during October, it’s Cancer Awareness Month, and I do a lot of work for Komen for the Cure. November, the plan is to hit the road. I hope with this record – if it has success, which thankfully it has so far – my hope is that it catches the eyes of some bands that could use some openers on the road. I would love to open for bands in the same vein of music who have had some success.