Circuit des Yeux, the project of Haley Fohr, released its third full-length Portrait (on Minneapolis label De Stijl in 2011), an album that showed growth in songwriting, production, and quality. However, the underlying simplicity of intimate lo-fi experimentalist leanings, predominant on Fohr’s past records and two EPs, manages to conceive itself in a new, exciting vision of Fohr’s craft, proving Fohr to be a musician worth following.
Fohr has performed a balancing act of schoolwork (a byproduct of attending Indiana University), recording, and touring the last few years. Now, a new phase in Fohr’s life seems to be encroaching like the dark, comforting shadow that seems to hang over her music. While in Miami, Fohr was able to talk over the phone about this transitional phase in her life as well as the importance of the musical community in Indiana and impact of growing up in the Midwest.
After listening to Sirenum and Ode to Fidelity, I think the greatest revelation for me was how polished the sound can be while retaining a certain detached aesthetic. Has it been something of a challenge to balance lo-fi concepts with a cleaner sound?
For Portrait it was definitely more about getting cleaner tracks, but I wasn’t necessarily focusing on production. Now that I’m working on newer stuff it’s definitely a challenge to keep the aesthetic of a Circuit des Yeux record. It isn’t necessarily lo-fi, but this idea of mixing soft sounds with harsh sounds is something that I want to continue to do. I’d like to keep the idea of song and soundscape sort of in the same affinity. It’s definitely something I’ve done intentionally, but I guess I’m much more confident about it.
You’ll be graduating out of the Recording Arts program at IU this year, right?
Yeah, in May.
How have your studies and, in particular, your perceptions on ethnomusicology, affected how you approach songwriting, recording, and other aspects of your music?
Well, with ethnomusicology it’s just enhanced my ongoing hobby of listening to music and identifying it as culture or an extension of where someone is and where they’re going, you know, their environment and into what makes up what a person is. And, as far as the audio recording it’s been both good and bad in that I’ve definitely learned to use production and audio as a tool. I feel equipped and confident now as a producer and track engineer, which before obviously I had no knowledge of, as my records were so lo-fi. But at the same time there’s like this whole commercial aspect that is really pushed on me at school because career-wise that’s where the money is — in commercial music. That’s something I’m completely uninterested in. It’s sort of like a battle to retain the aesthetic I want to keep while being in this commercialized world, academically speaking.
“It’s sort of like a battle to retain the aesthetic I want to keep while being in this commercialized world, academically speaking.”
So after graduating is producing or going into the studio something you’re interested in?
It’s definitely something I’m interested in. Not only for myself as an artist but with working with other artists. And, being behind the scenes, you know? I’m definitely interested in all of that. I just think it will be a relief once I graduate to do things on my own terms instead of all these deadlines and EQing something the way it’s “textbook” supposed to sound like, you know, to get a good grade (laughs). So, I mean, yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to pursuing creativity with other artists in the studio on my own terms.
The idea of what a “better” or “well-produced” recording is seems to be subjective, but there may be some truth in how a strong emotional connection is emitted in a more sonically raw setting. Do you think about how your sound impacts listeners on this level?
No. I mean, to be honest I do my music 100% for myself. Which sounds very egotistical and, you know, vain, but I want my listeners to identify a song that’s by Circuit des Yeux when they hear it. But other than that I make music 100% for me for, like, stark reasons. And, I’ve often written many songs that, you know, are verses/chorus whatever. But if it’s not emotionally charged at the moment, I always end up throwing it out. Because, you know, if it doesn’t seem truthful to me I don’t want to put out something that isn’t 100% myself.
Besides your social experiences growing up Lafayette, Indiana, and the Midwest in general, do you feel as if there has been a cultural landscape, or lack thereof, that has influenced you musically?
Definitely. I mean really I’ve always felt kind of hindered being in the Midwest, where all there really is to do is drugs or music. There’s cornfields and pretty much little or no music scene. But the older I get the more I’m thankful that I grew up in a situation where I’m sort of isolated and, you know, you’re confident in yourself because you’re very much by yourself growing up. And I wasn’t influenced by, I guess, mainstream music as much as someone who grew up in a more densely populated (area) like L.A. or New York City. And I find that out more and more meeting people, you know — everyone has their own influences. But I feel like mine focuses more on my family and, you know, this sort of like desolate rural area. But, I embrace it. I’m really happy I have that to fall back on.
How has the musical community in Indiana and around affected you as an artist?
I mean for a while I felt a little outcasted in what was a small community of musicians in Indiana. But, I mean, the more I grow the more people I meet and it’s all just based on genuine friendship rather than any sort of political garbage that I feel like floats around in the music scene or movie scene or any kind of scene like that. It’s just like, you know, good down-to-earth people. They’re doing what they love. That’s how I’ve come to find a lot of my friends, which I’m really grateful for.
Do you feel there’s been a difference in how your music has been perceived in Lafayette versus Bloomington or just other places in general?
I don’t know if I’m really that self-aware. I mean as I progress to put out an album, especially with Portrait, it’s funny. I like came back for Christmas break and I don’t really push my music onto my friends necessarily, you know, just put it out and if they happen to hear it, great. But, I had a few of my friends treat me a little differently or call me an artist or (say) this is my career. And that was a little strange. I mean, I’ve never really had anyone notion me, like no one really knew what I was doing back in the day in Lafayette. But, now it seems like everyone — well, not everyone — but people who are important to me, are taking notice, which is nice. But, you know, I think just with any artist the more releases you put out the more visibility you have, but overall it’s just created more connections, I guess, if anything.
I’m kind of surprised with Portrait and just how this last year, like in Lafayette it seems like it wasn’t that much in the press, if you want to call it that. It just didn’t seem like it was as out there as it was other places, which is kind of interesting.
I mean I feel that’s kind of like how it’s always been for me. Even with Cro Magnon or just like anything I’ve done musically, it’s just kind of been not in the running in Lafayette. I don’t take it to heart.
I feel like the album, at least to me, there’s a lot of roots in what you’re doing. It’s kind of like a Lafayette album in a ways just because of your childhood and family experiences. It seems like a lot of that is in there. It’s kind of a shame, not saying it’s being ignored or anything, but I don’t know if it’s been as widely recognized as I’d expect.
I mean, I definitely agree. It’s all very recent to my growing up — that was Lafayette (laughs).
“I’d like to keep the idea of song and soundscape sort of in the same affinity.”
In 2011, you had the opportunity to tour in Europe as well as plays shows with a live band. How has the dynamic of performing with a live band affected how you write new material, if at all?
Well, playing with a live band and playing by myself are two completely different experiences, but I enjoy them both equally. Playing with a full band you put your confidence in other people’s musicianship. And, I write everything and I definitely give a lot of directionality toward my drummer and my second guitarist, Greg. But, at the same time there’s some songs where I’m like, “Alright, we’re going to play this and then we’re just going to go off and jam into outer space for like 10 minutes and just see how many people stick around.” And, you know, we do that and it’s so much fun. And, it’s the coolest feeling to be up front and have the band back you up. You just feel like so empowered. It’s as if you’re going to war and they’re your soldiers. You’ve got these people backing you. And, live it’s really had a great response. I mean, I can’t count the number of shows I’ve played where there are five people, but with the band word travels and people like to dance. And, people dancing to a Circuit des Yeux song is pretty funny (laughs).
That’s a good feeling. And, like writing-wise it’s much more compositional, because now I’m always thinking how would I translate this live. Whether or not it’s a little translation, note to note, or as long as I can get the same feeling across with another instrument or something — that’s always in the back of my head. I’m definitely a lot more analytical about my songwriting than I was before.
It’s interesting that you’re now thinking more of how things can be played live. Do you see Circuit des Yeux always continuing as a solo project, or do plan on incorporating other talents into the project?
These days everyone has to play a live show. That’s how you make money being a musician. The more I’m feeling this as my student loans are running out and I have to make a living somehow. It’s a dream. Everyone’s dream is to, you know, at least mine is my music, to be happy. So to do that, making money is playing shows and incorporating other people. And, I have to be very conscious, I guess — or I am very cautious and conscious of, you know, the stuff I’m writing these days.