Haley Fohr is a solo artist with a strong sense of the mysterious. We first caught her opening for Jenny Hval playing solo as Circuit des Yeux back in 2015 and were completely taken with her eerie folk, tenor-range alto, and ambiguous stage presence.
We’ve taken every chance to see Fohr perform since, whether as Circuit des Yeux or her electronica-fused side project, Jackie Lynn. Circuit des Yeux was back in Denmark to play a Saturday set on the Gloria stage at this year’s Roskilde, this time backed by a drummer and violist. Bolstered by these added textures, Fohr stood out as a strong force building up and controlling the dark vibes around her.
Circuit des Yeux just announced a new album, Reaching for Indigo, out on October 20 on a new label, Drag City. While she couldn’t divulge too many details about the album at the time of our chat, Fohr did elaborate on her working style and where she is as a musician now ten years into her career:
Is this your first time at Roskilde?
I’ve played Denmark a couple of times, but only in Copenhagen. This was my first time outside of that city.
We’ve never seen you play as Circuit des Yeux with a backing band before.
This is quite stripped down, I’d say. Usually I play with five to six people. So it was nice to finally have that represented in some way, even if it’s only a three piece. We’ll be back next year with a new record and there will be many more people on stage and I’m really excited for that.
You introduced new songs in your set today. What are you working on now?
I guess I’m just following my muse and the songs are getting longer, pushing around eight to 20 minutes instead of the more truncated style. With this new material I really went big and it kind of sounds expensive. I recorded it all at home still, but there’s a lot of strings and a lot of trombone and synthesizer. I feel like I expanded my textures in this way. It’s much different than anything I’ve done, and that’s how each of my records are I think. Or I try anyway, you know?
Did you work with a lot of other musicians on the record?
It’s very collaborative. I’m definitely steering a tighter ship these days, but it features a lot more jazz musicians from Chicago. I feel like it was kind of post-rock before, but I’ve got a lot more people that are from the Chicago jazz scene involved.
Talking about your home studio, has having that set-up affected how you work?
I’ve never done a proper studio record. Ever. I’ve never recorded and mixed in a studio. That’s something I look forward to maybe later down the road, but right now I find that I work in a longer timeframe that’s a little more on my schedule than eight hours in the studio. It’s expensive and I feel like I can explore more and have the freedom to find what’s right for a song.
This new one was a little more laborious emotionally. I feel like it’s really cinematic. My music’s always been more album-oriented than song-oriented, which is harder to do in this day and age because of things like Spotify and streaming. But this new one’s even more like a film. Start to finish I feel like it makes more sense than if you pick a song out. Which to me is a cool development. I define it as a success.
Has working on Jackie Lynn as a stand-alone project influenced your new work as Circuit des Yeux?
Totally. Jackie Lynn was a truncated idea that came more from my brain and it was very narrative. With Circuit des Yeux, I feel like I’m almost a slave to a feeling. It’s kind of chaotic. I write songs but then they always turn themselves into something else at the whim of chaos. Jackie Lynn was definitely a one-off, but it was a nice exercise just to really define — “It’s going to be like this.” — and it was. It was like, “I can do that. I can make a two-and-a-half minute song and make it how I want it to be and embody a world in a different way.” Which was really freeing to make me feel like I was in control again. I’d like to do more of that, too. It works a different part of my creativity.
Do you feel like your performance is evolving with the songs?
I think my stage presence has changed. Circuit des Yeux doesn’t ever really feel like a performance, it feels like me. And my comfort level is growing. To be on stage is a thing in itself. To make that commitment uncomfortable — it always has been, but now I just talk a lot more to the people involved in the production. Today I was like, “No front lights, no white lights.” I’m really communicative about the things that make me uncomfortable, and that’s made it easier for me.
But also, standing up straight — I don’t know, I’m always slouching, I have my hair in my face — that’s just how I am. That’s just who I am on earth. I feel like that’s definitely evolved, just like owning my space. I feel like that’s also just part of growing up as woman. Anyone that does anything creative or maybe off the beaten path, your 20s are pretty awkward. Now I’m 28, when I started I was 18. You’re gonna grow into yourself and love yourself more the older you get.
Being comfortable with yourself would be necessary if you’re bringing in more collaborators as well. You would need to take on more of a directorial role to coordinate and get what you want across.
Certainly. And for me I really like to straddle this line of — I work with primarily experimental musicians that all have their own outlet and it’s pretty free. I don’t really like to work with session musicians, and my direction is pretty abstract. I talk a lot and explain what I want, but I will never say, like, “I want a G on the third beat of this measure.” I’ll say, like, “You sound like leaves wrestling and I want butterflies in the sky.” But it works. To me it’s always a balance of chaos and direction.
When can we expect the new album?
You can expect the details of that album on the first of August, but I can’t tell you when it’s going to be out. But I’m really excited. I feel like things have coalesced in a way where I’m steering the ship and it feels good. Everything feels right and I’ve got a beautiful team and people that will work within my means, which are not exactly the norm. I’m not down to play a bar. I’m really specific these days. So I feel lucky to work with people who also have a specific idea and are willing to honor that artistic expression.