Circuit Des Yeux

Interview by Julia Yudelman
Photography by David Kasnic in Chicago, USA

‘It’s a relief to be back,’ says Haley Fohr, the dazzling mind behind Chicago-based avant-folk outfit Circuit Des Yeux. After a considerable hiatus spent touring as Jackie Lynn, Fohr’s cocaine-queen alter ego, Fohr, has returned to CDY with a fresh album and a new lease on life. The latest release in her impressive repertoire, Reaching for Indigo, is equal parts celestial and cinematic. Synthesizers, strings and guitars swirl around inexorably and infectiously, grounded by Fohr’s signature baritone, which swings between operatic intonations and primal howls. Speaking to Fohr as she prepares for her upcoming tour, you immediately get the sense that the 28-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way. For Fohr, songs don’t stand alone as individual singles, but form part of an entire journey – one that emanates straight from her heart and spirals out into the cosmos. In our Spotify-obsessed world, we may be told that the LP is dead. But with Reaching for Indigo, Fohr proves there is indeed life after death. You just have to intuit it.

Why the colour indigo in Reaching for Indigo?

So indigo is a really interesting colour. Colours have frequencies, like a number attached to them, kind of like a frequency in audio. But with indigo, it’s never really been scientifically defined. It’s a spectrum on a rainbow, but scientists have never really agreed on what exactly indigo is. In human culture, it’s been celebrated and honoured for centuries as the sixth chakra, which is intuition, or the third eye. I find intuition really hard to utilize in today’s world. With the internet, and the swiftness of the media, and overpopulation, I just feel overstimulated. So for me it was kind of like, returning to intuition and following that internal knowledge.

To be a working and successful artist in today’s time, you have to be malleable, you have to bend

I know that you’re a big advocate of home recordings. Why is that so important to you vs. working in a studio?

I guess initially it stemmed from my means. I’ve never had a large budget for recording and everything I’ve done, I paid for myself. Now that I’m, you know, deep into my discography, when people approach me with money, I have a hard time taking it, just because there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and ownership is so hard to hold onto these days. But also artistically, I’m more comfortable when your mind’s not on the clock. I think you’re able to re-approach some songs and accompaniment in like, a more careful way. Each song that Cooper and I captured is basically because we had ample amount of time at home. We would try something out and then really dig in because we had the freedom to do that. For instance, with overdubs and the arrangements, Cooper and I get pretty deep. Like on ‘Brainshift’ there’s a backing vocal part that’s 16 or 18 vocals stacked on top of one another.

You’ve put so much care and time into this album despite, as you said, our fast-paced digital world, and losing some ownership of your stuff. Like, when I google your name the first thing that comes up is Spotify. Does that bother you?

Yeah. I do think that to be a working and successful artist in today’s time, you have to be malleable, you have to bend. I think one of my strong points is how prolific I am, which might not have worked in the ‘60s or the ‘80s. People digest things so quickly [now]; that it works in my favour. Things like Spotify and streaming, I really don’t like. I don’t think it’s good for my music. This new album isn’t on Spotify, which wasn’t necessarily my decision, but in hindsight I think, I don’t write singles. I write albums. And I think it should be listened to in a cohesive whole. Live, we’re going to do the same. Do it from start to finish. If I’ve learned anything from releasing this record, it’s that there’s still a marketplace for that.

Totally. Well, I have to ask. Your alter ego Jackie Lynn is awesome. Is that like a David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust kind of distinction?

Yeah I mean, I did some research and I thought the way that David Bowie approached Ziggy Stardust was pretty inspiring, pretty effective. I’ve gotten a lot of comparisons to Chris Gaines – [country singer Garth Brooks’ alternate persona], which I’m not inspired by at all. [Laughs] But yeah, I do think it’s pretty individual. I wasn’t trying to repeat anyone else’s artistic steps, and I really gained a lot of perspective through that project.

What kind of perspective?

Well, I thought I was untethering myself from identity in a lot of ways, but in fact I think it was the opposite. I take a lot of time to write, so this was supposed to buy me time for this Reaching for Indigo album, but in fact I just created a second band that people kind of cared about. So that was a lot of responsibility. And on a technical, selfish side I just wanted to write smaller songs – shorter songs that were easier to digest – and like, sing more words, and be more of a poignant lyricist instead of going existential all the time, which is something I have to do just to deal with my mind sometimes.

I don’t write singles. I write albums.

How do you feel getting back to CDY now, after doing that other persona, really?

It definitely felt like a departure, and I guess I feel the largest difference in a live context. When I’m performing as Jackie Lynn, and Jackie Lynn’s doing her thing, it’s fun but there’s something missing — something’s not satiated. I have such a hunger to return back to my heart and what’s coming from the demon side of me. Practicing and rehearsing for this tour, it’s just so fulfilling. It’s all about challenging my voice and trying to go as far as I can vocally; everything just feels so real and personal as CDY, so it’s a relief to be back.  The mysterious thing that people don’t talk about: where your heart’s at really does make a difference.

You’ve been doing CDY for 10 years. Back when you were a teenager, where did you think music would take you?

Everything I have in my life now has been brought to me through music.

I mean, it was definitely a dream. As a young teenager, you’ve got so much potential, everyone wants to know, what are you going to do in the world. So just surviving as a musician has been a goal of mine, and I’m doing that. What I didn’t expect is how everything I have in my life now has been brought to me through music. Like, all the people in my life. It’s kind of insane. All the beautiful gifts that I’ve been given have been through the conduit of music. That’s really profound, and really rewarding. I guess in a career sense it’s been a pretty slow burn. But I’m one of those artists: I just know I’m going to do it forever. I think I have pretty loyal fans. I might not have like, the most amount of fans, but I think they’re pretty with me.

They’re in it for life. I definitely noticed that.

[Laughs] Yeah. So I mean hopefully 10 years, 20 years from now I can still say the same thing, and just keep doing what I’m doing.

Circuit des Yeux plays The Rest Is Noise in the Muziekgebouw on 19 February. Show free for members. Reaching for Indigo was released on Drag City Records 20 October 2017.