One-woman bedroom expat Circuit Des Yeux learns to branch out
Circuit Des Yeux is the recording persona of Haley Fohr. Pronounce the first word English-style, the rest in French. “Its translation is ‘the nerve that leads the eye to sight,’” she says. “It’s not really a natural thing—it’s just something I kind of created.”
That’s not the only thing that Fohr, who was raised in Lafayette, Ind., has invented. The Midwest breeds artists who are stubborn and singular out of necessity—that’s what it takes to transcend the cultural milieu. She started making records in 2007, the summer after she graduated from high school. Those early LPs, issued by De Stijl, articulate an entirely solitary perspective; they were written, sung and played entirely alone. Their rudimentary instrumentation and murky recording are balanced by Fohr’s decidedly non-amateurish singing, which had been honed by training and competition since the first grade. Her contralto voice has a supple maneuverability, even at its deepest pitch, and that projects extreme emotional states with withering power.
Years of solo touring on the basement punk and noise circuit actually reinforced the internalized character of her music. “I would get onstage and tap into something, and I would not even notice the audience,” she says. But in 2013, she forged an alliance with engineer and multi-instrumentalist Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin Bajas), and through him began working with the Chicago-based musicians who appear on her fourth album Overdue (Ba Da Bing!). Subsequently, she moved to the city.
While Fohr is at the controls on In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey), the fifth Circuit Des Yeux LP is a more communal affair. Guest musicians contribute woodwinds and strings that infuse the grainy black-and-white sonics of her early platters with timbral color. On “Do The Dishes,” a chopped and looped sample taken from a Southeast Asian mouth-organ record forms a hurtling rhythm, which matches the pace that Fohr sustains through rounds of chores and a nude run on a treadmill in the song’s accompanying video. Its images of desperate domesticity, utter vulnerability and quiet recovery indicate that Fohr is thinking about other peoples’ lives.
“For a long while, I think I used writing and music as a chance to work through things within myself,” she says. “Now I have reached an age where I really want to be a part of society, and I want to give something back.”
This impulse has also led Fohr to begin working with other musicians. Despite her dismissive assertion that she was just a “side guy,” her voice brings a transformative emotional presence to the trance-inducing patterns on Mind Over Mirrors’ latest release, The Voice Calling (Immune). And on a wild new single, she and ex-Harry Pussy guitarist Bill Orcutt do gladiatorial battle over the course of four brief, unnamed songs.
“I’ve made it a point for 2015 to be my collaborative year,” she says. “I’m trying to work with other people and learn from them and grow in that way.” She’s off to a hell of a start.
“So, we got in touch, or we’ve been in touch off and on,” she says, “but I got in touch and said I’d be interested if you ever need a vocalist, so he sent me about an hour of material, and I was a huge fan of Harry Pussy in high school—I used to be in a punk band that was kind of like a Harry Pussy worship band, and so I know his vibe. It’s pretty raw, there’s not much overdubbing or anything, so I did it kind of true to the form. I just took a day when I was feeling a certain way and like ripped four or five tracks, and they’re all between 20 seconds and a minute and a half. And they’re all going to be on that single. It was pretty easy and pretty great.”