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In Conversation with Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux

Haley Fohr's Circuit des Yeux is a personal statement.
Haley Fohr's Circuit des Yeux is a personal statement.
Julia Dratel

Haley Fohr’s sixth full-length as Circuit des Yeux, Reaching for Indigo, was inspired by a revelation. The Chicago-based singer-songwriter documents it on "Brainshift," one of best songs on the record. "Brainshift / Like a tidal wave," she sings, in her inimitable tenor.

The sound of Fohr's voice has always been otherworldly — husky, resonant, deep blue — but it’s never sounded quite as resonant as it does here, surrounded by spooky psychedelic rock, haunted folk, and pulsing minimalist melodies. For 2016's country noir detour Jackie Lynn, Fohr adopting a clever disguise and crafted a Lynchian fictive backstory; Reaching for Indigo drops the mask and offers a direct download of Fohr’s inner truth.

Fohr spoke with Phoenix New Times from Chicago, where she was prepping to hit the road on tour. She's scheduled to perform at The Lunchbox on Monday, January 29.

New Times: With your last album, you created an alter ego named Jackie Lynn and a fictitious story. Reaching For Indigo feels more personal. Were you more consciously focused on being yourself with this record?
Haley Fohr: Yeah. When I’m making a record as Circuit des Yeux, there is a lack of a filter in a lot of ways. I don’t think it was something I consciously thought about, it’s just something that always is. It comes from a really deep place.

Do the songs always feel pretty personal for you with this project?
They always resonate in a very personal way, almost like they’re my children. But I think they vary…I accidentally listened to a song from Overdue, which is a record I made in 2013. I was slightly embarrassed, I was like, "Wow, I’m really putting it out there, wearing my heart on my sleeve in this real way." It’s not that the songs I make now [aren’t personal] but they are more refined. There’s a universalness that was missing from my earlier work paired with the personal.

This record is a very collaborative. In addition to producer Cooper Crain [of Bitchin Bajas], you’ve got a wide cast of players on this record. How did that alter your approach with this record?
I really wanted to tap into this community we have in Chicago — it’s a one of kind music city. It made me write differently. I had to give up some freedom in some ways, but I also had to have a lot more confidence and language. I don’t compose on sheet music and give it to players — I might have some chord structures or melodies — but I felt like it really pushed me as the captain of the boat. I had to be more fluent.

Making a record by yourself requires a lot less conversation in terms of what you’re looking to achieve.
There were a lot more surprises. Sometimes, I had to let go of things I was fixated on. Cooper is kind of the first person I worked with outside of myself. We have a psychedelic, crazy connection. He can read my mind and I feel like I read his a little bit. I run into this problem where I have these ideas in the world and they’re totally unrealistic and I just find people who tell me, “That’s crazy.” But with Cooper, instead of giving me that narrative, he’s always on the same page and he pushes me one step further. He’s the only person I’ve found who can reach me and find me in that way.

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The record is very layered. Has it been a challenge to take these songs apart and put them back together for live performance?
It’s been a challenge physically. I’ve been rehearsing and I find myself asking, “Why did I choose this arrangement?” It really pushes me vocally in this way I haven’t dealt with. But it’s pushing me into growth. [That's] what it’s doing. It’s pretty intimate, there’s not much to hide behind.

It’s a tendency to think of the recorded version of the song as the definitive version, but it’ll be fascinating to see where these songs go in a live setting.
Right now we’re all getting really comfortable within the songs. I feel like the recording is the infancy of a song, and now we’re letting it grow into adulthood.

Circuit des Yeux is scheduled to perform Monday, January 29, at LBX. Tickets are $8 via Ticketfly.

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