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I first heard the then teenaged Haley Fohr/Circuit des Yeux in maybe 2007. She had the song "Binding Feet" on a Die Stasi Records compilation titled "XXperiments". The label was run by one Lane Hooker - I've since come to learn that isn't his real name nor did I ever think it was - who, it turns out, was in The Witness Protection Program at the time and has since moved on from Lafayette, Indiana to another Parts Unknown due to the wild success of his record label and the fact his landlord wouldn't allow dogs. At any rate, since those early days I've listened to everything Haley has released and some good stuff she hasn't. The comp cut was followed by a homemade CD-R with an excellent photo of Haley on its cover riding a horse. She and I are now actual real life, if distant, pals. I've seen her play live a few times. Never a false note, never any fear, never any missed opportunity to take it out on the ledge. Same with every recorded note I've heard.
No lesser a luminary than Tom Shannon calls her music "real" and would be happy to have the Cheater Slicks share a bill with her last I heard. What could I add to that? The following is an interview Haley and I did recently that focuses mostly on the challenges of getting her stupefyingly great current LP "Overdue" recorded and released. She don't whine. Many of us might have. She will get pissed if you tell her she sometimes sounds like Nico or if you mention her name in the same sentence with Patti Smith's or Lydia Lunch's or some other proto-hag. Go ahead; I dare you.
TB: Okay let’s begin with the tortured saga of "Overdue"...
So off I moved to the big city, with nothing to look forward to but a two day a week internship at Numero Group, a failed album, and someone I loved very dearly. I really thought I had it all figured out. But as life shows, no one has anything ever figured out. I don't want to go into the "woe is me" part of this story, so I'll just do a bullet point list of unfortunate circumstances that lead to the creative writing of "Overdue". HARDSHIPS:
-Living in an attic with no heat/AC for 6 months
-Moving into a $200 closet and contracting scabies that lasted for way too long
-The theft of all my musical equipment
-The reality of overdue bills and student debt OKAY:
-I found a job working at a bagel shop, where I was able to work overtime and save up to buy a 12 string and tape machine
-My internship slowly evolved into a paid part time gig
-I was living alone in that attic, which looking back, gave me a lot of space to write songs I was in Chicago, and although I knew people, I was avoiding most of the ones I did know from previous times. The city can be pretty daunting and mean. Finding friends and being social for the sake of being social has never been a strong part of my personality, and I was obviously having a hard time making connections. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, but a lot of people think otherwise, and take it the wrong way when I blow them off or don't take them up on some offer to go get trashed at a bar. That just doesn't seem constructive to me, more like a waste of time. Anyway, I was still making trips to Bloomington to record with John Dawson at Magnetic South (where the "failed record" was recorded), but it was a lot of effort to travel four hours each way, and we had finished one song, “My Name Is Rune”, in a weekend, working slowly towards something without a defined end. I think I did this to cut any sort of anxiety that time constraints can lead to, but my world was picking up, my money was running out, and Bloomington began to feel farther away than I had thought possible. So between September 2012 and January 2013 I was floating around, hiding out, and trying to find myself. It was a strange feeling, with little work, and no support system. Nowhere to go, nothing to lose, no routine, nothing familiar. This state only lasted for a few months, but it was so frightening and liberating at the same time. I felt like I was invisible in the world, with no one to check up on me, meaning I could get away with anything, and do anything, or do nothing at all. There was this line I read somewhere "Your life is nothing more than a shout down the street..." and I guess I really felt like that was me in true definition at the time. Not in a "what's the point" sort of way, but "what should I say, and why not say it while I can?" Looking back, I'm certain that any 23 year old could feel this, or anyone at any age going through a drastic life change. It eventually gave me a lot of fuel, and I started rapidly writing songs. The writing part of music was the only thing that would come easily to me.
Anyway, I went to go check out this studio my friend Cooper was recording at and he told me about this tape machine the owner of the studio was trying to sell. It was $1200 bucks and I said "How about we split the cost and co-own it? We could record my next record on it?" I don't think he really was considering buying this thing, but he was like "well, fuck...uhhh...yeah, let's do it! And we can set up a studio at Dan's house." I said "Ok!" Rent for the studio was $200 a month and Cooper lived right by this new place I was going to be moving into. Within five minutes I had decided to buy this 8 track Otari 1" tape machine (the most money I've spent on any musical equipment), decided to build a studio, and record an album. We decided February 1st to April would work just fine. I was a bit nervous at first. I wasn't sure how the recording would go. Would it be like last time, a total failure in my mind? However, I really didn't have anything else going for me, so why not? I found out later that Dan was squatting at the place I was recording at, and pocketing the $200 each month, but who gives a fuck really? The first week of "U.S.A Studios" consisted of building the studio. Cooper had the real vision, and when I saw the space, I saw that our elaborate plans weren't going to work out. So we decided to focus on making the control room as dead and soundproof as we could. I was saving these cardboard avocado shells from the bagel shop and he was using old clothes and stuffing them behind these scrap pieces of wood and cloth to create bass traps and round out all the corners in the room. We covered the walls with a quilt my grandmother gave me and old knitted blankets we picked up from a thrift store. Once we sound treated everything, we realized we were missing a big, vital piece of equipment to complete this studio, a mic-pre. Those that know me, and those that know Cooper know we wouldn't settle for anything less than tube. But a tube mic pre was around $400 bucks. Cooper knew I was broke as a joke, but at the same time foolishly willing to put forth every penny I had towards this project. We totally ripped off Guitar Center (TWICE) by "buying" a tube preamp from them, and making sure to return it within the 60 day return policy. We tracked everything in two months. We used the shit out of that preamp, and returned it with hours to spare, and got a full refund! "It just wasn't the sound we wanted." is what we told them. I remember sitting in the parking garage, feeling like we pulled off a pretty good scam, and drinking a celebratory tall boy with Cooper. That was a great victory. The recording itself was not ideal, but it worked well. Cooper didn't charge me a dime for recording, and since it was a squat situation, there was no heat, and it was fucking cold. We would meet whenever I felt like it, and whenever he had the time. "Acarina" was totally improvised, and I accidentally drank an entire fifth of Jim Beam before getting to the vocals, so there's that. "Bud & Gin" was a weird one, an instrumental one-ish take sort of thing. It had to be really good, you know, or it just wouldn't be compelling. Twelve hours, and we still didn't have a good take. I remember Cooper sort of cheering me on, saying "You can do this. You’re too in your head. You’re going to nail it this time." And then I would totally fuck up the take on the last measure. And we're doing this on tape, so it's not like he can rewind and punch me in on a finger picking track. Finally, I drove Cooper home that night and he was pissed and I was pissed, and it was really uncomfortable. I felt like I let him down, and wasn't good enough, and had wasted his time. I went back that night and tried to get the take myself, and was unsuccessful. The next day we came back and I got it on the first time. Cooper rewound and said, "Great! We got it! Now let's totally do it again." And I remember thinking "What the fuck!?!" but did it a second time, and it was even better. Cooper was great in that way, he would just keep pushing my buttons, even toward places I didn't think I could go.
We mixed it at Minbal Studios. They have a lot of outboard gear, and I really wanted to lush it out, and sort of overproduce it if I could. We worked with a string section for a couple songs which was cool, and you know, by the end of May the record was done. It was a great experience, it didn't feel rushed, and it all just sort of fit together. At the end of May I sent Clint/De Stijl the record and he was stoked on it. We had some minor beefs about artwork and shit, his label aesthetic vs. my artistic aesthetic, but nothing major. I can respect that, you know. It was originally going to be called "Every Day Is A Sale", and had some froufrou pic of me on the front cover. Everything was going okay, Clint was a little out of it, but he had done digital, I had it mastered by Carl Saff, artwork was taken care of, catalog number and release date set for Sept 9th. All that was left was to pay some bills and we'd be good to go. I got a call the last week of July from Clint saying he couldn't do the record. He gave little explanation, and although I'm pretty certain of the reasons, I'm sure it would be tacky for me to lay it all out there. I remember feeling sympathetic toward him in the moment, and saying "It's okay, I'll figure it out". Clint's a good friend, and I can understand sometime there are bumps in the road. On the other hand, I had all these bills to pay to finish the record that I couldn't cover, and every label I talked to was turning me down, and I wasn't really sure what to do about it all. I was really upset about it for quite some time to be honest. Clint's released every single one of my records since I was 17. So to be dropped, I guess, was hard for me to wrap my head around and it took a while to get over. Sitting around and waiting for shit to happen isn't really how I roll, and things weren't happening. So I decided to self release the record. It was a big decision, and I thought I could do it all on my own, but I really couldn't. Ba Da Bing! called me, and stepped in to offer a CD version, distribution, PR, and a co-release. I've been very very grateful to have them on my side. They're really invaluable people, and the attention they give to their artists is more than anyone could hope for. They're on my side, I call the shots, and they let me do everything I'd want to do. Other than that they just help with the money and planning of everything. I've learned so much in this release. How to press a record (Musicol), where and how to hand screen my album jackets, where to buy jackets, how to generate a barcode, ISRC codes, a bunch of bullshit that goes into creating a product. All aspects were very stressful for a while, and I'd throw a few tantrums since all I want to do is be creative and create and I'm stuck trying to figure outfuckin’ metadata or some bullshit obstacle like emailing people and bugging them to even listen to your record. I just couldn't deal with that part, so thank God for Ba Da Bing! for those instances. When Clint passed on the record, you know, it's like letting someone hold your baby, and watching them drop it into oncoming traffic. I wasn't about to let anyone hold my baby for a while after that. And I thought the only way was to see it through myself, and by that point it meant so much more to me than when I had first recorded it. So I changed the title to “Overdue”, and the overall imagery to recreate something. And you know, I feel like where I'm coming from a lot of people are coming from. America is fucked right now, everyone is broke, and everything is overdue. I'm not going to go into the philosophical importance of the name "Overdue" and the record’s themes and blah blahblah, but it feels right, and I think my stars are aligning to some degree. I'm ready to tour on this forever, and to live a minimalist sort of life. Free of the weight of belongings, and to have the ability to travel and play music for whoever is really willing to listen. It's a fucking struggle, but I realize everyone is struggling, many much more than I am. So finally after all of these setbacks, it'll be available on LP/ CD (First ever CDY CD!) / MP3/ CS on October 29th.
Circuit des Yeux Discography
"Mary" cassette (self-released - 2008)
"Symphone" LP (De Stijl Records - 2008)
"Sirenum" LP (De Stiljl Records - 2009)
"Circuit Des Yeux" 7" (Dull Knife - 2009)
"Degrees of Seperation" cassette (Night People - 2010)
"Ode To Fidelity" 7" (De Stijl Records - 2010)
"Portrait" LP (De Stijl Records - 2011)
"CDY3" 10" (Magnetic South - 2013)
"Overdue" LP (Lewis & Lynn Records/Ba Da Bing! - 2013)
Interview by Dinosaur Mahaffey, 2013. To read other TB interviews, go here.
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