Should the title of Circuit des Yeux’s latest album, Overdue, be taken literally, Haley Fohr has had this record burrowed deep inside her psyche for quite some time. Throughout Fohr’s discography, there have been a number of breathtaking moments of both the awe-inspiring and clutch at your throat variety, but never did it seem there was a time to exhale. Reflect on 2009’s Sirenum and 2011’s stunning Portrait and it’s easy to find beauty and grace and even melody, but again, most of the time you had to dig to find it or perhaps hallucinate its presence. It seems obfuscation through noise and primal clatter has never been Fohr’s preference, but rather a way of life, an instinctual trigger to ward off those who might become too attached, a Jekyll and Hyde duality that refused to set a balance.
Overdue is where the strings come in. Overdue is where Fohr pushes any angst aside (save the chilling “I Am”) and reserves it for the album’s cathartic closer. It’s a record that embraces change and utilizes that change as a challenge. But don’t interpret change as transformation. Transformations are for butterflies and robots. Overdue is more about exploration (she explores instrumental folk on “Bud and Gin” and operatic composition on “Lithonia”) and evolution. At the album’s center, as always, is Fohr’s unwavering voice. As a siren, it guides each song through the increased peaks and valleys and dark black chasms found in these heightened recordings. Overdue serves as a detailed map of where Fohr has been (going from West Lafayette, Indiana to school in Bloomington and onto the hustle and bustle of her new adopted base of Chicago) and where she’s undoubtedly headed.
I recently caught up with Fohr on the eve of a national tour opening for Bill Callahan to talk about, among many things, how all of this change has affected her as an artist and musician.
Right from the start of the album, you can tell this is a different approach for you. Is everything still of your hand completely?
Haley Fohr: This is the first album that I invited other musicians to play and invited another person to record the sounds. It’s been a great experience. Estlin Usher arranged “Lithonia,” and I hired a quartet. Cooper Crane tracked everything, which was a big load off my mind. I really had to push outside my boundaries and reach uncharted territories. Each of these musicians helped me achieve that goal. The credits are actually featured on the front of the album.
I know you just graduated from Indiana University with a degree in music. I can definitely hear an evolution on Overdue. Do you attribute a lot of what you learned at school to this evolution?
HF: Absolutely. I learned so much about sound, patience, and discipline. I had a friend, Grace, who was double-majoring as an audio engineer and performance in cello. She told me she would practice five hours a day in between classes and I thought that was pretty incredible. I began practicing guitar a lot, sometimes eight hours a day. We also had these “critical listening” assignments that were just great. The production on those Top 40 radio hits is insane! Eight reverbs, six delays, so much automation—it was really interesting to me. I definitely went into recording Overdue with overproduction in mind.
A lot has been made about the environment in which Overdue was recorded, how you constructed a studio for the sole purpose of making the album. Can you elaborate as to how this setting enhanced the mood of the music?
HF: Well, the songs were completely demoed before going into the studio, something I had never done. There were some pros and cons to the studio. We built it out ourselves and put a lot of effort into it, so in a way it was a sacred space. There wasn’t a huge time constraint. Cooper was open to recording whenever I felt like it, and we’d be there from 10am to midnight on any day of the week for two months. That gave a lot of room for retakes and getting shit really tight. It was really, really cold in the studio, and I remember loving to do overdubs since I was able to sit in the control room, where it was warmer. I think the moods of the songs were imbedded when they were written, but USA Studios was a comfortable and creative space, and that is very important when recording.
And your move to Chicago? Did that transition feed into the music at all?
HF: There has been a lot of change in my life in the past year, with location being the main contribution. It changed my perspective on the world. Both my home at the time and USA Studios were located in Pilsen. It’s a very alive place and constantly crawling with things. That specific neighborhood and my surroundings really had a lot to do with the record and some of the ideas that were going through my mind at the time. I think all of my records are closely tied to the location of recording.
On “Lithonia,” you say, “Isn’t it grand to have a second chance?” I feel like this line in particular is emblematic of the record as a whole. Is Overdue a “second chance,” and if so, from what? I’m more of the inclination that this album is a new skin, forcing yourself to make the record you’ve always wanted to make.
HF: I don’t really like translating my own lyrics for others. They’re multi-dimensional. The record, as a whole, is in response to the abstract confines that money can put on a person and the arbitrary nature of time. I’m attempting to focus my lens on the world. Consumerism and escapism are both ideas that have been imbedded in me, thus they find their way into Overdue. I’m thinking in broader terms than just myself.
Speaking to that, have you had a record of this scope in your head for a while, but not had the resources to fulfill that vision?
HF: I’ve been writing this record in my mind since Portrait. A lot of maturation had to happen for me to get to Overdue. I didn’t have any time constraints, so if I decided I wanted a string quartet, I would wait a week, a month, however long until I had the money for those resources. I want this record to be forever. Now that I didn’t have any obligations to school, I would work and save and work and save until I could seek out my vision to the fullest.
I also think there is a lot of concentration on “freedom” and “dreams” vs. “growing up” and “reality.” Are those themes that informed the writing here?
HF: Yeah. I can see the confines of life and this box society can try to force on a person. I feel like an outlier, and while I’ve been seeking out my own reality for a while, I’m pushing towards living a life out of the norm within our world. I’ve evolved from a child with a vivid imagination, to an angsty teen with a bright future, finally to a grown woman who is considered a dream chaser. I feel like maybe a lot of people who don’t personally know me are confused by my actions. Tangible things that are indicators of success aren’t exactly happening for me. I hope I can be an example for someone young out there, of creating your own dream and following through. It’s not “The American Dream,” but I came from nothing, and I think finally after seven years, I’m starting to get to something. But I’m really happy right now in life. I feel a slow momentum evolving and I think if I keep working, keep on walking, I’m never going to run out of road.
There’s more leaning towards classical and folk on Overdue. Though I think everything you do is wholly personal and of your own design, were there any particular records or general inspiration for this shift?
HF: I honestly think every record I’ve made as Circuit des Yeux has been a folk record. I remember playing Columbus and talking to Matt Whitehurst after Symphone was released in ‘08. I was telling him how I wanted to be a folk singer and write folk songs. Obviously my earlier releases fell more into the avant-garde/experimental realm, but they never seemed so warped in my mind or so obviously strange at the time. I can’t say that any records gave me inspiration. I think it was just over time listening to a lot of singer-songwriter material and practicing often helped me translate a folk element a bit more clearly.
And the title of the record, Overdue, what’s the significance of that?
HF: There is a lot of subtext to the title. Anxiety, arbitrary time lines, money, the unrelenting clock, getting from one paycheck to the next, a falter, a pause in a moment where there should be action, not having arrived, things that are expected, a time that is too late, etc. Just looking at the word on a page invokes an anxious feeling. But then I have to think, “Why?” Overdue? What the fuck does that even mean? I want to make my own time lines and I’ve got my whole life to do what I want to do.
You’ve said how important this record is for you. What sets it apart from your past?
HF: Everything just feels right. I really gave it my all. I wrote it, recorded it, helped create a studio, started my own record company to put it out, etc. I feel like this record is more a part of me than anything I have ever created. It’s totally engulfed me as a person. I can’t go out and have a social life because every penny I made I put into this project. It’s taken over my entire identity. It’s an indescribable moment. But it’s a nice moment to be in.