Haley Fohr’s music is a tight binary of traditionally beautiful sounds and bracing, distorted noise. Under the name Circuit des Yeux, the 25-year-old has already released four albums, including last October’s Overdue. She started recording herself in her bedroom as a teenager in rural Indiana, then studied music production at Indiana University. She now lives in Chicago, where she continues to make music.
On Overdue, Fohr’s dramatically deep voice, throaty and quavering even as delivers lyrics with massive implications—like on “Lithonia,” when she gleefully proclaims, “Doesn’t it feel grand to have a second chance?” as classical strings unravel behind her. It’s the most arresting track on the album, and we’re happy to be able to exclusively premiere the video here today.
I talked to Haley last week, and she offered some insight into the dichotomies at play in her music and explained why she never, ever wants to be called a “confessional singer.”
CAITLIN WHITE: Tell me about this song.
HALEY FOHR: The song itself is self-explanatory: It’s just a figure finding their way, finding their own path, and having doubts along the way. The name came after I wrote it–I was washing the dishes in my kitchen, and there’s this really ugly fluorescent light that hangs over the sink. I looked up and [saw that] the company [that made the light] is called Lithonia. I just thought it made sense—the unnatural light and the unnaturalness of our society.
I noticed that you edited this video. Did you also come up with the concept for it? What does the video convey in your mind?
The video was shot by Cory Popp–he shot it and then he got wrapped up doing some stuff for the Food Channel. I have learned my way through music by doing it DIY, so I just [the editing] myself. [Cory] had hours of footage, so I cut it down into what I wanted to convey.
There’s always this underlying factor within my music, and the visual aspect of my project, which is the duality between ugliness and beauty. I think people use [ugliness and beauty] in an objectifying way. And it’s just a matter of opinion, really, what’s beautiful and what’s ugly. I think with women, especially, there’s this pressure to conform to something that might be considered beautiful. And I don’t agree with that. Many things that people might consider an eyesore I consider beautiful, so I try to incorporate some of that sort of imagery and juxtapose it. Like in this video, I’m doing my makeup and I’m getting ready, and in the final frames it’s me done up with lipstick cut between a more violent, surreal image of me.
Another thing I was trying to accomplish was a feeling of intimacy without relying on sexuality. I feel like that’s also intertwined with beauty. And sexual intimacy? I think it’s the easy way out. I use these really close long shots, so that when you’re watching it you’re getting to know me even though you don’t know me, and seeing a certain side of me that’s intimate without being sexual.
I’m glad you mentioned that ugliness/beauty duality, because one thing I loved so much about this album was hearing all these really beautiful strings combined with all this distortion.
I think that binary is both subconscious and conscious. The No Wave scene [of the late ’70s was really influential to me when I was a kid just getting into music, and that’s all atonal—Kim Gordon–style guitar that’s kind of thinking outside of the box. Then college I really got into outsider folk artists. I think this record embodies those ends of the spectrum and tries to bring them together in some sort of way. Putting the soft with the harsh and the ugly with the beautiful.
A lot of critics call your music as “sad” or “intense” or “dour.” Which I definitely hear in it, but it seems like people immediately latch onto an idea of “a woman making sad music.” They don’t do that as much with men.
That absolutely rings true to me. My music is dark and emotional and driven by obstacles in life, but it’s about overcoming more than anything. I don’t know if it’s playing off this archaic idea that women are more in touch with their emotions than men, but that’s nothing that I am trying to cater to, or that I’m even paying attention to. The last thing I want to be considered is a “confessional singer.”
People compare you to Nico a lot. What do you think of that?
That always bothers me! I enjoy The Marble Index, one of her records, a lot. But I feel like women are always being compared against women! Or a woman is [called] a “female version” of a Leonard Cohen. Why can’t a guy be a guy version of a girl? People are always putting women in this competitive field, and I don’t think of it that way at all. It’s a barrier. You’re a woman first and a musician second. I don’t dress myself up, I don’t try to sexualize myself in any way. I want to be as gender neutral as possible. I don’t want to hide being a woman; I just don’t want to be a “product” that’s a woman. I want to be a lens for humanity. ♦
Caitlin Cristin White lives in New York City.