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Circuit des Yeux: Confessional lo-fi

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  • Cory Popp
The promise of Cataracts Music Festival, a new festival taking place tomorrow (Sept. 17) in Fountain Square, is to present “emerging and celebrated musical talents” in an intimate setting. Four homes will open up in a show of hospitality, each presenting an afternoon and evening's worth of live music.

No stranger to opening up herself, Haley Fohr will bring her Circuit Des Yeux persona to the festival, playing the Dave Cave stage. Fohr’s latest album, Portrait, continues her maturation as a songwriter and recording artists. The 21-year-old has been recording under her pseudonym for 4 years, pounding out confessional lo-fi inspired by like-minded outsiders Jandek and old blues and folk.

“I've always considered myself an old soul," Fohr says. "I spend many of my Friday nights wrapped in an electric blanket, drinking tea, and listening to records.”

Hear: Portrait (via Bandcamp)

Fohr’s musical roots began at an early age with the accidental discovery of her unique voice at a middle school chili cook-off in 2000: “I was in sixth grade and had my first solo. I remember I had braces, awkwardly had my hair pulled back in these butterfly clips (those of you girls who grew up in the 90's know what I'm talking about), and had a couple too many hot dogs. My parents were preparing for the worst, afraid of what was about to come out of my mouth as I stood front and center behind the microphone. Whatever did come out of my mouth was something neither of them ever expected. I was enrolled in private lessons a couple weeks after, continuing for the next 9 years.”

Fohr says her voice is her "main weapon": "It's always the last thing I record; I lay out the instrumentation, and rarely have much written vocally. Sometimes I just let it ride and see what comes out, like on "Weighed Down" — it was totally improvised. Whatever tones fly out of my mouth just happens in the moment. I've always been drawn to the more minor, offsetting tones.”

It wasn’t until eighth grade when the gift of a guitar began to shape Fohr’s post-competition music.

“I taught myself a few things, or just played around really," she says. "I started my first band Cro Magnon in 2007, where I entirely made up chords strumming with a quarter instead of a pick.”

Her adolescent musings morphed into Circuit Des Yeux, an outlet for her frustrations and social insecurities while enrolled in the nuclear engineering program at Purdue.

”I felt completely lost," Fohr says. "I remember I would eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every night completely alone. I could never sleep, never did my homework, and eventually flunked out after a couple years. Right when my life was supposed to be taking off, I felt it falling apart.”

Fohr went a different route, taking a year off, honing her work. She was eventually accepted it the IU recording arts program, one of 15 applicants who made the cut. Fohr is also studying ethnomusicology at IU.

The lessons learned through her studies manifest themselves in Portrait: "I focused on trying for cleaner tracks, and less on production values. It's a pretty straight forward record. I wanted it to sound somewhat warm, or timeless.”

Circuit des Yeux at Brooklyns Silent Barn in 2009
  • Impose Magazine
  • Circuit des Yeux at Brooklyn's Silent Barn in 2009

Fohr's ready to try out a new approach, production-wise: “I've retired recording to my 4-track. I have so many ideas in my head that I'm collecting for the next record. I'd really like to do my next record in a studio on 1" or 2" tape. I can feel myself working in a more compositional way, which would be very good for a studio I think. I'd really like to do a ‘production’ record. I am becoming more and more confident in my talent as an engineer, and would like to have a record that fully embodies what I have to show as a tracking engineer, mixing engineer, and producer all in one.”

But a change in scenery need not equal a change in philosophy: "The deeper I fall into this world of commercial engineering; it all seems like such a farce. To me, it is much more important to capture the experience of the song, all mistakes included. Everything that I have and will ever record is played straight through. If I mess up on a note three minutes in, I may go back and re-record the entire take, or just leave it in.”

This confidence not only found its way onto Portrait; it lent itself to Fohr’s first European tour during the summer, where Fohr got a taste of the difference between American and European crowds: “Standing ovations, encores, everything was really well attended. It was obvious, in some countries when the lyrics wouldn't translate, and that was difficult. My music now is lyrically based more than ever before, but somehow the feeling would translate. Touring Europe by foot/train was one of the most physically and mentally challenging tours I have ever been on, but by far the most rewarding, and I hope to get the chance to go back soon.”

But how will the crowd react to a rare Indianapolis performance? “My live set has evolved to a full band now. It is dark, loud, and pummeling, so I expect everyone's undivided attention. If not, I'll probably just grab the microphone and tell everyone "Shut up or else!" I have oftentimes had issues grabbing the attention of others solo, and, generally, the less respect I am given during my set, the louder and noisier I become, until it is impossible for people to talk over what it is I'm trying to convey.”

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