Circuit des Yeux is the main project of Chicago musician Haley Fohr, an adventurous songwriter who uses her rich baritone to emphasize the gravitas of its own strange beauty. On “Do The Dishes,” the first single from her fifth album In Plain Speech and a koan of sorts, she beautifully navigates the concept of isolation in women’s day-to-day, drawing on a theme we’ve seen in the work of great feminist artists from Judy Chicago to Tracey Emin.
There are just a few lyrics in the whole three-minute, 30-second song: There is something deep/ inside of you/something that’s worth reaching into/ It/ makes me tremble/ It makes me shake/ It’s a risk/ I’m willing to take.
The NSFW video, which makes its debut here, digs in on the concept. Directed by Julia Dratel, Fohr herself is alone with a poodle in a home that seems vast, luxurious, and empty. She mixes hamburger in a bowl, does dishes in a sink, runs on a treadmill. At a certain point, she strips totally naked—a truly courageous, probably defiant artistic decision for a woman artist on the indie circuit—and runs into nowhere, her nakedness redolent of the sorrow women can feel without a network.
It’s a beautiful work, as is In Plain Speech (out May 19 on Thrill Jockey Records), and I chatted with Fohr over email about its specifics—the message, the intent, the creation.
JEZEBEL: To me, this recalls all that feminist art from the ‘70s and ‘90s (Chicago, Emin) who shined a light on the feminism of the everyday. Were you thinking about that at all with the concept?
Fohr: I wasn’t thinking of those women in particular or their movements, but I am comforted by the comparison. Julia and I looked at a few Chantal Akerman films including “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” & “Female Gaze” for inspiration.
Tell me about the nakedness of it? What you meant it to represent in the context of the theme, and also the very act of being nude as a public or semi-public person?
There were a lot of reasons, both personal and universal, that lead me to being nude in this film. I think the way females are portrayed in today’s society is dramatically incorrect.
I am especially appalled by the music & entertainment business, who idolize and fetishize young woman. You’re either an 18-year-old “it girl” who has yet to come into one’s self, or an old washed up “ice queen.”
The form of a woman is a natural, beautiful thing.
I think that the business has stolen representation from us, and this is a way to take it back. I’d like to add to this movement of women who are depicting realistic images of women. I think flooding the airwaves with these sort of images is a proactive way in changing the predetermined mind set of our generation. And it’s 2015!
I have faith that people are ready to see the body of a woman working in overdrive who is not an athlete or a model and intercept the underlying message. I’m not worried about what people will think of me personally, except maybe my mom and dad. They might be a little disappointed…but I’ve dedicated myself to my art. And that I hope they can understand. My body and life are merely conduits to channel ideas and artwork into society. It’s a small trade off.
Running in place is a really stark metaphor, but then the song breaks and there’s the shot of you kind of giving yourself relief and sitting in the sun. And then a cut to horses and cows roaming. How does all this communicate the meaning behind the song?
It’s the great struggle of an average American woman. You work your ass off, whether you’re a student, a housewife, a mother, an office worker, or an artist. There are a lot of very intense emotions that come with being a solitary woman in a field of work. Mundanity, perseverance, strength, isolation, and most importantly self love, are all emotions that we feel in life. These are the things Julia and I tried to communicate through this video.
How did you craft the arpeggiating synths in the background? They are a good propellant to the slowness of your vocals but also add a kind of audio component to the treadmill visual. It’s very running in place. Were you thinking about that or was it just like, “what up, I am plugging a thing into Ableton” or whatever? And the strings, too.
The sounds that drive “Do The Dishes” are actually samples from a Laotian ethnographic record. I cut them up and arranged them in a way that seemed cyclical, driving, and polyphonic.
My friend Whitney Johnson plays viola on the entire record. She is fantastic (she plays in her own musical groups Matchess & Verma). For this song, I wrote and sang the string parts using my voice and we later went into the studio and replaced them with viola.
Finally, I kinda need to know a little bit about the dog in the video? Is it yours?
The dog is not mine. Her name is Ella, and she kind of “came with the house.” She is an OG poodle! Thus she has great hair and style. She seemed both very interested and confused during the making of the video for “Do The Dishes.”
Circuit des Yeux begins a summer tour tomorrow:
Thu May 7th - Bloomington, IN - The Bishop w/ Jessica Pratt
Tue May 19th - Chicago, IL - Rockefeller Chapel (Release Show)
Fri June 6th - Vancouver, BC - China Cloud (Levitation)
Mon June 29th - Columbus, OH - Mint Collective
Tue June 30th - Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda’s
Wed July 1st Washington DC - Union Arts
Thu July 2nd - New York, NY - Subculture
Fri July 3rd - Brooklyn , NY - Trans-Pecos
Sun July 5th - Portsmouth, NH - 3S Artspace
Mon July 6th - Providence, RI - Aurora
Tue July 7th - Montreal, QC - La Sala Rossa w/ Xylouris White
Wed July 8th - Toronto, ON - The Drake Hotel w/ Xylouris White
Thu July 9th - Detroit, MI - UFO Factory
Fri July 10th - Cincinnati, OH - Ice Cream Factory
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