When Haley Fohr was based in Bloomington, she released music on Bloomington's Magnetic South; now that Fohr is in Chicago, she's releasing new Circuit Des Yeux music on another label close to (her new) home, Thrill Jockey. And what an album. In Plain Speech, her newest, brings together a collection of Chicago musicians as collaborators, including Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin Bajas), Whitney Johnson (Verma), Rob Frye (Bitchin Bajas), Adam Luksetich (Little Scream), and Kathleen Baird (Spires That In The Sunset Rise), but the work is singularly her own, anchored by Fohr's stunning baritone.
In Plain Speech won't be out until May 19, but interested parties can get a taste of the new work at a show in Bloomington Thursday when Fohr opens for Jessica Pratt. Below is a segment from an interview with Fohr about what kind of show will go down at The Bishop. Find the rest online at NUVO.net.
On her current live show:
"For this record, there are two different live shows that I am able to present. One is with the full band, which is four people including me. Those all the people that played on the record. With the full band, it sounds almost one-to-one identical with the record. Obviously there's going to be some shifts and changes, as any live show has. But it's pretty close, and it's pretty great. I've never been able to pull that off. I've never worked with a group of people that are that involved and that dedicated to seeing it all through. So that's fantastic, however, that costs a lot of money. So I'm planning on doing a Midwest/West Coast tour out in August and a short East Coast jaunt in September. And up until August, I'm doing Europe and East Coast and a couple one-off shows like this Bloomington show, and those are all going to be solo.
"For those shows, I've been spending the last couple of months reinterpreting the songs that I can pull off solo myself, and creating my own set from that. I have no dedication towards the recordings for that. I feel like I have to kind of reinvent those songs as I feel suited. For me, I still am expressing the same feelings and getting the same message across. But it's just what has to be done on the road when you're just one person. I don't really like playing the backing tracks. I've seen a lot of people do that. But for me, playing the guitar and having it all be live is really important. There's an energy that comes from that. It'll just be my 12-string guitar and me, and then I have massive effects and such that I use."
On returning to Bloomington:
"It's a mixture of two feelings. Rejoice — and I feel a little sad every time I go back too, because some of my favorite people and best friends live there. I feel like I really developed in Bloomington, and I'm not a part of the scene anymore, simply because of location. Coming back, it's always such a great time, but there's always new things. Scenes shift and change. I'm a little out of the loop as far as that is concerned."
On the week of an album release:
"For me, the most nervous timeframe is when I'm turning it in. Now that I've actually had the album completed for about five months, I've been getting to know it, and it's a lot of preparation. I'm just anxious to get on the road. It's a lot of booking shows, getting the live set together, doing videos, and all of this other sort of creative ephemera that comes along with releasing a record. Now that it's getting really close, it's just waiting. I'm waiting to jump off, which is kind of like going up a roller coaster before the drop. As far as the record's concerned, I'm not nervous in that way. I'm just ready to support it and get out on the road."
On "I'm on Fire II"
"I actually hadn't ever heard that 'I'm on Fire' song until I was tripping on some psychedelics, and I had that cassette. It was like a summery Bloomington weekend, and I think I was a sophomore or freshman in college. The tape was warped, so it was really slowed down. I like Bruce Springsteen — he's kind of hit or miss for me, but I think Nebraska is a fantastic album. He's a great performer and artist — that song in particular, though, it's kind of creepy. It's about a guy fetishizing a younger woman and trying to have his way with her. I thought It would be interesting to have a woman have a take on that, and deliver those lyrics, and really bring to the forefront what the content actually is. In that process, I released a live recording of that, that was recorded at Russian Recording on Portrait, which was a record that came out in 2011. It had a live band after that. It kind of evolved into this rockist, noise track. I feel like my emotions towards that recording, and that song kind of took the place of the delivery of the song. ... What is expected of a woman, that's the collage."
On In Plain Speech track "Do the Dishes"
"That song was a breakthrough point for me when I was writing the record, sonically. I knew what the whole ethos and message of the record was going to be, but I practiced a lot with my guitar and I was hitting a wall. ... So sonically, as an experiment for me, I put the guitar down and tried something different. I think it worked out, and it got me through something. The [song] does have a feminist undertow — it basically embodies the values of sisterhood and it's a message to other women to take a risk, and follow their passions deeply, and most importantly, to love themselves.
"I'm in my mid-20s now, but when I was a teenager and growing up through my early 20s ... I feel like there is some message, where it was really hard to accept myself and have confidence. I'm angry not at the people and the things that happened to me that caused me this self doubt for years, but I'm more angry at myself for believing in this patriarchal message that I felt pinned down by, or specific people in my life that really affected me (and maybe didn't intentionally). But it's the way the structure is built. I really didn't give myself enough credit for a really long time. I wish there was someone there to have told me how fantastic I was, or that if you have a dream, follow through with it, because anything's possible. That's the point of that song."
(Note: Video possibly NSFW, depending on the chillness of your employer.)
On RFRA, and growing up in Indiana:
"Growing up in Indiana can feel like living under a rock sometimes, I'll admit it. Traveling for me was really eye-opening when it came to politics, people's beliefs, the way they live in the world. I also think that Indiana is a breeding ground for some very unique sounds and ideas, unlike somewhere like New York or even Chicago sometimes. ... Now that I'm an adult, I'm very grateful for having a childhood with fields to run through, and all that. But I do think that it's a problem not only in Indiana, but in America right now, that everyone is being very passive. The people that I know in Indiana, I think the majority of people don't agree with [RFRA]. But everyone's on the Internet these days; people aren't going out and rallying around the courthouse. Protests have changed mediums, and it's hard to be active or just be aware of changes around you, especially in the government, before it's too late.
"All artists make their art for different reasons, but for me it's very important to push society and to see what's going on, and what's the norm, and question it. I think I'm doing that a lot with this record. Trying to ask people to think about what they're doing. Don't just go through the motions, because it's so easy to do that, and everyone's a victim of doing that some time in their life. But it's a great responsibility that we all have, living in a democracy. We have to hold up our end for it to work. So, yes. I am given a stage when I play music, and people listen to me. It's a one-sided conversation in a way, so it's an opportunity for me to say something, in a place, or a context in which maybe people wouldn't normally listen to me if it was a conversation, or through the internet, or something. I like to take those opportunities to try and create change for the better."
On In Plain Speech track "A Story of This World"
"I was reading a book about Napoleon. There was an intro that was an old English proverb. The lyrics are a re-appropriation of that. I just thought it was interesting to delve into a loss of a set of values that have maybe been mixed up. Short-term, short-goal memory, or even thought. So it's the story of a long journey. It depicts and sad and broken set of priorities and values in the world. It's also a call for change. The world is such a dark place right now. I wasn't able to write about anything personal, because I felt like there's something really large looming in the world, with climate change, with civil rights, with a lot of corruption. I think we need to step back and start from square one, and see what exactly it is that we're trading for this comfort we have now. I think change is happening, and that's great. But for things to change drastically, and really change, there's going to be discomfort. And I think that's where things get tough for us to make these sort of decisions. But I think it's the road we're headed down, and this song kind of explains that. Giving up comfort [in] humanity and society right now will lead to a greater comfort down the road."
On not being sad:
"I feel like a few things have been said about the album thus far and they've been really great — I love having feedback, both the bad and the good, I think it's interesting — but I feel I've been depicted as a sad person, and that some of these songs are sad. I don't feel that way at all. I feel like this record is hopefully to benefit people, and the world. There might be some challenging and morose-sounding notes in songs on the record, or chord progressions. But the overall message, I hope people can find strength in it, or hope. It might not be a pop album, but I hope people don't take a negative stance from it. It's a bright light. Things are challenging right now for everyone, but I hope it's for a brighter future.