Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Conversation with Ryley Walker & Bill Mackay

In January 2015, Ryley Walker and Bill Mackay of Darts & Arrows got together for a residency at The Whistler, known as much for its mixology as its live music schedule. Bill and Ryley, fixtures in Chicago experimental and folk music, collaborated once a week, playing both original compositions and covers, leaving room for improvisation where the duo saw fit. Land of Plenty compiles recordings from their fourth and fifth shows in January.

As is the case with guitar duos, wonder comes from the exchange of energies and thoughts. A melody picks up and another diminishes. Rhythm becomes lead and lead becomes bass. The Whislter, no stranger to music riding a theme, like jazz, became an evocative, effective setting for Bill and Ryley. The room, gracefully littered with polite tables and chairs, decked in candle light, took on a pensive mood as the two began their string-spoken dialogue.

We met at the J & M tap to trade tales on collaboration, coffee, and church groups. Our story begins, as all good stories do, in media res after Bill has showered us with cupcakes for Ryley’s birthday.

Ryley Walker (to Bill Mackay): What were you doing at age 15?

Bill Mackay: I was just reading a lot of books.

RW: Ah, man, you were the smart, intelligent guy like “Wow, the world holds so much mystery.” I was just like smoking pot.

BM: Oh, well, I was doing that too.

RW: Trying to get a fake ID and being a shithead.

BM: I had met some older guys when I was 15 and we became really close, back in Pittsburgh. They were 18 or 19. I naturally gravitated towards people who were older than me. They were into smoking and drinking too, but they got me into coffee. We’d hang out in these all night diners.

RW: First dose is always free. Coffee. I drink it religiously. Not in the morning, though, surprisingly. If I have it first thing in the morning, I feel paranoid when I’m drinking it. Once I’ve settled in, then I feel good about it. I prefer a noon coffee or a lunch coffee. I drink a lot of water in the morning. I’m talking like a gallon of water. Your stomach stretches out for the day, but it’s therapeutic. Just slam it. Have a few glasses.

Jordan Reyes: I think it jumpstarts your metabolism too.

BM: That’s huge. I have to do that. I always feel dry. If you wait until later, I don’t think it has the same power.

RW: I’m around Brian and Matt all day, and they make pot after pot of coffee, but still take naps. It’s like the coffee never stops brewing.

JR: Yeah, I guess it’s nine pm and here I am, drinking a Red Bull. It’s like that, ice cream, and now cup cakes, are my only vices, but they’re serious ones. They’re also social, though.

BM: Exactly. That was the great thing about the coffee thing, getting into that because of these guys.

RW: What year was that?

BM: Oh, it was in the 80s.

RW: I was just born then, but like…coffee wasn’t good at that time, right? One of my friends who is forty-five or almost fifty was saying that coffee wasn’t good until the mid 90s. He said that for a while that coffee was just the shit you got at a diner. Starbucks wasn't yet the national front where you’re like “Oh, wait, coffee’s actually good.” He was arguing that Starbucks, who, yeah, they’re corporate - they suck, in a way, inspired coffee to be good.

BM: That’s kind of true. We liked it because it was what was available and you could get it for free all night long at these places, and you’d drink it for six hours. But the only good coffee you had to get at Dunkin’ Donuts.

JR: Dunkin’ Donuts still has good coffee.

RW: I swear by it. I live next door to Dunkin Donuts. I can see the orange and pink from my door.

BM: Yeah, well, coffee went along with the Bohemian thing too - people were writers or musicians, getting together about ideas. Coffee sort of fueled the talk. There’s a good reason why coffee is tied in with Bohemian lifestyle.

RW: Was the term “Pour-over” in the National Dialogue? Was it part of the conversation every day? Cause it is now.

BM: You know, the only places you could really get serious coffee would be like in Boston in the Italian neighborhood, where they’d pour coffee the old way, where they’d have the old machines. They were making the real thing. I have this theory that coffee used to be good in the 30s and 40s, and then it got dumbed down, and now it’s back on the rise.

JR: When I was a beer salesman in Chicago, I had this account called the Rail on Damen and Lawrence and the guy who owned it was this Italian guy.

RW: I used to live next door to that! That was my first apartment when I was 18 - sorry to interrupt - but this guy would let us in even though we were underage. There was this old hippie dude who didn’t card us.

JR: Ah, cool. The guy who owns it is off his rocker. Once he threatened to pull a gun on me - he like reached inside his drawer and was like “I’m gonna shoot you if you fuck up my order again.” I was like twenty-two years old. And I was like “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that.” But anyway, after that, he got me this Italian espresso maker. I still have it. He also gave me a bunch of imported espresso from Italy - pounds of it.

RW: That’s a nice way to console you after threatening to kill you.

JR: Totally. It was really strange. I use that espresso maker all the time. Maybe he started feeling bad, but hadn’t gotten to the point where he knew he had to make up for it.

BM: There’s stages. There’s denial, then acceptance, then restitution.

RW: This is a weird thing I noticed. In Europe, iced coffee doesn’t exist. In Spain, I saw someone drop like a cube of ice in an Espresso, and I asked “Why don’t you just order an iced coffee?” and the guy was like “What?” "You know, cold pressed coffee?" You can’t not see it in America today, especially in the city. So I was talking to this guy, and I was like, “Yeah, they figured it out - you don’t have to dilute it anymore - they figured it out!” So I’m trying to bring it over, Reverse Christopher Columbus Style. Hopefully I’ll just bring back the iced coffee and not bring back like Small Pox or something.

JR: Don’t make any promises you can’t keep.

RW: Goddamn, those cupcakes! I can smell them from here. They are so good. Bill - eat one!

BM: I will eventually. We can close the box for a minute if you’d like.

RW: It’s crazy - do cupcakes usually even have a smell? You know - you smell sausages or like cookies, but I’ve never really smelled cupcakes before. I’m not ever like “Hey, you smell those cupcakes?” In my twenty-six years, I’ve never smelled these cupcakes before. I guess I’m getting all these new abilities.

BM: People go through changes like that, though. People will get in a car accident and then they’ll end up speaking in an accent. Savant things. It’s cool, but I wonder if the human mind can pick up enough of an accent just by hearing something in your life and then you base a whole accent, way of speaking on it. People have come from accidents and they end up speaking with a French or German accent. It seems a little disconcerting.

RW: Mine would be so lame. I’d hit my head and then I’d be a big Cory Feldman fan or something - I’d be obsessed with him. I wouldn’t be able to like play piano well or something after an accident. I would just really like the 80s movies with Cory Feldman in them. [Jukebox song changes] Whoa. Dave Matthews - Satellite.

JR: Song’s great.

RW: This jam’s fucking sick, dude. Nobody realizes how dark Dave Matthews’ music is.

JR: I worked the Dave Matthews caravan in Chicago - we sold thousands of kegs that day. That was my first 21-hour day of work. It was hot, too. It was on the Southside of Chicago out East though. It was just this big dust bowl in Chicago. Flaming Lips played, Kid Cudi, Liz Phair, and Dave Matthews played. It wasn't a great experience, but I worked it.

RW: These grooves are found in King Crimson songs though, man. Put a little bit of ring wear on the cover and say Robert Fripp played on it - same groove. [To Bill] You like King Crimson?

BM: Yeah, I especially like their early stuff, but I also like their tunes in the 70s.

JR: Ryley, how was your Pitchfork experience? 

RW: It was fun - can’t complain too much - had a good time. We played that show, you know - you were there.

JR: (To Bill) Were you there too?

BM: Yeah, I was able to go for a bit.

RW: I wouldn’t even eat food - I’d wake up and be like, “Well, time to go to Pitchfork.”

BM: I was really happy to catch about half of Ryley’s set. Were you there?

JR: Yeah, I didn’t see too much, just because I had to work the [Moniker Records] booth the whole time. I saw Ryley’s set, Steve Gunn, and about ten minutes of Bitchin’ Bajas.

RW: I got to catch Madlib & Freddy Gibbs, and then I caught some of Run the Jewels too. I just have a hard time fitting in with the thousands of people. Maybe it’s my problem. Being at a festival in the midst of tens of thousands people - “Oh, I’m surrounded by people, but I feel like an alien.” I get keenly self-aware at those.

BM: I get that too. It used to be a lot worse. I remember seeing the Kinks one day in Pittsburgh. I was probably high or something too, but I remember thinking that all the people close to me were watching me. I was experiencing this super paranoia, even though I was in a big anonymous crowd.

JR: When was their last show?

RW: ’81.

BM: (To Ryley) I wanted to ask you this. Do you think it’s easier to play for a larger crowd or intimate, small crowds? Is there a difference?

RW: Well, the large crowds I play for are only a couple hundred people. A fest like that is an anomaly - happens once a year or so. It’s a treat. It’s fun. It’s somewhat easy because there’s so many people there to help you. “What do you need? Can I help you?” People are giving you drinks or food.

BM: So your nerves aren’t that different?

RW: Maybe I get a little more excited, but if I play a fest, there’s, you know “Wilco” and “Chance the Rapper” and “And Many More!” and I’m still at the “And Many More” or “To Be Announced” level. I’m happy with that. So I’d just hang out with the more TBA crowd. We’re all so green and excited.

BM: No one’s jaded yet.

JR: When did you guys start writing songs together?

BM: Well, we met at Ben [Boye]’s birthday party and got talking. We got together shortly after that - I’d say it was two years ago maybe two and a half?

RW: We both just love music and found each other. (Bill laughs).

BM: We started getting together sporadically, every month or so, but it started to bear fruit when I got the residency at the Whistler. I had been thinking about doing it with someone. Ryley came to mind, and we decided to do it together. We would get together during the week. It was kind of beautiful, how it unfolded. We’d get together once during the week and once the day of the show. Sort of like workshops.

RW: We got smokin’ hot!

BM: Yeah, the new songs and improvisations would enter the set too. So each week we were adding a little bit and by the end we had all these songs. (To Ryley) Does that sound about right?

RW: Yeah, that’s right. It was never high pressure. I think Bill’s the god of all guitars. I can hang on riffs, but Bill can dance around. I’m the stinky cheese, but Bill’s the fine wine that pairs so well with it. You have a sip of Bill’s fine, sweet-headed wine, and you say “Ah, I guess this cheese can work now.” 

BM: (Laughs) Put it on record that I beg to differ. Mutual dancing. There was a lot of give and take, carrying the rhythm. That was the most beautiful thing to me - interweaving melody, and rhythm. Switching between bass and melody. The songs seemed to pour out. Almost as soon as we sat down, something would materialize.

RW: I think part of it was Bill’s living room. He has a very nice living room with wood floors and he had Fig Newtons. He’d give me these Fig Newtons and coffee. So we’d play a song and then we’d have a Fig Newton. So it’d be like “Wow, this song is really great.” Then we’d have some coffee, a fig newton.

BM: Yeah, it does feel a bit magical to me, too. I play in that room a lot. It’s a whole world unto itself, I think.

RW: It’s a good universe within this universe. It has its own ecosystem and God and Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

BM: Its own biology.

RW: Its own biology! But, you know, it has an existence - you get a little out of body. The space itself is cool.

BM: So there are things on the record that began as a bare theme, which we’d develop and improvise. Most of the things came out of there. We’d refine them as we played at the Whistler too.

JR: The recording is from the fourth show that you guys played at the Whistler, right?

BM: I think it was the fourth and the fifth, actually. Mostly the fifth. Five songs are from the last show and two songs were from the fourth. That was nice because we got the time to gel and roll towards that conclusion.

JR: I think I saw the first two or three shows you guys played and then I moved to Miami. I hope you don’t take it personally.

BM: Yeah, what’d we do? Did we play that bad?

RW: Played so bad you just had to leave the state.

JR: In so many words.

RW: Yeah, one day Bill was like “What do you want to call the record?” and the first thing that came to mind was The Land of Plenty.

BM: I think that was after the song,“Land of Plenty.”

JR: Is that the one on soundcloud?

BM: It is. The single.

RW: The number one, smash-hit single. I don’t think is political, though.

BM: I have a few thoughts about that. It came together kind of late. Maybe it’s because titles, and poetry to me, seems like it has a political, philosophical tone.

RW: I see it as the way the tunes were made coming from bountiful fields of fruits, and berries, and vegetation - how we play. It’s a little different read than yours. It’s the land of plenty and, boy, is it a good harvest. (All laugh).

BM: I like that interpretation. That’s probably a more positive spin on it then the sort of ironic way I was thinking, riffing on everything that’s going on today.

RW: Bill’s heavily involved in politics too. I am too, but Bill’s an activist. He’s on the front lines.

BM: I was thinking about interpretation on the way over. If you have a specific interpretation about something and you feel it’s about one thing, you hope people get that, but you can’t control it. It’s up to people to find an interpretation, and even if it’s violently opposed to the one you have, it can be valid. They’re entitled to the interpretation they have. But I agree with Ryley - I think there’s a beautiful richness to the record. Overall, it is a positive thing. I take away different themes from everything. Things are very symbolic to me. I can’t help but look at that cover and the back cover that play off each other.

RW: It’s great art. Bill drew it.

BM: I was doing a lot of colored pencil drawings from my Portland days. I regret dropping off a bit. Some of the things I was developing slipped away a bit from me. I was psyched that Ryley wanted to use some of my art for the cover. I was hoping that that stuff would find its way out somehow. I have a lot of drawings sitting in a suitcase, growing old.

RW: Something that was twenty years old found new life.

BM: Exactly, and it made me realize that all of a person’s work is one big piece. It all plays off each other. It takes on a new meaning - it has a lot of meaning for me.

JR: So when you drew that piece, what was going on in your life?

BM: I’m not sure if I recall. There were a lot of good times at the house where I was staying in Portland. We had this funky house where people played music and hung out. There was a period when people would do drawings around this big table. A lot came out of that. It was also a pastoral, beautiful time to be in Portland. A lot of young people and energy, and a lot of art. We were living close to downtown and bands played or rehearsed there. It was $500 a month for the whole house. People have told me that now it’s a $2000 or $3000 place. On the one hand it was a tough time because people weren’t very motivated to do anything - it was too easy.

RW: So you were part of the slacker generation that everyone talks shit about.

BM: That’s it! I was trying to draw my way out of that, into being a productive citizen (laughs). In a way, I really was. It was hard to get stuff off the ground, but there was a collective lack of motivation. People were creating, but it seemed like projects didn’t get off the ground easily. I did get a lot of ideas and material out of it.

JR: Certain eras seem to call for certain kinds of success. The 2000s were about software and the 2010’s are about websites and the 1990s were about getting the internet started and the 1980s were about hardware to make stories get told through some sort of media diffraction. And it’s like, if you’re not in line with what’s able to get success at the time, it’s hard to have success or be productive.

BM: That makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of paradigmatic, monolithic things that drive culture. Whether you’re stuck with it or not, it makes you have the reference and think of the big energy in the culture.

RW: What made you feel the traveling energy?

BM: Just whimsy, I guess.

RW: I feel like you’d had nine lives or something - Boston, Portland, and others. You’ve lived in so many places and done so much in your life.

BM: Yeah, I was lucky to work enough to survive. [My wife] Cheryl and I would be some place for a while and then decide to leave after things got static. We wouldn’t be able to feel the pulse anymore. I feel fortunate to have come here and had such a complete shift. I mean, my mom grew up here, but we didn’t really know people that well here when we moved. How’d you get here, Ryley?

RW: Oh, I grew up right outside. Classic story. By the time I was a teenager, I’d come downtown to go see Ska bands or something, nothing cool.

BM: How old were you when you picked up guitar?

RW: I was twelve, but I wasn’t good or anything. I didn’t pick it up and think it was awesome either because I couldn’t figure out how to tune it. No one would teach me. So I was just like “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.” I really wasn’t into music until I was like 13 - I was into sports or whatever before that. My parents weren’t music heads either. We’d listen to the Eagles on the way to work. It wasn’t like “Hey, have you heard this Sun Ra live set?” I have some friends who had their dad’s awesome record collection and it’s like what the fuck? I had to work so hard to figure out who some of these people were and this was just given to you. All this knowledge! “Hey, my three year old son, check out The Love Supreme.” Whereas I had to research everything. I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course, but it blows my mind that some people have parents who are poets or into art. What are you talking about? My dad builds tractor parts and drinks beer and gets pissed off.

BM: The working man’s poetry!

RW: Yeah, the working man’s poetry.

JR: I started working when I was real young - I was a skateboard instructor and then worked in a warehouse and then started cleaning beer aisles when I was 18 or so.

RW: Beer has done well for you. It’s been your bread or butter.

JR: Pretty much - even since before I could drink it.

BM: (To Jordan) When did you start playing music?

JR: Well, I got my guitar when I was like 18 and I started after that. I only really listened to hip hop and Latin music before that. But then I heard “Tangled Up in Blue” by Bob Dylan and it really kicked open the door to my mind. So, that was a big day. Then I got a copy of Sublime’s third record and Nirvana’s Nevermind and that’s how I fell into that. I was always a good kid. I got like straight A’s and was captain of the track team. All I was really preparing to do was go to a good college and after I did that, I was like, what the fuck do I do? I was sort of aimless. That’s when I started playing guitar and going to shows. I caught on late.

BM: And you got into writing as well.

JR: Yeah, well I was raised very religiously. My mom was Evangelical. We lived in this real wild house that backed up to this incredible forest in Virginia for a while. We had peacocks in our backyard somehow, snapping turtles - our dog took down a deer once there. When I was like 15 or 16, I went to these classes at Northwestern University in the summer and I took this creative writing course and the teacher had given us a prompt to write whatever we wanted. And I was like, “What do you mean, write whatever I want? How can I write that? Tell me what you need.” So I started writing horror stories and that was my way into more liberal, free-thinking ideas. I’m so different now. I had to like wear collared shirts growing up and recite Bible verses on the way to school. Been a bit of a wild ride, I suppose. All aboard the Jesus Christ Express!

RW: I played in an Evangelical Church’s band. I got $50 a week. I really enjoyed it. It was a bit of a “Come to Jesus” thing, but I got to play guitar and church songs - they were nice songs - and they’d let me do solos too. I had a nice time with the Evangelicals. My first gig was with them.

BM: A lot of peoples’ first gig is in the church!

JR: I imagine one day - it’s a dream - to own a church and live in it, and have bands that I like come in and play.

RW: Oh, man. Go to Europe. They have tons of things like that. If you go to Belgium, there’s a bunch of people who squat in churches. If you live in a place and save your receipts for the government and no one kicks you out, you can stay there.

BM: You get squatting rights.

RW: Yeah - they’re so far ahead. Basically in World War II, Belgium got bombed to shit, and the government wanted to fix all these places up. And if people fixed the places up, they’d get to have it. Many people died or left the country so all the left over people had houses. A lot of artists will move into castles and just live there.

BM: I can see that. When I was in Liverpool with Cheryl about ten years ago, I was surprised. It still looked like there was World War II rubble. It’s probably been picked up since because the economy has gotten better. It was really raw. A lot of it looked like it had never been fixed. But, if your economy never gets that great, and if the money is never there, then what happens?

JR: It seems sort of hit or miss in terms of which city gets the reboot and which cities are forgotten. I guess maybe that can be good for artists.

RW: Yeah, that’s like Detroit right now.

BM: So maybe you’ll find your church to live in.

JR: I really don’t like the cold, but I like the culture that comes with a place that is cold. If you go to a place like Boston or Detroit or Chicago, people are forced into being around each other and make good of a shitty situation. In Miami, it’s always good and it’s easy to be alone comfortably. In Chicago, you have to be around people. There’s pros and cons, of course.

RW: There’s the conflict of the cheap rent here. They call it the winter tax break because you have to suffer through the winter so you make sure your landlord keeps your rent manageable or affordable. That’s coming from someone who’s not living in total poverty, but if you do what we do, it’s manageable - you can work through it.

BM: There are always people grinding away, but I think the fact that it’s not unreasonable to live here has made it a haven for artists and musicians. It’s been great that way. If you keep enduring and meet more people, it gets better.

RW: I feel less sociable than I was five years ago, though. I used to go out a lot more. I guess I still do, but now I just go to bars.

JR: Instead of what?

RW: Shows, I guess. When I first moved to Chicago, it seemed like it was this Golden Age of basement gigs and house shows. Every night you could go out. It’s like that scene in Goodfellas where the main protagonist is walking through this restaurant, taking his date out, and he’s walking through all these places and he knows everyone there. “Hey, how’s it going?” It was like that for a while.

BM: That’s nice, the camaraderie.

RW: Now there are people who come to my mind once every few months and I wonder “What happened to that guy? What happened to that girl? They used to have a noise band where they’d fart into a microphone and use a hundred pedals on it.” Seriously. What happened? Some people dip out. I still know people from that first year I came here though.

BM: It happens. You know people from one thing, in this early period, and then it disappears like smoke.

RW: And, you know, it probably still is like that, but I’m just doing the whole “Back in my day” thing. It’s still sick. It’s sick right now.

BM: All eras have their thing. (To Ryley) I was wondering about the songwriting thing. Do you write about incidents or people directly? I feel for me it’s like a spill thing - things just spill out more in an unconscious way as opposed to having a theme.

RW: I think I’m better at being literal and truthful. I’ve had a sense of truth in the last few records I’ve done, but like a Halloween costume kind of truth. “Hey, here’s Ryley, but here’s this cool vampire costume too!” I’m a little bit of a character at this point. Obviously, taking situations that are good or bad and trying to convey them in a compelling way. Some people can write a song like “I woke up today and made an omelette and it was really cool,” but I can’t do that.

BM: But there’s a lot of that going on like that. I ask myself “What is the value of that? Why is there so much of that?” Not to be super critical, but why is there so much that doesn’t have much edge or personality. Maybe it’s the need for solace that people have - people needing things that are purely tranquil and non-confrontational.

JR: I think it’s an easy way to nod out of life. When you have music or art that’s innocuous, it lends itself to living that way.

BM: It’s sort of a drug to be that way.

JR: Yeah, and that’s fine. Some people need that. It’s difficult for me, but I can be a difficult person too. I need a lot of alone time. If I don’t get it….well, think about it this way. If you had arm hair that kept growing and growing and your alone time was the only thing that trimmed your arm hair, well, eventually, you’re going to be tripping on your arm hair.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Release of the Day: Hums & Haws - Hums & Haws

The songs on Hums & Haws self-titled cassette were recorded in Matt Kordonowy's basement in 2011. As adventures in autoexpression, these songs vary in theme and delivery, like human experience. Where "Honey-Day Parade" could conceivably have found a home in the Flying Nun catalog, a lurching tune like "Gossamer," though certainly pop-influenced, doesn't evoke the same lithe pleasantry.

This isn't a mistake: Hums & Haws isn't a simple listen. The collection finds roots in lucid, existential dread. On the last track, "Backstory," Matt enlightens the listener, hipping us to our strange, puppet-like, corporeal make up: "We are all delicate fleshlings, small intricate systems of heat/I will try to create you string, wood, and a piece of meat." It's a disturbing thought, especially when you start to think about just how rope-like our central nervous system is. But Matt's out for bigger game than flesh and bones: on the first track he tackles Philosophy of Mind, "you're staring at the back of your head/looking down from above at your mind below/and I ask myself where did I go?" Where's the mind and which one of us has this thing anyway? If you're perceiving the mind, are you embodying the mind or are you experience mind-perception?

These are big questions, and thanks to Matt's poetic touch and delicate auditory understanding, can be digested piece meal. Comprehend phonetics, then comprehend symantics, then comprehend dialectic,  then comprehend comprehension. Rinse. Wash.
Repeat. So easy, even a child could do it, right?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Release of the Day: L.O.T.I.O.N. - Digital Control and Man's Obsolescence

There are more reasons to be paranoid than not in This Year of Our Lord 2015. New York's cyborg punk band L.O.T.I.O.N., no stranger to paranoia, questions authority from digital, organic, and systemic realms. Where does this authority come from? What damage it can do? How likely is it that I will take the brunt of misuse? On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was the recipient of an illegal restraining tactic on the suspicion of selling "illegal cigarettes" and swatting away an encroaching government-sponsored arm. Due to victim's health, the illegal maneuver, and the extended period of time over which the maneuver was delivered, Eric Garner died. This isn't an isolated event, either; rather, it's one incident in the contemporary string of police brutality.

So when L.O.T.I.O.N. is talking about the "Militarized Urban Zone" on the first track from their excellent debut LP Digital Control and Man's Obsolescence, it isn't simply a dig at eerily imperialistic practices of the United States Military. This is status quo on American soil. Even a beacon of civilization and commerce like New York City is held hostage by those obligated to serve and protect. L.O.T.I.O.N.'s lyrical themes concerning control, violence, and censure aren't the stuff of sci-fi, though they certainly have a historical home there. The band is cognizant of this, but to hammer home the importance and ubiquity of their ideas, they use the present tense during lyrics. On "Torture Report," the sickening lyrical mantra "They Do This To People" repeats with the cyclicality of truth. They may have done this to people in the past and will continue to do it in the future, but it's applicable to now. And that's a terrifying thing.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Conversation with Haley Fohr of Circuit Des Yeux

In Plain Speech
In Plain Speech, the latest LP from Chicago's Circuit Des Yeux sees Haley Fohr at her most collaborative. While her last full-length, Overdue featured a hired string quartet, In Plain Speech has full-blown contributions from others. Indicative of this change is Fohr's caravan of roving artists she brings on tour, featuring Whitney Johnson of Matchesse, Adam Luksetich of Foul Tip, and many more. Haley, a road warrior of the finest pedigree, has been touring the United States in both solo and ensemble capacities for eight years. An already skilled live performer, Haley will be touring non stop until December or so both in Europe and the United States.

 In Plain Speech marks her first dalliance with Thrill Jockey Records. Though a self-confessed "control freak," Haley has been enjoying her new partnership, which has perks like music video budget with which she has created the striking "Do The Dishes" and "Fantasize the Scene" videos. Both videos, though intensely personal, bring to light universal themes, both for artists and non-artists. What does a life of travel mean for transient relationships? What does society expect from me because of how I was born? Will I ever be pretty enough to eat?

The tour dates appear after the interview. Supremely recommended. Haley puts on a crippling, emotional show. Do whatever you can to see her.

Jordan Reyes: When you play with a band is there an element of improvisation at all?

Haley Fohr: In general, it's pretty composed, but there are moments within the structure where you can do what you want. I like things to be elastic.

JR: Music theory allows for some of that too. Did you study that in school?

HF: I did study music theory and I hated it. It’s silly. It’s just a box. I would do these compositions where the teacher would say “You’ve got to go from the one to the four and resolve on the five. It’s gotta be in a key and here are the notes in that key.” Maybe if you’re a hyper-organized person, that might be a way to go, but I saw it as a way to put confines on creativity.

JR: Does it still inform you at all or do react against it?

HF: I reacted against it. I wish I had taken it a little more seriously. There were opportunities that I could have had, just in terms of sight reading or even communicating with people.

JR: Do you primarily compose on guitar?

HF: Yeah, eighty percent of what I do, I would say, but I improvise a lot. My new material is probably fifty percent experiments that I decided to take part in to try to break through something.

JR: “Do The Dishes” was very striking to me. That change is so profound in it with the synthesizer at the end. There’s a “whoa” moment at the end for me.

HF: (Laughs) I’m glad you like it. That was fun. Ben [Baker Billington] let me borrow his synth. Man, synthesizers look easy to play, but they are intense. There are so many controls. I had it for a week and didn’t know what I was really doing. The noise that I liked best was the one where I was doing no input - it was kind of broken and just made this humming noise. Anyway, I didn’t master it at all, so I’m glad you like the synth part because it was totally me just like fucking around.

JR: Oh cool! And you recently just toured both the United States and Europe? There’s a big difference, right?

HF: Oh yeah. Europe is a little easier as far as necessities. You get room, board, and meals. They give you riders. But at the same time, you have to ask for something or you won’t get it. Like, if you ask for water, they’ll be like “Oh, we don’t have water for you since you didn’t put it on your rider.” So, it’s interesting in that you just have to become vocal for what you want, but at the same time, I occasionally get hassled because my rider is the same everywhere, so if I play a basement show, the venue might say, “So, your rider…I saw that you wanted some whiskey and a hot meal and water and we didn’t do any of that.” And in that case, I don’t really care, but in general you just have to be very up front about what you need in Europe. The shows definitely have more of a community element in the U.S. though. I toured the states for like five years without a booking agent and I just recently got one, but I still have this DIY backbone so there’s a circuit of people that I meet in every city again and again, which is amazing and special. I don’t have that in Europe.

JR: So the booking came when you signed to Thrill Jockey or was it before that?

HF: It was before that. It’s been about two years. It’s good. It’s nice to have people supporting and vouching for you, but it is more removed because you’re cutting out a lot. DIY culture is all about meeting people and keeping in touch and trading, like goods for goods. I like touring. But for me, coming out of the DIY scene and being thrown into the world of contracts, contractual agreements, is still weird. I guess it’s the business side. And for me, I hate talking about money so if I can have someone do that for me, I can just worry about the music…and of course many other things.

JR: What do you think success in a DIY sense is?

HF: I don’t know. Feeling complete, I guess. Sustainability is not a goal in the DIY scene, I don’t think, which it is in the business space. DIY spaces come and go - it’s not about staying around forever. There’s more of an ebb and flow, supporting everyone. Support is important - everyone being supported, maybe not financially, but emotionally. The downside is that it can be a bit of a closed circle, though self-sustaining for a little while.

JR: I know it prides itself on being inclusive, but do you think that some of the downfall comes from a perceived exclusivity?

HF: I don’t think it’s like a “Cool Kids Club” or anything. I just think a lot of people don’t know about it. How do you find out about a DIY show unless you know someone who knows someone. I do think it’s interesting and cool that it comes with a media blackout. A lot of DIY spots don’t do Facebook events and they don’t do interviews. Some of that is to not get shut down by cops but some of it is just part of the culture of what they’re doing. It can be great - like Ray’s photos - I don’t know if you saw those - they’re at Situations right now, but they show the same fifty people over eight years. So you see this progression of the Chicago DIY scene and it’s beautiful. For me, I want to touch as many people as I can with my music - I like to give equal opportunity to everyone to like it or dismiss it (laughs).

JR: Do you think Chicago has a particularly tight DIY group?

HF: Yeah. I don’t think there’s like people in charge, but it’s a solid organism, even when that NATO summit happened a few years ago. They shut down four or five venues, but we recovered.

JR: Heavy hit. I was just reading about that actually. I had just moved to Chicago when that was going on, literally two weeks before that. I wasn’t really going to DIY shows at the time and I didn’t really know too much about the whole thing. In Durham there were only a couple places where you’d see a DIY show, not like here where there’s one every three blocks. So I was doing some research for an AdHoc piece and that’s when I asked Sara [Heymann] about Mortville, which I guess got shut down because of that.

HF: Quite a few did and it was silly. “Potential terrorism” was the threat. So, a house that hosts creative music could bring down the president or something (laughs). That’s the way it goes though with DIY shows.

JR: So the recent Thrill Jockey LP was the first one you didn’t really have a hand in releasing, right?

HF: I did three records with De Stijl, which was totally hands off. I would just send them the master and a record would show up. But I did Overdue completely on my own. And this is the first time doing a record with a larger label with resources and employees - it’s been really great.

JR: You enjoy it?

Photo by Julia Dratel
HF: Yeah. I’m definitely a control freak, I’ve learned, but I’m also figuring out how to let go and understanding that people are there to help me. I’m able to focus more on the music, instead of worrying about hustling a record downtown. And they’re very supportive and artist-oriented. I’ve thrown a few curveballs at them where I’ll want to do something because I feel like it or I get this idea. And they’ll be fine with it.

JR: Do they help with music videos?

HF: I do have a music video budget, which is nice. In regards to the video for “Do The Dishes,” they wanted me to do a different song for that, but I had the idea for the video and Bettina gave the go ahead and we switched it out. I don’t think every label would do that.

JR: It’s a very striking video too, just from the color palette, first off, the song’s imagery, and, of course, the fact that you bare yourself in it. It’s really courageous and memorable for sure. Was that difficult?

HF: The idea of it was difficult. I thought of it and was immediately afraid of it. But I also think that people take shit too seriously - it’s the fucking internet - why not put art on it? My mom said it was like a tattoo. But it doesn’t seem so permanent. And maybe my mom’s a little upset that I can’t be president one day (laughs) or that sort of thing. But it was interesting coming up with the idea, being afraid of it, and feeling like I had to do it because if I don’t push through the fear, then…well, there’s nothing wrong with a woman being nude in society at all. I think in the right context it can be beautiful and profound. If I didn’t do it, it would only be because I was afraid. I’m also trying to push past my own identity as a person and reach something else with my music and art. This was a way in which I felt anonymous kind of. It’s not about me.

HF: Julia Dratel shot it. She did the coloring. I love her style. She shoots such fine details and half of the shit she puts in her videos, I didn’t realize she was shooting.

JR: Yeah - she just did a Gel Set video too.

HF: Oh, great! How’d that go?

JR: You can tell it’s hers because of how it’s shot. And it’s got some level of absurdity too, but it has a lot of water in it. And water’s not as prevalent in yours (laughs). So I don’t know.

HF: (Laughs) No, it’s not. She just has a style that’s colorful, and interesting. She’s good to work with too - she’s such a hard worker.

JR: The idea of transcendence comes up with you a lot. What does that mean to you - you mentioned transcending your identity?

HF: Yeah, I think I was wrapped up in that for so long. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I really want to give back to society and people. I’d like to help as much as I can. I think words and cooking and all these things people can use to give things to other people aren’t my vessel. Music is where I feel the strongest and where I can help people the most. That’s what I’m trying to do. I want to sacrifice my life for this art in a conceptual way. I could have been doing it this whole time, I think, but I hadn’t really thought of it. I want to turn my life into a piece of art. I want everything that I do to not be an extension of me, but an extension of art. That could mean being on the road or things I decide to keep in my possession. It’s all in an effort to get to something.

JR: Seems alchemical.

HF: Sure. This is a new thing. I’m totally riffing, coming up with my ethos of life in this interview (laughs). It feels right, though. I’m an adult and I want to be part of something.

JR: You weren’t before?

HF: I was heavily affected by my own insecurities and darkness. There are dark events in everyone’s life, but mine stuck with me for a long time. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t let go of that stuff until recently, for whatever reason. I also have a pessimistic view on the world by nature and I’m trying to change that. I’m working on it. Life, in general, though, is amazing and people are good.

JR: I haven’t gotten there yet. I think about that a lot. I’m very pessimistic. Sometimes I have difficulty doing anything really. Seeing reasons to do things too and seeing that people are good - I think I do art or surround myself with art to survive.

HF: Yeah, you just joined this record label - that’s amazing. Without you, everything that these bands would be doing would be confined to the bedroom and you’re spreading the word - part of a greater good. Paying stuff forward.

JR: I hope so. When I’m at work, sometimes I feel like I’m putting on another person’s skin - acting a certain way, directing people. When I get home, I’m sometimes defeated and I need to go for like an hour long run as a buffer zone before I just jump back into my own flesh.

HF: Sure - I’ve started going to the gym more, which has become therapeutic to me as well, especially when I’m at a creative block or feeling down. I think it’s also about how you identify yourself too in a greater picture. Life has its ups and downs - it’s so strange, but the fact that we’re both still here is crazy (laughs).

JR: There are a few ways to lose your ego, I think - one of them is to commit suicide, another is to become a monk, and another is to repeat one action forever and ever and ever and ever and corrode yourself. They all work, but I think they take courage too. I think it’s harder to get rid of yourself than you think.

HF: Can’t fight the tide. I made a decision a couple years ago that I was only going to spend my time doing things that I want. Money comes into the equation pretty quickly. I think a lot of life boils down to what are you willing to do for money? Or, how valuable is your time? I can’t do a lot of things I wish I could because I’m a very poor person, but I choose the life I live. Record labels and music is fucking expensive. Anyone who’s reading this interview who thinks they know how expensive it is to put out a record is way off. They need to double whatever figure they think. Perhaps for you to have this stable job is important - you’re taking money and putting it towards good, rather than going to the bar every night. You’re not buying the Apple Watch or something.

JR: Yeah, but I probably just wouldn’t like that Apple Watch that much (laughs).

HF: The Apple Watch? Yeah, it’s so Orwellian.

JR: It is! Isn’t it? I was talking to my friend Jeffrey, who did the Death in June tour with me. And I was saying, these are such exciting times - it’s Blade Runner without the flying cars. You look outside and there’s an ad every two feet. You’re not allowed to think without businesses or placements intruding.

HF: Strange times we’re living in!

JR: So…uh…

HF: That got heavy (laughs).

JR: Do you know the movie Interstellar? Have you seen it?

HF: Yeah.

JR: When I saw that movie, it was a Saturday in December and I went by myself. I was in one of those reclining chairs at the very front completely center. You can be front and center in a recliner because then you don’t hurt your neck. And I just wept the entire movie. The whole time. Because it reminded me of being a child again - it was liberating. When I feel sad, I think about space or I read science fiction.

HF: The space aspect is humbling to you? Does it depress you?

JR: No, it doesn’t depress me at all. It’s really humbling and it puts everything in perspective and gives me wonder.

HF: When things are not going my way, I often think about the sun and how we’re the exact amount of distance away from it where we can all thrive. That’s such a stroke of luck. If it were any closer or further, things would be different. I guess that’s my humbling space thought (laughs). That’s a great movie. Science Fiction is awesome. It’s political and reflective of the time. And it’s challenging. The idea of space travel is also profound and brave, courageous. Unknown territory. It’s a metaphor for the true, great, worldwide heroes. I don’t know. Would you ever go to space? You ever thought about that?

JR: Yeah, I think about it all the time.

HF: I don’t think I’d go to space.

JR: You wouldn’t?

HF: (Laughs) No. No I wouldn’t. I also wouldn’t get in a submarine, probably for the same reasons - natural instincts of wanting to be where the oxygen is.

Photo by Samantha Saturday
JR: I’m terrified of flying and I’m terrified of dark water. I used to fly like twice a week for work and every time was panic attack city. I’m a little better now, I guess. I try to do the math. “Okay, I’ve flown this many times and nothing’s happened yet, even though I’ve been scared so maybe this one will be okay.”

HF: See, I’m the opposite. You’re talking about pessimistic plane flight thoughts, and I’ll start thinking “I’ve been on like three hundred flights and this could be the one - just one flight too many.” But that’s such a narcissistic thing to think. Why would my flight be the one that would crash? It’s self-centered.

JR: You feel fine after that?

HF: Yeah - I can also sleep on plans. It’s so weird. You’re in a tin can and when I think about the reality of it, of course I’m going to have a panic attack. You’re in a tin can launching through the sky. And no one turns their phone off! There are all these weird frequencies bouncing around - it can’t be good for you.

JR: I know a guy who does jet maintenance and I asked him “Do I really need to put on airplane mode when I fly?” And he said “Nope.” And I just was like, “Great, so I can text my mom as soon as this fucker starts going down.”

HF: It is weird going through security too. You feel guilty, even though you haven’t done anything. Like, why wouldn’t you be able to go through?

JR: Every time, since I wear this necklace that I never take off, I get a little paranoid. They usually just pat it, but I often think “What if this is the time that I get hauled out or rechecked?”

HF: Going through with an instrument is a hassle.

JR: Do they search it?

HF: Almost every time. Cooper [Crain] told me about Dan’s synth, this 1970s Yamaha analog synth that got taken apart and they shipped it back to states in parts - they didn’t even put it back together. They can do that, too. They’re not liable for anything. Cause, you know - it could have been a bomb. It’s so hard to fly as a musician, especially in Europe. There’s no “musicians’ rights” there.

JR: So you can’t carry instruments on? You have to check them?

HF: It’s terrible. Have you ever seen luggage get loaded onto a plane? It’s horrifying. They just chuck it. I was on this plane, on an international flight. There were all these carts with luggage. I watch everyone take the luggage out and put it into a pile. Then one guy starts yelling and waving his hands and all these people are scrambling - it turns out they had the luggage from two flights together - and people are trying to figure out which luggage goes where. There was no order, no system. And then they throw it onto the plane, throwing it like it’s nothing. It was the worst feeling in the world. They’re trying to stay on schedule at the expense of anything you have that’s valuable.

JR: I flew with a bunch of records from Miami here that we were going to sell. I filled my suitcase with records and then a backpack with records. And a backpack’s got no padding. So I was like “Is this a good idea? Well, probably could have been better, but I did it anyway.” I was pretty nervous, but they were fine.

HF: Did you bring them through security?

JR: No, I checked it. Most of the stuff I was bringing were records. I only have like one pair of jeans, the ones that are on me.

HF: And you never take those off, either? (laughs).

JR: No, not even in the shower. I just have this massive blow drier that I also check when I fly.

HF: I have a funny flight story. I flew to Europe on Iceland Air, which is an awesome airline. Great movies. I flew back Air Berlin, which is the world’s only budget transatlantic airline. I had brought my guitar, for which I bought a seat - I always buy a seat for my guitar in Europe, which is fine. I had my guitar and pedals. To check my clothes was going to be 180 Euros extra. So basically, in front of the clerk, I put on all my clothes. I had like eight pairs of underwear, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, and seven shirts. I just left the rest at the airport. Anyway, when I was going through security, everything was going off. I could barely move with so many clothes. The lady goes to pat me down, and I’m this marshmallow person. I was explaining what I was doing and the lady totally had seen it happen before, but I got through - I won, right? I came back with all my favorite clothes.

JR: Do you collect a lot? Do you like to collect things?

HF: If I had more money, I would. I’m not much of an archivist or collector, but I exist between the realm of necessity and having shit for fun. I love records, but I’ve had to sell so many of them.

JR: I had to sell a lot of them for label stuff. There’s always going to be more records.

HF: But there are also times when you’re wanting to listen to some records and you’re like “Oh, fuck. I sold that one!”

JR: Yeah, and there are times when I’ve bought records back.

HF: It’s quick cash, for sure, and they don’t really depreciate. I don’t take care of mine that well - I don’t have them in sleeves. I just use them and love them.

JR: I keep mine in poly sleeves, but records are like the only thing I spend money on. Books too, I guess. I’ll go days without eating for a record. I can go about three days without eating.

HF: What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a record?

JR: Four hundred dollars.

HF: What record was it?

JR: Rowland S. Howard’s Teenage Snuff Film. Do you know that record?

HF: Whoa. Yeah.

JR: When I got sober, I listened to that record a lot. I saw a documentary of him about a month and a half after I got sober and, you know, the first part of recovery is the hardest. In the documentary, it ends, and Rowland’s given up heroin but he’s going to die. He’s going to die in the next few months. He dies before the documentary comes out. And at the end, he talks about wishing he had more time. And I knew that, “Fuck, I can’t drink and I can’t do drugs again.” That record means so much to me because of that. I got that record in April of 2014 and I stopped drinking and doing drugs on January 3, 2014. I listen to that record a lot. I think about how much that man wishes he were still alive and how much he can’t come back.

HF: That’s beautiful. Records can be magical. They can be very personal.

JR: Do you have a favorite record?

HF: Not a specific, favorite record. I have some cool records though. I’ve got some Jim Shepard records with paste on artwork and a Peter Jefferies record that’s a painting, where he sprinkled paint and glued stuff on. To me, it’s amazing. It’s a relic of time - it seems so personal. I love private pressing style stuff. My partner knows me - he’s a such a sweetheart - he keeps his records at his office. I fantasize about records and then sometimes when a special day rolls around, I get a record that I could never afford. That’s his romance - that’s how he gets to me. I’ll get home and a Patty Waters original from 1966 is on my bed and I’m like “What the fuck! This is amazing! All my dreams are coming true!” I love ESP-Disk.

JR: You just did that list, right? You only got three choices?

HF: Yeah, and how can you pick three? It was supposed to be a beginner’s guide too, but I like the weirder stuff, like whale noises. My idea of pop music is different than other peoples’. So I just went through and picked out the hits, I guess. I don’t know if I’m into hits, though. And Ben [Baker Billington] is on ESP-Disk. Last time Tiger Hatchery played in town, they played at Situations and it was fairly industrial-sounding. They’re such a good band.

JR: So, like, none of what I asked you was what I was going to ask you (laughs). But I think it’s more fun that way just to riff. Do you have a ritual when you play or when you make music?

Photo by Julia Dratel
HF: Well, it depends. I have my studio, which is totally messed up right now. My studio is sacred space - it has things my friends have given me and some crystals. I don’t have any ritual that I do when I record, but when I play live, I habitually do things. I stretch, I do vocal warm ups. I put on my gigging boots.

JR: You have gigging boots?

HF: Yeah, I have gigging boots (laughs). And if it’s a big show that I’m nervous for, I’ll shine them in the green room before I play. Vocal warm ups are hard because they’re loud and they get in peoples’ way. A lot of places I play don’t have a green room so I have to walk around the city and I look like a lunatic doing vocal warm ups, but I need to do a 45 minute vocal warm up, which I’ve only really been able to do completely a few times.

JR: How long have you been singing? 

HF: Since I was ten or eleven. I took vocal lessons and then when I went to college I didn’t. I think I’m getting into the second layer of my voice now, like I’m really becoming a musician. I did my first couple improv gigs recently, which were eye-opening. It was me and Carol Genetti, who’s kind of a secret vocalist from Chicago. She never tours. She’s been doing improv vocals for something like twenty-three years. She has so many world within her voice. I like Meredith Monk and Diamanda Galas, but it’s different when you’re practicing. I just did forty days in a month and a half. It feels good, though - it’s awesome.

JR: When did you start singing baritone?

HF: I’ve always sung baritone. I listened to a record I did in 2011 and I sound like a completely different person - my voice has just gotten lower and lower and lower, and I was wondering “Is this going to bottom out?” But it just kept going and I think I can maintain it now, but it’s always changing. The voice is crazy. Everything you drink touches it. Everything you eat touches it. When you talk, it affects your voice. Your air affects your voice. It’s a muscle and it will wear out one day. It’s a delicate instrument. I think about that a lot now, but I didn’t used to.

HF: In High School, I would sing guy parts like Tenor 1’s. I would try out for solos, but would never get them. I guess I didn’t have a voice suitable for star power - I wasn’t a Soprano 1. I felt a little awkward growing up with a low voice, but now I embrace it.

JR: Do you think you have a low talking voice?

HF: I think my talking voice is low, yeah, but my singing voice is much lower, I’ve been told. The way you sound to yourself is lower because it resonates in your face.

JR: Yeah, I think I’m more manly in general than I probably am, too. Gruffer.

HF: I think I’m more manly too.

JR: Well, that makes two of us. And you recently started getting acrylic nails for when you play, right?

HF: I did it right before this European tour and I’m really fucking up my guitar. It’s shredding my guitar, but it allows me to play more consistently, which is important. I finger pick a lot. I took gelatin pills for a while, which gives you great, shiny hair and sturdy finger nails. But my natural finger nails always break. A few of my friends use them, though, and they like them so I decided to try it out.

JR: Yeah, I think Ryley [Walker] does, right?

HF: Yeah. Ryley goes to a Vietnamese lady and I go to a Mexican lady. They look really different. I think mine look pretty badass, and they’re cheap too.

JR: So, in regards to the physical presentation before a show, what all do you have to do? I guess that sort of touches on the ritual thing.

HF: There’s a visual aspect to performance. I hate it. If I had it my way, I would sing behind a screen and someone would lip sync. It’s uncomfortable and I think there’s this double standard. I just had four live reviews in a row from Europe and the first thing that each of them talked about was how I looked. “She wore bell-bottom pants and her hair was in her face…” And I’m like, what the hell - that never happens with men. I’m not into fashion. I’m not a fashionable person and it makes me uncomfortable. It takes a lot of time, too, doing make up. When I have a show, I have to pack, and get my records, then I have to get ready for the actual show, like putting on makeup and taking a shower. Some people like that aspect of dressing up and becoming someone else, but it’s unnatural for me. It’s true too that I’ll sell more records if I wear lipstick and have a nice pair of pants. It’s just true. That’s the way the world works.

JR: Is that why you dress up and prepare yourself like that?

HF: Yeah, but sometimes it feels like armor too. It’s part of preparation and it takes a lot of time. I’m getting more comfortable getting in front of an audience, because I’ve been doing it for eight years now, but I fucking hate getting my photos taken. I hate being elevated on a stage with lights on me. I don’t like people looking at me. I like being the person at the back of class and I’m not going to raise my hand. I like to watch - I like people watching. Putting on makeup is part of the gig, I guess. It’s nice to feel attractive too. Makeup makes me feel more attractive in that context - I think it’s appropriate for whatever reason.

JR: Do you like to play live?

HF: I love to play live. I don’t do well traveling. I like meeting new people, but I wish the shows would come to me. All of these people would come to Chicago to see me. Sometimes I take it personally when you travel really far and you play a set that wasn’t your best or some cosmic force pits things against you - the PA dies or everyone’s having a bad day and they’re talking and drinking loudly. I’m a fragile person. But I’ve become a better musician through touring. It’s vital. I think every musician needs to tour. You learn a lot about yourself and you get better at your instrument. I like playing a set for a month and feeling the progress. I get back home after a month and so much progress has been made.

JR: It elevates and elevates.

HF: Yeah, you just keep doing it - getting better and better. Touring alone is a trip in itself. I’m bringing people on these next couple tours and it’s going to be great. It will present its own set of challenges, I think, since there will be so many of us, but anything is better than traveling the world alone without anyone to share experience with. Actions live and die on your own because there’s no one to share them with.

JR: Is it lonely?

HF: Very lonely. And I used to not mind the isolation when I was younger. It’s true. You can be whomever you want to be every night. You have freedom to do what your heart desires, but the older I get, the more I realize that I know who I am. It doesn’t seem as exploratory in a fundamental way anymore. Like going through shit to come out stronger on the other side. It gets lonely. Well, you travel alone a lot.

JR: It’s super lonely, but you can become more comfortable with yourself.

HF: It can be reflective, but too much of it is strange. Hotel rooms too. They can be such a safe haven or hell on earth.

JR: I lived for the first three months in Miami in hotel rooms. Definitely gets to a point where it’s less fun. I lived for a while in hotels in Charleston too and in Virginia and D.C. and a little bit in L.A.

HF: Hotel rooms have so much energy. So many people have been in and out of them. You can feel the energy. Sometimes it’s inviting and great, but sometimes it’s really bothersome.

JR: I think hotel rooms are hard to stay for a while too. Things are laid out to make you feel as though you’ve got to get out of there quickly. It’s easy to feel unwelcome.

HF: And housekeeping comes in at like eight or nine every time. Man, checkout’s at 11. I’ve got the “Do Not Disturb” sign right there! It’s a lesson to always use the latch, don’t sleep completely nude, and you’re good to go.

JR: I’ve yet to learn those two things. No - just kidding. I never really sleep nude cause I wear my one pair of pants all the time (laughs). So what else is in the future for Haley Fohr?

HF: Touring forever (laughs). I’ve been recording too. I’m finishing up a secret album next week. I’m not going to say anything about it except that it’s crazy and everyone tells me that it’s the worst idea I’ve ever had, which is really exciting! Then I’m on the road until like December. Come find me. No Miami dates though.

JR: Playing anywhere near Florida?

HF: I think the closest I’m playing is Texas.

JR: Okay, that’s pretty far.

Tour Dates:

Sun-Aug-16 SANTA ANA, CA @ Observatory (Berserktown Festival)
Mon-Aug-17 SAN FRANCISCO, CA @ Brick & Mortar
Wed-Aug-19 PORTLAND, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
Thu-Aug-20 VANCOUVER, BC @ Cobalt
Fri-Aug-21 SEATTLE, WA @ Lo-fi Performance Gallery
Sat-Aug-22 BOISE, ID @ MING Studios
Mon-Aug-24 DENVER, CO @ Rhinoceropolis
Tue-Aug-25 OMAHA, NE @ O'Leavers
Wed-Aug-26 IOWA CITY, IA @ Gabe's *Note venue change*
Thu-Aug-27 MINNEAPOLIS, MN @ 7th Street Entry
Fri-Aug-28 CHICAGO, IL @ The Hideout
Sep. 11 - 13 HUDSON, NY @ Basilica Sound Scape
20.09.2015 Tilburg (NL), Incubate Festival
21.09.2015 Aalst (BE), Netwerk
22.09.2015 Duesseldorf (DE), Filmwerkstatt (NEW!)
23.09.2015 Karlsruhe (DE), Kohi (NEW!)
24.09.2015 Luzern (CH), Suedpol
25.09.2015 Lausanne (CH), Le Bourg
26.09.2015 Duedingen (CH), Bad Bonn
29.09.2015 Paris (FR), Cafe L'Olympique (NEW!)
30.09.2015 London (UK), Cafe Oto
01.10.2015 Manchester (UK), The Eagle Inn
02.10.2015 Glasgow (UK), The Hug & Pint
05.10.2015 Luxembourg (LU), de Gudde Wëllen (NEW!)