Peer Reviewed: Claire Rousay Interviews Circuit Des Yeux… And Vice Versa

Circuit Des Yeux and Claire Rousay interview each other about namedropping, social media stats, keeping safe and sane when touring solo, Justin Bieber, pyrotechnics, their least favourite instruments and more

Claire Rousay by Katherine Squier, Circuit Des Yeux by Evan Jenkins

Music writers. Who needs ’em? We recently had the opportunity to get two of tQ’s favourite musicians, Haley Fohr (aka Circuit Des Yeux) and Claire Rousay, together and left them to have a conversation about their individual practice, without any interference.

Fohr has released six acclaimed albums under the name Circuit Des Yeux, the most recent being last year’s -io which saw her incorporate orchestral tones. Earlier this year, she also released the standalone single ‘The Manatee (A Story Of This World Pt III)’ and the EP Live From Chicago. She has also released two albums with her pop-influenced alter ego Jackie Lynn.

Rousay is a prolific experimental musician, whose latest solo album everything perfect is already here was named at number seven in tQ’s top 100 albums of 2022 so far list earlier this year. In September, she announced another album wouldn’t have to hurt, a benefit album for The Trevor Project. This year has also seen her collaborate with More Eaze and Bloodz Boi on the EP a crying poem, and with More Eaze on Never Stop Texting Me.

On October 20, Matador will release the EP Sunset Poem, which will see Rousay reworking three tracks from Circuit Des Yeux’s -io. Pre-order it here

Claire Rousay interviews Circuit Des Yeux

Circuit Des Yeux by Evan Jenkins

What was your first experience with music that made you go, ‘I wanna do that’?

Haley Fohr, Circuit Des Yeux: It was more like, I can do that. When I was 17 I was grounded with my sister, only for two days, but we happened to have Sonic Youth’s Confusion Is Sex on vinyl. We pretended we were having the best party of our lives in the room, listening to that record over and over. Hearing Kim Gordon’s voice and how deep it was, it was directive. It made me feel like, ‘that kinda sounds like my voice and what I’d like to do with it.’

As a touring person in a romantic relationship, how do you make it work?

HF: Not to Dr. Phil it, but it’s different for each couple. For me, I keep in touch daily via text – videos are just not my thing. I also do this green room hack where I get them to give me postcards with stamps on them and I ship a few to my loved ones every other day.

I just redid my rider and I put a single loose cigarette on there, but that’s way better. What’s your biggest musical no-no? Something you would never do in your own music?

HF: I would never have a cajon in my music. There’s something about the cajon that’s so cringy to me, I don’t like the sound, I don’t like the way it looks when people have to play it.

It’s unsettling watching a grown man sit on the box and hit it. Things are getting really intense but you’ve got to rest your arms on your knees? Why would you make an instrument that does that to you?

HF: It looks like they’re going to the bathroom or something. It’s uncouth.

Do you look at your stats online? Spotify plays and social media follows and likes? And dos that impact you?

HF: The answer before my new record was no, and now it’s yes. I never really had a Spotify account before, and now it’s a tidal wave, I don’t think it’s good. When I’m on tour I don’t use social media as much, and I think it’s because I’m happier. Looking at social media makes me feel bad, it’s sensory overload. I keep journals, and so if something’s a fragmented thought that might be cool on Twitter, it might be cooler if I wrote it down and grew upon that thought – you never know if it could be a poem or a song, or even just a new branch of interest. I think social media does suck that out of us as artists whether we want to admit it or not. But it can be fun. Seeing rich people is cool… I wouldn’t see that otherwise.

You have MTV Cribs and more in your pocket, it’s crazy! I think I also wouldn’t know as many people. I’ll run into someone at a festival or a show and I’ll be like, ‘Oh I know so much about you, I follow you’. Even saying ‘follow’ someone, the words used to describe his thing is insane…

HF: It’s almost a perversion of our internal thoughts. You see a lot of people’s really intimate moments, it’s weird.

How do you know when somebody in music art world is trying to be your friend versus when they’re trying to network with you? I’m not very good at telling the difference.

HF: I think there’s a cadence, something about eye contact, there’s a deep kind of gut instinct. If you’re truly connecting with someone and they’re flattering you and your eyes are connecting, you just know ‘I’m gonna be good friends with this person’ and maybe you might happen to be able to help each other out in this ‘industry’ or whatever the fuck people call it. I have an aversion to compliments anyway, I just don’t believe them, so I don’t usually take the bait. I’ll say ‘thank you, that’s sweet’ but it doesn’t really get past the barrier. I’m pretty laid back when those moments happen, so it’s like, feels aggressive or I’m just not picking it up and they’re name dropping. Name dropping’s a pet peeve of mine actually… but you’ve just got to follow it.

I don’t fucking know anybody. Somebody will be talking about an artist’s music for like ten minutes, and they’ll say, ‘you don’t know this person?’ And it’ll be one of the biggest artists in the world. Name dropping is either an accidental dick move on my part, or I’m so stupid that it doesn’t even work on me.

HF: I don’t think it’s that you’re stupid, it’s the splitting of culture! There’s 250 biggest pop stars in the world right now.

And I don’t know any of them! Actually, that’s not true, I’ve seen all the Justin Bieber documentaries. His wife has amazing taste in clothing. Do you have strategies for maintaining good mental health on tour, and do those things change with the size of the group that you travel with?

HF: My capacity changes depending on my task at hand, for sure. This is the first tour I’ve had a driver and a tour manager and that’s been really good for me. I’m a bit of a neurotic person, so to take care of myself I always carry a Pema Chödrön book. She’s this Buddhist-leaning self-help person and it’s really amazing work, very immediate and kind of gorgeous. Right now I have her book called The Places That Scare You and Awakening Loving-Kindness is a really good one too. They’re really little books that fit in your pocket. I also do breathing techniques that my partner taught me, it’s really helpful for falling asleep and starting the day right.

Having more people around sounds really nice, you have more people to turn to to be like, ‘is this a good idea?’

HF: It’s also nice having someone asking how you’re doing. Someone cares, and that’s really beautiful. It takes the pressure off too. For me it makes it easier to understand that playing music is an experience, we’re working and trying to help people. You’re adding to the braid of human existence and trying to connect with people, that takes a lot of energy. The show kinda doesn’t matter, what matters is how we’re feeling and how we remember it. It’s as important as eating breakfast in the morning.

Circuit Des Yeux interviews Claire Rousay

Claire Rousay by Em Scott

Can I ask you the same opening question? Did you have an album that made you hear music differently?

Claire Rousay: I was really obsessed with being really good at drums as a teenager, I was playing in orchestras and stuff like that but I also wanted to be a super-fast shredder. I got into weird music pretty late, but it was when I finally heard Hella’s Hold Your Horse Is for the first time… I heard that record and it had the song ‘Biblical Violence’ on it, which is one of the best math rock songs that I’ve ever heard. It’s Zach Hill playing drums and I wanted to be like Zach Hill.

And as a drummer you appreciate that rhythm and precision?

CR: Yeah, it was the first time listening to music that was that fast and changed that much. I heard it a certain way because I was trying to transcribe it and play it back.

You use Max MSP software that is recognisable amongst synthesists these days, and I’m curious how you got that program and what drew you to it.

CR: I use Ableton, which everybody who can either steal it or afford to pay like $800 can have, but then I pair it with Max MSP which allows me to do a little bit more. I’m still learning, I’m really entry level, but it’s made my life a lot easier using that and midi controllers. I don’t have to worry about anyone breaking my stuff at the airport or carrying anything really big by myself. The real reason I do everything on a computer is that I want to make sure I only travel with what I can physically carry and protect, I never want to have anything more than I can carry up a flight of stairs in one go.

It’s really individual what this program lets you do, there’s infinite possibilities, it reminds me of Delia Derbyshire or Wendy Carlos or Laurie Spiegel almost, just of the now.

CR: Hell yeah!

Where did you first hear about it?

CR: Probably my friend Mari, she tells me about everything, she taught me what Ableton was, I didn’t know how to use anything. So probably her. I’ve heard a lot of people who go to grad school learn about it too, but I didn’t go to any music school…

Hell yeah! That’s why you’ve got all those fresh ideas! Say you have to play outside in the rain, with no electricity, no shelter, a thirty minute set, what’s your set up?

CF: The obvious choice would be a drum kit; with enough rain it could look like Blue Man Group! There’s this really cool Box Car Racer music video, which was two members of Blink-182, that came out in 2004 where they’re playing outside and it’s raining and there’s water splashing everywhere. But if I had to play something more in line with what I do now… my set up would probably be a series of little motors or vibrating objects, you could place them on different things and figure out where they’ll resonate in the space that you’re in.

That’s very Yoshi Wada of you, Claire!

CR: I want to know your answer too.

Come on, I’d probably just put some rocks in a jar and walk around singing into different shit. I would like to utilise the rain in some kind of way, have a few pots and the rain create a two-tone pattern. I’m also curious about your alone time, I know you tour alone a lot, do you mostly make music alone?

CR: I recently moved to a new place that’s very big, and while I know lots of people in the big place, it’s hard to hang out with them on a whim, so I’ve been hanging out with my partner a lot. I’ve definitely been spending less time alone at home than I have in the past. But I’m alone a lot. On tour especially. Today I woke up, talked to the person that drove me from the festival grounds to the airport, then didn’t speak again until the person for a residency I’m setting up picked me up from the airport. I would like to spend more time alone at home, because I think being alone in a comfortable environment is a little different to being alone in a little bit more of a chaotic environment.

If you had an unlimited budget for a music video, what would your music video be?

CR: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. As I add more and more song form into my work there is the possibility of making a music video with a narrative. I don’t know exactly what yet, but if it was an unlimited budget for a video I would make sure all of my favourite things were in there. If you’re given a good budget for a music video it’s a good opportunity to have an experience you wanted anyway, like if you want fish in it, say ‘I need to go snorkelling’. So probably something that has to do with snorkelling. Those anti-gravity simulation chambers, those are sick.

Some sick clothes, probably?

CR: Yeah, styled really well with tropical fish and no gravity.

Are you into pyrotechnics?

CR: I’m into that shit, I was into fire as a kid, I think I had a problem. Did you ever do the magnifying glass thing?

No but my sisters and I would unravel a whole roll of toilet paper in someone’s driveway then light it on fire. It goes out almost immediately but it’s very dangerous. That’s the shit kids in Indiana do when their parents are away…

CR: LA’s gonna be underwater so I’ll do it right before that. Before the mega storm.

Are you looking to expand your touring crew?

CR: Honestly, I would just be so happy if I could travel with just a single other person. I’m not timid, but having another person to be like ‘yeah let’s do that thing’ would help me experience places better. Going to see a classic piece of artwork or something or going to this museum or going to this market, I’m always like, ‘do I really want to do that by myself?’ I want to make sure I’m safe, too.

Everything you’re saying I’ve experienced as well. We haven’t even talked about going to the bathroom in an airport alone, bringing all your stuff into this dirty ass stall with you because no one can watch your stuff. Even just having a drink – you can’t even have the capacity to get off your game a little bit.

CR: Totally. You’re like, ‘wow, if I fuck up there’s nobody to save me.’

You could die and it’d take days. People would be like ‘she’s just on tour still.

CR: ‘Maybe she’s just really late!’ I envy people who travel with another person, it gets so sad by yourself.

I know, but you’ll still have funny, weird memories that are just for yourself, and they stick with you. It’s time, treat yourself! The best money I’ve ever spent is on people, people are expensive but they’re the best. You deserve a person. Let’s get you that person.

Circuit Des Yeux and Claire Rousay’s Sunset Poem is released on October 20 via Matador

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