UNTIL A FEW years ago, Haley Fohr had been strictly a solo artist. The music she'd released up to that point—under the name Circuit des Yeux—came from her and her alone, whether it was the heavily processed alien speech that looped through "Crying Chair" (from 2011's Portrait) or the broken electronics and ramshackle, Jandek-like folk on her '09 album, Sirenum.
But as Fohr settled into her new hometown of Chicago in 2012, she began embracing collaboration. She recorded with freakout guitar improviser Bill Orcutt and the artist known as Mind Over Mirrors, and took gigs backing up other experimental musicians in and around the Windy City.
"It takes the weight off my own art," Fohr says of working with others. "Doing something less personal and less of a mind-boggle for me keeps me completely open for free expression. I'm much more comfortable now, but I know I still have a long ways to go."
Fohr's work with other musicians started to bleed into her own music. The last two Circuit des Yeux albums were recorded with a gaggle of friends, including Kathleen Baird and Bitchin Bajas member Cooper Crain. In doing so, Fohr's music has opened up in amazing ways, particularly on her newest release, this year's In Plain Speech. The way is still clear for her sonorous contralto voice, but surrounding it are pulsing clouds of music that reveal chilling keyboard loops colored with rich viola ("Do the Dishes") or slowly enveloping drones that turn into staccato drum hits and guitar hums ("Dream of TV").
This newfound love of playing with others also helped Fohr with her own issues performing live. As an unaccompanied solo performer, she struggled with presenting herself and her art, even to willing audiences. But now she's touring with a band to support her, and she's feeling more willing to take risks.
"Sometimes we'll play one track for 40 minutes," Fohr says. "Sometimes, we'll do five. I just hope I'm able to go back to being one person on the road after being spoiled with a band like this."