We spoke with Haley Fohr about her subconscious relationship with geometric shapes, finding connection with practical strangers, the last instance that brought her to tears and how she processes a rapidly changing world.
It wasn’t until I was older and more confident to bring people into my art that this deep feeling of reward overcame me. The only difference was that people were along for the journey.
We asked Haley to tell us what came to mind when presented with each of these geometric objects.
A pinecone. A wintergreen forest.
The tortilla shop across from my apartment.
Two people wearing the same hat and thinking the same thing.
Infinity, endless possibilities. The sky is infinite to me. I forget to look at the sky a lot. When you take the time to just look at it, it’s pretty incredible.
The Achilles’ heel in a situation or person.
Adaptation and compromise. To me, that’s a personal shape. It’s me trying to figure out the day-to-day, never quite clicking in but maintaining presence.
I’d like to begin this conversation at the very beginning of your childhood, but in a very subconscious sense. Going back to your child-brain, do you remember any smell, texture, color or other sensation that calmed you down or made you happy, regardless of context?
The smell of chicken noodles, a dish my mom made. We always ate dinner around the table, and that was my favorite. The color yellow, too. Even though I resented it as a child because my house was yellow, my room was yellow, the car was yellow, in hindsight it just brings me back to a comforting feeling.
Flashing forward to the present, I understand that a lot of your newest record Reaching for Indigo deals with desiring greater connection with others, rather than being on an insular little island. That kind of reminds me of why I began doing North of the Internet in the first place – I’m kind of stubborn with my own habits, and I’d like to understand where others are coming from better. What have you learned from pursuing a deeper connection with other human beings?
I guess my point of view previously came from a very singular and isolated place. When I first started doing music, it was a solo project — I’m still kind of at the helm of it all. I found myself setting goals for myself and reaching them, but on my own accord and feeling this sense of loss. It wasn’t until I was older and more confident to bring people into my art that this deep feeling of reward overcame me. The only difference was that people were along for the journey. That was a huge lesson for me in life.
Can you think of any particular instance in which you were like “I’m going to get to know this person better!” when you might not have done that before?
Yeah, I mean, with touring, you’re in such a special situation of intimacy with practical strangers. I remember in 2008, I was doing a lot of European touring by train on my own. I had to lean on people. I opened a couple of shows for Ben Frost around that time, and Shahzad Ismaily, a multi-instrumentalist, was playing drums for him. During our first day meeting, we were both so worn-down from the road that we were like “I’ve got to get some exercise — let’s go find a place!”
We were in Berlin, and we found a gym, but like, a super-gym that was six stories tall with glass windows. We walked inside and said “We just want to work out,” and the person was so confused. They looked down at our feet and said “You don’t have proper attire, you can’t just come in here and use our equipment! Where are your tennis shoes?”
We worked out a deal where they let us use this janitor’s closet in the basement. I have this vivid memory of running in place with Shahzad, burning calories underground in this weird bro-y gymnasium. We had known each other for 20 minutes. I just love the shit that can unfold.
Right, and when you think about it, there’s no logical reason we can’t just innocently pick out some stranger in public and say “Hey, let’s go play some pinball!” or whatever. It’s the arbitrary fears and cautions we’ve built between ourselves, because it’s an uncertain world.
Totally. There’s lot of fear or social anxiety in that regard, but for me, it’s easy to overcome.
This kind of reminds me of how we’re in this era where it’s en vogue to jump down each other’s throats about things, especially online. Just look at YouTube comments — these might be nice people, but the whole anonymity thing emboldens them to act like complete monsters. I’d like to talk about your approach when you disagree with someone, find them distasteful or think “This person did something wrong.” Are you more the type to give someone a second chance or to write them off?
That’s a tough one. It depends on the situation. I mean, I don’t believe in the Internet. I’m an introvert by nature so I do use it to socialize, but I recognize it can be weaponized. For some, it’s a platform, and it just depends on how you want to use that platform — for good or evil. But I’m pretty hard-lined, I’d say. I try to find forgiveness in my heart, but I’ve also come into this new phase of my life that involves self-care and putting myself before others. Which can sound selfish, but really, it’s something I lacked for a long time and it’s for the better to take responsibility for your own mental health and what you need. If somebody breaks my trust, it’s quite a feat to get me back to that place of comfort, to trust them again.
I see spiders as a nurturing, symbiotic symbol of artistry, transformation and looking beyond first impressions.
Really quickly and off-topic, I’d like to ask you to briefly meditate on these three objects: spiders, robins and axes. What does each immediately remind you of? Can you relate them to any distant anecdote or memory?
To me, they’re kind of spiritual. They’re scary to look at. I see them, and I’m frightened by the way they appear, but I don’t kill insects, spiders or anything. I see them as a nurturing, symbiotic symbol of artistry, transformation and looking beyond first impressions.
They remind me of my childhood in Indiana. Brown robins are everywhere. They seem friendly, but I never see a robin having fun in the sky. I guess their wingspans are kind of small. But they seem busy and chatter-y, really involved in their social community.
A couple of years ago, I was living in a “compound” kind of community with a bunch of artists and we chopped wood for fire. I was terrible at it. It’s a lot harder than it looks. When I think of an axe, I think of something that seems simple but is actually quite complicated.
I hope this isn’t too intimate of a question, but you remember the last moment you cried? Would you like to tell me why this occurred, and regardless of this, what generally brings you to tears?
For better or worse, I’m a quite sensitive person. The last time I was brought to tears, it was because I was meditating on gun violence and racism in America. Sometimes, when you add up all the numbers and statistics and really think about it, it’s just so awful. I mean, people are dying and don’t feel safe. We’re living in fear for our lives in this first-world country. To me, it’s just a tragedy.
Absolutely, and I’ve been thinking so much about where the arrow is generally pointing with our country and world, whether it’s uphill or downhill. I’m pretty morose about it, but I’m curious as to what others think about the solution to any or all of it, because we’re just divided right down the middle right now. It’s just tense. What do you think is needed to kind of loosen that tension, eventually?
I think that’s the big answer we’re all searching for. That’s the thing, questions are easy and answers are hard. I do feel like this situation is being utilized in a really divisive way. Things feel so divided, but we have so much in common with everyone. We have so much in common with plants, or bacteria! I really think that love is the answer. I don’t know exactly how to convey the thought process of “Stop what you’re doing, look at this person and think about all your commonalities rather than your differences.” It’s obviously such an imbalanced list. I don’t think changing anyone’s mind is the answer, I think it’s just finding a common ground and recalibrating. I just don’t know the way to do that, or the person to help it happen.
If you catch a small wave of retweets or whatever the affirmation it is you’re looking for, enjoy it but don’t trust it. It just seems so fleeting.
I recently had a conversation with Rench for this publication and asked him something similar. His idea was that the solution comes down to a day-to-day basis in how we treat people. I was at the world’s grossest post office yesterday and everyone was in the line just hating each other. I was just thinking, like, “I could be really mad at the guy who’s taking forever,” but we all feel pain, you know? Who knows what kind of day this guy is having? Do you ever think along those lines when dealing with others?
Totally, but that’s not my initial reaction every time. I think coming to that thought process takes clarity and space. I really have a hard time with the pace of the world right now. Everybody is rushed, everything is happening so quickly. But if we all took our time and were a little more careful, even just walking down the street slower or something, it could breed a more agreeable and mindful consciousness.
Right, and I’m wondering how that could translate to how we all digest music. I know some people in this industry, including my girlfriend, who are required to listen to 10 albums a day at work without having the time to digest them. As an artist, how do you deal with media becoming this ghostly digital thing, with all your hard work flung into Internet space?
It’s beyond me. I feel a bit like a Luddite in this situation, and I’m 28 years old! I do think pop culture is still real and operates in waves or trends that all live and die, but I try not to read too much into it. As an artist, it’s not my job — I mean, I’m having this conversation with you now, but I try to truncate it to a very small percentage of my life. But in general, I guess you should enjoy it if you can. If you catch a small wave of retweets or whatever the affirmation it is you’re looking for, enjoy it but don’t trust it. It just seems so fleeting.
It’s like there’s not enough time to “enjoy the meal,” as it were, with information. Every time I’m in midtown Manhattan, I see someone in a business suit looking super-demented as he wolfs down some pre-packaged meal at the edge of a restaurant table while on the phone. That’s how I see people with content now. It’s like, “Oh, I like it. Next!”
There are people who digest music in that way, and I think that’s kind of why my music is even able to be consumed in any form. I don’t think things like streaming — I’ve been told by my agent that it’s great for discoverability, that people can find you easier, but I’m looking for people who just want to enjoy something. I mean, kudos to your girlfriend and other people who put in that work. In that kind of position, they’re making a great sacrifice so that other people can survive.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: November 14, 2017
Total questions: 8 + 11
Word count: 2040
Reading time: Eight minutes
Achilles’ heel, After the Gold Rush, axe, bacteria, Ben Frost, Berlin, calories, Chicago, chicken, childhood, Circuit Des Yeux, clarity, complexion, cone, cylinder, demented, discoverability, Drag City, fear, fire, first-world, forest, geometry, Germany, gymnasium, Haley Fohr, helix, Indiana, insect, intimacy, island, isolation, Manhattan, meditation, Mobius strip, monster, Neil Young, New York, noodles, number, pinecone, plane, platform, pyramid, Rench, retweet, robin, Shahzad Ismaily, shooting, singularity, spa, sphere, spider, statistic, stranger, torus, violence, weapon, wingspan, wintergreen, yellow
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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