claire rousay is an L.A. based musician who primarily works within the experimental genre, creating sparse yet profoundly moving soundscapes from field recordings and ambient production. Her latest album, sentiment however, takes a poppier turn, with an emphasis on synthy vocals and guitar, pushing the boundaries even of experimental music. It is a beautifully intimate work, showcasing Rousay’s endlessly creative production, her eclectic influences and admiringly humble approach to her own music. 
sentiment came out on Friday, April 19th via the independent label, Thrill Jockey. In anticipation of its release, we spoke to claire about her relationship to the experimental genre, what it means to be an anti-fan, and how she can be so vulnerable on her records.
Hi Claire, thanks for speaking to us, congrats on the new album! How are you feeling in anticipation of its release? Have you been working on this project for a while?
Thanks! Things are feeling pretty chaotic at the moment - tons of travel, meetings, paralysed awake at night in my bed. The usual. I am doing well though. This project, more or less, is five years of on and off work. It feels pretty crazy to get a couple of these songs out that I started on in like, 2019 or 2020. 
Looking through your Spotify back catalogue you have released so much music since 2017, and even more on your Bandcamp. Do you find that you generally tend to work quite quickly when making music? It seems like you’re always experimenting and pushing towards something new.
I used to say that I am not one of those people who claim that they were born to make music but as the years go on, I am finding that I may actually be one of those people. I work quickly and on multiple projects at the same time. All the work I do informs the other things I am doing at the time. So, while this record has been in the works for five or so years, I’ve started and completed a dozen or two other projects in that timeframe. Experimentation is always an integral part of my process - which is probably the reason this album had songwriter material on it (laughs).
sentiment is a pretty noticeable shift away from your past records, in the foregrounding of vocals and guitar. Could you talk us through what initially inspired this shift? Why did you find yourself wanting to make a record that is more pop than experimental?
Honestly, I just got tired of listening to experimental music. My goal has always been to write and record the music I personally would want to listen to and over the years I have grown less interested in whatever the experimental scene has had to offer. This applies more to the major players in the scene rather than that genre as a whole. Just the big labels, trends, etc. it gets so stale. Throwing vocals and guitar on a record, rather than some vintage synth or some shit, feels more like an act of experimentation at this point.
I also just grew up on guitar music and love to play with the tools and sounds that were part of the world that I came of age in. Emo music, DIY rock band touring, community or college radio - I did all that stuff before I landed in capital C Composition world. Returning to at least a version of that is comforting. 
Are there any elements in this record that nevertheless feel very distinct to you? Maybe it’s difficult to try to define your own sound, but if you could identify any characteristics that cohere across all your music, or that you are always drawn to, what do you think those would be?
Like I touched on earlier, I am driven to make music that I want to listen to. Autotune and extreme vocal effects are always on the table for me. Young Thug, etc. All that shit is my bag. So definitely that as well as the classic (fairly clean) fender guitar tone that you hear on so many slowcore and emo records. Another constant would be the violin on the album. My friend who performs as more eaze played violin all over the album and her contributions on the record as well as past releases have almost become as much a part of my sound as my own recording contributions.  
Most of your music, including this album, use field recordings. I like the sound at the end of 4pm - it sounds to me like a film reel turning backwards which is such a perfect start to such a nostalgic album! What are some places you generally like to take field recordings from? Do you go in search of a specific kind of sound?
A lot of the field recordings I used for this album were taken from recordings I had rolling while I spent time at home. Most of the time I am home I am either recording or emailing or listening to music. I figured it won’t hurt anyone, and definitely help me remember things, if I record around the clock at home. So much of the extra sound and field recording material on this album was recorded just before or after the recording takes for the music on the record. I have a pretty large sound bank on my computer from recordings at and around my home(s). I have been doing this for years so some of these domestic field recordings are from my house in Texas or my home now in L.A.. It’s really nice to add parts of your real, everyday life to an album which typically is a reflection of your experiences and not an unaltered documentation of your experiences. It makes it more real.
The song lover’s spit plays in the background references the song by Canadian Indie rock band, Broken Social Scene. Are they an important band to you? What are some other musicians that have had the most profound impact on you personally and musically? 
I never was a huge BSS fan as a kid but was really into Kevin’s solo album Spirit If…. That song Tbtf (too beautiful to fuck) wrecked my brain when I first heard it. When writing the lyrics for that song I thought “Lover’s Spit plays in the background” fit better than “Too beautiful to fuck plays in the background”. It’s more relatable to reference the hit lol.
Other musicians that have had a similar mind-altering impact include Pedro The Lion or Dave Bazan, Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse, Young Thug.
I read that the album cover is a bedroom set that you made and are planning on reconstructing on tour. It definitely coheres with the melancholy and intimate vulnerability on the record, reminding me of a (literal) bedroom pop album. Was this aesthetic or genre something that you were inspired by when you were making it? Or are there any similar elements you can note?
You pretty much nailed it. Sort of a joke about bringing bedroom pop (literally) from the bedroom to the stage. I think adding a set design element to the tour will also help the new material land with listeners who have been following me for a while. Making sure they know I haven’t become totally dull and am still a crazy person - just in different ways. Also a nice nod back to toxic tumblr girl culture. 
Speaking of the tour, from reading about your live shows they are equally as experimental as your music. Often you record and playback voices and sounds in the audience to incorporate them in the set. How do you conceive of the relationship between you, your music and the audience or the listener more generally? I love the idea of an album being a kind of never-completed collaborative process with the listener, is this something like what you have in mind?
I don’t feel precious about most of my work so adding to it constantly and sharing the creative process with so many people is a great feeling. The experimentation live usually goes well but can occasionally cause tech issues or at the very least technology stress. It is worth it, ultimately, to give the concert attendees as much as I can of myself during the show. Though, at the merch table when folks start telling me I saved their lives or whatever - which does happen a lot - I am like “aight I’m losing stamina quickly”. 
On musical collaboration, this album features musicians like Lala Lala and Hand Habits. How did you come to work with them and why did you want their skills and musicianship on this album?
Instagram for both Meg and Lillie. Classic 2024 connect. Meg and I hung out in L.A. shortly after I moved and tracked their parts on ily2 in an afternoon and that is how that collab came to be. Lillie and I had been trading songs over email for a while and the one that made it to the record just ended up being the one we finished first. It’s also fun to connect with people in a different music world than the one I am in, even though both of them do more experimental music in addition to their more pop leaning projects. My friendships with them both have grown since the recording for the record which rules. 
Despite the collaborations, the album still feels incredibly personal and vulnerable. While your past releases are woven with a sense of vulnerability, never has it seemed so explicit as in the lyrics of these songs. Did you ever feel apprehensive or scared to be so openly vulnerable? 
I don’t always realise the extent to it when I’m making songs, especially lyrical music. I write down what I feel, what I’ve experienced, and usually edit it very little. I’ve shared so much of my life with the Internet since I was a teenager so sharing songs or music or art-whatever feels low stakes at this point. My old myspace profile is much higher on my list of concerns regarding public consumption and perception. Though, singing about giving someone head as a preemptive apology does feel a bit too close to home when I think about other people imagining me in that position.
One line that stuck out to me was in the opening track, 4pm, that you worry might sound like a “pathetic attempt at being real”. Do you ever get concerned about maintaining a kind of authenticity in your music, to avoid becoming to your listeners a distant artist-figure or face on a Spotify banner? 
I think the overly sentimental aspects within the works may lose their ability to touch listeners if I lean into those too much or too frequently. I also think that without doing so, I’d feel totally detached from the listener. I am anti-fan. My friend Andrew Weathers (mastered the album) introduced me to the term and I have since then tried to erase the idea of any fandom surrounding myself or my work and rather focus on community, connection and shared experience.
As a primarily experimental musician, how do you relate to the modern music industry, dominated by trends and streaming numbers? Do you find it difficult to promote your music, or get the dominant powers in the music industry to take experimental music seriously?
If I could become a distant Spotify figure who made a lot of money, sold lots of tickets to the shows then maybe I wouldn’t be so opposed (laughs). For now, Spotify or the dominant powers are not a friend of the 15 minute song, the trans-woman, the indie label, the non-TikTok artist, the underground artist, and really anyone else they can’t catch at the end of the road and exploit after other people have put in the time and work to get to a point of recognition.
My music doesn’t do well on streaming services. I sell more physical records than anything. A lot of my friends who are significantly more popular on streaming services and just in general are always baffled by my sales numbers. Not sure if it is experimental music or just all my old man listeners but I’m here for it and I’m here to cash the check.
Finally, have you started working on anything new yet that we can start getting excited about? What kind of direction do you think your music will take next?
I am working on new versions of the live show for sentiment. I have 4 or 5 different versions of my touring band for the upcoming tours. That is always fun. Aside from that, lots of recording. I have two collaborative LPs in the mastering stages right now. I have some scoring and soundtrack works in the final stages as well. I have another solo record almost finished as well as another set of songs I finished writing. So you can expect some of the same, some more focused songwriter material, some more abstract and ambient-leaning music. Really a ton of different stuff.