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Claire rousay by Zoe Donahoe 2

claire rousay brings emo ambient into the bedroom

18 April 2024, 14:00
Words by Kez Cochrane
Original Photography by Zoe Donahue

Flirting with indie-pop’s outer limits, claire rousay talks to Kez Cochrane about combining her love of emo and experimental ambient music into her most accessible and exposed record yet.

“Is sex a cure for loneliness,” asks writer Olivia Laing in the opening pages of The Lonely City, “and if it is, what happens if our body or sexuality is considered deviant or damaged… and is technology helping with these things?”

It’s an apposite line of contemplation when listening to claire rousay’s latest album, sentiment, a record that introspectively centres on the bedroom and that concerns itself with intimate explorations of connection, loneliness and sex.

These themes have permeated rousay’s previous works, but on sentiment they’re made more direct. As she explains to Best Fit, “It’s a collection of mostly song-based material, so the way that the loneliness is communicated through language is very clear. I personally think it’s obvious in other works that I’ve released, but this one is the most obvious. The loneliness is there in an accessible way. A way that people can hear it and be like, ‘Oh! I know that word means claire’s not having a good time!”


On sentiment, the Canadian-born, LA-based musician wholeheartedly embraces the emo ambient label she’s joked about over the years. “It was an inside thing between me and a couple other people,” she says, explaining – while sporting one of her emo ambient caps on our Zoom call – how the term became a thing with her friends Mari Maurice and Randall Taylor. All three artists grew up listening to emo and then got into making experimental ambient music, Maurice as More Eaze and Taylor as AMULETS.

“Emo was one of the first genres of music that I discovered and really got into, so I’m always gonna identify with it in a weird way,” she says. “It was a very big part of my personality when I was a kid, because it was one of the first things that I decided I liked without anybody telling me to.”

Claire rousay by Zoe Donahoe

This formative identification with emo also offered a significant contrast to the rigidity of rousay’s upbringing in an evangelical Christian community in San Antonio, Texas, where she’d lived from the age of 10. “If you decide something for yourself, you’re in total control and that has a lasting effect,” she adds. “Especially coming from Christianity, where you have people in charge and a book and all this shit telling you what to do.”

The Christian god, and his absence, is manifest across sentiment. On “head” rousay sings “spending half of my whole life giving you head / just in case you need to forgive me / for one day for something that I did” ­– a lyric that taps into this exploration of guilt and sex, carrying a penitential religious hangover.

For rousay, leaving the religion she grew up in and no longer having a belief in a higher power, and the sense of solace found through that, fuelled what she describes as a “baseline loneliness that never went away.” While still entangled in the church, rousay was a drummer in evangelical worship bands. “I did a gig for this pretty big touring church where there were 10,000 people in a room,” she recalls. “When you start building the song back up and 10,000 people react to it, you’re like ‘Oh my god, I have so much power,’ and I feel the same way sometimes even now when I play live. You’re really just responding to the energy in the room, trying to tap into other people’s feelings and reactions to what you’re doing.”

It’s fitting that sentiment arrives during a banner year for emo, with the 25th anniversary of American Football’s seminal self-titled debut and the resurgent popularity of the genre and guitar music. On record, rousay’s arrangements hold an intricately nuanced flow of energy and spatial awareness, not to mention the stark emotional potency of the tracks on sentiment that invite us into solitary spaces – both the private places where she wrote these songs and the vulnerable headspaces expressed in the songwriting.

sentiment revolves, in particular, around the bedroom. A deeply personal space that witnesses all facets of our most private selves and intimacies, the bedroom has long been a motif across all artistic mediums. For the album artwork, rousay fabricated a fake bedroom in her studio “for this fake person” she invented. Complete with bedside table clutter, including crushed Dale’s beer cans which gained the brand’s approval, rousay pulled on a variety of influences for the concept. “One of the obvious ones is that I grew up using Tumblr,” she says, citing the messy-chic Tumblr girl bedroom aesthetic as an influence alongside “fuckboys with mattresses on the floor.”

“I feel like that era of bedroom photos really called on Patti Smith and the Chelsea Hotel photos,” she adds. “So those were an influence as well. But there have been so many artists that I really admire that use the bedroom as a motif. It’s cool that people interpret it differently.”


The album begins with the depression pit confessional of “4pm”, a text rousay originally wrote for the Brandon Stosuy-curated anthology Sad Happens. Read on the track by musician Theodore Cale Schafer (whose debut album Patience is a favourite of rousay’s), it’s frank and raw, capturing that feeling when the isolating chasm of sadness seems infinite. “It’s 4pm on a Monday and I cannot stop sobbing,” recites Schafer. “I haven’t been able to eat or sleep or leave the bed for days.”

The remainder of sentiment’s ten songs mark a distinct shift from rousay’s previous releases. Here, she embraces more conventional songwriting structures as a vehicle for her vulnerabilities, presenting them in a more forthright way. Relying predominantly on guitar and (often heavily AutoTuned) vocals, sentiment is a rousay take on indie-pop, but it’s “still very much an outlier” and “not in that world,” she says, adding that it’s “probably the closest thing I could ever do to be in that zone.”

As much as sentiment centres around states of loneliness and being alone, it’s also about connection. For rousay, this connectivity is core to her music. “I definitely do music primarily to play with friends,” she says, “and I feel like I got to play with a lot of friends on the record.” One of these friends is Meg Duffy, aka Hand Habits, who features on the tenderly resplendent album closer “ily2”. “Meg was one of the first people that invited me to hang out,” rousay recalls, explaining how their friendship formed about two years ago when she relocated to LA after a break-in at her San Antonio home in 2021 left her feeling violated and all her belongings stolen or vandalised.

Claire rousay by Zoe Donahoe 3

An ever-prolific artist, rousay explains that she was making the record alongside multiple others, including many of the works she’s released in the past two years. “I've had these songs forever, and I've sent different versions of them to so many friends over the years,” she explains. When it came time to mix the album, she enlisted Bennett Littlejohn, who has worked with Hovvdy, Katy Kirby, and on rousay’s 2023 single “Sigh in My Ear” – the cover of which is a precursor to the sentiment bedroom aesthetic.

For rousay, the live shows are what she’s most looking forward to with the release of sentiment. This collection of more direct songwriting broaches new territory, and a new way of connecting with people too. “I've never had a song that people will know at a show,” she says, “so I’m excited and curious to see if that happens.”

For the shows, she’s bringing her bedroom on tour, which means rebuilding the album cover each night. “Bringing my own energy is really important to me,” she says. “It’s important to bring the energy of the album cover and all the emotions that come with it, and I think the best way to do that is to recreate it and give the audience as much of that feeling as I can.”

It’s a sensitivity that encapsulates the generosity on which rousay’s work is founded – the way in which she crafts such richly evocative environments, filled with feeling, and invites us to share in them. Where previous releases have captured hazy memories and moments that feel just out of reach, sentiment brings things into strikingly sharper focus. It may not be a cure for loneliness, but hold it close enough and it may well feel like a friend.

sentiment is released on 19 April via Thrill Jockey Records.

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