San Antonio’s claire rousay and Austin’s mari maurice met while maurice was looking for a drummer after moving back to Texas in 2014. The pair started playing together and eventually collaborated on a more equal basis, even as maurice’s band more eaze became a solo project. Since then, the two experimental artists and Artist Spotlight alumni have released a number of records that have earned them the title of “drone superstars.” But the nature of both their collaborative efforts and individual projects (there is a clear distinction between the two, although they consistently contribute to each other’s solo output) is wide-ranging and often as playful as it is self-reflexive. As it straddles the line between ambient, emo, electronic, and pop music, their work can be approachable and challenging but is always marked by a unique kind of emotional openness and vulnerability.
In addition to interrogating their relationship with personal and artistic identity and space, it also often serves as a means of expressing different kinds of intimacies with other people, including their own close friendship. Their first joint LP, 2020’s if I don’t let myself be happy now then when?, was a subtly sprawling exploration of queerness and human connection in which their musical voices seamlessly blended together. Last year’s an afternoon whine was the first record they created in the same room together, and there’s a joyful warmth seeping through even its most uncertain moments. You could sometimes catch bits of dialogue between the artists, lovingly rendering their real-life friendship. Their latest full-length collaboration, last month’s Never Stop Texting Me, is just as much a celebration of that togetherness, but takes the hyperpop route to magnify its most exhilarating qualities. Even when you can’t be sure exactly what they’re singing, you can tell they mean it, and that sincerity is irresistable.
As refreshingly comforting as it can be, however, neither rousay nor maurice’s work shies away from difficult subject matter. Just days before announcing Never Stop Texting Me at the end of 2021, rousay released a moving piece titled sometimes i feel like i have no friends. Featuring contributions from maurice on violin and Emily Harper Scott on piano, it saw her voicing thoughts such as “How do you know if someone is your best friend/ Or is it more of a feeling than a culmination of actions?” and “What if word got out that I’d said something bad about a best friend?” Last week, she announced yet another album, everything perfect is already here, which is described as similarly inquisitive, revolving around questions like, “Where am I now? What has changed outside of me? What has changed inside of me?”
maurice is one of the album’s contributors, and today, she’s announced her own album as more eaze, oneiric, which is out April 1, and, naturally, features rousay (as well as Philadelphia-based musician Lucy Liyou). “Each song is on the verge of communicating some deep truth but not quite being able to articulate it,” she explains, “like accidentally mumbling a secret while sleep-talking.” There seems to always be some interplay between the two artists that pushes them further towards those deep truths, even if they remain elusive. After all, it’s what best friends do.
We talked to claire rousay and mari maurice about friendship, and you can read our conversation below.
I was wondering if you could talk about when you felt like you could call each other best friends. Was there a specific moment for each of you? Do you think it was around the same time?
mari maurice: Oh, this is a great question [laughs].
claire rousay: Do you have a specific time? I just feel like for me, it was like, we did a bunch of smaller tours by car in the states within a year or two, and I think after doing multiple tours like that, and then some of the tours being just us in the car – it was sometime after that, but pretty quickly.
MM: Yeah, I totally agree. I guess what was that, 2015? I definitely remember being on tour with you, ‘cause I was doing shows as more eaze, which was initially kind of more of a band and Claire was in it. And then at some point, it was just me and Claire, and then it was just me. But when we were doing this one tour together, I guess it was the second time we’d gone out, and we played this string of DIY fests and shows like that. And I can remember coming back the second time being like, “I think Claire is my best friend.” I just remember thinking I feel so comfortable with this person, and they’re so generous. And then I feel like we only got closer as time went on, and we went through a lot of very similar life experiences all at the same time. And then definitely, if there was any doubt over Claire being my best friend, I feel like 2020 really cemented that because Claire was one of five people I saw probably the entire year. I would say I mostly saw my partner and I saw Claire.
Claire, how about you?
CR: Pretty much a similar situation. I would say it was probably solidified for me before COVID. During the lockdown, I didn’t really see anybody either, I saw about five people. Mari and I live close together, kind of, but we live in separate cities still. If you’re seeing five people during COVID, four of those are in the same place as you, and then one of them you have to get in the car for two hours to see, it’s kind of a big deal. So I think that definitely was a moment where I realized it, but I think before that even, just coming back from doing all those tours – because in the car it would just be us and we’d be talking the whole time.
And listening to music, too. It would be a constant back and forth of her being like, “Have you heard this?” And I’ll say, “No, what is that? I really like it. It reminds me of this, this and this.” And then she’s like, “Claire, there is no one that would ever compare this music to three artists that you’re comparing it to. [Mari laughs] But the way that you’re saying it, it totally makes sense to me.” And I was like, “Okay, we’re on the same wavelength.” And then towards the end of it, it was just nice because we were really comfortable and we would throw on a record that one of us was like, “I like this, maybe the other person will like it.” And then we both ended up being like, “I fucking love this record.” Like, we threw on a mid-career Weezer album without really knowing what we both were just like –
MM: “This is my favourite Weezer record.”
MM: I was actually going to say, I feel like that tour specifically, which was in like 2017 – the last night that we were together on that tour, when we played Already Dead Tapes fest in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then we had to drive back to Chicago through the night because one of us had a flight the next day out of Chicago, and on the way we stopped at Applebee’s. And we partied at Applebee’s. I remember it started with listening to this Coldplay and System of a Down mashup, and honestly, the song makes me cry. And Claire was like, “Mari, I have goosebumps right now.” And we just kept putting on a lot of Sugar Ray, and then I feel like the moment that I was just like “Claire is like my favourite human being” was when she put on ‘Can’t Stop Partying’ by Weezer featuring Lil Wayne and could do all the Lil Wayne verses absolutely perfectly. I was just in awe the entire time watching this go down [laughs].
That’s amazing. So, what do you think it is that makes someone a best friend as opposed to like a good friend or even a great friend? Does someone become a best friend by being more of a good friend over time, or is it a different kind of quality?
CR: Best friends is interesting because in romantic relationships, people use labels like boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, husband, wife, and while it’s not associated with the same feelings necessarily as a romantic relationship, when you say best friend, there is something definitive about that.
CR: It is this weird label that holds some weight that maybe a “good friend” wouldn’t. There are people I would call a good friend, but if I’m in a particular situation, there’s something about the relationship I have with that person that would make me not reach out to them. For a ridiculous example, if you’re completely fucking wasted and you’re like throwing up and shitting in your pants and stuff, there’s like two people I can call to help me out. [Mari laughs] I’m not gonna call a great friend.
MM: I think you tap into something there, too, Claire, because I do think that there’s a certain level of intimacy and comfort that’s implied with being best friends with someone. I feel like there’s this sense of comfort when I’m around Claire, and I think that this feeling is mutual. I feel like there are a lot of times we just hang out and don’t really do anything. We’re just kind of sitting around and both on our phones, maybe kind of watching a reality TV show or something. Being able to be comfortable in these instances of quiet and not having to necessarily be completely on and be present, but just feeling comfortable enough to exist and cohabitate in that space. And also, I think the element of care is pretty important too, because I think that we’ve both definitely been there when shit’s been pretty bad. I can think of one time I was in San Antonio and I had just switched antidepressants and I wound up getting super sick, and Claire just took care of me the whole night and didn’t make me feel like I needed to be on and entertaining. We’d just watch Talladega Nights together.
CR: The closeness and intimacy is one aspect, and I also there is a permanence to using a label, or some sort of semi-permanence at least. if you’re using one word to describe a person or your relationship you have with the person, you’re expecting it to be the same word that you use with them tomorrow. And I think that’s a permanent thing.
MM: Yeah, that’s totally true.
I love how that comfortable familiarity is reflected in your music, particularly last year’s an afternoon whine. And there’s the exuberant energy that comes through on Never Stop Texting Me, which is equally important. But Mari, I wanted to ask you what your personal reaction was when Claire came to you with the idea for sometimes i feel like i have no friends. You obviously contributed to the piece, but what’s the story there?
MM: My experience with that this is especially interesting because I didn’t even really know I was on this record until it was coming out. [laughs] So, Claire had been performing that piece live and I had recorded a lot of strings for her for some other projects that she was using in the live set and used on that piece. And I remember I hadn’t seen her in about a month and she came to town to play these shows with Mary Lattimore, and all of a sudden, literally we were just sitting around a few hours before the show and Claire’s like, “Oh yeah, by the way, my whole piece is about friends.” It’s all about best friends, and it’s all about, like, me and her partner Em. And then she’s like, “You’re both sampled on it very heavily.” I was like, “Wait, what?” And so, witnessing a version of that piece live for the first time felt very surreal. It felt like it was a conversation I’ve had with Claire, but watching it presented in front of all these people felt voyeuristic but in a very pure and innocent way.
Claire, how did you feel when you initially presented it?
CR: Yeah, it was interesting. I wanted to let her know beforehand because I feel like getting put in a situation where that happens to you in a performance setting is a little bit uncomfortable. All of the work I make is sample-based and field recordings and all that kind of shit, so Mari plays violin on basically every record I make, which is rad. And then I just have a hard drive with a folder of just –
MM: “Mari Sample Pack”, yeah.
CR: Yeah, just tons of tracks of violin. So when I play live, I just load those into Ableton and I can sample them. But it’s really cool because the way that Mari plays and the way that we record together is so specific that throwing those tracks of her playing onto a piece that is ultimately about her and one other person who are my best friends is very fun, because I get to talk about it but then you also get to hear it. Mari’s very gracious with her talents. I can do like one thing, she does like 100 things. And I’m always like, “Mari, can you play on this? Mari, can you play on that?”
MM: [laughs] It’s like my favourite thing. We hung out last weekend and Claire’s like, “I’m really sorry, but can you play the violin on some songs?” Like, why would you ever be sorry for this? I love it. I get to do the exact style of violin playing that I like with Claire. Just like anything that we do together, I feel like it’s usually a very specific thing I really love.
Even though it was made this way, it almost feels like your contribution was intentionally in line with the theme of the piece, because it acts almost like a calming force. Considering that self-doubt is something that comes up in both of your work, and something that a lot of the time is kind of counteracted by the collaborative aspect of it, I was wondering if could you share a moment where you felt comforted by each other outside of any musical context.
MM: I started dating people for the first time in, like, forever – I had been in a monogamous relationship that opened up a couple years ago, and I did not know how to deal with anything or talk to people and just generally did not feel very attractive. And Claire was actually really encouraging consistently. I kept being like, “I don’t know why these people are talking to me. I feel like I’m going to fuck this up at any particular moment, I’m going to say or do something that’s going to derail any sort of connection I’m building.” And Claire was like, “That’s impossible. You know that there’s a reason why these people are talking to you and you should be confident about it.” And I think that she was one of the first people who really told me that, and it helped a lot in terms of self-confidence.
CR: Yeah, I mean, Mari’s, like, a catch. [Mari laughs] You know, some people kind of draw other people to them, and I was like, “There’s a reason you have like a bajillion friends and everybody wants to play music with you and everybody wants to hang out with you.” To the point where she’s like, “Claire, I’m so stressed out –”
MM: [laughs] I feel like I have this thought every day where I’m like, “When are people going to realize I’m conning them?” And then you say something like that and I’m like, I probably should calm down a little bit.
CR: Yeah, it’s like, she’s a catch in friendship relationships, and I feel like any kind of romantic situation is very much the same, especially going on like a first date. You’re essentially hanging out with somebody for the first time without really any info. And when Mari walks into a room, it’s like, everyone knows. [Mari laughs] Because one, she’ll either know somebody in the room or somebody knows her, and two, she, like, announces herself. It’s the most amazing thing.
MM: I’m way overhyped right now [laughs].
CR: But Mari takes care of me, too. The last couple months I’ve been super depressed and I’ve been calling her and being like, “Mari, I’m really sad. I’m so sad. I don’t like my life. I’m so sad.” She’s just like, “You need to chill out. You’re fine. If you need something, you can come over or I can come to you.”
MM: I definitely feel like with Claire, I can always tell when she’s going through something. And it sort of goes back to that element of comfort as well. It’s just like, “Hey, wouldn’t it feel good to just talk about your feelings? Or we don’t even have to talk about it, you can just come over and you can be around people who really love you, who you know have your back at any time.” Sometimes it works.
CR: It usually works. It’s really nice.
I was thinking about the title of your first collaborative album, if I don’t let myself be happy now then when?, in relation to another aspect of friendship, which has to do with asking each other difficult questions and confronting each other in ways that other people wouldn’t. It’s almost on the either side of the comfort that you’re talking about. Is that something that’s important in your friendship?
MM: Oh yeah, for sure. Thinking back on that record specifically, the title comes from a Jimmy Eat World song lyric that we were really obsessed with. At that particular point in time, I was really having a hard time figuring out what I what would make me happy and what I was doing. And Claire I feel like was there for me more than anyone else, and she made me ask these really hard questions. She’d be like, “What does this look like? What do you want? What is your goal? What do you want to do? What do you want to be?” And it was in this way that a friend or like a non-therapist had directly confronted me with or that I felt safe answering those questions or exploring it. Definitely, in that instance, I feel like she changed my life because she pushed me in this direction of being like, “Why don’t you just do this? Why are you so scared? People are going to support you more than you think.” And she was right in pretty much all these instances. It was kind of the first time I felt I could actually do this and I actually need to think about what I want and it’s okay for me to articulate what I want.
Claire, has Mari done the same for you in some way?
CR: Yeah, no, we’ve had hard conversations. There’s like two parts to it. Maybe a year or so ago, I started kind of acting like an asshole, and she was calling me out on being an asshole. And I was like, “Oh shit, you’re totally right.” And it was basically six months of kind of walking that back, because I was just going through a lot of stuff at the same time. I was getting a lot of conflicting feelings and just didn’t really know who I was, and it was kind of latching on to things that maybe weren’t the best. And she was like, “You need to figure shit out. You need to calm down and stop being this way.” And I was like, “Oh, fuck, totally.” And that honestly helped me figure out, similar to what Mari saying, what you want to be doing. Because the thing that you’re trying to do right now is not really what you want, but you can make that choice. I was like, “Yeah, it’s not what I want. I’m just kind of following whatever gets put in front of me, which is not the best way to live your life.”
It’s also really funny because Mari and I are both not really that confrontational. So a lot of confrontations happen over a long period of time with tiny little bits of information. Like, totally true.
MM: [laughs] That’s totally true. I feel like we’re both actually pretty bad at confrontation.
CR: I’m way better way better at fighting with Mari’s partner than fighting with her. She’s like one of my favourite people in the world. And I’ll go to their house and we’ll be talking about something and it gets a little bit heated, and Mari’s like, “I’m gonna take a break.”
MM: It’s very funny. [laughs]
CR: And it always ends really welll. Mari will come back into the room and things have cooled down. It’s very funny that we’re both not really that confrontational until I’m put in a situation like that. And it’s not even actual fighting, it’s just having really hard conversations. It’s a really hard thing to do. I usually shut down, but for some reason in that situation, I usually power through it and double down. And I always learn something. Because it’s like, if you have a hard conversation, at the very least you come out with new information, right? So worst case scenario, you lose the fight or whatever, but you learned something new. And it’s always about being a better person.
MM: The confrontation aspect is for sure a thing with both Claire and I, but for me, I don’t really feel unsafe talking to Claire about pretty much anything. And I think that that’s rare. I feel comfortable enough to be like, “Hey, why are you doing this?” [laughs] We have had conversations where I’m like, “Why are you are deciding you don’t like this thing all of a sudden?” And I feel like she’s probably the only person I can really have those conversations with in that direct of a way. Most of the time, I just would want to tiptoe around things. And I feel like there’s a sort of safety of knowing that, yeah, Claire’s still going to love me and be my friend. And I think it goes mutually, too, for her being like, “What are you waiting for? Why are you being so weird about this situation? There’s nothing for you to be afraid of.”
We talked before about sometimes i feel like i have no friends and how you were comfortable being vulnerable in that sense with Mari, and that vulnerability kind of seeped into the music. It seems like that’s also part of your creative process.
CR: Yeah, definitely. Also, anything I do is influenced by Mari.
MM: I mean, vice versa, for sure. I think the aspect of vulnerability is something that is pretty crucial to both of our works. Especially ever since we’ve collaborated more and more, it’s just like, why wouldn’t I be vulnerable in this situation? Why wouldn’t I put this into art or music that I’m working on?
CR: We’re always listening to a lot of music and sharing it. Also, we literally are texting every day, all the time. And it’s awesome. Sometimes it turns into a feedback loop because we have a lot of the same ideas [Mari laughs], but it really is nice to have someone bouncing your ideas off of all the time. The vulnerability aspect and taking risks is a huge thing, I think, especially for the record that just came out. Because probably two years ago, I would have never agreed to put – well, we started making this shit two years ago, [Mari laughs] but when we started making this shit, I was like, it’s just for fun, we’re not going to do anything with this. Because at that point, we both really liked pop music, but I think we were both really weirdly trying to fit into a niche.
CR: This version of ambient, or this kind of experimental music, that like, “That’s what I’m gonna do.” I learned from Mari you can try 100 different things and do 100 different things and whatever you want to do is what you should be doing. And I think this album was kind of a risk, because I know for a fact that a lot of people who like both of our work independently and even some of the collaborative stuff do not like this record. And it’s just like, who cares? [laughs] We really like it and we worked really, really hard. I think I’ve worked harder on this record than anything I’ve ever done.
MM: [laughs] I mean, same. The start-to-finish process Never Stop Texting Me is way longer than any other record I think I’ve ever worked on.
I love that about it, because I feel like it has a lot of the same qualities of your other collaborations, just presented in a completely different fashion. I wanted to close by asking you: What have you learned from each other about being a good friend, or a best friend, however you want to put it?
CR: These are good questions.
MM: These are great questions. This is one of the most thoughtful interviews I think I’ve ever done.
CR: I remember last time we talked, I think I even texted you, Mari, I was like, “I just had a good interview.” [all laugh]
MM: She did, yeah.
CR: I’m trying to think…
MM: I mean, definitely the safety and unconditional love is a big thing. For a long time, I feel like I was always afraid of what people would think. And I feel like largely because of Claire and the ways that she shows affection and shows that she’s like thinking of her friends, which often are small and very touching and then sometimes very large and touching, I just feel like that has been such a huge thing, being reaffirmed in terms of: this person is going to always be there for me. Feeling the safety of, Claire’s not all of a sudden going to just decide that I’ve done something that she doesn’t like and is going to cut me off. That kind of safety and the ways that she expresses that I am safe through these different acts of kindness and generosity are just really affirming, and I feel like it’s something I’ve tried to be more mindful of in other friendships and in my romantic life, with bandmates as well, of just being like: I want to make sure that these people feel validated and seen and that they’re safe with me.
CR: I’m trying to pick one. I have like a real answer, but a couple months ago, Mari was shopping and she saw a Trippie Redd shirt and she bought it for me. [Mari laughs] And I wear this shirt every fucking day. I love Trippie Redd. And it’s just small things like that too, where she’ll send me a fucking blurry ass picture from the store and be like, “Do you want this Trippie Redd shirt?” And I’m like, “What size is it?” And she’s like, “Medium.” And I’m like, “Get it.” [all laugh]
Especially the last couple years of being friends, she opened my eyes to the fact – and I obviously knew this before, but it was kind of coming full circle and realizing the different aspects of it – a lot of people measure things like music or style or attitude or the way you’re on the internet or the way you’re not on the internet as like, cool and uncool. And there’s an acceptance in being friends with somebody who doesn’t measure any part of you as cool or uncool. And I think we both, especially the music we make and listen to and most of the media we consume, it’s very all over the place. And I think us talking more and more about what we’re what kind of media we’re consuming bleeds into, like, what kind of music do we want to make? And then that kind of leads into, well, what kind of life do you really want to have?
CR: Mari basically taught me that being cool doesn’t matter. People are gonna be there for you even if they don’t perceive you as cool, and that is a safety that you don’t really get anywhere else.