Claire Rousay is an ambient artist that combines field recordings into her work. She creates something that I can’t quite describe; it’s the most beautiful and tranquil soundtrack to the last two years of our lives. It’s serenity soundtracking chaos. She’s also prolific. Since we spoke by phone, she’s released four more records by my count. She’s also since been featured in the New York Times.
In the feature, Jenn Pelly describes Claire’s work this way:
“She turns these found sounds into musique concrète that locates grains of emotion in the mundane — a car door slamming, a lighter igniting, the plink of an Apple keyboard mid-text. What a songwriter might convey in poetry, Rousay evokes with raw audio. You could call it sound art, but it’s viscerally vulnerable. More appropriately to Rousay — who declines to confirm her exact age but identifies as “a millennial sun, zoomer rising” — her work has been tagged as “emo ambient.””
Yes. That’s right. And way better than what I could have said. Also, I feel you, Jenn. She wouldn’t tell me her age either. She gave me a ballpark that I won’t reveal. One day a few weeks ago, Claire tweeted that she wanted her next interview to be about nothing but Fall Out Boy. I also love Fall Out Boy. So I told her that I would be in touch with her people.
So me and one of my favorite artists today talked about Fall Out Boy. Because we both unironically love Fall Out Boy.
How did you first get into Fall Out Boy?
I grew up really conservatively Christian. My family had a lot of rules about the media that I could consume. I wasn’t allowed to listen to Fall Out Boy when they were big.
I subscribed to this magazine and I can’t remember for the [expletive] life of me what it is; it obviously went under, because it’s not a sustainable idea for an entire magazine. But it’s basically a Christian – remember Alternative Press?
It was basically Christian Alternative Press. They would do this thing where it would say, “If you like Fall Out Boy, you’ll like ________, _________ and _________.” And it would give you Christian alternatives that has the same style of music, but obviously the lyrical content was much different and the lifestyle choices were much different. I was really into that.
There was a band called Chasing Victory that was kind of Christian rock – it was a little post-hardcore – it sounded like early Fall Out Boy actually. A lot of emo vocals, screaming and stuff like that. This band Chasing Victory; the number one band that they sounded like was Fall Out Boy. The thing I liked about Chasing Victory so much is that it was a lot of songs about sexual purity, but they were addressing sexuality and sex. Fall Out Boy excels at lyrics and addressing relationships, one-night stands, classic emo [expletive], but in a pop-punk way. And this band did the same thing, but it was coming at it from the opposite perspective. Like, shaming girls for having sex, I think. [laughs] Or tempting them? I don’t know. But I realized who Fall Out Boy was because of this; and I thought, “Oh, God, this is a thousand times better than any Christian band.”
I think they had just put out From Under the Cork Tree. That whole record is all hits. The whole record. Every song is a hit, basically. The record before, which one was that?
Take This to Your Grave?
Yeah. I didn’t get into that one because I wasn’t really around for it. Like, I wasn’t allowed to listen to it. It was one of those things where I got into the second one after hearing about it – in a Christian magazine – and sneaking off to listen to 30-second samples on iTunes because I wasn’t gonna buy it, because my parents would find it on my computer. So I would listen to 30-second samples of “Sugar, We’re Going Down” over and over and over again, until I learned what YouTube was. Then it just snowballed and I got really into emo [expletive] and I was starting to bridge the gap between secular music and Christian emo and pop-punk and all that stuff.
That was the introduction to Fall Out Boy; Chasing Victory. Because they had a soundalike, and I was like, “Well these songs are just as sexually charged as the Christian band, but at the end of the song, the dude gets to stick it in, which ruled to me.” [laughs]
It’s an interesting thought that you said you spent so much time listening to these 30-second clips over and over and over: do you think that has some influence on what you do now? Dissecting such a small portion of music?
Oh 100 percent. I listened to tons of secular music like that. I loved Akon as a kid, but I was obviously not allowed to listen to Akon. I thought he was a genius. I still do. And Chris Brown, too, although he’s a questionable figure these days.
Early 2000s R&B [expletive], with super sexualized lyrics. I was so into that type of lyrical content. I listened to so much secular music in 30-second intervals on iTunes because it seemed like the only ethical, Christian way to do it; and I think the way I look at music now is very similar. I almost arrange stuff to be – it’s almost like constructing stuff to be an avant garde pop hit. If you only have 30-seconds, you want any part of that song that’s gonna be sampled or previewed to be a selling point. And I think that’s kind of what I try to do now. I want something every 30 seconds that will draw you in and make you think, “Oh, yeah. I can listen to more of this. If my parents let me.” [laughs]
When Fall Out Boy came back a few years after Folie a Deux and declared that, “If we’re gonna come back, we’re gonna sell all the way out.” How did you feel about the honesty of that moment and the band going from quaint little punk club band to major arena rock sports anthem dudes?
When I was a kid, I had rich friends. My friends were rich and they had bigger houses than my family and they had nicer [expletive]. And I was never envious. It’s like, “Yeah, if you can afford that…why not? If you can achieve that? You may as well go for it.” I think I felt that way about Fall Out Boy.
I had a friend when I was ten-years-old. His name was Brandon. I’d always go to his house and we’d play Grand Theft Auto and [expletive] and I’d never tell my parents. Then they’d pick me up on Sunday morning at like 7 a.m. after sleeping over on Saturday so I could go to church…obviously. I would always just leave the house feeling so good. Because, you know, this kid doesn’t have to deal with all the [expletive] that I’m dealing with. It’s so sick that my friend has money and he’s been given this opportunity to succeed in such an extreme way.
And I felt the same way about the band. I mean, if I was given a chance to play arenas, I would do it. Right? People [expletive] on people for succeeding. My friend Sarah Davachi was asked to do the Thom Yorke tour, and so many people were [expletive] on her for getting to play these massive rooms, and I’m like, “[expletive] you. She’s gonna get paid and a ton of people are gonna hear her play and she rules.” I don’t understand why people get so bent out of shape about people playing massive gigs.
Fall Out Boy was already on soundtracks for Tony Hawk [‘s Pro Skater] and WWE. How much more sellout can you get that that, right?
How did you feel about all of the bands that came because of Fall Out Boy? Like Panic! at the Disco and Cobra Starship, etc.
I mean Cobra Starship sucked. That first Panic! at the Disco record was absolutely gorgeous. Fueled by Ramen was a pretty good label for a while. I went to the Vans Warped Tour multiple times. There was a really [expletive] up thing, though! It was – I can’t remember what year it was, but was underage. And the dude from All-American Rejects was doing a kissing booth and he would kiss anybody who walked up to the booth as part of a promotional thing, and he was kissing minors on the lips. And I’m like, “What the [expletive]?”
So yeah, Fall Out Boy also did a good job of never falling into the pop-punk trap of pedophilia [laughs]. I really admire them for that.
Panic! at the Disco [expletive] ruled.
That first record was amazing.
Yeah, yeah. Honestly the arrangements on that are every bit as complex as some stupid [expletive] like the Mars Volta or whatever. I respect both of those artists equally.
That Panic! at the Disco song “Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Pants Off” – that’s like the best song I’ve ever heard. Like that and Bright Eyes “Lover I Don’t Have to Love;” those are the two songs that just completely rocked my world.
So, lyrically, what would be your favorite Fall Out Boy song?
Oh, that’s a good question.
So I have a couple of lines from various songs – they’re all from the Under the Cork Tree record, which I liked the most. Obviously from “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” – “watching you two from the closet; wishing to be the friction in your jeans.” I was like, “[expletive]. That is one of the best lyrics I have ever heard.”
And I have 10 or 11 songs in my head that I have one line from where I think, “This artist’s entire career means nothing to me, but this line is worth it.” Like, of the millions of dollars that were poured into this, if no one got anything from it, but they got this one line, it’s worth it. That’s one of those lines.
I think the lyrical content combined with the music video for “Grand Theft Autumn” – the dude with camcorder trying to film the girl undressing – that was briliant.
Or “xo,” the album closer on Cork Tree. I totally stole ideas from that for this song I wrote once called “Kyle.” The idea that you’re on stage and you see someone in the crowd that wants it and you’re just like, “Yeah, I’ll go for it.” [laughs] It’s the same thing.
Music videos were so good then. “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More Touch Me.” That was one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen; also featuring Panic! at the Disco’s Brenden Urie.
I love that record and all of the lyrics on it are spectacular. But the line from “Sugar, We’re Going Down” and the line from “xo.” Those are my two favorites.
I also loved that “I Slept With Someone in Fall Out Boy” song because it was in that movie “Stick It,” which was a gymnastics movie where this girl is a BMX biker or a skater or something and she gets caught with drugs and she has to go to competitive gymnastics as her “juvie.” The opening scene in that movie is her just getting [expletive] up, listing to Fall Out Boy and wrecking an abandoned house. That was the only place I could listen to that song in its entirety because of the 30 seconds iTunes rule. So I’d watch the movie over and over and over again. The girl was obviously [a lesbian] and I was like, “I wanna look just like her. I wanna have those pants and wear the Hurley shirt.” It was really gnarly how much I got into it. But it wasn’t even the movie; it was the song that did it for me.”
I am a longtime subscriber to Claire’s bandcamp. Some days, you wake up and she has put three new records in your collection without notice. It’s beautiful. I highly recommend it.