An interview with Mari Maurice about histories, soul mates, & what it means to connect. Plus a couple favorite cocktail recipes for good measure!
There are moments on Mari Maurice’s latest album as more eaze, yearn, that make time stop cold. She has this innate ability to mix wide-ranging elements and influences into beautiful, emotion-filled pop collages. There nothing else that sounds like more eaze. Her work is that rare combination of playful and challenging; it can fit any mood at any time, but always sticks with you.
With Mari, I found a kindred spirit. We bonded over love for the work and teachings of Laraaji, the beauty in Breath of the Wild, delicious cocktails (be sure to read to the end to get a couple awesome cocktail recipes from Mari!), and appreciation for Type Recordings as one of the best labels of the last 20 years – and that’s just some of what I had to leave out for space. Mari’s thoughtfulness and openness contribute so much to the deep experiences her music brings, whether solo or through her collaborative works, and that essence shines through in this piece. There is nothing else that sounds like her and creates such an emotional impact.
Mari and I chatted in mid-February after the polar apocalypse swooped through Oklahoma and Texas. When you get the right combination of pisces and gemini together, they simply do not stop talking. You can find more eaze on twitter and instagram,
Let’s first start with how you first got into making music and just some of the earliest memories related to music you have.
This is very funny because last night I re-watched the movie that drove me to ask for my first record from a band. That record was Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth. I was in the third grade and I was super obsessed with comic books and I saw Mystery Men when it came out that year. I think I saw it with my dad in theaters five or six times. I was obsessed. It’s like the first major incorporation of the song “All Star” and of course, I fell in love with that song. It was played on the radio a lot. And I remember asking for Smash Mouth’s Astro Lounge for Christmas or my birthday or something, and my parents got it for me. Honestly, it’s kind of an insane record for a first ever record. It’s kind of experimental in a way. There’s a track that’s this weirdly very twee song with break beats on it for some reason. They apparently were just like “Yeah I don’t know, all these other bands are doing this so we might as well put a break beat on this track!” And then there are a couple of songs that sound like Elliott Smith, but with Steve Harwell’s voice. There’s the song called “Waste” that you should definitely check out. It’s just really beautiful and it could be an Elliott Smith or Jon Brion song. That was a super crucial early memory. Listening to Astro Lounge was the first time I thought that playing music could be interesting.
And then I got into The Beatles and all that stuff, because the One compilation and Yellow Submarine VHS came out when I was in fourth or fifth grade and it was super huge for me. My parents are boomers and got nostalgic for it, so they inundated their kids with it, but it was very eye opening. I was always interested in the weirder side of everything I was exposed to, so I can remember asking my aunt to buy me the White Album for Christmas. She took me to Borders Books to buy it. Borders had a huge impact in my life in San Antonio, because it was one of the only places you could find anything that was alternative or under the radar at that time. They must have had a good shopper, because when I started getting into cooler music, I’d be there thinking, “Well they don’t have this Yo La Tengo record, but they have this weird, obscure Yo La Tengo EP for some reason so I guess I’ll buy that.”
Oh my god, yes. We had Borders here, too, and it was the same thing. I found so much cool music there that I probably wouldn’t be doing this stuff today if it wasn’t for that.
Yeah! I remember getting the White Album and I have a vivid memory of listening to “Revolution #9” for the first time and being completely fucking terrified, but also very fascinated as a child. And then I got into a lot of other classic rock like Pink Floyd and stuff. I always really liked the soundscape-type stuff they did. I was just drawn to that. And then I made a hard pivot into pop punk and emo when I was a teenager for a few years. And the thing that finally got me to start playing music was going to see a triple bill of Jimmy Eat World, Green Day, and Blink 182. I went with my best friend and afterwards we were like, “We have to start a band immediately!” So, I started learning guitar, and he learned drums and we would play terrible renditions of Green Day and Nirvana songs amongst other tunes. That was kind of like the start of it.
That’s awesome and it all sounds very familiar and relatable to me. I think it was in sixth or seventh grade when Nevermind came out and it seriously changed my life. I always feel kind of silly and cliche, but it’s true. I remember reading this unauthorized Nirvana biography in seventh grade and it talked about Kurt Cobain being in a band with Tobi Vail and it talked about K Records, and I just devoured all of it and started buying and listening to any of that stuff I could. So I get it.
Nevermind was really big for me, too! I think the first song that my friend and I ever played together was “Territorial Pissings.” It felt so fucking good! You know, just being 13 and screaming and playing that riff. I’ll never forget that. That record is obviously such a catalyst to get into other things. If you have a certain mindset, you start to trace the threads. And I think that was probably one of the first times I started to do that. That’s how I got really interested in Sonic Youth, because of Kurt Cobain. The Sonic Youth record that had just come out at the time was Murray Street, and I thought “Oh, if it’s the newest one, it has to be the best one,” which is a very 13 year old way of thinking. I can remember listening to it with my friend who I was in the band with, and he was just saying, “I don’t fucking know! Is this just bullshit?” And I was like, “No, I think this is really cool!” And at the time, it’s weird, because somehow through that, and having a Rolling Stone subscription that my dad got me, I also got really into Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. So, I was listening to these two records as a 13 year old with no concept of anything else that these people had done. I feel like listening to those records was this massive, world-opening experience.
That makes total sense to me. Considering the differences in our age, I had the same experience with Sonic Youth except it was Dirty for me since it had just come out. It’s still my favorite Sonic Youth record.
I mean, I feel like that’s the one I should have heard first! It would have probably made a lot more sense. It’s so funny, I just have such a visceral attachment to Murray Street to this day. It’s still my favorite Sonic Youth record because I have such a strong emotional response to it.
I totally get it. I have the exact same thing with Dirty.
Another big music thing for me when I was young, was the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And I was flat out completely fucking obsessed at 11 or 12 years old. I was also very involved in theater at the time, and I was just so into it. My dad, let me watch it and he weirdly loves the soundtrack, like he could sing every word to the soundtrack. And we would listen to it all the time.
That’s awesome. All those things – if I stop and think about it, not only can I relate to a lot of that but it makes a lot of sense in some weird way. I love that, and with me so many of those formative experiences and influences are in that kind of vein where it’s a little all over the place and probably unexpected, but it all played some role.
That’s cool! Generally, this is something I’m super interested in with my work. How do you access that part of these influences in your life, but not make it this thing that is a direct copy? It would be ridiculous if I covered a song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show or if I showed that influence in this direct, super obvious way. But it’s something I’m sort of endlessly fascinated with: how does that influence play into what you’re doing? Even though it’s not something that is surface level, it definitely goes into everything we do, whether or not you like it. I think it’s just unavoidable to escape those formative influences.
It is! I think about that a lot too. For instance, so even though my band, Ajilvsga, is pretty heavy and noisy, whenever we’re playing or recording, I end up gravitating toward something that has at least a vague melody because so much of my formative experiences are more pop and melodic based. It always happens and I can’t get away from it.
This is extremely relatable for me, just because ultimately, so much of my background and history is in pop and even now I’m still super involved in pop bands. I do a lot of session and side work for different bands in Austin, and I can’t imagine a life where I’m not doing that. It’s something I really enjoy. And I think that it seeps into whatever I do in one way or another, whether it’s super abstract music or something that’s actually trying to move towards song structure.
I studied composition in college and grad school and the school I went to in San Antonio was very conservative in every way. I was there at a time where the knowledge of a lot of the faculty hadn’t really evolved much past the second Viennese school and the few composition students there were kind of pressured into making very serious post serialist works. I felt like I was really trying to stifle a lot of what I was drawn towards doing naturally for my first couple of years there. At the same time, I’ve always had an innate attraction to things that are extreme and push boundaries or that try to challenge something or pull something apart in some way so it seemed like the logical thing to focus on. I was always trying to reconcile that desire to really push boundaries with my love of pop music during this time. Finally, I got this teacher at Trinity named Jack Stamps, who is a pretty interesting composer in his own right and isn’t super well-known. But he was the first person who was like, “Why are you fighting this? You can make super abstract art but then still have it call back to pop music or something you like.” I wrote the first piece of electronic music I ever made with him. It was this piece for musical saw and electronics where all the sound sources were sampled from the saw. It was super abrasive and very intense, but the whole thing was based on melodies from Violent Femmes songs and the form of a Haydn sonata. None of this would be apparent when you listened to it, but it was one of the first times I realized that there was a way to do this without having to work with this very formal composition process. It was a pretty huge lightbulb moment for me. I realized I don’t have to overtly show what I’m interested in or what I’m listening to, but that I can convey that and use that as fodder for a piece that’s more abstract and goes somewhere else.
So at what point then, did you start doing more eaze?
It was five or six years later that I started doing more eaze. The first thing I ever did as more eaze was for Already Dead Tapes. When I started doing more eaze, I had been making a lot of concrète pieces, basically all throughout college and grad school. And I did one album under my dead name that I quite liked and that kind of feel is the first more eaze album in a weird way. And then it was just sort of an idea I ran with. I was into a lot of r&b and rap, but not working with those styles in a super overt way. At the same time, I was involved in communities that were doing harsh noise, drone, and more onkyo adjacent work. I was listening to a lot of stuff like Graham Lambkin, John Wiese, and Michael Pisaro, but then also listening to a lot of D’Angelo and Young Thug. I wanted to figure out a way to tie those threads together and that first Already Dead album was my first really direct attempt at doing that. I don’t know how successful it was-I think there’s maybe one song that really worked. A lot of the impetus for the project was born from those early questions and experiments.
It’s very strange, I don’t feel like I identify with a lot of those older more eaze records anymore, but it’s one of those things that I feel like I had to do in order to get to what I’m doing now. I had to figure out how all of these pieces fit and how I could bring in all of these elements of my life in a way that was okay, and that I felt fine about. I wanted this project to feel less curated and more like a contact with the “real.”
Honestly, a pretty pivotal moment for me was hearing Three Sided Tape Part Three by Lil Ugly Mane. I can remember hearing that and it just seemed like this contact with the “real” in a way that I hadn’t really heard from anyone else. It was just all of these bits of music that he’d made over the years; attempts at writing a lofi pop song; attempts at doing weird shit that sounds kind of like Aqua, and a lot of stuff that just sounds like Lil Ugly Mane with some more ambient and industrial moments. And for me, hearing someone work with all of these elements and present them in this way where it’s just like ‘this is this is my fucking life. Why would I contain this?’ was really powerful.
I can definitely see that, yeah. So eventually, down the road, you did Mari on Orange Milk, which is one of my favorite records from the last few years. How did you get involved with Orange Milk and end up working with Seth and Keith?
That’s actually sort of a weird thing in more ways than one. I wrote for Tiny Mix Tapes for a brief period and when I started, Keith was the editor for my section for literally two weeks before he left the site. I remember emailing Keith some questions about HTML formatting for a post, and he just said, “Hey, I don’t write for the site anymore. I literally just quit. I’m sorry.” I knew that he made music, but I didn’t really know a whole lot about it. I heard about Orange Milk, and I think one of the first things they did was an Aidan Baker release, and I remember thinking that was interesting and really cool that Keith’s label released that.
The first thing that really hooked me with Orange Milk was the Cream Juice record that Seth and Keith made.
The first one or the second one?
The second, Man Feelings. After the Peep Show episode.
That is such an amazing record. I revisit it so often.
Yeah Man Feelings was huge because it’s very challenging, but still fun, funny, and beautiful. At the time, I felt steeped in super dark, serious graduate school experimental music. I was so happy when I heard Man Feelings. It was everything I’d been craving. It takes itself seriously compositionally, but it’s not being presented in this austere, foreboding way. It felt welcoming. And so I started following Orange Milk a little at that time, and then in 2014 I used the iTunes gift card that a family member gives me every year to purchase Giant Claw’s Dark Web and Nick Storring’s Endless Conjecture. At that point, Orange Milk became basically my favorite label. I was super obsessed, but I felt too in love with Orange Milk and what they were doing to ever really reach out in any way. However, in 2015, a release of mine got on this best of Bandcamp list on FACT Magazine next to Seth Graham’s No.00 In Clean Life. So, I sent him a friend request one day and I bought the tape. I remember shooting him a message and I think the impetus of the message was basically, “Hey, I never got the tape I ordered and I’m just trying to figure out what happened.” And I was like, “oh by the way, we’re both on this FACT best of Bandcamp list and your record is my favorite thing I’ve heard this year.” And we just started chatting from there.
The next year we both got to play this SXSW show for WNYU, and he messaged me beforehand and was like, “I’m thinking of doing it. Can I come and stay with you for a week?” He and his wife Hadley came down and stayed with my partner and I, and it was amazing. I had also been approached about doing a gig in San Antonio at that time but there were time constrictions due to a huge SXSW spillover booking. I very tentatively asked Seth if he wanted to do it and suggested doing a duo set to “save time.” And he was into it! We did that collab set and it really sounds nothing like the music we’re making together now. I kind of wish it would have been released, but I don’t think that will ever happen.
After that I sent him a couple of tracks since he mentioned that he really loved what I was playing live so, I sent him those recordings and he asked if I wanted to do a tape for Orange Milk. I was just like, “Yes! I’ve never wanted anything more!” That was how my 2017 Orange Milk release happened.
Seth is just great. There’s this scene of people I collaborate with or just talk to and send music things back and forth with a lot, and he’s definitely one of them. It’s been amazing, especially working on this new project together. It’s been really fulfilling in this way that I didn’t know I needed.
Those experiences are always so great. I had a few like that, where people would come to Tulsa for a show or whatever and we’d spend time hanging out, making music, all that. I remember one time, John [Twells] came for a week and just hung out. It was amazing. And we recorded so much music – so much of it I still think is great! But almost all of it sits unreleased on a hard drive. Still, it was amazing and really cemented that connection and we’re still in touch and all that. Yeah, it’s amazing how those kind of things happen and then persist.
I really miss having those experiences with COVID and everything happening.
Hopefully some day we can get you up to Tulsa to play a show and just hang out and all that.
I would love that! I definitely will, the second it’s safe to tour and perform again. I really miss it. I haven’t done any sort of extensive touring as more eaze in over three years and I regret it. I went really hard when I first started the project and I got burnt out really fast. It was super great for a second. I played a lot of festivals in 2015 and 2016. Actually, at that time, Claire was touring with me, but just as a drummer since she hadn’t really started working on her own music yet. Those shows were pretty wild. I had to figure out how to do things live. I had all these archaic samplers and I would be playing guitar and singing, and then running a SK-1 and a 404 and some other stuff, all through pedals. Then Claire was playing drums and looping glockenspiel and parts of the drum kit. It could be cool in the right context, but there was a lot of time spent kind of judging the space and figuring out how successful the show would be depending on the environment.
So how did you first meet Claire anyway? It seems like you’ve known each other for a long time.
I wanted to start a band again when I first moved back to Texas from LA. I had just done this tape for Already Dead under my old name that was very pop heavy and I wanted to try to play some of those songs with other people. I had two friends who I had worked with pretty closely when I lived in San Antonio, and the one person I had used consistently for drums had moved out of the city. I asked one of my friends who I was working with at the time if he could play drums. And he was like, “Yeah, I can but I’m not very good. But I know this kid and she can do it and she’s actually really good.” Claire was, I think, 18 or 19 when I first met her. I mean, I wasn’t that much older! I was probably 24 or 25, but I was just like, let’s see if this kid can play. And then she came over and we played this song, and she asked me a question about this drum part that Chris Cohen had recorded on the song. Chris is obviously an amazing drummer and he had done some very subtly challenging things. She asked me this hyper specific question and I just told her “I don’t even know what you’re talking about in terms of this part, so just do whatever you think the recording sounds like.” Then we played it and literally within 30 seconds, I knew I wanted to make music with this person for the rest of my life. She was just so incredible.
She played in this band I had at that time, and we did one tour together playing that material. It was like a classic DIY tour scenario where we decided to take two cars for four people just so we could fit all this stuff. Initially, it was going to be just three people, and at the last minute, the other person in the band was like, “You know what, actually I think I want to go.” And of course I said “Yeah, dude, sure come along!”
We went on this tour, and it was actually pretty amazing. Claire and I somehow wound up riding in the same car every day. We switched cars one time, and both of us were like, “I don’t want to hang out with the other people. I just want to hang out with you.” Not that we didn’t like our bandmates or anything. We were just developing such a rapport and listening to stuff and talking about everything. And that was such a critical experience in terms of working together.
When I first started recording as more eaze, I asked her to contribute to some tracks, so she’s on a couple of really early things. Then we just kept talking and started doing some improvising together. We did a few improv trio sets where it was Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Claire, and I. I’m so sad there’s no recording of this trio, because it was some of the most bonkers shit I’ve ever been a part of. That was kind of the first time I feel like we really collaborated in a way where it wasn’t just adding something to a song or sort of being a session musician.
We have this deep and intense bond. I don’t want to give myself too much credit – but I think that I was a formative person in her life and I can definitely say that she is a massive presence in mine. We often talk about how working together is just not like collaborating with anybody else. When we get together, both of us are just willing to “go there” every time. With Claire, nothing’s off the table in terms of where an idea can go and that’s just something that’s just so special and rare.
I totally get that. I often say like Nathan [Young aka Narco Alms aka Peyote Tapes aka ½ of Ajilvsga] is my soulmate on some level.
say that about Claire too! It’s amazing to connect with someone in that way.
I didn’t think I’d ever find someone like that so… it’s really special.
That’s really wonderful. Seriously. I’m always so happy when someone else has that and gets that. So changing direction here, let’s talk a little about your new album that is coming on Lillerne called yearn. It’s really great… really great. How’d it come together?
I’ve been a fan of Lillerne for a really long time. When I wrote for Tiny Mix Tapes in 2013 or 2014, I wrote about a couple of early Lillerne releases and was always super interested in them. And I always talked with Gabe, who runs the label. Then in 2018, Lillerne put out the more eaze album conveyance, which I think is the first thing I did that really feels the most connected to what I do now, and is the first thing that feels the most like myself in a weird way. A lot of it was inspired by music Lillerne and adjacent labels were putting out at that time.
I truly love the way Gabe works and runs Lillerne because it’s this very casual, natural thing. He’s just continued to put out work that I’ve found really incredible over the last two or three years since conveyance came out. I had started working on some of this material and didn’t really know what to do with it, so I just reached out to Gabe and asked if he’d be interested in doing another release at some point and he was super excited and into it, so it started coming together from there.
I had a track on this compilation Lillerne put out last summer and it was the first thing I’d released on the label in a minute, but I think it’s one of the most representative things I’ve made in terms of what I’m trying to achieve and what I’m trying to say and do. Claire has told me that it’s my “career best song!” I just feel a very special connection to Lillerne.
It’s always such a good feeling to find that connection and establish those relationships with people you want to work with.
It really is. In 2017, I did a lot of more eaze releases and at the time, I felt like they were things I really had to do because I was being approached by a lot of people, and in hindsight I kind of regret that because I feel like there are a lot of things that I released around that time that I don’t think were ever really representative of what I wanted to do with this project. I’m happy that they connected with people, but I do feel like doing that very first Lillerne release was a moment of reset in a way.
That’s great. I can relate to that, I think, especially with Type on some level. I get that. So to bring this all the way back to the beginning when we were talking about Laraaji (editor’s note: we talked about a performance Laraaji did in Austin before I started recording). So I had this conversation with him and we were talking about inspiration and process when we make music. For me, I often have this very specific idea or image in my head and sort of go from there, trying to recreate it musically. And Laraaji called it ‘pulling music down from the sky,’ which I think is just beautiful. So like I said, I do have this very specific intention or image or whatever when I’m creating something, but I don’t really ever share that with anybody because I love hearing what other people get out of it.
Yeah, totally! Same.
So I have my own narrative for what I’m doing in my head, but that’s for me and I love knowing everybody else is probably going to get something else from it.
Yeah, it’s very much the same for me as well. I mean, obviously, the new tape is titled yearn, so you can guess where a lot of the themes are coming from with it, and I think that’s pretty apparent. Of course all the events and composition are all very tied together but I won’t go into the details of how everything is connected because I don’t think it’s as exciting to have the curtain completely pulled back. I think a lot of things will be apparent. The mood, and that sort of feeling is there in the sounds. And the internal structure or how I was conceptualizing something doesn’t really matter a whole lot. It doesn’t matter as long as you get something out of it when you listen.
Yeah! I mean, to me if you get something out of it at all, that’s great. I don’t care what it is. Even if you hate it it, frankly, that’s still something.
Exactly, yeah! I mean, you had a response – that’s cool! You didn’t just think, “Oh yeah, this is fine.”
That’s the worst response.
At least if you hate it that means it was memorable in some way.