Interview: Cautious Clay Talks Unanswerable Questions, Taylor Swift, and What It Takes To Have Artistic Integrity

Photo by Undine Markus

After quitting his New York City based real estate job to focus on music, Cleveland, Ohio native Joshua Karpeh, who creates and performs under the name Cautious Clay, released a single titled “Cold War” that now has over 34 million streams on Spotify. Following the single, Cautious Clay put out a string of EP’s – the latest being Table of Context to be supported by an upcoming tour this fall. We caught up with Karpeh on a Wednesday afternoon during a break in one of his recording sessions. 

You know, I never wanna feel pidgeon-holed. I just wanna be able to make what I wanna make and people will get behind it, and I feel that can only be done with being fearless with how you create.
R: So, for starters, where did the name Cautious Clay come from?
CC: That came from my particular interest in music, how it’s made, and all of the things that go into it.

R: Awhile ago, I saw you posted screenshot of some asking you “What makes your clay so cautious?”. I personally thought that was hilarious, but I wanted to know what you thought of it.

CC:  I don’t even know what to think of it. I definitely think the name has become even bigger than me. I’m always down for jokes though. I think the most serious thing I do is music. You can’t  take yourself that seriously because then there’s a lot more room for you to be offended.

R: I saw on your Instagram you posted something about not compromising your art. Can you elaborate on that a bit and how you yourself make efforts to have that kind of artistic integrity?

CC: I honestly don’t feel like I’ve compromised anything I’ve put out under my name. I think an example is to just not make stuff solely because you think it’s gonna be popular. Then it becomes kitschy and people start to embrace the music that they expect from you rather than embracing what you do as an artist and the person you are. That’s always been my biggest goal. You know, I never wanna feel pidgeon-holed. I just wanna be able to make what I wanna make and people will get behind it. I feel that can only be done with being fearless with how you create.

Photo by Bsides TV
R: How did you first get into music? What made you want to study music in school?

CC: I guess I’ve always been really passionate about music. It’s never been a difficult thing for me. My biggest, I guess, linkage towards making music was the idea that there were so many interesting things that came out of my experiences. I started playing flute because I loved Aladdin. I love movies and the visuals and everything that comes with it. Music lead me to make these worlds in my head that sort of aligned with what I was listening to at the time. I also always had opinions about music too. Not like I was always listening to the most highbrow stuff, but I always found a way to get into different styles and align myself with them over time.

R: After graduating from university, you worked as a real estate agent. A good amount of time has passed since then,  how do you feel now after quitting that job and being able to just focus on your music? 

CC: The easiest part of that transition honestly was just the actually quitting process. I was really bad at my job, so it was pretty easy for me to get out of there. The hardest part was probably telling my mom. Not that she would be mad or upset, but she just worried about me making it in the music world.

R: How does she feel now?
CC: She’s so proud and happy that I do what I do successfully. I think in general there was just sort of this tough she had for me. I always knew she’d be fine, but like I went to college. I did all of these things and from a lot of perspectives music isn’t a very safe industry to get involved in if you want to actually make money.
R: Going into your music, what’s your typical songwriting and production process like?

CC: It’s this process of taking a lot of different ideas and then putting those ideas into one idea and then seeing if it could work better in another idea. Whether it’s lyrics, production, or melodies, I kind of just shuffle those three parts between each other. I feel like that’s been the process that produces my strongest work as of late. I also create a lot. So with me having that pool of ideas and using that shuffling style of creating it allows me to come out with so many interesting sounds. After that, I just have to scale back and decide what to put out.

R: What would you say is the most important song you’ve made?

CC: I really like “French Riviera”. I feel like it was a very stylistically unifying song that was able to embody a lot of sounds in a natural way.

R: I think that’s one amazing thing about the rising music today is just how it bend genres ’cause it keeps things interesting as both a listener and creator. You just never get bored.

CC: Yes, exactly. It’s super fun!

R: So, I saw recently Taylor Swift used an interpolation of your song “Cold War” in her song “London Boy”. I read how surprised you were about it all because you don’t know her well. How are you feeling now?

CC: Yea, I wanted to clear that up ’cause that writer kind of twisted what I said. Like, I don’t live under a rock. I’m kind of upset with how they wrote about it. I’m definitely aware of Taylor Swift and I’ve heard her music before. She has a great ear for music and she knows what she likes. It certainly is great that she decided to use the song.

R: What is a song or song lyrics that you really love and could almost represent you as a person?

CC: I think a main lyric would be “so you wanna be bad, but my skin is my apparel.” Just kind of speaking back to “French Riviera”. It looks on my experiences being a person of color who embraces many things that people might not deem as being culturally in my space.

R: Is there a song you wish you were on the creative team for?

CC: Man! That’s a hard one. Probably “Roses” by Outkast.

R: So you play the flute? I wanted to know if you ever thought about collaborating with Lizzo?

CC: Yea, no for sure! Somebody tweeted that we should collaborate, but it never really materialized.

R: What are you most excited about for tour?

CC: I’m very excited to go to Texas! We’re still pretty far out from tour, but like almost all the Texas shows are appraoching being sold out. I just feel like it’ll be really cool to play those shows out there!

R: One more question, “Erase” is going to be coming out soon. What made you wanna release this song on its own?
CC: It’s just a song that I wanted to put out but felt it couldn’t fit on the previous project, but also wouldn’t fit in with the next round of things I’m doing. So I was like let’s just do it. “Erase” is definitely a little different from my more popular stuff like “Cold War”. It’s a bit more similar to my harder music like “Elsewhere”, but it’s still me, you know? I’m just trying out different things and speaking to the creative process.

 

Thank you to Cautious Clay for taking the time to speak with us over at Coog Radio! You can check out his music on Spotify, Apple Music, or Soudcloud. Be sure to catch him on the “Context Tour” with Reminder Wolf this Fall!

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