Interview with Cautious Clay: ‘My dad is making an effort to be in my life’
YYou may not know who Cautious Clay is, but you’ve most likely heard his music. He’s behind the upbeat beat of Taylor Swift’s “London Boy,” the million-streamed tribute to her boyfriend Joe Alwyn’s hometown, and the remix of “Ocean Eyes”—Billie Eilish’s groundbreaking single—commissioned by her brother and co-writer was given, Finneas. There’s a good chance you’ve heard it in movies or on TV as well. His 2018 debut Cold War, which fused a Frank Ocean level of introspection with gospel harmonies and slick pop production, appeared on the soundtracks for both Olivia Wildes book smart and Issa Rae’s acclaimed comedy-drama, Unsure. The lyrics are astute, the arrangements complex: his songs are beautiful reflections on his own shortcomings.
Born Joshua Karpeh in Cleveland, Ohio, he began playing the flute at the age of seven because he loved the Disney film Aladdin, and wanted to be a snake charmer. Twenty-two years later he’s instead making a career of charming pop stars, offering his classically-trained multi-instrumentalist talent to John Legend, Khalid and John Mayer. Still, he has expressed concerns in the past about relying on the “credibility of others” to make a name for himself. I’m curious: did he ever think it could be the other way around?
“I think that might be the case…” he says via video call. “I’m definitely trying to do things on my own terms — I want to be there for a long time.” He speaks from his Brooklyn apartment shortly after attending the premiere of the new Netflix film The School of Good and Evil (with Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron and Michelle Yeoh). With singer and actress Kiana Ledé he contributed “Who Do You Think You Are”, an atmospheric Bond-style theme song with a fairytale twist. It seems things are going in the right direction now.
He doesn’t celebrate his birthday until January, but the candles on his cake have already been blown out. smoke still hangs over the cracked black glaze; a blurred figure lingers in the shadows. This is the cover artwork for thin ice on the cake, the Cleveland native’s new EP about mortality, relationships and nostalgia. He thinks it’ll surprise people: It’s certainly different from the delicate acoustic strums and sweet falsetto of “Wildfire” (from his 2021 album). deadpan love) or his sensual croons amid the snarling bass hooks and synth rolls on Cold War. The new song “Lip Service” has a political twist about someone believing they have “the weight of the world” on their shoulders: “You know I hate breaking the news/ But the news might take care of itself spread,” he sings.
“It’s a symptom of where we are,” Karpeh says of the song. It wallows in information overload, the feeling of being overwhelmed by a relentless news cycle. “I don’t think humans are meant to absorb so much information at once,” he says. “There’s so much misinformation, it’s really constant, and everyone wants to be the center of attention…” Karpeh, meanwhile, bucks the expectations that come with his growing fame on “Puffer,” with lyrics about wanting to “grow.” to grow”. ‘grow’ and getting the time and space to do it. “I felt like I was being overexposed,” he says. “But I also felt pressure to be crazier, to be out there more in a way that wasn’t real.”
Before turning to music full-time, Karpeh was the most unlikely real estate agent in the world. It’s hard to imagine this creative soul posing as a real estate agent, roaming offices in Washington DC and New York. Luckily, as he admits, he wasn’t good at it and got fired from his first job for messing up “the administrative stuff.” But those jobs allowed him to pay off the student debt he acquired during a stint at London’s SOAS University in 2014, when he met fellow artists like singer-songwriter Zak Abel and producer MNEK. “It was decent money if I was convincing enough,” he says. “I definitely didn’t enjoy it.”
These strange paths he has taken form a core theme of the EP. “We constantly have to make decisions in life that have no right answers,” he says. “Being pushed in ways that we might not have expected.” One such instance was that Karpeh slowly reconsidered his relationship with his father. He had what he describes as a “stormy” childhood. His parents divorced when he was young, and while his mother encouraged him to have a relationship with his father, “it wasn’t clear how that was going to happen.”
“I definitely felt resentment towards my dad, but as I get older I realize I can’t piss him off forever,” he says. “I still love him and want to have a relationship with him. He’s making an effort to be in my life.” He wonders if it was easier to mend those old wounds now that he’s old enough to decide for himself: “With music, I wanted to show that we all Being able to make decisions about people we love or hate. They can change our lives in several directions.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/cautious-clay-interview-b2228154.html Interview with Cautious Clay: ‘My dad is making an effort to be in my life’