"Cautious Clay" by thecomeupshow is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0
Apr 15, 2021
Cautious Clay drops video for ‘Karma and Friends,’ and discusses his debut
'I didn’t start singing until my early 20s, but been playing instruments since I was 7,' says Clay, whose 'Deadpan Love' is out June 25. Next up: Bass clarinet?
His debut album may not be due for release until June 25, but Josh Karpeh is already kind of hard to miss. The singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who performs as Cautious Clay is known to music fans for his soulful R&B-infused music that includes elements of rock and pop along with soul and hip-hop. And he’s only just now finding his voice.
Karpeh is a guitarist and saxophonist who has been making music since he was 7. As Clay, now 28, he’s only started leaning into his powerhouse vocals, though. “I just started feeling comfortable with my voice,” he tells Brooklyn Magazine.
And although “Deadpan Love” won’t be out for more than a month (preorder it here), there are plenty of other ways to sample his sounds: His breakout single “Cold War” was sampled by Taylor Swift; he has already collaborated with artists including John Mayer, Billie Eilish and John Legend; his music has appeared on soundtracks for series including “Godfather of Harlem,” “Insecure” and “13 Reasons Why.”
Check out the official, freshly-dropped video for his new single, “Karma and Friends” here:
Clay, who grew up in Cleveland, moved to New York after attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and worked for a couple years as a real estate agent. “Moving to Brooklyn seemed the most familiar,” says Clay, who has family there. He left real estate for advertising before pursuing music full-time.
Brooklyn Magazine sat down with Cautious Clay to talk music, his life in Brooklyn, and his next endeavors as an artist.
Tell us about your new single “Karma and Friends.”
This song is the foundation of the album. So, with this song, if you have real friends, it determines your karma and how you grow as a person. It’s about how to be your best self.
Being yourself, but within the framework of relationships?
Relationships are the most important thing to have in life, in my opinion. More important than money, more important than power. Relationships are a major theme of the album.
It feels like you’re leaning more into your voice as the primary instrument on “Deadpan Love.”
Definitely. It’s more vocally driven. I really come to terms with who people identify Cautious Clay with. I didn’t start singing until my early 20s, but been playing instruments since I was 7. I feel more comfortable with my voice and I just started flexing it. I don’t think I took my vocals very seriously when I first started.
I also hear flute on this project. Are you learning any other new instruments?
I picked up flute when I was 7 years old. If I’d want to learn another instrument it’d be bass clarinet.
What are you listening to now?
It’s a lot of jazz and random hip-hop and folk. Everyone has a playlist. It’s a lot of stuff I grew up on and I also love supporting my friends who play music.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you don’t care if you are signed to a major record label—is that still true?
My opinion about labels hasn’t changed. Labels are great in certain contexts. If I can own my masters and be in the position I’m in, why not? To say that I’ll never sign to a major label I really don’t have an answer to, but I’m still independent.
Your first job was in real estate. Talk about that.
I got a job in real estate in D.C., then I got fired from that job. When I got a new job in New York City, I didn’t tell them I got fired from my previous job. The job I held in NYC was a job in ad sales. I learned how to talk to many different people.
Where did the Cautious Clay moniker from, aside from the obvious Cassius Clay allusion?
I think it represented me at a certain time. I am a super cautious person. I’m not super open about my emotions as a human except when it comes to my music.
And in your music, you’ve collaborated with Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, John Legend, and John Mayer. What did you take away from those experiences?
I’ve known them in different points in my career. There is a mutual respect. I’m in touch with John Legend and his team. It’s all a learning experience from where they are coming from and where I want to be or grow as an artist. It’s interesting to see how others have carved their path as an artist and it gives me perspective on mine.
If you weren’t doing music, what would you be focusing on?
I would love to do music for the rest of my career, but I think I would be interested in writing for TV and film and scoring for it. It’s definitely another path to pursue.
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