Cautious Clay talks album sequencing, plays tracks from 'Deadpan Love'

Cautious Clay plays songs from 'Deadpan Love' (MPR)

Brooklyn-based songwriter and producer Cautious Clay joins The Current to play a few tracks from his upcoming record, Deadpan Love. He joins us for an interview about what makes a great taco, how Disney's Aladdin got him interested in music, and the contrasting hot and cold energies on his new record.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

ZEKE: That was Cautious Clay with "Wildfire" right here on The Current. What inspired that song?

JOSHUA KARPEH: Yeah, so that song was really kind of inspired by putting yourself out there and being vulnerable in situations where translation or intention can get lost in relationships. The idea that good intention is not always enough from people's emotions or to save people from feeling insecure or spiraling out of control. Similar to wildfire or brush fire. So that was the intention of the song was to sort of bring out that sort of emotion and how it feels to sort of fall into something in a way that's truly vulnerable.

You're from Ohio. Are you a fan of Cincinnati chili at all?

Well I know Skyline Chili.

Yes, are you a fan of them?

Yeah, that's like my--I love Skyline Chili. I loved eating it when I was like--it definitely holds a very nostalgic memory in my heart.

So you're more of a Skyline versus Gold Star in the Cincinnati chili.

Yes, because that was the first one that I knew. So that's where my allegiance lies.

And you performed back in Minneapolis with Rumi wolf in 2019. Do you have a favorite Minnesota memory at all?

Oh, man, I loved playing that night. We also got to go to this place called Modest Brewing, that was super cool. One of the people who started it was he was a huge fan and he let us wander around the brewery and it was really cool because the whole plant was just super crazy, and there's all these different things. That was definitely a fond memory.

Are you a craft beer drinker and at all or it was just cool to tour it?

I'm not pretentious about it. I feel like I have a lot of taste buds, maybe I'm somewhat of a supertaster. Who knows even if that's the right thing to say, but yeah, I certainly like what I like. I'm not much of an IPA person, though, to be honest.

So if you create your own craft beer, what would it be? What flavors would Cautious Clay be?

Man, probably some sort of Pilsner or ale? I think one has to be Pilsner or an ale, and then it would have some hint of something floral. I don't know, I'm not picky. But I like a little bit of like a natural sweetness, not like really sweet but just like a nice natural summery spring flavor to it, with a little bit of bite.

You worked with John Mayer, was there any advice that he had given you? Or what's the best advice he's given you in the studio?

The thing that I've gained from John is the fact that he, knowing who he is, and his past and his history--working with him in the studio and seeing his process was just really enlightening, because I think I can kind of see where he's coming from. I can see how talented he really is, and how he brings himself out in the studio and works in the studio. And for me, he didn't really have to say anything, but from working with him, I felt this synergy where I was like, "Wow, this guy is adding so many interesting elements and can still inhabit this place of being in the weeds with making music. That's something I never want to lose in my career. And I think that him being as large as he is of a figure, I took away how important that is, for me, to maintain that no matter where my career goes.

When making music, for you, what comes first? Is it the lyrics or is it the melody in instrumentation? What inspires you?

It's mostly the melody first, I think I'm a very melodic person. Melodies is often where I gravitate towards and then lyrics, I feel like sort of comes second to that. But it really depends, honestly, because sometimes there's like a certain sound that I like, and I'll try to make an entire idea off of one sound. It'll spiral into an entire song. I have a song called "French Riviera" that I released probably a couple of years ago that started with just that one little loop sound. Then I wrote a whole song around that loop.

"Cold War" was sampled by Taylor Swift for her song "London Boy," if you could sample any song from any artist, what song would it be?

Oh, man, that's a tough one. It depends on what I'm trying to do. But there's probably too many good samples from like, Parliament, or something like that, Funkadelic. I feel like they have a lot of really interesting sounds. That would be awesome to sample or Ohio Players. Actually, it would be Ohio Players. That would be my answer.

That's a good one.

Shout out Ohio. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's a jam.

Would you rather make albums or EPs?

I'd rather make albums. It's pretty fun because once you make an album, and it's got a theme, it's got an intention. It's pretty cool because it feels like an experience that you can really dive into. As opposed to some sort of quick, fleeting, kind of like, "Oh, there's two or three songs which I like." I like EPs but I think albums are more interesting to me. That was why making this album Deadpan Love was like always a goal of mine, because I've only really done EPs before this.

Coming out June 25, what can people expect from it? Or what's your favorite track on the album?

That's a tough one. The one that feels the most personal has to be either "Spinner" or "Box of Bones". Tied between those two, but I think sonically, the album is very hot and cold and I sort of did that very intentionally. Tracks one through seven are very hot and fiery and have this sort of energy to them. Then the back half of the album is a little bit cooler more like--not withdrawn, but more set back a little bit. Songs like "Wildfire" and "Spinner" and "Roots," and "Bump Stock". Songs like that, that are a little bit more downtempo compared to the front half. I was very intentioned with how I placed all the songs and how they flowed together, that was a fun process.

It lays out a perfect album, the sequencing of an album. It's how you listen to an album.

It's so important.

If the sequencing's not right?

No, exactly. You can't do that. A good album is like a playlist, you know? That's how I see it. It takes you on a journey, that's really intentional.

Do you like skits on albums at all?

Yeah, there's actually one :37 second skit on my album, it actually breaks the album in half. It's basically like the first seven songs and then there's a skit. Then it sort of starts the next half of the album. So I do like skits, I think they're fun. I think if they're done right, they actually can really enhance the experience.

Well, let's take a look at your performance of "Spinners" right now.

This next song is on Deadpan Love, and it's called "Spinner". It's actually a song I wrote on piano but we're performing it with guitar tonight and the rest of the band. Yeah, I'm excited about it. It has a little bit of a country vibe to it which I didn't really intend for it, doesn't sound like that on the record. But we just rehearsed this yesterday and so here we go.

[music: "Spinner" by Cautious Clay]

You've been inspired by your first musical instrument you picked up after watching Aladdin. Is that correct? The flute?

That's correct. Yeah.

What character in Aladdin would you be?

I don't know, I want to be like creative with it. But I feel like I would just be Aladdin. He seems like a chill guy, or I'd probably be the Genie. The Genie is fun, I like the genie.

What was it about the sounds in there that inspired you so much to want to pick up the instrument, the flute?

I think it was the visual honestly, the idea of being a snake charmer just seemed like a really interesting thing to me. I think in the actual scene he wasn't really even playing a flute. I think it was like some sort of gourd instrument, it was more the idea of playing and something like that seemed really appealing to me and I didn't really know why. I think it was just kind of like, "I want to play the flute." My mom was like, "Cool!" So yeah there was no grand reason. I was seven years old just trying stuff out.

Then what was the next instrument you learned after that?

When I was probably about 15, or 16, I learned the saxophone. Flute and saxophone are very similar. It's sort of like Portuguese versus Spanish. But I feel like the flute is more difficult, I would say, than the saxophone. So learning the flute first almost made it easier to go to the saxophone so I picked up a saxophone pretty quickly. Because there isn't as much of a threshold to get good at it, in my opinion.

Was it hard to sell real estate? Speaking of difficult times.

Oh, man, yeah, honestly, I definitely had some some funny times with that. I would just basically be going from management office to management office trying to sell ad space. So that was that was in New York City for like, a year. Then before that I was leasing apartments. So yeah, it was certainly a process.

What was the moment you realize that you were like, "I need out," what was the final straw--like, "I'm going to pursue music full time."

When I started to realize that a lot of the people who I was starting to associate with were doing music full time. I realized, okay, there's a way there could be a way for me to do this, if I'm smart about it, and can save money, which I did. Once I saved enough money, I was just like, you know what, I gotta do this. It was also around the same time that I started getting asked to, do production projects, like my first production project was honestly like, pretty wild. I was asked to go to Korea for a week and a half to make music for a few rappers over there. So that was my first experience. That was before anything, before Cold War, before Blood Type--before any of that. So me having the ability to do that and be paid for it was like my sign, I think. I was like, "Okay, this is something that I should take seriously." It's a skill that I have. So I might as well just try to flesh that out.

Who did you work with?

This artist's name is E Sens, and this guy named Ximya. They were all part of this collective called Beasts And Natives alike. Which is a subsidiary label of SM, which is the large label over there. It was cool. One of the people, this guy Qian, who's still a friend of mine, he's the head A&R over there. He found me on SoundCloud, and I used to make beats on SoundCloud, so that was the intro, and he just saw some of my flute demos and my beats and my random remixes, and I think he was just drawn to it.

Who do you want to work with if you could make a whole album with just your production?

That's a good one. Honestly, I would love to do something crazy for Kendrick Lamar, but that's just like the shot in the dark but yeah, like a really incredibly musical rapper like Kendrick, I think would be amazing, because I feel like I could certainly navigate the jazz space, but then also the heavy hip hop space, but the alternative space as well. I feel like music is only as good as the music you know, and I feel like I know a ton of music. So I feel like that would help. I don't know, and form maybe new soundscapes, but like I said, it's always tough, because there's always somebody else. But who knows?

Who knows. Hey, your paths may cross at some festival in the next couple years and you kick it off and you're making a full EP together. In the song "Roots" you have a lyric about grabbing tacos and a red punch. What's your taco order, and what makes the perfect taco?

Mmm, that's such an easy question for me. A perfect taco has to be not too saucy. It can't be too much sauce. The perfect taco for me has to have not too much sauce. Really fresh onions, a meat--I'm down for pulled pork--or not pulled pork but what's it called?


It's like the barbacoa or chicken. But like it's just really like juicy. It's got to have the onions, it's got to have the cilantro and then a little bit of lime. Yeah, that's cooking right there. I mean, the best tacos are just so simple in my opinion.

Songs Played

00:02 Wildfire
12:27 Spinner
22:29 Roots

External Link

Cautious Clay - official site


Host - Zeke
Producer - Derrick Stevens
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza
Technical Director - Peter Ecklund

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