While still unsigned, Cautious Clay (aka Josh Karpeh) has two albums in the can for 2018 is still pushing his creative limits. The all-in-one musician’s project continues to evolve as he’s taken the dive to make music full-time, and see his production take on new shapes. We caught up with Karpeh ahead of his North American tour to talk about his beginnings and how he’s bridged his instrumentation with production.
Northern Transmissions: How do you find starting out on sax and flute shaped you as a musician?
Josh Karpeh (aka Cautious Clay): I was an instrumentalist long before I was a vocalist, so I was going off of a lot of those skill sets for some time. I’ve always thought about music as a stream of consciousness, improvisational thing, so as formulaic as it can be it is always a little spontaneous. Flute and saxophone are so based around melody that it allows me to make my music much more interesting.
NT: After this musical education, what guided you to R&B?
JK: What led me to it was just the mix of influences and the way it sounds as well. My interest in trying out singing was also a major influence on that, and it felt genuine to what I was interested in doing.
NT: How did you start producing your own content and is it true you travelled to South Korea to produce?
JK: That was such a fun trip, because it was before I’d put any original music out as Cautious Clay. I started producing because as an instrumentalist it allowed me to be creative, and I always wanted to do something different in any way I could. Soundcloud to me was such an interesting platform for me, especially for producers up until around 2014. I found production as an outlet to get past the barriers I had as an instrumentalist.
NT: I understand you weren’t even playing live as Cautious Clay until this year, so what was holding you back and what was the biggest hurdle transitioning your music for that atmosphere?
JK: I’d played live before, but all the music took so long to translate and I didn’t even know what I wanted it to be. I come from this instrumental background so I wanted the show to have this different flavour every time. I took a while to play live because I wanted it to be so special live. It was just a matter of finding the right arrangement for it, and now I have a good set of people for it, and I’m on guitar.
NT: How do you transition your streams of consciousness to music and what comes first for you in the writing?
JK: That’s such a process for me. I love using nouns in writing because they avoid a lot of the filler lyrics. I want to make simple topics more interesting by interpreting a common phrase. You can use what people see in those phrases and go from there. It’s such a giant part of what I do, that it’s a fun way to make life more interesting for those who listen.
NT: After working on music for around six years, what lead you to quit your day job to go all-in for Cautious Clay early?
JK: I think about this a lot. It sounds cheesy but I knew I was doing something different this time. Going to Korea was pretty trippy, and that crazy opportunity made me feel such a real validation. I knew music was so intuitive for me that I didn’t want to do anything else. I was finally able to bring any song to the finish line that I felt if I was going to do it, I had to do it now. The industry is so fickle that there was definitely a risk, but I believed in myself enough to do it.
NT: You also worked with Petit Biscuit on “Wake Up” so how did that experience compare to your mostly all solo production?
JK: That writing process and being featured on that song was so eye-opening for me. As a writer I feel like melodies are so easy for me, so I’ve trained myself to do it. At the time I was more unsure about my personal style. Petit and his team made something that really resonated me and the fact that they might not even use the song made it easier to try.
NT: Looking to Resonance, how did you want to approach both the writing and the production differently?
JK: From a production standpoint, I was putting a lot more emphasis on minimalism. My last EP was minimal, but I wanted this project to be a lot cleaner. I navigate between the poetry and trying to do something simple, but here I was much more matter-of-fact. Now I’m focusing less on this sense of cohesion and just having fun with it.
Words by Owen Maxwell
Cautious Clay Tour Dates:
9/26: Pittsburgh @ Smiling Moose | Get Tickets!
9/27: Cleveland @ Beachland Ballroom & Tavern | Get Tickets!
9/28: Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern (Early) | Get Tickets!
9/28: Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern (Late) | Get Tickets!
9/28: Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern (Both) | Get Tickets!
9/29: Columbus @ A&R Music Bar | Get Tickets!