Interview: Cautious Clay (USA) on his musical upbringing, Table of Context and the genius of OutKast

One of the buzz acts at this year’s SXSW was rising star Cautious Clay, who also happened to be one of the best acts we saw at the annual Texas festival. While at the Vevo House, I caught up with the Brooklyn based artist – real name Joshua Karpeh – to find out more about his musical upbringing, working with Tobias Jesso Jr., the genius of OutKast and whether any Australian touring is on the cards. We also chat about his new EP Table of Context, which is released today.

What are you in store for over the next couple of days? How many shows have you got? Is it a packed schedule?

It’s pretty packed schedule. We had about twelve shows scheduled and we were down to about nine. [Editor’s Note: In the end, however, it sounded like he played as many as 13]

A little more manageable.

A little more manageable now. So I feel like a lot of the hard parts will be over after today actually.

There’s still gonna be the most amount of shows you’ve done in a few days.

In a week. Yeah, in a week, easily.

How do you prep for something like that? They’re short sets, thankfully.

Yeah. I mean, partially, this is why I hadn’t done South by Southwest before. It’s because I kind of needed that time to get a great band together and we played already about 60 shows before this. We’re kind of ready for any type of … acoustic, strip downs, super high techs, we can just kind of asap to any kind of scenario. It’s good to just have good musicians with you.

Tell me about the band you’ve put together.

They kind of all came together through friends of friends and just being in the scene and knowing the type of style that I wanted to create. I basically have a guitar player, Chris Kyle and the drummer, Francesco Lacie, and just the three of us. And I double on guitar as well when Chris plays bass.

You seem like someone who grew up playing a lot of instruments.

Yeah. I grew up playing the flute, actually, when I was about seven, then I took private lessons and then started saxophone in high school for the jazz band, so it’s all been very much in line with what I’d done and being a melody instrument, I feel like that was a huge inspiration for my singing.

Does it also reflect the sort of music you listen to? That you grew up on?

Definitely. I grew up on a lot of different stuff. I was really into Busta Rhymes, OutKast, Creed, R. Kelly, it was all over the map. It was like … Yeah. Some of it has been a huge … I just feel like I’m a lover of music and I … I have a very strong opinion about certain types of music regardless of the genre, so I think that’s kind of been able to … just hone in what my … what I wanted to create.

When you were a kid, were you trying to keep up with Busta Rhymes?

Yeah. I was just so into his flow and his caricature. As a kid I was so into it. Yeah, him in particular. Then OutKast too, the Stankonia album was just super… “Bombs Over Baghdad” was such a crazy video. And then my dad got me into a lot of jazz when I was like 10 or eleven and made my own opinions about certain artists in jazz and really been into Clifford Brown as a trumpet player. I was always diving into the little bits and pieces. I had a huge dubstep phase in high school.

Was there one artist who opened that Dubstep door for you? ’cause I know I went through a punk phase in the 90s because I got into early Green Day. 

Same dude. Yeah. “Jesus of Suburbia”. That was a crazy song. But I feel like, for me, dubstep-wise, I would probably say Skrillex or maybe like … what’s the dude? Rizzo? Rusty? Maybe it was Rusty. I don’t know. I can’t remember. But I remember having particular songs that I liked. And that was always how I liked music. There were certain times where it was always an artist that I really liked, and then sometimes, it was just … I would really pick up on songs and songs that I liked.

I wouldn’t say, “I like Green Day, therefore I like all punk music.” 

Yeah, exactly. I liked certain elements of it and I always would be inspired by that.

You can hear that in your music. You can hear that you appreciate different types of music without ever trying to stick to one thing. And I feel like, with the music that you’ve released so far, at least, there’s been that variety to it without it feeling forced.

Yeah. I appreciate that man. I definitely … I think that was partially why “Reasons” was a little bit of a surprise for people, because that song is super hard hitting and bright, but then I had a less popular song on Blood Type called “Elsewhere” that’s pretty hard hitting.

And you work with people from a variety of backgrounds as well. Tobias Jesso Jr. Worked on “Reasons”, didn’t he?

Yeah. He brought that together. We worked on that together almost a year ago. So, it was cool to finally have it see the light of day. I’ve always just loved music that kind of made you almost picture something, in a lot of ways. And whether it was the lyrics or the production or the vocals, it always felt like, “Yeah, if I could almost picture it, that was a good sign.”

And so you dropped the first track off your next EP at the end of January. Is that a pretty good indication of where things are going for this record, Table of Context?

Yeah. Somewhat man. I think there’s also some acoustic songs in there. I feel like lyrics have always been important, but I think that there are two songs in the project that in particular are pretty stripped back and then more instrumental. But I’d say “Reasons” is definitely the most hard hitting. I think the sentiment of the lyrics in “Reasons” is really what ties it into the project. I would say the sonics of it are definitely different than the project though.

And where do you hope things go from here in terms of your live show? You’ve got a three piece right now. Are you pretty happy with the as the live element?

Yeah. I think we’re gonna add a bass player. We’ve had a couple of shows with a bass player and it always sounds really, really great. So we’re just looking for the right way to incorporate it so, I think for a lot of the festivals we’re playing this summer, we’re gonna definitely nail that.

And touring. Is Australia on the cards at all?

I think so man. Yeah. Probably like 2020, hopefully early 2020. I’m working on a full length album as well. Yeah. That’s the plan.

What’s a touring schedule like for you the rest of the year? I mean, obviously it’s not gonna be 9 shows in three days.

Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Not like this intense, but it’s …

This’ll make everything else feel tame.

Oh, yeah, man. I feel like we’ve already done a lot of shows, so it’s like insane, but we have quite a few festivals. We’re going to Europe this summer. We’re doing a festival in Norway and a couple in Finland as well. And then Sweden.

Hitting all the Scandinavian countries.

Yeah. All the Scandinavian countries. And then we’re also doing one in Manchester and then several in the US. Quite a few festivals this summer and then probably a full US tour at the end of the year.

We started talking about some of the producers that you’ve been working with and people you’ve been co-writing with. Is there anyone on your bucket list that you’d love to work with one day?

That is a tough one. I really love Andre 3000. That’d be crazy.

He seems to pop up once a year. 

Yeah. He does one track a year man.

And it’s always the best track of the year!

Yeah I know. I feel like I’m working towards it. But I think he’s a huge inspiration for me in terms of … just a creative in general, I mean, he’s obviously a rapper, but I’m pretty sure he produced “Bombs Over Baghdad” and he’s certainly on the bucket list.

I think you’re playing a show with Big Boi later this week aren’t you?

Yeah, I am. So, that’ll be cool. I love Big Boi too. They were both such an interesting combination. I feel like people kind of look over them. But then someone like Kanye would be nothing without Stankonia or Speakerboxxx, in my opinion. They really reached the echelon in terms of that crossover pop hip-hop type sound.

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To hear more music and check out tour dates from Cautious Clay, head to his official website. His new EP Table of Context is out today.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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