Because Cautious Clay Sounded Better Than “Particular Clay”

// Image courtesy of Leeor Wild.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Joshua Karpeh was starting flute lessons at the age of seven. Eventually he would move to DC to go to college, and then on to New York after that. But some of Karpeh's friends are still those he met in middle school in Ohio. Though he graduated from college in 2015 into the real estate industry with a degree in physics, Karpeh was always making music. Soon enough, the groovy Cautious Clay was born.

Read more all about Cautious in conversation with WHRB below, and tune into his latest hit "Roots."

[Interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity]

Can you tell us a little bit about where the name Cautious Clay comes from?

Cautious Clay: Yeah, so it's sort of stemmed from sort of being really particular about my music. So I have a lot of like, very specific stuff that I like, my music was sort of very specific at first, like I used to make very hyped up electronic beats kind of stuff, and then do remixes. So I've kind of thought Cautious clay sounded better than “particular” clay. And I was like, Oh, I like that. I like how words sound like, I'm just a big into words and making words kind of sound familiar, but not necessarily knowing why exactly. And so that that was kind of where I got that inspiration from. But this is cool. You know, and there's a whole period of time, I guess. 2013, 2014, 2015 where people were just like, basically taking names of famous people and just like, twisting them around like, Frames Janco or Lean Quatifah.

Do you have any inspirational artists or albums or music or particular songs that are very nostalgic for you?

CC: Oh, man, there's a lot. But let's see. I mean, like, it's all really classic. But like, you know, Kind of Blue was one of the first albums I ever listened to. Yeah, that's obviously classic. I actually just got hip to a whole Charlie Parker with strings album that's incredible. It’s called April in Paris. Really gorgeous. It's just so nostalgic.

Would you say you mainly grew up listening to jazz?

CC: Yeah, I mean, I spent a lot of time listening to jazz probably in my teens, like probably from, I don't know, 15, 16 to 20, 21. I was really hardcore into jazz and then the early in that same time period, I really got into electronic music, and all that stuff too. So those things are just like merged together in my music

So I have a couple of questions about some of your collaborations. So you created the EP blood type? You did that solo, right? But then in the last few years, we hear more and more of your collaborations, especially with huge names John Mayer, Alina Baraz, and Still woozy; the list goes on for a really long time? What's led to that shift?

CC: Yeah, I think you can do things off solo, but it's also a really beautiful thing to collaborate with people. I think it just always leads to interesting and dynamic things. I've Why would I guess I just I never really thought about not at least trying to collaborate, you know, especially if it's something that I enjoy or something that I appreciate, you know, but I think also, my main blood type, by myself mostly is like, I don't know, like, I still make music by myself. But I guess, when I collaborate, it's just sort of like a way for me to kind of grow. It's almost just a way for me to grow as an artist, I think, because it just gives me new perspectives about how other artists think and what other people are looking for. And just kind of like, yeah, I can better understand like, did the other other ways that people do things, I guess, if that makes sense.

Yeah, for sure. That's awesome. So you've worked, you've worked quite a bit with HXNS. Can you speak a little bit about that relationship?

CC: Yeah. Wow. That's a great point. He is. So I've actually known probably since around 2015. I've known of him he was a really popular producer on Soundcloud for he had this kind of large following at SoundCloud, back in like 2015. And really cool. He was someone that I had been aware of, but hadn't necessarily ever got in contact with But then one of my managers put us in contact. And we just got along really well. I think Hans is just a really incredible producer and collaborator. So I started a publishing company to help other producers come up and learn the ropes in terms of how music production can be cool and interesting and sort of a new way of growing as an artist. It's called January publishing. But it's just Hans. And that's the only person I've signed. It's just like a way for him to grow. And I really believe in him as a producer and an artist. It made sense for what we wanted to do. He's just like a really dope human being I guess. That's all. Yeah, that's sort of how it worked out, I just really liked him a lot as a producer.

Thanks so much that's amazing to hear. Sounds like a wonderful musician. Do you have any future collaborations we could hear about or things you're excited for?

CC: Yeah, I've been working for a long time on this album, and have kind of been crafting some songs from probably a year and a half ago, even. And like, I've just been kind of fine tuning it and coming together. But yeah, I guess I'm just excited about my album that I'm working on.

So you wrote a lot about the topic of personal relationships, and identity, like personal identity. Can you talk about those messages A little bit? And are there any, like specific relationships or identity things that inspired you to write about this?

CC: Yeah, I mean, I guess I have dealt with a lot of identity searching in my life and I think most people do. But I guess when I think about what was going through my head and kind of what, what was sort of stemming from a lot of the music lyrically. I've been in a six year relationship that started in sophomore college. And I had also sort of been working at a job that literally could not have been less fitting for me. And music just felt like the easiest sort thing for me to do and express my emotions. And I feel like I write in a style where it's sort of open ended, but it was specific at the same time. A good example is actually cynicism in the face of love, I'm insecure and simultaneously direct, but you can interpret that in so many ways. I like to write emotionally. It's palpable for me to kind of write about my emotions and my feelings. Because they just feel like resolutions. Okay, this is a thing, this is a truth, in some ways. And, and in the context of my identity, that’s when I feel the most emotional, when I write. This is just a fundamental truth that I'm dealing with.

Amazing. Thanks so much for that. And as for subject matter, can you tell us about what your next step might be in terms of self-exploration?

CC: I think, in some ways, there's always going to be a silver lining in the context of identity being a portion of what I write about. But I think that this next project that I'm working on

is dealing with the absurdity of life. I hesitate to call it funny, but it's not like, laugh out loud, funny, it's like, “Wow, that's so ridiculous that someone would feel this way or think this way.” So I guess it's sort of trying to unpack some of the absurdities that people go through, but also kind of wanting to feel like, it means something. Things are so absurd, but you know, we have to keep going after thinking about this in a way that's gonna be beneficial. So I even coined this term optimistic nihilism which is my overall mood and how I want this project to kind of come off.

Are there any songs that you thought would be more popular and are there any songs that surprised you by how popular they became?

CC: I guess? Well, I always thought that. I always thought that “Saturday Morning Cartoons” would be more popular than it was. I mean, I was really surprised at how popular “Joshua Tree” continues to be. Yeah, that was surprising. I mean, I'm always surprised, man. I don't know. That's a tough question. Because I was surprised about “Cold War” too. So it's always sort of a surprise. You know? No one has a full vision about us. I try not to go into any situations like “this is gonna be like the most popular song.” It is funny though, because I remember one of my really good friends Rob was like, “Yo, Cold War is gonna be huge man.” And I was like, “I don't know, man.” And then like, he was right. But, he was just one. Yeah, it's just funny, you know; no one has a crystal ball.

How does it feel that, I don't know, let's say, a week or two weeks ago, you added about 10,000 monthly listeners each day on Spotify. And then in the past week, every day, you have been accumulating 30,000 new monthly listeners? You just hit 3 million and it's still rising.

CC: I feel pretty numb to it a little bit, but not in a bad way. It's just like, this is what's happening. And I feel very laser focused on my album right now. I'm always trying to improve. But it is very cool.

Are there any people in your life that inspired you to do what you do? Do you have any musical family members?

CC: Yeah, I actually have a professional bass player, my family. Kai Eckhardt, He's my uncle. And he was touring with Billy Cobb and John McLaughlin, who were some famous jazz musicians in the 80s. He's sort of a jazz pioneer on bass. But he was, definitely an inspiration. I think if I got one iota of talent it’s from him.

So you did pole vaulting and sailing in high school, right?

CC: Yeah. I mean, I was in a phase, trying to get out. I had a chemistry teacher who was pretty cool. And he was like, “You should pole vault” and I agreed. So I did it. But sailing was more of a therapy during the summertime. It was just a way for me to get out of Cleveland for a bit. I definitely enjoyed it. I certainly don't remember nearly as much sailing as I do pole vaulting. Pole vaulting is more like riding a bike because there aren’t as many steps.

Favorite TV show or movies?

CC: Yeah, I mean, man movies. That's so tough, but I just saw a really weird ass movie. Definitely not my favorite movie. But if it's like a musical comedy. It's called “Leningrad Cowboys Go, America.” That's what it's called. But it's like a Russian mariachi band. And they're like, really wacky. It's made in 1989. I don't know if I would recommend it, but it's definitely really weird and awesome.

Wow. That's super weird, but very cool.

// Benjamin Fisher ’24 is a staff writer for The Darker Side.