Joshua Karpeh, better known by his stage name, Cautious Clay is on a steady rise to ultimate stardom. For what would seem like a rollercoaster for most, Cautious Clay is rising in cruise control – in absolutely no rush, and with plenty of gas in the tank.
Growing up, Josh was very much a musical kid. He began to play the flute when he was seven years old, being that random guy who played the flute in his friends bands. Like most kids, there was an abundance of music being played around the house, and his parents were very tasteful, he tells me – giving Josh a chance to be exposed to a broad range of sounds. Josh soaked up everything from soul and R&B… “A lot of Earth, Wind & Fire and even some folky shit. Both of my parents really loved music, they both had huge vinyl collections. Neither of them played music, they just played a lot of records all around the house. I would soak it all up.” Even without directly realising it, his parent’s tune-filled weekends would make its way into his own music many years later. “For whatever reason, the musical part of my brain is super active with everything audible – I have a very good memory for all things auditory, so I would always make reference or ideas based on what I’ve heard in the past, and that would directly inform things that I sang or played on the saxophone years after I’d heard it.”
“I’m just being me. There are definitely a tonne of people who love what I do, but I'm making my music regardless of all that.”
Moving forward throughout Josh’s college years, like any starting musician he was tinkering away and uploading music to SoundCloud. “Cautious Clay started as a DJ project in college, I went with the name because I was always particular about my actions and my music. I’m an emotional person, but I have a hard time expressing my emotions…” he continues, “and so I felt like that name felt like it resonated with me because I felt like I could express myself though my music.” Since then, he has released two EP’s, and has become a highly sought after singer, songwriter and producer. After a couple of years since the last EP – Cautious Clay has finally released his debut full-length album, ‘Deadpan Love’.
This new album shows the freshly polished skills of the multi-talented musician. With a greatly matured sound, it is clear that Cautious Clay has a newfound confidence in his ability to use his voice, delivering vocals so soothing and warm, as if his voice parts the clouds, letting giant beams of light to shine through. “I have developed a little more confidence in my voice, I’m a lot better at understanding how to make certain deliveries happen, and I’ve expanded my palette”. There is no limit to where he cannot take his sound. This maturity has found its way into Josh’s song writing, two years on from his last project he sees himself as a more polished musician. “As a songwriter, when I first started out I had this raw perspective on music that I still have now, but I think I also have this seasoned ability to write a song super easily… and I think that sort of thing has informed my ability to be the best kind of artist that I can be.” Sonically, the album itself has two sides – Josh likes to think of it as hot and cold. The first half of the album is full on head bumping funk, with tracks that you simply can’t resist tapping your foot to. Following the interlude finds us taking a graceful dive into the ‘cold’ side of the album. Full of buttery goodness, these remaining tunes ooze of jazzy influences. “Track one through to track seven feels a lot more energetic, then the back half of the album feels a lot smoother, a lot more emotional. It goes from hot to cold. I was trying to be very intentional with the order of the songs and where each one fits in.” He tells me. “I feel so good about the album. I spent a lot of time on this music – I’ve written probably close to one hundred songs over the last two years”. Josh mentions how he started crafting the album while on tour for his previous project two years ago… “I honestly forget how it all happened. It was definitely stressful, but a good kind of stressful, we got it done.” While listening to the album, I couldn’t help but find similarities to gospel tracks. “Really?!” Josh said, seeming a little surprised by this, “I loved Kirk Franklin as a kid, and he’s who a lot of people would call the king of gospel. I think gospel chords just sound so universally hopeful, people gravitate towards that sound. I definitely like gospel chords and the element of the music sonically, it’s really uplifting.”
“I spent a lot of time on this music. I’ve written probably
close to one hundred songs over the last two years…”
Cautious Clay definitely knows that there are many sides to him as an artist, admitting that he never spends a tonne of time trying to master anything, but has found himself finding skills in a wide range of areas. “I’ve directed my own videos, produced my own songs, mixed my own songs, played saxophone… I do a lot of things at a decent level, and I think musically obviously there are many sides to me, I think also emotionally there are a lot of elements to me, and a lot of sides to how I see things.” Cautious Clay has always wanted to do his own thing. Despite the fame and the big-shot names he has worked with; John Mayer, Taylor Swift & John Legend to name a few – Josh remains true to himself. He tells me how no matter how many eyes are on him he only makes music for the love of music. “I think for my own emotional health it’s very difficult to be like “oh yeah, I’m totally not a twenty-eight year old man” you know? I identify with that… I just have to be myself. I’m not trying to be like “look at me I’m holier than thou…” I’m just being me. He says contemplatively, “there are definitely a tonne of people who love what I do, but I'm making my music regardless of all that. Accompanying the surreal nature of it all are the insecurities, which Josh conflicts by sticking to the person that he truly is behind his global artistry, and still doing whatever the hell he wants. “I think there is always the insecurity of not being the hot new artist, so you’re constantly trying to reinvent yourself for you to feel like there’s a way to fit in. I think that’s always an insecurity that I have.” Reminding himself to not put the pressure of his status over his mind, he finds comfort in the fact that music doesn’t really change that much over time. “In general a good song is always going to be a good song, even if it is decades old. For me that’s my biggest security in the context of music. As long as I have that awareness I don’t really care. I just want to do what I want to do.”
Listen to Cautious Clay's debut album, 'Deadpan Love' on Spotify below:
Cautious Clay is featured in Tenner Magazine's 'Discover' issue - available to pre-order now!
Words by Oli Spencer
Photography by Oli Spencer, shot over FaceTime