Cautious Clay burst onto the scene last September with the release of his debut single, “Cold War,” and hasn’t looked back since. The former leasing agent marketer has progressed at a torrid pace since the impressive drop, accomplishing more in nine months than most artists do in an entire career: he’s racked up millions of plays on Spotify alone, performs throughout the country, and is already being hounded by major labels. He re-released his debut EP, Blood Type, attached with an extra track, “Stolen Moments,” in April and is already slated to release a new EP by the end of May. We spoke to Cautious about his musical influences, creative process, and a fated trip to Korea that changed his life. You can check it all out, below.
Not even a year ago, you were working as a leasing agent marketer. What was it like working a 9-5 as a passionate musician?
I was fortunate enough to find a way to make a living out of college. But, besides that, it was still something that I realized, even though I was making money, it wasn’t in a way in which I was happy. As cheesy as it sounds, I’m kind of a guy of my convictions and I didn’t relate to anyone else at my job. It was super soul-sucking.
And what made you finally take the leap of faith and quit?
Long story short, I had been making beats and stuff for several years and had a lot of weird ass beats up on my Soundcloud. The head of a Korean label sent me an email almost three years ago, in 2015, saying he wanted me to come out to Korea to work. At first I said, “That’s ridiculous,” and I ignored it. A year later, my manager was going out to Korea for a vacation and asked a friend of his if there was anyone he should meet while out there. He was introduced to the same guy that cold-emailed me years ago and they were like, “We have to get him to Korea.”
I was still working in corporate throughout those years and basically had no vacation time, I had like one or two days, and I took unpaid days off too and was like cool, I wanna do this. I basically ended up producing eight songs for these semi-big Korean artists; that was super surreal for me. The fact that I did that, I was like okay this is a sign. The beats were just some stuff I was working on like on a plane ride or making randomly, so I realized if I really just put 100% of my efforts into this and focused, maybe I could make a career out of this. One of the songs I produced ended up being nominated for a Korean Hip-Hop Award.
Growing up in Cleveland, how did the city influence you musically, i.e., Kid Cudi or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony? Sometimes your voice sounds eerily similar to Kid Cudi’s, although you’re different stylistically.
It’s funny you say Bone Thugs because they lived in Mayfield Heights, not too far from me. I think in terms of inspirations growing up, I would say that Cudi was surprisingly not a huge influence, I had always heard about his stuff and kinda listened to it peripherally but I never really got into it, funny enough. Not that I don’t like him as an artist, but he was never super inspiring for me.
You said in a past interview that you’re heavily influenced by Hip-Hop. Which artists in particular?
Today, there’s some artists I really like even just because of a couple verses that they’ve done. I really love Earl Sweatshirt’s verse on, “Super Rich Kids.” I think he’s incredibly talented and I really fuck with his stuff. Obviously Andre 3000 is amazing. Sometimes stylistically I’m really into Ugly God too, he’s of a genre that I love because it’s the most self-deprecating, he’s just funny.
And which artists overall?
I was super into a lot of different stuff, a lot of stuff my parents turned me onto early on, I kinda didn’t accept at first as most kids wouldn’t, but it kinda comes back around. I listened to a lot of RnB, Pop Punk; Green Day, Lil Bow Wow, 50 Cent, a bunch of pop of just in the early 2000’s and late 90’s was around the house and in my ears. In my teens I was a really big jazz head and played in a jazz band.
Which artists would you most like to collaborate with?
I’m really stoked actually to collaborate, I think I might be working with Duckwrth pretty soon, I really like his stuff. I would definitely say Kendrick Lamar, he’s so sick, that’d definitely be the dream collab. Otherwise I’m kinda open to different ideas in terms of collaborations. Someone like Alina Baraz might be cool or SZA. Maybe even in a production sense it could be interesting.
As a poly-instrumentalist, front man and songwriter, what’s the creative process like for you in terms of collaboration? Do you do most everything alone or like to include others in the process?
That’s a great question, I’m kind of grappling with that right now because I do get hit up for a lot of production and collabs, and it’s easiest sometimes for me to just be by myself and just make everything on my own. But there are some situations where I’ve been collaborating with people lately, on my next project I have one co-production, everything else is on my own. That’s a good example of someone having a cool sound, something I admire, and I’ll work with them for that particular reason. But in general I definitely feel like it’s difficult because I am a producer, so if a producer wants to work with me you gotta be good, cause I can already do this.
Blood Type seems to cover lots of topics regarding relationships, specifically, people struggling to stay present in the digital age. Would you say the whole E.P. is based on this theme or is the project more so general observation?
I would say it’s more of a general observation and that’s just a part of it. I try to toe the line and not be preachy in how people lead their lives, I like to have more of a reflective mentality about it. Everyone has a different perspective on things and I wanted to show my interpretation of how I see things. That stems back to the title, Blood Type, representing my identity in a grander sense. It’s purposefully trying to highlight my perspective on relationships and on things people might wanna consider or think more about in their own lives. I’m not trying to say you’re bad for using Tinder, of course, use Tinder! But kind of like hey, this is where we’re at and this is okay but also just realize that you can live your life in a lot of different ways.
From a songwriting perspective, are all of your songs based on your personal experiences or do you draw inspiration from elsewhere?
Mostly, 80-90%, my experiences because for me, that’s the easiest way to feel that what I’m saying is authentic. It’s weird for me me to try to do something if it doesn’t feel right. I think today is the coolest time to just be yourself, so, that’s all I can do.
Stay independent or sign?
I think I’m definitely gonna stay independent for the near future, but down the line, if an opportunity comes about that makes sense for me, I would definitely consider that.
What’s on the horizon for Cautious Clay?
Yeah, right now I’m actually working on putting out my next project at the end of May. It’s something I’m pretty stoked about, it’s a 3-4 song E.P. There’s gonna be a video and some pretty cool artwork that my friend Lane is working on, he did all of the artwork for the last project. I’m playing a show at Bowery on July 24th. I’m just stoked to keep it moving, it’s a fun one for sure.