Joshua Karpeh, better known as Cautious Clay, is a soul singer from Brooklyn who plays flute, guitar, saxophone and ukulele – and those are just the instruments we saw him tune at the soundcheck. Over for his first ever gigs in the UK, Cautious is more relaxed than you’d expect, especially as the layout of the venue he’s playing means the backstage area is mainly made up of a cramped room with a massage table in the middle (yes, really). “That’s not part of the rider!” he jokes.
Once an area with some actual chairs has been found, he gives us a run through of how he got into music. “I was really into Aladdin as a kid,” he laughs. “There was a lot of flute in that film, so I decided I’d learn to play the flute. I was about seven at the time, got private lessons and everything. Then in high school that branched out into playing saxophone in the jazz band and I basically just got fascinated with different instruments. Guitar was next, and then I started making beats while I was in college.”
Despite knowing how to play every instrument ever, pursuing music as a career had never crossed Clay’s mind. “I didn’t know you could make money doing music!” he smiles and shakes his head. “I had no idea, I thought gigs were the only means of doing so, and I didn’t want to be a saxophone player, which was the only instrument I was good enough at to get gigs. I like playing sax, but I don’t love it that much, so I had to go out and get a job, I had student loans to pay off.”
“I ended up as a real estate agent for a year, then I worked in ad sales for another year,” he continues. “I quit all that about a year and a half ago to do this full time. I was doing so much musically at that point anyway, and I had some friends who were doing it too, so I knew there were a lot of things going on. I got into songwriting from that, and the money I saved up from my job and from selling beats meant I could just say ‘fuck it’ and go for it.”
He pauses, before dropping in: “Doing stuff with my friend Billie was cool too – Billie Eilish. I know that’s a funny thing to say now, but we met on SoundCloud and were speaking through there, which was cool. She had this song called ‘Ocean Eyes’, and before she released it she asked me to do a remix of it, then it kinda blew up. It’s been cool to see her grow. I wouldn’t say we’re super close and we don’t work together too much right now, but I know we will be in the future. It’s all cool.”
It’s all been a slow build, to be honest with you,” he replies when asked how he’s handling his success. “So that means it’s less scary, I’m just kinda going with it, wherever it takes me – I definitely feel like this is what I’m meant to do, so it’s fun. Selling out gigs in places like England is obviously a trip, but it’s all relative. The way I see it, there are so many different types of music that appeal to different people; all you’ve gotta do is make something that people can connect with.”
Luckily for all of us looking for something to connect with, Cautious has a new EP out. “It’s independently released, which is a conscious choice of mine,” he explains. “I’m doing better now than I would if I had a label, so why would I let them take what I have and what I’ve built on my own? Why would I take a huge advance if it’s just money I have to recoup anyway? If I make money on my own there are fewer eggs in one basket; it just makes sense to me.”
That philosophy applies to everything, not just staying unsigned. “I want to expand outside of just doing music, too,” he adds, excitedly. “I really like fashion too, and I’ve started doing some brand collaborations too. It’s a big influence of mine, obviously not as big as music, but still massive. I guess I’ve just got an eye for it, more than anything else.”
And finally, we had to ask – why did he choose to call himself Cautious Clay?
“Well, there’s the Muhammad Ali / Cassius Clay link, obviously. I’m also very particular about the music I make and how it’s made, so it felt appropriate to name myself Cautious.” He laughs, “I thought about calling myself ‘Particular Clay’, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it…”
Taken from the May issue of Dork. Cautious Clay’s new EP ‘Table Of Context’ is out now.
Words: Jake Hawkes