Cautious Clay

C//C for ITR: London Vibes by Maxwell Young


Wrapping up our conversation with Cautious Clay, we get a glimpse of what life was like across the pond and how his study abroad experience turned out to be just as much music-driven as it was academically-driven.  If anything, let his story be a testament to the power of people and connections, as emails via SoundCloud culminated in a student from D.C. being featured on several projects from emerging English artists. 

MY: You spent a lot of time in London.  What was that like?

JK: Yea, it was incredible.  I didn’t want to leave.  It was crazy because I was there for study abroad and I went with the intention of doing some music.  From the beginning I was like, ‘I’m gonna do some music, this is fucking London, I’m gonna do this shit.  I did it in D.C., why not do it in London,’ you know? So, I found a group of people at my university who were chill and then I started going on SoundCloud, finding cool producers, and emailing them.  A couple hit.  MNEK and Flako had me come over for a session and from there it was just a really inspirational city.  Not only the music scene, but also the people and the environment.

MY: What are the cultural differences in the urban environment?

JK: I think the people are a lot more open to the artistic side of things.  They’re more accepting of the artistic side of music than the US.  They have a higher threshold for hearing things that are just good.  They don’t have to be a certain amount of time or BPM, they just make shit that doesn’t have to be a certain way, and I think that’s really cool.  I also think there’s less of an emphasis on making money.  I mean, you have to make money, but over there it’s less so because they have more room for people to live.

AY: Would you say London is a better place for creative influence or collaboration?

JK: Yeah and no.  The U.S. is a great place, too.  New York is f*cking sick. There’s some crazy motherf*ckers in New York, for real.  So, I wouldn’t go as far to say that London is more creative, but I think its just more people are open to create initially.  There’s not as much politics.  The politics is a little different in London and it meshed well with how I wanted to do things.  In London they’re not gonna be like, ‘Oh you have 75 followers.  I have 500,000. I can’t talk to you,’ versus in New York you might have some sh*t like that.  In D.C. you definitely have some sh*t like that.  There’s more of camaraderie for the music.

AY: It seems real genuine in understanding.  We’re all here for the same purpose.

JK: Exactly.  There’s much more of a true love for the music, and not just the scene, you know.

MY: What’s next for Cautious Clay?

JK: I don’t know, man.  I’m working on a lot of new stuff.  I think I’m going to be a lot more casual with my page.  Cautious Clay is something that’s really important to me, but I think it’s more of an experimentation of what I want to create artistically.  I want to push the limits of my sound and what I think is great and what people will accept and what people can really get into, you know.  I want to expand people’s minds.  That’s really the purpose of Cautious Clay.  I think my more artistic side and more soulful side comes out in my instrumentation—my performance.  I want to have a project that integrates my performance.  For me that’s not a DJ, regardless if a DJ can perform.  For me it comes down to me singing, me having a band, me creating something that really speaks to people in a different way.

C//C for ITR: College and Music by Maxwell Young

I think the dominating sentiment with academic institutions is that arts programs are ancillary areas of study to the seemingly "more important" STEM programs.  As a result, when funding for these institutions becomes constrained, arts programs are generally some of the first programs to be affected in an adverse way.  Earlier this year, George Washington University announced it would reduce funding for the music department by 5% due to the decrease in enrollment of graduate and professional studies.  What's more is that by slashing costs it diminishes the music department's offerings to music majors, minors, and those genuinely interested by 40%.  As you'll read in the following interview, music is an outlet and a source of creative influence for many people and without programs to nurture that intrigue, it becomes more difficult for musicians to find their sound and to find opportunities to keep honing their craft. 

MY: What would you say if you had to give advice to someone who’s looking to study music as well as go to university?  I mean, GW is obviously not easy sometimes, so what would you say to someone who’s looking to have a career in music, like yourself, while at the same time studying something that’s more “safe”?

JK: Hmm.  Yea, I’d say do music as much as you can because you love it.  And then as long as you put yourself in the right positions, anything can happen. That’s why I think its funny…I mean music school is important, don’t get me wrong.  But, I feel like I’ve been fortunate enough to be doing music my whole life, regardless of producing or whatever, I’ve always had music in my life, so these other things sort of come and go.  To be honest, maybe I won’t be a producer in the next couple of years; I have no idea.  But when people are like, “Oh, you produce?” It’s just like, music is in your life or it’s not and I think people need to realize that.  It’s not like you can just stop.  I’m never gonna stop doing music, it’s in my blood.  I want to do it regardless if I’m making money.  So, I’d just encourage anybody to continue doing music because they love it and then if they want to make it a reality, then you just gotta do both, you know.  Make the money and do both and find a way to split your interests until you can find a way to do music full-time.  There’s going to be people who say you can’t, but f*ck that.  There are people telling me that right now.  They tell me you can’t split them, you gotta choose.  Well, no.  I’m not going to do that.  I’m going to do what I want to do.

MY: Are you involved with the music community at GW?

JK: Not as much anymore, I wish.  I just kind of faded.  My freshman year was when I was really involved and we had a couple of guys like Louis Diller and Davie who kind of pushed me in the right directions.  I went to these jam sessions [GW Jam Sessions] that are about to disappear.  If I didn’t have the jam session, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.  That’s where I met Louis Diller who is now signed to Glassnote and is traveling all over the world and yea; he’s a major sh*t now.  He was super influential for me because after he graduated he went and did his music sh*t and made it his reality and that’s just awesome.  That’s the reason I did the Holychild remix because that was him and I was like, ‘Yo man, I love to work with you.’  So yea, I think I was involved, but it kind of dissipated because the community who was really about it just disappeared and it was already two or three people.  I think you have to find those people who are really down to make music, and it’s hard.

MY: Would you say the GW music community isn’t as strong as it can be?

JK: I would say they’re not really good at promoting themselves.  That’s the major issue.  Like they have a scholarship that’s 25-grand a year that I didn’t even know about because they don’t publicize it.  The scholarship is an investment and they don’t understand that.  They aren’t good at marketing themselves and I think they could get a lot more talent to come to GW if they did.

C//C for ITR: Entrepreneurship and Indie Labels by Maxwell Young

Today, we pick up the conversation with Cautious Clay regarding his involvement with a young, DC record label, Proper Vibes. The traditional framework of the music industry where an artist is signed under a record label has limited artists' ability to control his/her sound and act.  Before the disruption of the internet and music streaming services, like Napster, Spotify, and SoundCloud, artists had to rely on the financing and connections of major labels to distribute their music.  As a result, artists have had to relinquish some of their artistic freedom to acquiesce to the more popular or mainstream sounds those labels try to capitalize on; however, what we've seen over the past several years is a shift in control.  Artists of all popularity have begun to cut out the intermediary record labels to start their own independent entities to distribute their art.  Not only have large independent labels, like Jay Z's Roc Nation or Top Daw Entertainment, risen to prominence, but the accessibility and innovation of the worldwide web has enabled emerging artists to form their own collectives to promote their music.  No longer is it necessary to have support from bureaucratic executives looking to take advantage of musicians, all it takes is a click of a button to make your content accessible to everyone. 

MY: You opened up for Lido right?

JK: No, no that was Keylow.  He actually lives in this building, too.  He’s a chill dude.  He runs Musx, which is a promotional company.  It’s a music app, it has a pretty big influence.  They just did a showcase with Moving Castle, which was pretty cool.

AY: It’s funny that you mentioned that.  I think in the EDM community there’s a culture of doing things on your own.  Honestly, you guys are pushing your art and product on your own.  You have Proper Vibes and this app you just mentioned, it seems like there is this big underground community of people doing things on their own.

JK: Yea, for real.  I mean really that’s the way it is.  It’s so funny because even only being a producer for a year and a half, I feel like I’ve seen the gamut of just the major leagues to doing your own thing to being an instrumentalists and not even knowing how to produce, like I’ve seen this all since my freshman year of college and it’s just been crazy.  I feel so fortunate to be at the position I’m at right now because I’ve worked with people who work at Warner, you know, but at the same time I wasn’t producing at the time.  And then you have these people who are not even linked to that who are just making it on their own and their just doing it.  They organize their own bookings, their own shows, their own publishing; everything is just them and it’s just crazy to me.  It sounds novel, but I think it’s really cool to think about.

MY: Touching on that, what has it been like working with Proper Vibes?

JK: I help organize some of the events with Proper Vibes, but Proper Vibes is nothing but family, they’re great guys.  They have just been a platform for me to have a community that can work around each other.  We kind of work together and make our own stuff.  We started off in very much a similar way, I’d say, like Moving Castle.  It’s just a really cool community for us to throw shows and events.  I mean, we are a record label, too, but I’d say we are more so kind of an events entity right now.

AY: How receptive has the community been towards your events?  Are you getting nice turnouts and growing a fan base as well?

JK:  Oh yea, we are definitely growing a fan base.  We’re going in a positive direction, which I think is great.  I think there have been some logistical issues over the past year that we’re working out, but it has been nothing but positive.


Who is Cautious Clay? by Maxwell Young

Josh Karpeh has been around music his entire life, but over the past year and a half this passion has manifest itself in the musical act Cautious Clay.  Clay's sonic amalgamation of jazzy, trippy, and deep house tropes have been well documented not only by InTheRough, but also by influential DJs, such as Phill Taggart of BBC Radio 1, as well as electronic music website, Blisspop.  Over the course of the last several weeks, though, InTheRough has been able to delve into a number of conversations with the emerging DJ.  Josh Karpeh, a soon-to-be graduate of the George Washington University is at an interesting point in his life and musical development.  Topics ranging from his background, entrepreneurial foray, involvement in the music community at GW, and London experience help provide insight into the enterprising role of an artist balancing the rigors of growing up and honing his craft.  This week, we are pleased to present a spotlight series on the man behind the act Cautious Clay.

*Contributions from Josh Karpeh, Alex Young, and Maxwell Young

MY: Where does the idea for a track come from?

JK: I do tracks in a very linear way.  Everything starts off in one area and just kind of goes.  It doesn’t have to really have a course or pre-course, especially with electronic music.  With this kind of project, Cautious Clay, I’m really thinking about making something completely different and driving on a lot of different influences and kind of putting together something that’s completely inspired by my own feelings and thoughts.  It’s something to prove to myself more so than necessarily other people, even though I really hope other people like it.  I’m always creating all different kind of sh*t, but with this kind of sh*t I think definitely just kind of progression that’s my own thinking.

MY: What kind of music did you listen to as a child?  Especially with “Let it Whip,” that really resonated with me

JK: Well I mean soul, like The Delfonics, and a lot of soul and a lot of jazz.  I just say soul and jazz were my biggest influences growing up because my parents loved great music and they still do.  I was inspired by their listening habits and just took it in my own directions.  I mean I didn’t really start to produce until about a year and a half ago.  Being a producer was always something to me where I had an interest in it but, I always thought it was way too removed for me because I was never good with computers.  And I was always just like, ‘This is intimidating.’  And then one summer going into my junior year, I picked up FL Studios and then I liked that and realized it was hard and picked up Abelton in that same period and kind of just went with it.  And literally hours and hours and hours every single day for a year and a half and now I’m here.

AY: You said that growing up your parents’ listening habits influenced your work.  But who in the past three months would you say you’re listening to who has influenced some of your past projects or things you’re currently working on?

JK: I’m really about this future beats thing, but I’d say I’m not as much inclined with the idea of future beats but more just the concept and the perspective on music, like making music that’s oriented towards the future.  So, kind of making your own sound in a way that’s more respectively you, not just beats.  I’d say Pomo is a big influence, KAYTRYNADA, Sam Gallantry—for sure Sam Gallantry—Lindsay Lowend who’s also really cool, Lido, and Cashmere Cat.  Those guys are pretty good too.  Those are probably the artists who influence me. 

MY: How have you tried to utilize the flute and the saxophone in your music? It’s definitely a clear part of it, especially with your training.

JK: The concept of improvisation for me is so strong in my music.  Not only in just having the flute and saxophone, but just how I construct my songs, you know every piece is integrated and very specific, and I do it for a reason.  So I feel like that’s always going to be a part of my music, but as for the flute and saxophone being there, I feel like it creates a different element in my production that a lot of people don’t use.  Not that there aren’t other producers who use the flute and saxophone, but I want to solo.  I want to have something that hits people in that way.  I’m going to keep doing that in a lot of my music because it’s kind of like my signature.

MY: You’ve been playing the flute for some other artists, right?

JK:  Oh yea, for sure.  Flako just released his EP and I was playing the flute on his song “Golden High,” so that was pretty sick.  And then MNEK’s song “In Your Clouds,” I played flute on that one.  I play with robstokesband, which is fun.  I love collaboration.

MY: What’s the editing process like when you send your pieces to these artists over seas?

JK: Usually it’s through Splice, which is a program you can send files over very easily and seamlessly, especially if you’re using Abelton or FL Studios.  I’m actually doing a mix for the Walking Sticks.  I’m helping them mix their next project, so Splice has really been helpful.  Collaboration is usually me or someone else starting a track off and just sending it back. 

AY: Has that happened with a lot of your tracks?

JK: Yea, I mean everything that I’ve released has been completely me, but I’m working on a lot of collaborations right now that just haven’t been finished, so it’s a matter of me getting back to them or them getting back to me.

AY: Is there anything that you’re working on that’s different than what you’ve already released?  Have you dabbled into something that might be more hip-hop or other genres?

JK: For sure. Yea, I do.  I have stuff that’s a little bit more soul, but I just haven’t released it because I haven’t finished it; there’s so much sh*t that I start and don’t finish.  And I think part of that is because my writing process for Cautious Clay just kind of starts and stops sometimes.  But yea, definitely harmonies and vocals I’m trying to work more of that into my music.  I just think I’m in a very technical mood at this point.

AY: Have you found yourself going from different moods?  What was before your technical mood?

JK: Yea, I think I was really into songwriting before that.  That’s where I started off, wanting to do my own thing.  I was actually just going to do just a band, but I was like ‘F*ck this. This is too hard.’ So then I started making beats and it wasn’t until four or five months ago that I felt I could release something because I wasn’t comfortable with my skill set.  I mean yea, I f*ck with too much jazz and soul to not have that in my music.

Zak Abel- These Are The Days (Cautious Clay Remix) by Maxwell Young

Spring vibes are upon us as emerging DJ Cautious Clay has yet again released a multifaceted remix to UK vocalist Zak Abel's "These Are The Days."  Besides the funky groove (which by the way we love), take note of the guitar, flute, and saxophone instrumentals that add a refreshing layer to the three minute and thirty second track.  Stay up to date on all things Cautious Clay, as his music begins to shuffle across international airwaves by liking his Facebook and SoundCloud pages.