Introducing Cautious Clay: Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist

Originally from Cleveland, OH, Cautious Clay began his artistic journey at the age of seven when he picked up classical flute. His studies led him deep into the worlds of blues and jazz, and by the time he hit college in Washington, D.C., he had added a number of other instruments to his repertoire, as well as songwriting and production. Now based in Brooklyn, Cautious released his first EP, Blood Type, in February 2018. On Blood Type, Cautious thoughtfully reflects on trust, isolation, and communication in romantic relationships. Over a unique self-produced blend of modern R&B, indie rock, and jazz, he conveys his capacity for both dry wit and poignant metaphor.

Cautious’s second EP, RESONANCE, just came out on May 30. This week, he discussed the new release with us and we got to know him a little better.

I’m curious how studying jazz in college contributes to your songwriting. Are there particular lessons that stand out from that time?

I think I learned most from hearing a lot of different music. Then I applied it by experimenting with chords/voicing ideas on guitar and piano to find what I like. I used to write a lot of lyric notes in my phone too, and those have gotten stronger over time.

What’s the most difficult thing about producing your own songs? What makes it worth it?

Mixing is definitely the most time-consuming portion of everything. But it’s worth it because I know exactly how I want it to sound.

You play a lot of instruments. In another interview, you said you “can shred on flute and saxophone” and you “dabble in keys, bass, guitar, and drums.” What instrument do you want to learn next?

Ahhh, yeah! Well probably, if I had the time, I would love to learn either trumpet or bassoon. They both have a very rich sound, and I like them for different reasons. But those instruments could be cool to incorporate.

Tell us a little more about RESONANCE. How does it compare to Blood Type from an instrumental/production aspect? What about lyrically?

I think that the production and writing has a bit more space in the mix. The sounds are also a bit more bright.

I kind of stumbled on the name RESONANCE from its double meaning: sonically it’s a characteristic in music, as well as harkening back to places and emotions felt about something.

Lyrically, I am attacking themes less about relationships than I was on Blood Type, and more about my perspectives on fame (“Call Me”) and understanding people’s motives (“Smoke”).

To me, one of your strengths as a lyricist is your awareness of how other people might see you. For example, “French Riviera” begins with the striking line, “I wanna be a cult classic / black boys wrapped in plastic.” Can you tell me more about that line?

Yeah, totally! It’s really just a reflection on how I am seen as an artist and/or commodity. I wanted to deconstruct the meaning behind how I am perceived.

The last two years have brought you a new level of media attention. Was there a point at which your likes/follows/views exploded overnight?

I would even say it’s been in the last year to 8 months that things have really begun to shine. It’s honestly been very gradual: as I put more and more music out, the exposure has grown socially.

Has that exposure led to meeting any musicians you look up to?

Yeah, the most interesting one was definitely meeting Mike League, the bass player and founder of the band Snarky Puppy. I was super into them in high school, so that was pretty surreal.

You’ve got a few tour dates coming up in the summer, including July 24 at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom. What will the live performance look like?

I’ll have my guitarist, Chris Kyle, and a drummer, Francesco Alessi, on stage. I will be playing sax as well… and maybe there will be some surprises.

Cautious Clay’s RESONANCE EP can be heard in its entirety here.

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