Cautious Clay, born Joshua Karpeh, is living proof that even if you are doing a job you don’t like, it’s never too late to achieve your dream career. Having worked as a real estate agent for two years before pursuing music, the singer-songwriter from Ohio has since received praise from the likes of John Mayer and amassed over a million monthly listeners on Spotify.
We caught up with Josh to talk about collaborating with others, remaining as an unsigned artist, and the key to making popular music while staying true to your subject matter.
Firstly, this is something I’ve struggled to find the answer to, what are the origins of the name Cautious Clay? The name is originally from a DJ project that I made in college and I just stuck with it. The name resonated with me because I always been particular about my music, wordplay, and production elements.
When did you start getting into music?
I started taking flute lessons when I was seven years old, and then I transitioned to saxophone in high school.
Is there a style or genre you often find yourself gravitating towards?
I love things that have a “groove” or a strong and interesting rhythmic pocket to them which I feel like is something that can be present in a lot of different genres.
Is this a path that’s always been something you wanted to get on?
I think deep down it was always something that interested me but never saw myself truly following into a lasting career path like this.
Your new song Cheesin’ is such a summery bop. What inspired your verse on the track? The song was really inspired by trying to take a more positive approach to situations where friends or other people may have taken advantage of you or tried to mistake kindness for weakness.
What was the creative process like when working with other up-and-coming artists? I feel like the song was very open-ended from the start and I sort of organized everyone around this beat initially. All the other artists I worked with on the song are friends or people I’ve connected with online, so overall it was pretty relaxed.
Is there anything that you learned from being a real estate agent that you’ve continued to hold throughout your music career?
Being a real estate agent is a lot running around, you’re basically operating your own business since you are on commission, and being an independent musician/artist is a lot like that too.
Why have you chosen to remain as an unsigned artist?
It’s a lot easier to see how and where your money is being spent and I have full creative control over my decisions.
What qualities of being independent do you think are most important to you right now?
Not having to live up to certain expectations that may not be aligned with my long term vision and my ability to be in control and execute immediately on any ideas I have.
Your lyrics read almost like poetry or something in a modern art gallery. How do you think this translates into a popular music setting?
I feel like melody and execution mean everything when it comes to how people translate popular art or music, etc. I don’t feel like you have to compromise your lyrics or subject matter for something to be popular, sometimes it’s just gotta sound believable or earnest.
Do you have a favorite song so far? Whether it was the experience of writing and recording it or playing it live.
I enjoy playing “Crowned” live because the band really leans into it and we make it our own each night on stage.
Are you feeling any kind of imposter syndrome from all the support you’ve received?
Not as much with my own music and artistic side of things but sometimes when I’m working with other artists. It’s kinda something I think about often, but most of the time I also remind myself that there’s a reason people like John Legend and John Mayer are reaching out.
What’s it been like collaborating with artists like John Mayer? How’d that come about?
John started following me on Instagram and I reached out in messages and the rest is history. We connect in person the next time I came to LA and ended up writing “Swim Home” together that day.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of touring?
My favorite part is hanging out in a new city for several hours before the show and my least favorite is probably not being able to take shits on the bus.
What up-and-coming artists are you currently loving? Who should be on everyone’s radar?
I really like this guy Vasser out of the UK, also been into this band called Dirtbike.
What advice would you give to someone who’s currently in an office job that wants to break out into the music industry?
Have a passion for music and be persistently creative in how you develop your sound.
What can you share about the progress of your upcoming album?
It’s almost done I have a lot of mixing and re-writing but the songs are almost there.
What does this year hold for Cautious Clay?
An album, more shows, and more videos in the works for later this year.