We spoke to NYC musician Cautious Clay about his upcoming album and new musical direction, the lessons he's learned over the years, and love for his city.
For Cautious Clay, making music and getting creative has always been about trusting his instincts. His love for music in styles like hip-hop, and both organic and electric sounds has led him to play everything from the saxophone to the flute to the drums.
When Clay released his first single “Cold War” in 2017, the world met the artist by storm, latching onto his sultry yet driven beats and talented mix for rhythm, cadence, lyricism, and melody.
After the success of his debut EP ‘Blood Type’ in 2018 and the release of his second EP ‘Resonance’, Clay’s talent has opened for him to collaborate with artists from John Mayer to Taylor Swift. His songs tell stories within stories, as his single “Swim Home” is featured on Netflix’s hit show 13 Reasons Why, and his collaboration earlier this year with Alex Isley accompanies an episode on Issa Rae’s Insecure.
Today, however, Cautious Clay is gearing up to release a new, updated chapter to his musical career, and it begins with his brand new single, “Agreeable.” The twenty-seven-year-old musician describes the song as a “reflection of compromise”. With intricate flow and captivating melodies, “Agreeable” is the first single off of the artist’s highly-anticipated upcoming debut album. The album follows the release of Clay’s latest EP, ‘Table of Context’.
Clay explores the complications of compromise and sacrificing one’s feelings for someone else on “Agreeable”. How many versions of yourself do you allow people to see when certain things in life keep you from being your whole self? The “Agreeable” music video reveals Clay’s vision for how he sees himself through his latest song.
“Doing anything and everything possible”, the artist sings on an incredible, classy yet contemporary R&B track, and just like his music echoes, Clay creates a sound that truly is anything and everything. “Agreeable” is the first peek listeners have at what Cautious Clay has planned next for his sound and music.
Notion got a chance to speak with Clay about the story behind “Agreeable” and what the track means for the musical direction in which he’s headed.
“Agreeable” is the latest single featured on your long-awaited upcoming debut album. You’ve said that it’s a “reflection on how compromise is a part of our daily lives and how the compromises we make, both big and small, can have an effect on personal growth”. What were some compromises you’ve had to make lately that ended up helping you grow as a person or as an artist?
I definitely think giving away a little control to other creatives in my process has been a new chapter for me. Up until the song “Agreeable”, I had mixed all of my music because I didn’t trust anyone else to do it. Nevertheless, I found someone who can give me that additional 10% in quality and it feels good from a sonic standpoint.
The “Agreeable” music video is creative, introspective, and satirical yet still captivating. What gave you the idea of using little figurines to represent different versions of yourself? What does it mean to you to have multiple versions of yourself?
I feel like everyone has multiple versions of themselves or multiple parts of their personality. I wanted to create a more abstract version of what I felt to be mindful of these personalities. In the context of the video, I am looking at all of the different little iterations of myself and acknowledging them.
You’re originally from Cleveland and fell in love with music at an early age. You moved to New York and began pursuing music from there. So many artists today are based out of L.A. and London. Why did you choose New York? Does the city’s way of life inspire parts of your music?
I just really like the pace of New York and being able to get everything you need in walking distance. The city has also always felt familiar because I have family here as well. I definitely don’t feel inhibited by my location when I create but New York has always felt like home in a way.
Like many other artists, you have been spending your time in quarantine making new music at home. Has this process taught you anything new about yourself?
Well, I’ve always made music at home so it doesn’t really feel that different to me at the moment, but creativity comes in waves, and even when the environment isn’t perfect I’ll just embrace that feeling of being inspired and chase it if it feels like it can become something interesting.
You have a degree from George Washington University and worked as a real estate agent for two years before pursuing music full time. Do you have any advice for young people in college right now? On the flip side, what piece of advice do you have to offer those wanting to pursue their passion?
Go to college if you think it will be useful for you and help you discover what you want to do! If you are confident in your passion, trust your instincts.
Who is one music partner or collaborator you’ve worked with that’s taught you a valuable lesson, whether in songwriting, producing, or playing, during your career?
I would say my manager has taught me quite a bit in a short amount of time. He’s not a musician but he has a strong and different understanding of music than I do and over the years I feel like I’ve developed a wider overall perspective.
Your debut album is right around the corner! “Agreeable” gave listeners a closer look at your reflective storytelling, deep lyrics, and current sound. What do you hope they’ll take away after listening to your upcoming album?
I hope people can get a better understanding of my overall point of view on humor and compassion.
What’s the songwriting process like for you? Is it music first or lyrics first or both?
There’s never in a particular order, it usually starts with just being inspired and both sides blend together from there.
Some people find it hard to stay inspired while being isolated from the world, as a lot of us have for the better part of this year. Where do you look to when you need to find inspiration?
Comedy and Sci-fi movies.
Do you feel like you’ve grown as an artist from the time you’ve written, “Cold War” up until now? Can you pinpoint a few experiences that made you grow or change?
Yes; mostly from my perspective around songwriting and around the music industry as a whole. I don’t think there was one specific experience, it’s been a more gradual evolution.