Cautious Clay at Governors Ball 2019
Photo: Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Meet Cautious Clay: The “Cold War” Hero Talks Billie Eilish, Record Labels & More
The sparse and soulful sound of Cautious Clay is sure to grab you. Whether you discovered him through his imaginative remix of Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes” (done well before she was a chart-topping star) or his infectious and reflective breakout hit, “Cold War,” the Cleveland-bred, Brooklyn-based independent artist/producer creates memorable work. We tracked him down backstage at Governors Ball in New York City to hear about his festival homecoming, what went into his debut Blood Type EP, what he’s looking for in a record label (if anything), and more.
If you could start by telling us a little about your Gov Ball? How'd your set go? What's your impressions of this festival?
Aw man, it's been really cool. I live here in Crown Heights; Brooklyn, New York, so it feels kind of like, it's been a really great experience so far. We didn't really have to go very far with the band, so. Yeah, it was cool, man. Yeah, saw a lot of familiar faces and just been kicking it, you know?
Can you tell me what you feel like you accomplished creatively with Blood Type, your 1st EP? I know you've been working on this for a while.
Yeah, man. I feel like I just was able to talk about a lot of the first kind of inclinations that came to mind as a person, but then also as musician. And also as a very early songwriter. It's the first project I'd ever written, so I felt very freeform and was able to kind of experiment, but also kind of like take from some of the music that inspired me growing up, and then also the music I was hearing, that was new. So I just kind of felt like it was a perfect combination of those things and on top of that, just my own style.
Do you care to name any of those influences? Maybe growing up, pick a couple, and a couple of newer ones?
Yeah, man. OutKast is a huge one for me. I was really into Moby, some older stuff. Newer influences; I really, really like, I mean obviously, Frank Ocean is really cool. F**k. I'm really into this guy named Glen Campbell.
The Glen Campbell?
Yeah, really interesting arrangements, just really, really cool stuff.
"Cold War," I think, was the first time a lot of people heard your music. Can tell us what you remember about writing and recording, and putting that song together?
Yeah, so "Cold War" felt really, it just felt like probably one of the easiest songs I ever wrote. I just kind of came out, and then I didn't really know the significance of it, I guess. When I made it, I just kind of made it and was like, this sounds really cool but, I didn't know that it would be anything better or worse than "Blood Type" or anything else I wrote on that project. Man, I guess it was a lot of stuff that I was thinking about at the time. I had just been in a long relationship with someone, and was able to put that on paper and kind of just let people take with what they thought, you know but, yeah.
Yeah, a good song kind of leaves room in itself for a listener.
Your remix of Billie Eilish's "Ocean Eyes," I think, was really the first thing from you that caught a lot of people's attention.
Definitely, man. Billie is great. We started talking very early on, so yeah.
Her debut album is out now. You've been there since the very beginning, now she's got this No. 1 LP. What are your impressions?
Man, it's really f***ing amazing. I've seen her come from kind of being even a smaller artist than me, at one point, becoming what she is now. And so, I'm just really proud of her. And we still sort of keep in touch, so it's cool to see that she's kind of like, elevated to the position that she's in.
Has your Ocean Eyes remix gotten a lot more attention?
Yeah man, it's really funny. It had a resurgence actually, which is just like funny, because I'm just like, okay. But it's cool. No, it was fun and she's great. We've kept in touch and I'm also a good friend of her brother's, so it's been nothing but love.
As an artist that has chosen to not sign with a label, what is it you're looking for, to support your music? What do you think an artist that has the vision you have needs today?
I think it's just having a solid team that is able to execute your vision, and that is not an easy thing to do and find. I think it definitely starts with a couple of people, and those couple of people knowing how to grow something that you have a vision for. It's really like, there's never like a one way street in terms of how that goes down and how different artists grow, so. I can only say it from experience, that I've kind of grown from being just very much on my own; writing, producing, doing all of this on my own, and then finding someone as a manager—my current manager—who I could trust, and felt like he understood my vision.
It's really been a whirlwind, not signing and continuing this journey. And it's not something I'm opposed to, it's just has to make the most sense, you know?
What's the rest of the year look like for you?
We're going to Europe tomorrow. We're going to Bergen, Norway, and then hitting up a couple of other spots in Europe, for two weeks. And then we have a full headline tour of the U.S. and Europe as well, at the end of the year. Then we're going to probably put out a project, like a full album, probably top of next year.