Joshua Karpeh, known to his fans as Cautious Clay and to his friends as Josh, is really just an average dude. I say this because, while his talent is palpable and his resume impressive, he is as solid as it gets. Karpeh is renting a room in a 10-bedroom brownstone in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he lives with friends, and he seems much less interested in the idea of fame than in the subject of musical exploration. Not one to reveal his own accomplishments, he never mentioned some of the big dogs he’s worked with in the past. His name can be found as author credit on Taylor Swift’s song “London Boy,” which used an interpolation of the beat from Clay’s hit “Cold War,” as well as John Mayer’s “Carry Me Away,” “Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish. and John Legend’s A greater love album.
Now Clay is headlining his first tour for his first full album. Impassive love. And at the end of his tour, the 29-year-old will be recognized as the star he was always meant to be.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Karpeh was raised by his mother in what he calls an exploratory environment. He remembers listening to Barry White, Laura Niro, Joni Mitchell and Marvin Gaye, an assortment of songwriters who influenced his own complex lyrics. The first CDs he bought on his own, around the age of six, were The Isley Brothers, an old soul pick, and Lil Bow Wow, a true product of his growth in the 1990s.
“I started taking flute lessons, actually, when I was about seven,” he says of his musical journey. “I really persevered until I was about 18 years old. But during this period, I also learned the saxophone. The saxophone is very similar to the flute, so it was an opportunity for me to explore a bit more.
It wasn’t until he was 21 that he started getting involved in all aspects of music. Now he produces his own music and, in addition to flute and saxophone, he learned bass guitar, guitar and some keyboard.
Although Karpeh does not make jazz music, funk, soul and especially jazz are huge inspirations for his own music. “In the way I write my music, I want to take the conventional structure of a song and turn it upside down, in the way that I like.” Songs like “Wildfire” and “Shook” from his new album merge genres with ease. In the first, indie, R&B and acoustic are present as well as modern background interpolations. The latter mixes a funk and soul rhythm with elements of pop and disco rhythms in the undertone. In the recently released deluxe version, “Shook (With Strings)” incorporates classic saxophone, drums and keyboards, fusing R&B with jazz.
Karpeh is quite particular, so much so that when developing his stage name, he was playing with the word “particular”. However, he opted for Prudent, which also lent itself as a pun to Cassius Clay, the birth name of Muhammad Ali. “I get into the weeds and like to do very nuanced productions,” he says. “I think that’s really where the name came from. But it wasn’t necessarily a great idea.
Although he has a stage name, Cautious Clay’s personality is proven Josh Karpeh. “I make music to connect with people, but I also make music to connect with myself and I hope people can feel some kind of connection with my fans because I’m really me- even all the time.”
Karpeh is relatively easygoing, but he also admits to having nihilistic tendencies, which he meshed like the title of his latest album, Impassive love. “I’m a very loving and giving person, but I also feel like I have a little bit of frustration. I have a lot of hope at the same time. And so, I feel like the juxtaposition of Impassive love in the title is an important part of who I am as a person. He values emotional vulnerability, compassion, and love, while seriousness and skepticism also give him a daily dose of reality.
“I’m looking forward to The Fillmore in San Francisco,” he said of his upcoming tour. “I love this place. It’s my second time selling it, which makes me happy too, but it’s so crazy. Prince used to do shows there all the time, The Grateful Dead Hendrix did a live album there. It’s not a pretentious place either. It’s just really cool.
Soul and folk music are Karpeh’s daily bread, but he hopes to one day collaborate with superstars like Kendrick Lamar and Baby Keem. At the rate he’s going, it’s only a matter of time.
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