Cautious Clay Talks About New Album ‘Karpeh’ and Sound on Sound Festival

Cautious Clay (courtesy of C. Clay)


TwitterFacebookCopy LinkPrintEmail

This weekend at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, one of the last music festivals happening around New England this year is going to be concluding the season with a bang.

It’s called Sound on Sound and the second edition of it is happening on September 30 and October 1.

This time around there’s an incredibly stacked lineup that includes Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Margo Price, Trey Anastasio from the jam band superstars Phish, Derby native Sammy Rae with her backing band The Friends and Bridgeport’s own John Mayer to name a few.

There are also a few up and comers on the bill as well and Cautious Clay, which is the moniker of the Cleveland R&B jazz artist Joshua Karpeh, is one of them. He and his band are going to be taking the stage at 2:15 p.m. during the festival’s final day while playing a few songs off of his sophomore full-length release “Karpeh” that came out on August 18.

We had a talk ahead of the upcoming performance about including voice clips from relatives in the new album, the collaborative nature of it and his thoughts on performing at music festivals versus other venues.

RD: “Karpeh” is viewed as a deeply personal album that includes recordings of your relatives recounting stories pertaining to your family’s history. How were you able to obtain these recordings? Did you record them yourself specifically for the album or did you get them through old VHS tapes or something along those lines?

CC: It was actually something where some of them were super old recordings that I just had on my phone and I made in the moment. Particularly, the one with my grandfather at the very beginning was actually just specifically through old recordings that I’d sort of made on my own. A couple of them I had made with the album in mind because I was starting to build the songs around it and having this kind of storyline, so it felt kind of appropriate to include some of the speaking parts about my family, my family’s history and some of that.

RD: I did enjoy those interludes while listening to the album. They provided a nice departure from the tracks. You also played a wide variety of instruments during the recording sessions including tenor and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, guitar and flute among others. What gave you the inspiration to include all of these instruments? In my opinion it gives “Karpeh” a wide range of tones and sounds.

CC: I think I’ve always found myself to be particularly inspired by trying things differently. I’ve obviously taken flute lessons and I’ve taken saxophone lessons, but in the context of guitar, bass clarinet and these other instruments, I’ve always found them to be part of a language that can be translated similarly to speaking English, speaking Spanish or whatever. If there’s one thing that I’ve known about music is that when you try a different instrument, it’s sort of similar to if you speak Spanish, why not learn Portuguese?

For me, I’ve always tried to use it as a communication tool and because I’ve already had so much knowledge and understanding of music as a concept I don’t feel super afraid or stifled by trying something brand new. I’m not an incredible bass clarinet player, but I know how to use it in the context of recording so it was just a fun challenge.

The limitations that I had to begin with sort of inspired me to use them in particular ways as a way of creating something different because I’m not a classically trained bass clarinet player. I can use it within the context of my limitations, which I find to be a very interesting and fascinating way to create music.

RD: It’s very cool that you had this unique approach while making the album and this overall view towards creating. Would you say that this album is the most collaborative project you’ve ever done with the likes of Julian Lage, Arroz Aftab, Immanuel Wilkins and Ambrose Akimusire being involved in the tracks? What was the experience like bringing them into the fold?

CC: Yeah, I would say that it was highly collaborative, more than anything else I’ve ever done. With [my debut album] Deadpan Love, I produced all of that on my own and I also produced all of this album on my own but it was a lot more in the context of the musicians that I brought into the fold. That was mostly myself bringing in other producers here and there, but this is by far my most collaborative project.

The main difference between this album and the last album in the context of collaboration was my ability to trust the musicians that I brought into the fold and let them do what they do best. In Deadpan Love, I had the final say on what I exactly wanted everything to sound like in the context of the recording process from note to note. With this album, I gave these artists free reign and the liberty to explore their creative palates. Particularly Ambrose Akimusire, his trumpet solos are pretty insane, I gave him free reign on that and the same with Julian Lage on guitar with Arooj Aftab and what she added as well.

RD: It’s great that you got all these different musicians involved with it. When it comes to producing a record versus making the music for one, do you ever find yourself shifting towards a different headspace? Do you feel like you have to change up your approach a little bit?

CC: It’s about getting the right takes, you know? When you’re making a recording, you have to consider the takes, how many takes you’ve done and what you’re trying to get out of each musician, which is a new experience for me. I’ve sort of done it before when I’ve done music for a few TV shows, particularly The Godfather of Harlem. That was actually a period piece project where it was 1960s hard bop jazz, so I knew that’s what I wanted and I was able to record those pieces. That was a lot more straightforward, but when I was creating “Karpeh” it was a little more of me not wanting to have it be a period piece jazz album, I wanted it to be a little more expansive with how I approached the musicality.

Getting all the takes and getting all the particular sounds and performances that I wanted to get out of each musician was something I had considered while creating these limitations for them as well. I would have them think of things like the theme music to “Spongebob Squarepants” and stopping at a certain point to completely switch their sound. It was giving these types of coachings and understanding that’s the beauty of being a record producer in the studio versus me being on my computer. It’s really just having the terminology and knowledge to be able to coach musicians through the process of how you want something to be sounding. I think it’s kind of the old school way of being a record producer and it was a really fun process to actualize that.

RD: What are your thoughts of performing at the Sound on Sound Festival in Bridgeport this weekend? Do you feel any differently performing at a music festival than you do in a club, theater or any other type of venue?

CC: Yeah, it’s very different. It’s a completely different feeling because obviously there’s a lot of bands performing and it’s a different experience because a lot of fans aren’t just paying to see me. I always love to play festivals, it’s a lot of fun, but I sometimes prefer having my own shows and the ability to actualize a different type of engagement. I still always love playing at festivals, seeing people and connecting with other artists.