Cautious Clay did not originally intend to continue mining emotional material from his 2018 EP, Blood Type. What began as “an initial exploration into my personal identity” and “dealing with relationships” in his life soon took root with the follow-up, a full-length record called Deadpan Love, out today (June 25). “I’m taking an even more specific approach in the context of my overall outlook on relationships now and who I am as a person,” he says, “and it’s a little bit more confident and fully formed.”
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14 songs, spanning from the rubbery “Shook” to the expansive “Bump Stock,” outline “this idea that relationships are the most important things that we have and really determine where things are for us and our ability to move throughout the world,” the singer-songwriter (real name Joshua Karpeh) tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call. “The sonic palette is a little bit different, at least in the back half of the album. I think about it like [going from] hot to cold or red to blue, in terms of the sonic approach on the album.”
Karpeh saddles up “the sarcastic nature of things in my life and things that frustrate me or are absurd” with his more “empathetic side,” thus arriving upon its almost contradictory album name. Together, it seems to work itself out. “I always feel like comedy is the easiest way to get information across,” he notes.
As much of the album digs deep into matters of relationships and swimming within murky spaces, he never expected to be thrust even further into swampy territory over the last year. “I’ve never been very good at it. I think relationships are important to me. I don’t take them for granted, but what I do, though, is I work at them at my own pace,” he reflects. “Some people go about their relationships and talk to their friends once a week or three times a day. I live in a group house, so I have a lot of people who I already live with, and their relationships are important to me. But I also have friends who I can rely on and only talk to maybe once or twice every month.”
Where “Artificial Irrelevance,” a saxophone wailing in the distance, deals in confidence-affirming relationships and “having a person or someone in your life that you know will be there for you and you can be there for them,” “Spinner” later unravels artistic suffering. “Being an artist is just difficult sometimes. It’s a rat race, and everyone’s on their own path. You’re out there for everyone to see,” he says, “and they can just make these comparisons and say these things about you. And you can’t control it. People make their assessments, and that’s it. It’s almost like you’re spinning your wheels.
“They always say, ‘Artists suffer.’ It’s also not for everyone, but it’s just sort of how I feel. I’m not trying to speak for every musician or artist that exists,” he continues. “It makes that whole separating the artist from the music thing pretty obvious, but also not in the sense of ‘well, this person sucks, but they also released this really good song.’ It’s just funny how people feel so emotionally attached to a song. Then, they’re so surprised that an artist said this thing.”
The sheer brilliance of Deadpan Love lies in Cautious Clay’s affinity for melodies—stemming from learning such melodic instruments as flute and saxophone as a kid way before the chord-driven guitar or piano—as much as it does his lyrical world-building. “If I played guitar growing up or piano, I would have been a much different artist. I took lessons and learned things from a melodic perspective, and that has informed my entire approach to writing music and given me a pretty large perspective around what I heard.
“When I write songs, I don’t always know where they’re coming from,” he concludes. “But when I think about it and what kind of meaning it has, it gives me a minute to” figure out the emotional components, eventually understanding his stories on a more revolutionary level. Deadpan Love is a pinnacle achievement for him, artistically and personally, a real resonant body of work—and it’s hard to imagine how much higher he could climb, but we can’t wait to witness it.