Claud Pens A Potent Debut About The Comings And Goings Of Youth

In popular music, one of the most underrepresented times of life is the college age. It’s when people start to make their way in the world and have to deal with friends coming and going, romantic relationships not sturdy enough to survive personal growth, and the sneaky pressure of oncoming adult responsibilities. With their debut album Super Monster, the case can be made that Claud has delivered one of the high points of that mini-genre.

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Claud (real name Claud Mintz) wrote much of Super Monster during that tumultuous time period in their life, as they revealed in an interview with American Songwriter. “This album is a collection of songs that I wrote in the last two or three years,” Claud explains. “I think so much had changed in the last couple years: leaving my hometown, moving around a lot, attempting to start this music career. A lot of the songs are just about that.”

Unlike many young troubadours with acoustic guitar in hand, Claud found a different writing process out of necessity when they went to college. “I started on a plastic keyboard playing along to Feist songs,” Claud says. “And then got an acoustic guitar and started playing James Taylor. But I felt like I almost hit a wall with my writing, in a way that was completely personal. I just wanted to expand my palette a little bit more. At the same time, I moved into a dorm room in college. So around this time when I was getting into other types of music, I was totally confined in my space and my resources. I don’t even think I brought an acoustic guitar because I didn’t think I had room in the car for it. I was making music on my computer because that’s all I had in my dorm room. And I got used to that.”

Amidst the lo-fi beats and airy synths, Claud’s bittersweet melodies tend to hit home with a biting intimacy. Their music caught the attention of Phoebe Bridgers, who made Claud the first artist on her Saddest Factory Records imprint. “She came on practically when the record was finished,” Claud says of Bridgers’ input. “A lot of her help came when we were ready to start with the visuals and the rollout process. But I asked for her opinion when I was picking the songs. The most important part was that each song could stand by itself. To me, that’s what makes a strong record. You could pick up at any point or listen to any song and understand it without context. That was the driving force when I had to pick the songs, but it was so hard to pick. It was like picking a favorite kid.”

While many of Claud’s songs are drawn from their life, they also have that rare ability to use a routine memory as a jumping-off point for something deeply relatable. Case in point: “Jordan,” which drew indirect inspiration from His Airness himself. “Growing up, my Grandpa would always walk me by a house on the other side of their yard,” Claud remembers. “It was a huge house and it was Michael Jordan’s house. There was a ‘23’ in front of the gate. It was really crazy and he was never there. It felt like this huge vacant property, but it was there and it was weird. I wanted to write a song about it.

“I lived in the same town where I grew up for 18 years. It felt redundant. I wanted to write a song about another summer in this city and this town. So the song started out, Jordan, it’s July in the city again/Spending your time with the same friends. And then like ‘How do I reach you?’ It turned into a love song of sorts. It’s definitely not a love song to Michael Jorden. It’s more of a love song to the unreachable.”

Even when Claud relied totally on their imagination to create, the concerns which animate the songs are very apropos to that very specific era of life, as on the lovely “Ana.” “I role-played in my head what would it feel like to have to leave behind somebody that you really loved, just to go find yourself and go do self-exploration,” Claud says of the track. “It’s a letter to this make-believe woman, saying it’s been a pleasure and this has been wonderful, but you deserve the best in the world. And in order for me to be the best that I can be, I have to take this chance and I have to go find myself. I was sick of writing about my own life.”

Lest you think that Super Monster is all melancholia, check out the mischievous New Wave of “That’s Mr. Bitch To You.” “I actually said that once,” Claud says of the title. “A friend of mine called me a bitch and it caught me off guard. The first thing I said was ‘That’s Mr. Bitch to you.’ And my friend, who had heard the conversation was like, ‘Claud, I’m so sorry to interrupt, but you have to write that down right now. I cannot believe you just said that.’ And I said, ‘Holy shit, I can’t believe I just said that either.’ The song from there was so easy to write after that.

The album title came from a special experience during the closing stages of recording. “The studio manager Lee Foster at Electric Lady is managing Daniel Johnston’s artwork with Daniel’s brother since he passed,” Claud explains. “I’ve been a fan of Daniel’s for a while. My friend introduced me to his work a few years ago by taking me to his mural in Austin. In a lot of his visual work, he drew Frankenstein or drew creatures, and in his music, he talks about feeling like a monster or a creature or this idea of feeling outside of himself. I talk a lot about that in my work too. Lee rushed over to the studio on the last day that we were there and said, ‘I found this sketch of Daniel’s. It’s from 2014. I just wanted you to see it.’ And it said ‘Claud and the Super Monster’ on it. It really moved me. I asked the family if I could use that title, and I drew my own artwork for it.”

If at times the album feels like a travelogue of sorts, with many name-checks of different locations on the map, Claud says that it’s because of the associations that they draw from special places. “Leaving a certain place to me means leaving a lot of memories behind. Whenever I try to pull something to write about, the first thing I pull from is ‘Where were we?’ or ‘Where was I?’ Especially, I write about being in New York, not because I’ve been there a lot or anything like, but because it was the first city that I ever really lived in on my own. That was very monumental to me, so all the little things that happened there felt like big things.”

Those who check out this striking debut will likely come away sensing that this major new talent is just getting started. Now that Super Monster is being unleashed on the world, Claud is a bit ambivalent about the attention that is certain to be paid to the record. “I’m trying not to think about it,” Claud laughs. “I’m really nervous. I’m excited, of course. But it’s a lot of yourself to put out there.”

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