Claud grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and hated it, went to school at Syracuse and didn't love it, moved to New York, LA, and back to New York (naturally) and is beginning to find their footing. The singer, songwriter dropped their EP Toast in August of 2018 and just recently released their latest body of work, Sideline Star, filled with the best heartbreak songs you can sing along to with ease. One of their singles "Wish You Were Gay" is a campy queer heartbreak anthem that maybe hits too close to home.
Claud is cool and calm. The conversation is easy, and they seem so comfortable in their skin, both when they are performing and as we talk in a Doc Martens store in Williamsburg. But as most people know it's not always that way. "Just To Forget," a track off their latest EP specifically nods to growing pains and identity and chronicles their transition during their teen years.
Watch the PAPER premiere of the music video for "Just To Forget," and learn more about Claud, below.
When do you feel like music became a real part of your life?
Music, when I was 11, I was obsessed with Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers.
I was like, "Mom, I want to be Justin Bieber." And she's like, "Okay. You're going to have to learn how to play music." And I was like, "I can sing." And so I started singing and she was like, "Why don't we try voice lessons." So I went to the School of Rock in my town, because it was probably the easiest option instead of investing in actual voice lessons. And my voice teacher was like, "You're tone deaf. You're so bad." And I was like, "No I'm not," because I was so determined. All the sudden, I woke up one day when I was 11, and I was like, "I know what I'm going to be. I'm going to be Justin Bieber." And then around the same time, I broke my wrist, so I stopped playing sports for a few months, and I learned how to play keyboard and just learning how to play along to contemporary songs. And when I got good grades when I was 15, my parents let me get a guitar and I learned how to play guitar. And yeah, it was just like a slow progression.
When did it start turning more serious for you? Not to say that, that wasn't serious. I believe you as Justin Bieber, don't worry.
My junior year of high school, I was like, not the best kid. I went to my school counselor and I was like, "I want to graduate a year early. Put me in a ton of classes. I'll just do whatever I can." I never ended up taking biology, which is still something I feel like I should take, but I never took it. My parents were like, "What, you can't just..." And I was like, "Yeah, I'm going to finish school a year early and move to LA" And they were like, "No, you're not. You're either staying at this high school or you have to figure out another option." So I ended up going to this arts boarding school in northern Michigan. It's called Interlochen, for one year. It's a pretty big arts camp. Then during the year, it's a really small boarding school. I went and it was so intense. I didn't know how to socialize, because I've had the same friends my whole life before that. I wasn't good at meeting new people, and so I literally just spent 5 hours a day in a practice room writing songs. I wasn't writing good songs, but I feel like I got all my bad songs out of the way. So by the time I went to college, I was just super serious about music. I already knew that's what I wanted to do.
And now you're here! How are you feeling about your headlining tour?
I'm so excited. I'm so excited, because I've been opening for people for so long. A year and a half of just opening for people on tours and stuff. I guess like a year of opening on tours, opening for people. It's going to feel so good having my own tour. I get to call it something. I get to have someone open for me, and I'm going to treat them so nicely. I've been treated in every way. Mostly good. I'm so excited like I really feel like... I don't know... I hope it lives up to my dream expectations in my head.
I feel like this work, especially in comparison to Toast is more upbeat, but they still feel sad songs. How do you feel your sound has shifted?
The mood of my music definitely changed because the Toast EP was made with my best friend in Syracuse. And then, he really helped me find my sound. If I didn't have him, I don't know what I would be doing right now. He produced the EP. I would write a song, and then I would record the guitar and vocals, and then send it to him. Then he'd flesh it out from there. I totally gave him freedom. Anything he wanted to do, I said yes to, and I ended up loving it. And then when I left college, he stayed. I started working with different producers and stuff, and my songwriting process just changed and so did the sound. That's really the only reason why. It was more like he wouldn't drop out of school with me, like against my will. I was like. "All you got to do..."
What's your songwriting/creating process like?
I have to be in my feels. A lot of the times I like collaborating with people. If I'm not just sitting in my room and writing a song. I write really well when it's like, okay, on Tuesday I have a session starting at noon and I want to be done by 6, and there will a person that I really like. And I'll come in with a couple of ideas, or maybe even part of a song, and we'll just like work on it together. And I find my process has always been collaborative. It was with Josh in Syracuse, and I just like that the best.
I was listening to "Wish You Were Gay," and I'm just going to comment on a couple of things. One I was like, "Oh my God, this is the perfect queer rejection song," and it hit too close to home. I feel like queer rejection is something so sensitive, and can feel so triggering. But you have this song that feels funny, relatable, and sweet.
Okay, I wrote that song because I was really sad about someone I had a huge crush on who was deep into relationship with her boyfriend. Very deep into it. For some reason, that I still thought maybe there was... it turns out there wasn't. I had got the final confirmation that there was no way. I think I ran into her... she was like, "Oh yeah, we're on our date." And I was like, "Oh, how long have you guys been together," and she was like, "5 years." And I was like, "Okay. Goodbye."
Yeah. So I went in and I was telling this story to this person that I was working with and I was like, "I just wish she was gay," and it was around the time Billie Eilish's song "Wish You Were Gay," came out. And he was like, "Oh my God, Billie Eilish's song?" And I was like, "Well acutally her song isn't a queer anthem." And I was like, "But I'm about to write one," and then I wrote it and knew exactly what to say. It came together pretty quickly, because I knew exactly what I wanted to say. It's the easiest song I've ever written. I wish you were gay.
Straight to the point.
Do you feel like the melody came natural with the lyrics?
That was the harder part. We wanted to be really clever with it. I wrote it with this guy named Doug. Neither of us really are piano players, but I decided to sit down and write a piano ballad for who knows why. It was mainly the chord and melody that was the hard part to write. I wanted it to feel dramatic, but there's nothing I can do about it, so I might as well make it a little bit funny. I didn't know that people would get the humor in it until I performed it for the first time and people started laughing. My grandma was there and she was like, "That was so funny," and I was like, "Thanks. I'm sad."
Fun fact! Unless granny is relating...
Yeah. One time she was like, "This girl thing." And I was like, "Yeah." She was like, "Maybe I should try it." And I was like, "You are amazing."
My grandmother just came out as a lesbian! I've always had a very heteronormative family so that was like... Dreams do come true.
Wow that must have been really hard for her, after your whole life, basically.
Yeah, I was like, "Well, if you need a friend. You know who to call."
Like, let me show you Tinder.
Are there any specific musicians or queer musicians that helped your process of songwriting or maybe influenced your sound, maybe Justin Bieber?
[Laughs] There's a ton of queer artists that have influenced my sound. Perfume Genius is one of them. When I was learning how to play music, I would listen to a lot of Liz Phair. I didn't even know I was relating on a gay level. I just thought that I was just being edgy, and then I was like, "Ohh." Same with Brandy Carlile. I loved her, and I would read so much about her, and I was like, "Yeah, I'm straight." When I got to college, I started listening to Girl Pool, and I discovered Perfume Genius, and Charli XCX and Troye Sivan, and stuff like that. Oh my God, I love Perfume Genius. I was really drunk one night and I apparently sent him a really long DM, and he didn't answer, but he followed me.
Photography: Kyle Smith
Maybe this is his way of saying, "Touché."
Love, love Perfume Genius. And then I remember my friend showing me King Princess right when "1950" came out, and I was like, "This is going to do really amazing things for the queer community," and like Shura. I've been listening to Shura forever.
I had seen that you went to school with Clairo, obviously. Were you guys just friends from the jump?
Yeah. Me, Josh, and Claire met our first day of school in our Freshman year. Like literally, our program's orientation, because we had a small program and it was like the Freshman orientation. I had just gotten fresh out of boarding school, like literally had no social skills, had no confidence in myself. Josh and Claire were already kind of talking, and I was like, "They look cool... They look gay. I'm going to go talk to them." We're all queer, so my instincts were right. So I walked up to them and was like, "Hey." And they were like, "Hi small child. Are you someone's little brother." [Laughs] No, they didn't. But then immediately, we all clicked. I just got the notification, like two years ago today, and it was an Instagram post of the three of us. It was like a mirror photo and the caption was like, "These are my best friends," and it had been like a week.
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That's so great and so not the norm! Your freshman year friends usually change.
Claire and I live together now. We're so tight. I wish Josh could... Josh lived with us this summer, but then he went back to school. Yeah.
What are your feelings about putting this new work out into the world?
I'm a little nervous. It's very different than my other EP. I'm really excited to perform it specifically because it's super emo. I feel like it really shows off my vocal abilities. While I was writing it, I was unpacking a lot of childhood traumas. There's things that I didn't even realize that affected me this much, and it sounds like what I would listen to when my brother was driving me to school. In my brain, it correlates with early Neighborhood. It doesn't sound like it, but the style of it correlates with crying-singing that sounds like early Neighborhood stuff and Cage The Elephant and just stuff I would listen to when I was wearing black-ripped jeans and when I was looking out the car and it's like raining. My brother is driving me in his pick-up truck. He drove this pick-up truck and it always smelled like cigarettes, and I always was like, "Do you smoke cigarettes," and he'd be like, "No."
"Of course not."
I'd be like 14 and 15 and be like, "Cool." I'm excited about it because it feels like I'll never make music like that ever again, so it just feels like something I need to do to get past it. I'm excited about it.
What do you mean you feel like you'll never make that kind of music again?
The sound just sounds different. I feel like all the music I've made since I've finished the EP has sounded different, and I'm happy about that. I'm sort of steering it in a different direction. It just sounds different. It's a different subject matter. A lot of them sound like love songs but I'm talking to myself, or I'm talking to a friend or something. Yeah, I don't know. I like listening to it because it sounds like early me.
A capsule of time in your life.
I imagine if I played it for 14-year-old me, I would have freaked out.
Photography: Lani Parilla