Southern California pop singer and songwriter Clay caught the music bug early, dragging a chair into the middle of the living room at 18 months old, standing on it, and singing for whomever would listen (including a line of dolls). She was born to do this, and so she worked at it and the effort has paid off.
“I started writing short stories at a young age, creative writing and spoken word,” she says. “I didn’t combine the two until I was probably 18. I was like, ‘You know what, I actually should put these together and write my own songs.’ It didn’t click for me until that age. Then I went to Berklee College of Music for a couple of years at 18. Being in that environment, around all these talented musicians, made me take it more seriously. Then I moved to L.A., to pursue it full-time and really dig into the kind of pop world of songwriting.”
So here she is. The artist, who describes her sound as “soulful, alternative pop music,” is living in L.A., a very different life to the one she had in her native San Francisco where she was essentially raised by a community.
“I’m biracial – so my dad’s black and my mom’s white,” she says. “My dad was born and raised in San Francisco. I’m fourth generation on my dad’s side, and my mom’s been there since she was 20. So they both created their own family out of friends. I had a lot of aunts, uncles and cousins that were not blood-related but felt just as significant. Just all around the city. I also had a super close-knit group of friends and their parents, as well. I just had a network of people that I could lean on, like a good solid foundation of adults throughout the city of San Francisco.”
She flew the proverbial nest and decided to move to L.A., when a lot of her college friends were going to New York, to hone her music studio skills.
“At Berklee, I was really focused on live performance and making live arrangements for live bands, and I didn’t have a lot of experience with recorded music at all,” she says. “So being in a studio, writing a song in a session, start to finish – I didn’t have a lot of demos. I thought that L.A. was the place to really tap into the pop world, and also the world of recorded music. That was the choice I made in 2014.”
She soon settled in and found her voice. Her songs are easy to relate to, whether her lyrics are covering relationships and everyday life, or the fact that Donald Trump ruined her favorite color, as is the case with the 2018 song “Orange.”
“It’s funny because a lot of people tell me that song helped them get through their break-up,” Clay says. “That’s amazing and it’s how art should be, that everyone has their own interpretation of it. I remember standing somewhere on the West Side watching the sun set, and the whole sky lit up this orange color. I had just been listening to the radio and hearing his ranting and raging. I had to turn it off and I was like, ‘Damn, will I always associate the color orange with this man?’ That concept came to me, so we wrote a song about it. Then during the election, I decided to revive the song and use it as a platform to specifically raise money through merchandise.”
Clay sold T-shirts, bandanas, hats and more to raise money for The Equity Alliance, which “proactively advocates for Black Americans and other communities of color to have a fair and just opportunity at realizing the American dream. EA [is] a Nashville-based 501(c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. EA believe in using our voting power as a weapon in the fight for social and economic justice.”
A great cause, and one that is clearly important to Clay.
“It’s about getting people out to the polls and really making accessibility a key point,” she says. “I was like, let me stick it to Trump in the best way I know how.”
That’s what she did. Her latest and second EP is called “Breathing Into Bloom,” and the artist says that there has been a massive evolution since her debut EP, “hues.”
“The first EP, I made each song with a different person,” she says. “I kind of sewed them together. They did all fit together and it was like a taste-tester of me exploring sounds, my voice and my songwriting actually in song form with production. That was my first time doing that, so I have a soft spot for that EP. With this EP, as the title says, “Breathing Into Bloom,” it shows the evolution. I actually worked on every song with my co-collaborator Yakob [6LACK]. So it feels like one cohesive long breath.”
Clay says that the song’s concept is in the title – it’s all about going through the ups and downs of life.
“This song I just put out, ‘WTSGD,’ talking about when the sun goes down, we wrote that deep in quarantine in the pandemic,” she says. “If you were already struggling with mental health issues, being in isolation can spark those up and aggravate that, and further those issues. So we’re talking about how the nighttime is the hardest, and when the sun goes down is actually the time that you have to face all of your demons. It’s essentially talking about how I might look small now or I might look fragile, but I will get to where I’m going.”
You’d better believe that she will. She’s hoping to tour the EP this year, and maybe even release another EP in the coming months. Who knows? Wherever she does, keep your eye on her.
Clay’s new single “WTSGF” with Alessia Cara is out now.
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