Clay just released the EP “Blooming Into Bloom” which touches over some deep feelings, and helps listeners to climb out of some self imposed suffering. She will take you from one end of her universe to the other in just a few notes. She also sings a lot about colors.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Clay, a bi-racial queer woman from Los Angeles, and find out more about her upbringing, musical influences, and more.
Jeremy Hinks: Clay thank you for your time, I guess you are from the Mission District of San Francisco, I can only imagine how diverse and creative your upbringing was.
Clay: Yes actually, it was beautiful, I attribute a lot of it to growing up there.
JH: I got a buddy who moved there in the ’70s, left the Air Force and took a cab to the Haight Ashbury, and never left. He is now a San Francisco historian, he told some great stories about that place.
CL: Yeah, I have imagined growing up there in the ’70s but, it is for sure a wonderful crazy one of a kind experience to live there. I am in LA now.
JH: So let’s talk about the music, as the EP is coming out this week, It follows in some ways your previous work, and some is VERY different.
CL: It’s called “Breathing Into Bloom” I’m trying to get more into social media, I shared a photo and captioned it “Breathing Into Bloom” and someone said “I hope you make a song out of that title” and I thought, wow that is a beautiful idea, I probably should make a song out of that, it’s a pretty visceral concept. So I wrote a song, the other songs kind of fit within that conceptually, like breathing through a new phase, like a chrysalis, or a cocoon into a butterfly, just breathing through that process. There are a few songs that sound heavier, others light-hearted…
JH: I’m just gonna lay that out, there was NOTHING light-hearted on this record, you might as well have been Joy Division on this one. You have this sound that was very uplifting smooth soothing, and then lyrically, bust out the razor-blades, this is dark. I’m gonna be honest I have a hard time getting through the title track, there is something to the voice, so I clicked the next song, and everything else on there is amazing. I thought this is great stuff, but you cover this heavy painful material with a smooth smile. I can feel that in your singing, you have this “I’m Smiling as there is all this freight train of emotion”.
CL: Yeah, pretty accurate.
JH: You just put out in March “WTSGD”, when the sun goes down. That one is introspective, but the line “I’ve decided, I’m worth it this time” then “Everything I touch turns to blue”, I was feeling like you were approaching it like “This is self-care, I am worth it”, then you move on to when the night comes and the loneliness kicks in.
CL: That song just kind of flowed out, deep in quarantine at that time so that kind of gets some context to the feelings, I think if you’re already someone prone to depression, quarantine augmented that. So we were Alyssa was in Toronto and I was in LA, we wrote it remotely, it flowed out lyrically and melodically. It’s hard for me to look at how I write songs in retrospect, cause they kind of just flow. I think that was the only decent song that came out of quarantine for me, to be honest. I went into hibernation. I thought every day, “Pick up a new hobby, DO SOMETHING”, and all I could do was read books, cook, and watch shows. So now I’m very hyper-creative, every day.
JH: So, back catalog, your song orange, that was about Trumpty Dumpty wasn’t it?
JH: Cause you had the most vicious undercutting, politely subliminal way of just gutting that guy, it was so fun. You talk about colors a lot in your music, but this one was funny “You took away my color, you got good scheming, my tangerine dreaming, these orange shoes are stuck in my had”. It was “I’m obsessed with what a completely despicable toad you are”. Do people get that?
CL: More times than not, people think it’s a breakup song. Like an Ex has ruined the color orange, and you can no longer look at that color without thinking of the person you are thinking of. This is the point of art, you put something out there, and you let people have their interpretations and how it applies to their own lives. But it is a cheeky thing that I always smile to myself when people say “Thanks for helping me get through my breakup”. It’s not something I do often that I have a concept before I start making the song. I have a lot of words flowing around in my head, I write a lot of poetry and things outside of songs, but I don’t often think “What do I want to write about today?” with a bunch of sticky notes, and that is not me. I was standing on a vista, and the sky turned orange, and I thought of Donald Trump and thought how is it that I am thinking of this awful human being when I am looking at this beautiful sunset, this is such a shame. I felt that and I immediately came up with this concept to write a song called “Orange” about how Donald Trump had ruined the color orange.
JH: I’m gonna find a way to get you in the studio with John Grant, he is this crazy funny gay singer. He wrote this song called “Queen of Denmark” is the greatest FUCK YOU song ever written. But your song “Orange” is close to that. When I was interviewing him, he had this song called “Smug Cunt”, I said “Do I need to ask who that song was about?” he said “No”, and that was it. There was so much of this John Grant vibe, coming up right now when you were talking about this. You would get a kick out of this guy. Anyway, here you are making fun of Trumpty Dumpty, so well done, high five. So your song “Million Pieces” the bass line to that one, that is what I focused on, really cool catchy non PUNK riff, I usually hear the bass first. That one everything rode really well on top of that bass line.
CL: That’s a good observation cause it’s an incredible bassist who did that, her name is Alessia.
JH: Well, shout out to her for that, it’s great work. “A million pieces from a million dreams, fifteen years to break my heart”. There is a lot of emotion in that one, what was the story in that one grinding down to?
CL: I think I’m gonna leave that song elusive, it’s funny that you picked up on that one, that’s in this uplifting space, but absolutely devastating.
JH: Ok, “Artery”, the opening guitar on that was different from the rest of your work, that stood out, sounding like in the vein of Prince “Purple Rain” and the Cocteau Twins new wave 80’s goth, totally out of the wheelhouse of your normal stuff, then your voice comes in, and I don’t know why this was the first thing that came to mind was that you have this Dolly Parton-esque roll to your voice in that song that was SO COOL. I can only imagine what you were getting to with that.
CL: I’ll say it’s in the same vein as “Million Pieces”, but I LOVE Dolly Parton. But being compared to Prince and Dolly Parton, thank you. I am not the same height as Prince or Dolly Parton, I am a solid 6 feet.
JH: “I’d rather have no one than to crawl back to you, even if it hurts to leave you this message, I can’t be the one to clean up your messes”. This person was a train wreck in your life, obviously, but as a breakup song, it’s not the “Fuck You” song, but “I can’t do this, IM OUT”. It’s a very empowering song.
CL: I’m choosing myself.
JH: Well, they talked about you being queer and bi-racial, and those politics are in your music. BUT, I didn’t hear much about you being queer in your music till I got to “Project 5”, “Gravity don’t hold me down like you do, if it’s a sin, you think I’m wrong feeling alive. No more undercover, no more hiding in the shadows of your shame. I just love her, can’t you see our loving is the same”.
CL: There were not really metaphors or nuance to that one, I usually sing in metaphors and feel an emotion, but not necessarily know exactly what it is that I am talking about. BUT this one you know exactly what it is that I am talking about. “The hiding in the shadows of your shame” was a very simple line, but I am talking about the fact that other people project their own shame onto others. At least in my own experience being a queer person in this world, I had to kind of sift through shame, like the general feeling of it, and then ask “ok what is actually mine, and what’s actually not”. Of course, even the shame that is mine is put on me by society. But then there is also shame that lives in me where I’m like “This isn’t even mine” I don’t actually feel this way. Why is this present? So it’s no more hiding in the shadows of YOUR shame, this is YOUR issue, that kind of notion of homophobic people actually just being closeted. A lot of people projecting their own deep shame with things onto people that are just trying to live and live their truth and live a life that has love in it. Romantic love, partnership, whatever.
JH: So this was people in general, and not a particular person who was unable to come to terms with themselves. It looked like to one specific person. I love you, I’m off to the side, I want to be in the world with you. That is what I got from that line.
CL: NO, but that’s so interesting I never thought about it like that. That’s awesome, it fits. That is what I love about art is that people can have their own interpretations.
JH: So how was it when you came out when you knew? I mean, you were in the mission district in San Fran.
CL: It’s interesting growing up in San Francisco, the gay rights movement started there, and yet there still is shame, at least for me there was this kind of wrapping my head around it. I don’t really think I came out, I just started being more open and doing what I wanted, instead of doing what I felt like I should be doing. I started doing what I thought felt right, and everyone caught on, it wasn’t a coming-out moment, I was “This is what I am doing now” I have that personality anyway.
JH: So family and friends didn’t seem to care much?
CL: Not at all.
JH: I wish it could be like that for the world. I got involved with a lot of different projects helping to bring an end to all of that, the whole stigma. Just to let all these young queer kids know that they are loved and that we care about them.
CL: It’s something that I think about often, I make music to heal myself in hopes that people who listen will also find some healing. I’ve been there, I’ve been suicidal, I was a suicidal teenager, with my own struggles of mental health, and my own history and things that I have gone through. So while I don’t understand being rejected for being queer, I always say, well, because I always speak in metaphors, so I always say that I am energetically attracted to people who have scraped the bottom of their existence and have scars on their knuckles. That is who I make music for ultimately in the hopes that my 12-year-old self could hear the music that I am making now.
JH: Do you think she is listening?
JH: Cool, ok, the song “Numb” I felt like I was in the soundtrack for the film “A Clockwork Orange” being played backward. Shocking how the music came across, then, my “My blood drips green when the snow is red. I can’t be the only one who is losing their patience”. I get we are frustrated with the world situation, then the chorus shifted gears, it was hypnotic, and I felt like two different people singing two different songs on top of each other. It was great, then suddenly ended, I felt like “Well, where did it go?”
CL: I love to leave wanting more. Numb was another one that just kind of poured out, I think arguably my most poetic song in the sense that it’s reading like poetry. I think I used a lot of metaphors in other songs, but to literally say “My blood drips green in the wintertime” I don’t know where that came from. It was being so constantly overstimulated to the point where there is so much going on and there is something in me, from my background, my instinct is to reach out to try to give back to my community. There is this overwhelm of so much happening and you try to reach out or contribute to all these different things happening at once that it just becomes so overstimulating that you have the opposite effect of becoming desensitized, so that’s where this is. So if my blood drips green when the world is on fire and the trees are crying “Don’t let us die” ultimately our literal world is dying around us, and the overwhelming of that at least for me has the effect of not even being able to process that. Then I just shut down and am numb. And I don’t see the use in praying, all these disasters and atrocities, in the end, is this hopelessness. That is the seed of where this is from.
JH: Yeah, I kind of feel that way, God is interested in helping cause we earned all this shit. You’re pretty young to be writing these kinds of heavy lyrics. So, Undertow was upfront about what you were saying, but the lines “If you treat me like a memory, there is a chance I may fade” or “Don’t you know that it’s true, that I’m not good for you”. This stuff is at the level of the entire new Adele record, and P!NK’s “I Give You My Love” from Beautiful Trauma.
CL: I think it’s one of the best songs I have ever written.
JH: How hard was it to be that honest in that song?
CL: I wrote that song when I was 19, crazy that it’s coming out now and I am ready for the maturity of its existence. That song was before I had ever fallen in love, so given what I had been through, I just had this notion that never would fall in love, and that every person that entered my storm, or in this case “The undertow” of the ocean, would be swept under and destroyed by the trauma I was living through. But the forever line, It’s that the impact would be forever, not US, but we will both be forever scarred and damaged by this.
JH: I got that, even if this doesn’t work out, there will be a part of me in your psyche forever. I remember that, at age 19, just out of high school, I thought I was in love, and .. you know, every love song applies to your situation. I have one final question. What would your message be to the young queer kid who is afraid and in the closet?
CL: I would say that as isolated as you are feeling there are people who will love you, there are people who already do love you and are waiting for you to be your fullest self.
JH: Well, you are one of the “Heaviest” people I have ever interviewed, so, that comes out as VERY heavy. Thank you so much for your time, Clay.
Spotify Instagram Facebook Twitter Youtube Soundcloud
The conversation in its entirety, with all the emotional intensity, and even a motorcycle driving past her flat can be heard here.