An interview with CLAYE — why the songwriter and producer is now sculpting himself a solo career of his own

Multi-talented musician, Claye, began his music journey at an early age. Growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, set the foundations for his path; performing in his churches gospel group and listening to artists such as Timbaland and The Neptunes sparked the initial interest and passion for him. It’s when he set off for the UK and ended up residing in South London, that he found himself chasing the artform as a career. Signing a publishing deal with Roc-Nation and collaborating on tracks with artists such as Sean Paul, Chip and Aloe Blacc — Claye went on to build a great collection of material under his belt using his songwriting and production skills. Now he is using his talents for material of his own, as he focuses on his solo career. With the release of his new single ‘Murda’, serving as a fresh, reggae infused tune that will be sure to enhance the 2019 summertime vibes. The track is also the first instalment to the rest of his future work. Including a new album, which is set for release later this year. We recently sat down with the artist to talk about where it all began for him, as well as his journey up to this point and his hopes for the future. Read our conversation below.

Hi Claye, how are you doing?

Good! There’s sun outside.

I know, it’s nice. It makes a change.

I know, I know. I’m basking in every little bit of it. Even for 5-10 minutes, I’m outside and back. I’m Caribbean so I miss the sun a lot *laughs*

You’re a songwriter and producer originally what was it that made you want to step out of that role and become an artist?

Every time I pitch a record to someone… an A&R or someone, they ask the question ‘who’s singing? Who’s writing? Who’s doing the production?’. So one A&R in Atlantic said ‘why don’t you sing the song, it sounds wicked’. But I was doing R&B at the time, so I didn’t wanna… I was cool writing it, but I didn’t think it was me. Then people kept saying to me, like friends and everyone, ‘why don’t you do the thing, man?’. I was a singer first, I was in a group. So it was a natural thing to want to transition to be an artist, because I was actually an artist that got into production. Then I decided that I’d just had enough of pitching records, you know. And A&R’s not knowing what’s up. A whole year would pass and you’re still back and forth on emails and it’s like ‘ah whatever’.

What group was you in before?

I used to be in a gospel group. I grew up in the church singing, so we used to just go around the Island and stuff. And then I got into production later on. I just loved making music.

Producers and songwriters usually work their magic in the background how does that compare to becoming the face of your work?

On the creative side, it’s not different. Telling the story is the easy bit, because you kind of know how you want to sing and write. For me, it’s never the creative challenge. It’s more of how you are received; your image and your branding, kind of thing.

And you get all the attention now.

I actually hate all the attention.

Really?

I do like it to some extent, I wouldn’t lie. But I’m not bothered.

It must be nice for you to get the recognition for your work and not someone else.

Actually, yeah. And it’s a fulfilment too. It’s crazy, it’s like being a chef and you can bake really well, but you just never do it. Also, I have to do it for my talent, because I’ll feel like I’m wasting it. I’m not fulfilled if I’m not doing it. Sometimes it’s not received well, because everyone tries to play everything these days and you sacrifice something. The odd people like myself, we do it a certain way. It’s looked on similar and you have to prove that ‘OK, you produce, let’s hear it’ or ‘you’re an artist, how are you live?’. So fortunately for me, I’ve been touring. Everything’s there now. So everyone can think ‘ah he does it’.

Your recent single ‘Murda’ serves as a taster of your new solo work what made you choose that track as your debut?

Because I was confused, there’s so many! When I do music I never think ‘Ok, do ten songs and then choose a single’, because from my experience it’s a weird thing to do. Me, I’m tied to everything. Every song is my baby, so I could release ten of them as a single. In my head I thought it [Murda] was a really strong single, everyone in the label was thinking it was a really strong single, so that was the confirmation, like ‘OK cool, let’s go with it’. And the vibe is cool, it’s summery.

Maybe that’s what brought the sun out today.

*laughs* Maybe, maybe.

Is it difficult to choose the individual singles that will showcase your work as a musician?

I don’t know, I don’t think so. There’s more songs I could have released instead of ‘Murda’, that I think would make you raise your eyes and go ‘wow’. So, difficult in a sense. Me personally, I’m tied to a lot and I would like to think any one of them would work. But then from a technical standpoint, what the labels would think would work as a first single going into an album, I don’t know how they’d make up their minds about that one. For me, I just want the world to hear my art. So I would choose anything.

Tell us a little about the inspiration behind the single?

I am always in writing mode, so when I’m watching something or I’m talking, I get a line or a word of something and I write it down for a vibe. I was watching Murder She Wrote. I was like, I will do a song around that kind of vibe. But, this-girls-a-bad-girl kinda vibe, you know? I went into the studio with that idea. And as a producer, I was just going through songs that I might want to use for that process, and I clicked on a sample and it said ‘Killa’. When it said that, I’m saying ‘Murder She Wrote’, you now. Spontaneously. And I thought, you know what, that’s the song. So the idea was to do a song around the vibe, it just worked. That was the inspiration.

You signed a publishing deal with Roc-Nation quite early on in your career how did that come about?

A friend of mine had a studio in the Matrix complex in Parsons Green. They kept asking me to come down. We worked before and he said ‘we’ve got this new space, come down, check it out’. But I was being stubborn, because I was doing other stuff. Then I decided to go and check it out. When I went, it was a really cool studio. There was like Crown Management and Modest. At the time, Crown had Rita [Ora] and they were doing the whole joint venture stuff with Roc-Nation and that’s how the whole thing came up. Because I started to work from that studio and they were listening to beats and music from me, and it was like ‘listen, let’s do this’. It’s a no brainer.

How did that deal change things for you?

It changed because having Roc-Nation as a title is really cool. You get through doors. An A&R will give you a meeting, and then you get to go to the writing camps. So how it changed for me was, I realised that I needed to nurture the relationships. Once I get through the door with the name, I now need to follow through and nurture the relationships that I have. I think it’s just having the clout behind you. Then you get to do the writing camps, you get to own your craft working with people and stuff. And because I was doing so much writing, I didn’t realise I was just writing and building my craft to ‘Murda’.

Are you still with them now?

No. I own all my publishing actually.

How important do you think it is to do things yourself nowadays? More and more artists are choosing that route now.

For freedom, yeah. It’s very, very important. You’re always tied to your work and you want the world to hear it. It’s your life. I’m a big advocate like that. If I want to go now and fall, then let me do that because then I can live with that. But if I allow you to make the decisions for me, that will harm me later on. It’s really cool and you get piece of mind. Now, for me as an artist, it’s knowing when to let go and let someone else make the decision. It’s finding the balance between doing and outsourcing.

You’ve been making music from an early age, where did your love for the craft first begin?

When I came here actually [to the UK]. I used to love it, but didn’t take it serious. Like I’m in the studio in Jamaica, I’m making beats, I’m doing stuff, but it wasn’t a thing of ‘you’re a producer or you’re this’, you know. Being in the UK, I’m open to what the different routes are in the industry. It’s kind of a specialist industry, reggae. So that’s when I took it serious, because that’s when I realised ‘hang on, what you are doing is serious and you can make a living and you love it’. So that’s when I took it serious, years after.

You’re originally from Kingston, Jamaica. What brought you to the UK?

I had no kids, nothing. Why not? Like, a just do it, kinda vibe. You know. I was in the Caribbean months before that, in Antigua. So I was pretty open to whatever. There was no real reason as to why I came here actually, I just trust the whole process.

How would you say that both countries has influenced your sound?

My sound has been influenced ever since I was in Jamaica to be honest. Where I grew up, it’s Americanised, so you grew up on American music a lot more. So I’ve been listening to Timbaland and The Neptunes from an early age and I’ve always kept that. Then when I came here, it’s half and half I guess. Because then I was open to different music, like Maroon 5. I love Maroon 5 and Coldplay. Then I started to go into Afro Jazz and different stuff. So when you listen to my music now, you’re hearing the influences.

That was my next question actually, what artists have influenced your sound?

*laughs* As I said, I love what Maroon 5 and Coldplay do. But then I really like a guy called Kisar Jones, it’s just the organic process of his music. And then you go back to the drums and the Timbaland’s, you know. So there’s so much stuff that I like. I actually don’t listen to the radio that much. I just go to Spotify and just find the stuff I like. Not because radio’s bad, just what I like, isn’t usually on radio..

You’ve worked on tracks for a number of artists, such as Sean Paul, Chip and Aloe Blacc how did those opportunities come about for you?

It’s weird. So when you get a placement with artists, most of the time you’re never in the room with them. If you think you know what they’re looking for, it will just never work. So with Chip, I went down to this iTunes thing and I met his drummer. We came down to the studio and we were just vibing. It wasn’t like, ‘let’s make a beat for someone’, we were just vibing together. Then he sent it to Chip, and Chip was like ‘that’s what I’m looking for’. It’s crazy, it’s the same with Sean you know, well, the first one. The other track I did with him, I literally wrote the stuff, we knew what we wanted. Aloe Blacc is the same. So sometimes you’re able to write the stuff, but sometimes you’re in the situation where you’re either working with someone, or someone has an insight, like ‘oh, Sean is doing an album’. It’s super weird, I can’t explain it. It’s almost indirect when it happens.

I suppose that you’ve just got to delve into the industry and really build your connections.

Yeah, because with Sean, the songs were played to him. Most of the time when an A&R says send a song—I’m probably going to throw a lot of A&R’s under the bus—a lot of A&R’s can’t hear the artist on the record, unless they hear them singing the songs. Whereas my job, I can listen to your work and write a song for you. I can hear you, without hearing you on the song. A lot of A&R’s can’t do that. But they’re not honest about it. Then, it’s a personal thing, if they don’t think it’s a hit, they almost never play it for the artist. So the thing is, unless you can get the artist to listen to the song, it’s not going to happen. A lot of times, by working and chilling with the artists that I work with, I’ve said to myself ‘man, if I was to ever pitch a song I’d get it wrong’, because just by having a conversation you know the headspace of what they are looking for and what they’re going through now. So it’s a very, very weird thing. When you get a placement with the artist, it’s special.

If you could collaborate with anyone in the future, who would that be?

I get asked that question and I don’t know how to answer it. I’m such a fan of so many people that I’d love to work with, I think it’s almost unfair to just call one. There’s a cluster of them, give me anyone. It’s hard. Ok, I could tell you… there’s this guy in France called Stromae. I love what he does, he sings in French but I love it. The music is wicked, I’d love to work with him. I love Dua Lipa stuff. I love Gigg’s stuff. I love Dave’s stuff. Do you know what I mean. I could work with anyone. It’s a good question, but it’s hard. Pharrell, just because he’s a super influencer of mine. There’s a guy called Ozuna, that does Latin music. I think he’s wicked. There’s a lot of people.

You’re working on your own album now, which is due for release later this year, what can we expect from that project?

Bangers *laughs*. No, you’re definitely going to hear me. My influences, my sound. It’s really special because I’ve got two independent albums before this, like roots, reggae stuff. So I’ve always done this solo music, but the mainstream didn’t really mess with it until Drake and Major Lazer and these guys pushed it to the forefront. So I’ve always done the music similar, and then you hear the influences of the R&B and stuff on it. It’s super special for me, because my fanbase that I’ve accumulated by doing reggae, they’ve never heard this side of me before.

So what direction genre-wise will you be going in with the album?

I don’t know. There’s so much in my head right now, I really don’t know. A lot of songs, they’re not really… some people would say they’re not full reggae. It’s just floating on top of it. I could sort of do an unplugged version of it, based on how it’s written. It’s like unplugged R&B. I’m always going to want to bring in the influences of the reggae, dancehall vibe. So maybe I’ll create a new genre or something *laughs*

That would be interesting! As well as the album, what are some of your goals for the year ahead?

Just to work harder and to ensure that it’s being received well. I usually try and give myself super realistic goals and I always think that certain things are a by-product of certain things. Like fame and success, is a by-product of really putting in the grind. So I’m not bothered about that part. My goal is just to continue to work to my best and just try to make people receive it well and continue to build a fanbase. And I think everything else will fall into place.

What do you think you would have done if it wasn’t music?

I used to play football. But my football age is gone. I have businesses actually. I have a coffee business and these are my hats too. So I would have been in business. I like marketing and branding.

You’re a creative…

Yeah and I’ll start businesses just for the fun of it *laughs*. I just like the idea of starting something. I guess that’s the creative part, I just want to build something.

If you could make anything happen for yourself what would be the ultimate goal?

To have career security. Because it could go pear-shaped next week. But just to have that security, like Coldplay for example, like we can tour every year vibe, or an Ed Sheeran vibe. It doesn’t have to be the numbers of Ed Sheeran, or whatever. Just to have that security knowing that ‘ok, I can do this’.

That’s a good goal! I look forward to hearing more of your solo material.

You’re gonna like it! You like ‘Murda’?

Yeah of course. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be here *laughs* Is that bad? No it’s honest, right?

It’s honest. Do you know what it is, I get it. I have artists that I listen to and I don’t like everything, but that doesn’t mean that the artist is not good, they’re great. Like I love the artist, but not everything. So for me, my goal is if you like one, or two of my songs, that’s great. It’s good enough.

The important thing is that you make it for you I think.

That’s the thing. When I’m creating I never think what people want to hear, because I’m happy with it. Once I’m happy with it, it’s fine. I know I’m not going to grab everyone, but anyone that I grab is good. That’s my outlook on it. I don’t kill myself. It’s less headache.

Good luck with everything. It was good to meet you!

Thank you! Likewise!

 

Interview by Demi Leigh

Follow Claye on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

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