This past June, R&B singer Cautious Clay was on tour in Bergen, Norway when he received a frantic 2 a.m. phone call from his lawyer. “They were like, ‘You have to approve this sample….We need an answer in 24 hours.”
The request was coming from an unlikely source: Taylor Swift. The popstar in the later stages of putting together her forthcoming album, Lover, and she was interested in incorporating the beat of Cautious Clay’s 2018 song “Cold War.
Two months later, when Swift released her seventh album album in August, Clay was one of very few outside writers to be credited on the album. Her song “London Boy” used an interpolation of the rhythm on “Cold War,” making Clay just the second-ever artist to be interpolated on a Swift recording (Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” was credited on 2017’s “Look What You Made Me Do”).
“Honestly, it’s a huge honor,” says the 26 year-old singer-songwriter. “I don’t even know, she never even shouted me out, I don’t know anything about her, really, so, to me, that she would feel it was appropriate to include that interpolation is just pretty surreal.”
Although he has no idea, in actuality, how Swift, Sounwave, and Jack Antonoff (the song’s three co-producers) came across his music, Cautious Clay does have one possible theory. Earlier this year, Clay was leaving a bar in L.A. with his friend and collaborator John Mayer, when the two of them ran into Jack Antonoff.
“I knew who he was, but I didn’t know if he knew who I was,” says Clay, whose real name is Josh Karpeh. “I didn’t think anything of it.” Karpeh introduced himself briefly to Antonoff as “Josh” and then stood quietly as Mayer and Antonoff briefly chatted. “It’s the only thing I can put two and two together on,” says Karpeh, who co-wrote Mayer’s latest single “Carry Me Away.”
Two years before it found its way onto Swift’s Anglophile loveletter, “Cold War” was just a song Karpeh was tinkering around with in his Brooklyn apartment. He wrote it in June 2017 right after returning from the annual Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. “I was writing it from that perspective, I think I was just in a weird mood,” he says. Karpeh wrote, mixed and produced the entire song by himself, in his bedroom.
Although Cautious Clay still has no idea how his song ended up on the best selling album of the year, he concedes that the entire experience has taught him something important.
“I feel like I’ve learned a whole lot about just, yeah, how this kind of stuff happens, it’s just so random,” he says. “It feels great.”