Words by Keane Fletcher

It’s the morning of January 21st when I sit down to interview Claud. Just another day for us Australians. For the U.S.-based artist however – ‘Sorry about the dog barking. I’m at my grandma’s house a little outside of L.A.’ – that means it’s still the afternoon of the 20th, Biden’s inauguration day, and as we begin talking it’s only been a few hours since he was officially sworn into the Presidency.

‘We woke up really early to watch it,’ Claud tells me over Zoom. ‘I think everybody was really really scared something horrible would happen. But it didn’t.’

It’s a day heavy with significance, and an auspicious one to be interviewing the 21-year-old, an artist who seems tailor made for this new hopeful-present, a gently radical young voice who’s debut album Super Monster (out today on Saddest Factory Records) cuts across age and gender barriers to deliver ear-wormy bedroom-pop about love and coming-of-age with a distinctly 2021 approach.

If you don’t know much about Claud, blame the intercontinental lag. From their humble SoundCloud beginnings to breakthrough single ‘Wish You Were Gay’, Claud has spent the last few years steadily building their fanbase, releasing the kind of music that makes you wistful for late adolescence, for the complexity of feeling that comes from excitedly ticking off your firsts (first kiss, first love, first heartbreak) while simultaneously lamenting their loss. (When asked about how an ex-partner might feel about hearing about themselves in a song, Claud laughs: ‘I think you sorta sign up for that when you sign up to date me.’)

It’s music built on minutiae, on fleeting realisations and chance encounters that Claud makes a habit of noting down whenever they arise: ‘Most of the time [a song] will start with like a note in my phone, or a note on a random piece of paper or on a napkin something. Or a voice memo. Or I’ll have random ideas in the shower. For some reason running water really helps.’ 

About a year ago, their music even grabbed the attention of indie-poster girl Phoebe Bridgers, who handpicked Claud to be the first artist signed to her new record label, Saddest Factory Records. Since then, the world has been waiting to see what Claud would do next. And now Super Monster is finally here. Preceded by lead singles ‘Cuff Your Jeans’, ‘Soft Spot’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Guard Down’, Super Monster is a tour de force for the young artist, managing to bottle everything people have come to know and love about them whilst also pushing the singer-songwriter into sophisticated new territory. ‘The album sort of turned into a collection of songs from the last couple of years,’ they say. ‘But I sort of spent about three weeks this summer really wrapping it up.’ 

The pandemic, with all of its enforced downtime, helped in its own way: ‘I miss live performing so much. But honestly, I got a lot more into production over the course of the pandemic. It was literally one of those things where I could really take the time and really figure out what guitar tones I liked and how I wanted to process my vocals. I think a lot of the songs ended up changing a bit just because I got to put a lot more of my own production into them…I think my best songs come together the fastest. Almost like a mind throw up. But sometimes it takes a while. It does.’

Originally intended to be named ‘That’s Mr. Bitch To You’ after one of the tracks on the album, a serendipitous encounter with an unpublished Daniel Johnston sketch led to a last minute title change for the record.

‘I was mixing the record at Electric Lady in New York and the studio manager Lee [Foster] also happens to manage Daniel’s artwork. One day he presented me with one of Daniel’s sketches from 2014 that just said “Claud the Super Monster” on it. And Claud was spelled the right way and everything, which is so weird because nobody spells my name right. It was totally a sign.’

‘What was it about the words super and monster that really appealed to you?’ I ask.

‘I just think I really liked seeing [them] next to each other. Like, in my head I can see the image of a superhero who’s maybe a bit self-destructive when they don’t mean to be. Or somebody who is a hero but has monster tendencies. To me, I think the word really shows the complexities of being human. Like nobody is just a hero, nobody is just a monster.’

And indeed, the songs on Super Monster are as deceptively complex as the album’s title would suggest. Bristling with self-awareness and magnificently produced these are the kinds of songs that are as catchy as they are impactful, the kind of music I wish I could have listened to when I was growing up, all warm synths and glowing, irresistible hooks, alongside lyrics that feel entirely inclusive. It’s an album for everyone, no matter your specifics.

‘If somebody is listening from their middle-school bedroom and they’ve never experienced love before and they don’t know if they ever will, if that seems like such a far-away concept, then I hope the album leaves them with some hope. Or if somebody is going through heartbreak then I hope the album shows them that love ebbs and flows, that when it leaves it’ll come back again.’

On how it feels to be paving the way for queer and non-binary artists everywhere, Claud is characteristically unassuming. ‘I think the way’s already been paved. It’s now up to people to check themselves and make sure that the representation is solid.’

With our time quickly coming to a close and with a full afternoon of Zoom interviews ahead of them (the joys of promoting an album during a pandemic) I finally ask Claud, with all of their experience writing about love and relationships, what in their opinion makes the perfect love song. They pause for a moment, figuring out what they want to say.

‘A funky bass-line,’ they finally laugh, breaking the silence. ‘But also, I think a good love song can allude to how you’d feel if the love wasn’t there. Knowing that love is so fragile, that it can go away at any second. That a person can go away at any second. That’s so terrifying and sad but it also makes love seem so much more important you know. I think a good love song can actually remind people of that. Of how fragile it is.’

If ever there were words to write music to.

Super Monster is out now on all good streaming platforms.

Thanks for stopping by Hipland!