The first signee to Phoebe Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory talks main character in a movie moments, the art of Daniel Johnston, and reclaiming the word bitch as a non-binary person – ‘that’s Mr Bitch to you’
Music’s contemporary emerging artists know the importance of creating a sense of community around their music, whether that’s being up in their DMs or personally naming their fandom – Rina Sawayama’s Pixels, and her pre-pandemic solo gig-going initiative, for example, or the rallying K pop fandoms and hyperpop communities that blossom on Reddit.
You can text Claud, an indie-pop artist and the first signee to Phoebe Bridgers’ label, about pretty much anything with the number pasted across their social media – +1 718-400-6880. The US number is a direct link to hotline Claud, which their growing fanbase has more than made use of. “I usually respond with weird answers. Somebody asked what my favourite beverage was and I think I said frog juice,” Claud tells Dazed. It’s a small, yet vital service to fans – one that seems even more important in times of prolonged isolation and worldwide crisis – and it’s proved mutually beneficial. “It’s fun, just like texting a million friends. It’s a good way to be like, ‘I hope everyone’s feeling okay today,’” adds Claud.
With an affinity to their shared struggles, Claud writes their music from and with an outsider’s perspective at the forefront. They grew up deftly observing the relationships around them after their parents divorce, and sidelined a career in acting after witnessing a film industry that has largely favoured cisgender actors and narratives, a huge wakeup call and disappointment to them as non-binary. Music became an outlet, where Claud could champion their personal and wider queer narratives. Both intimate and intensely relatable, they released their EP Sideline Star, a rumination on loneliness and lost love, which contained a standout single in the anthemic “Wish You Were Gay”: a song that perfectly encapsulates the familiar queer tale that is falling for somebody straight.
Earlier in their career, Claud formed one half of the duo Toast with Josh Mehling, who they met at Syracuse University. They were soon invited on tour with The Marias, with Claud dropping out of college while Melling stayed. Going solo, they kept Mehling as a close collaborator and rebranded under the current mononym. After releasing more music and touring with the likes of Girl In Red, Clairo, and Girlpool, they found themselves receiving an offer from Phoebe Bridgers to join her new record label Saddest Factory as the first signing. Now 21, we meet them on the release of their debut album Super Monster. Within it lies a coming of age story that feels fresh off of a diary page.
Claud’s sound is tender, sweet, and at times playful, with dream pop sensibilities and the DIY, independent spirit intact. The highs can feel euphoric with its synths and twinkling harmonies of “Cuff Your Jeans”. Elsewhere, “Ana” delves into deep melancholy, a sparse acoustic guitar and haunting vocals. The release’s final track “Falling with the Rain”, features the band Shelly, a quarantine project created by Claud, Mehling, Noa Getzug, and Clairo.
Super Monster is a deep dive into the highs and lows of relationships real or imagined or lusted after, falling for people too quickly, grasping for fading connections, romantic adventures and cinema-worthy gestures.
From main character in a movie-esque moments to their identity and the expansive work of Daniel Johnston, below, we spoke to Claud about all the things that inspired Super Monster.
Claud: New York was the first city I ever lived in and I think whenever I look back on “old times” I’m such a sucker for nostalgia and I definitely over-romanticise my past. I’ll share a story with a friend and be like, ‘remember how beautiful that day was’ and he’ll say, ‘it was raining, what are you talking about?’ And I’m like ‘I thought it was gorgeous and we had the best time’. And he’ll say, ‘we got stuck on the subway’. So, I think I over-romanticise it for sure.
I think (living in a city) really helped me because before that I’d only really lived in small towns, I hadn’t lived in the real city before, so I just think any new experience for me really informs my writing.
Claud: The room that I got to record in randomly was Jack Antonoff’s room because he just happened to not be working that week, and I don’t think other people really recorded in that room because there’s pictures of him EVERYWHERE. There are pictures of other artists that he has worked with, but no pictures that don’t relate to him ,and so it felt very much like his room. That was really cool to me because I’ve been listening to his music in some form or his projects since I was like 11 or 10.
Also, that same year I got to tour with him. It was a really weird, full circle moment. That was just one layer to why it felt really special to work there (at Electric Lady Studios). I also hung a letter up on the wall because I wanted to leave something, and I was like, I hope he doesn’t take this down, but he sent me a picture a few weeks ago and it’s still up so it’s cool.
Claud: Somebody called me a bitch, and my brother still does. He always called me a bitch, and I thought it felt so misogynistic the way he said it and so demeaning and it always really, really got to me every time he called me a bitch. He was really the only person who has ever called me it other than a friend for fun, but I was on tour and somebody called me a bitch and I was like ‘that is Mr bitch to you’ because I was like I can’t believe somebody would call me a fucking bitch that is so rude. Then my friend heard it and was like ‘oh my god that has to be your album title, that’s so amazing, you have to write that down’. I was like, I can’t believe I said that. I’m not usually confrontational at all, so then we turned that into a song.
When someone calls me a bitch, it sort of feels like they’re misgendering me because people don’t really call guys bitches, and so it hurts like twice as much for me. It feels misogynistic, and it feels like you’re misgendering me.
Claud: A piece of his art was the reason why I called my record Super Monster. He did this sketch that the studio manager at Electric Lady showed me. His name is Lee and he’s managing Daniel’s artwork with Daniel’s brother right now since he passed and found the sketch from 2014 that said, ‘Claud the Super Monster’ on it, which was really mind-blowing for me to see. I saw it at the end of the album process, and it felt like a really good cap to the project and so I ended up calling my record Super Monster.
Being in Electric Lady in general, seeing the things they had hanging in the hallways and the different records that were made there was really special. Every artist or most artists who make records there I think they sign the cover and put it on the wall and left a little note and it was really inspiring to read all of those.
Claud: I have done it for fun in the past, I designed a couple of logos for my college radio station a few years ago, but I don’t practice it that much. Now I’m doing it a lot more because I think it’s fun and to do the Super Monster artwork.
I originally started drawing it as like a reference for what we could make. We were pretty deep in conversation with the label on what I wanted my artwork to look like. I had done a photoshoot and I loved the photos, but I wasn’t feeling any of them for artwork and there was one photo of me looking up and smiling and I started drawing little characters just because I had it up in Photoshop. I would go into my Illustrator file and be like how can I make this interesting? I was in the back of my mind just doodling over the photograph and I got an hour into it and I had drawn the road and the stars I was like I’m actually kind of into this. Then I emerged out of my room like six hours later and I was like ‘friends I have some news’.
Claud’s Super Monster is out on Saddest Factory Records February 12