Photo Credit: Angelina Papageorge
As the summer comes to a close and with it the commercialized "Pride Season," CLAY, along with partner and fellow creative Maisie Richardson-Sellers, seek to establish an enduring reminder of love and celebration for the community by the community in "project 5 (demo)."
An ode to love in its truest form, the single's visual companion (released Aug. 28) and directed by Maisie herself, is shot from a home video perspective with the primary medium being cell phone cameras. Self shot footage of members of the LGBTQI+ community feature the colorful members in all their glory, along with a personal and artistic portrayal of Maisie and CLAY's love.
The video begins by playing with shadows, first CLAY moves alone to be joined by Maisie's shadow in a fluid dance sequence. A serene chord progression on an organ accompanied by images of water flood the screen. A West Coast sunset into an intimate moment in the shower, leads to CLAY's lament "I don't want to die for loving you." The powerful statement in its own right, only strengthened by the love the viewer sees in Maisie and CLAY, triggers a pickup in the beat and bass. As the groove manifests, so do the real stars of this story. With every musical measure we a see another LGBTQI+ person, representing every spectrum of the rainbow with individualism and pride.
We had a chance to catch up with CLAY on everything from growing up in the "one of the gayest cities in the world," resisting MAGA culture, and the wealth of inspiration behind "project 5 (demo)".
OTW: How old were you when you wrote your first song? Do you remember the title or what it was about?
CLAY: "I'm flying" when I was seven years old. I believe the lyrics were "I'm flying, over the hills and mountains, I'm soaring over the deep blue sea. I'm flying, I'm soaring, don't you know how good this feels to me? My heart is, my soul is free." Not much has changed! Ha! Seven year old clay was hella on brand!
OTW: Your sound is deeply rooted in jazz, who was the first person to introduce you to the genre?
CLAY: I mostly grew up in a very soul, R&B, Motown, funk and disco heavy household. I would say my music is more influenced by those genres than jazz. However, I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald age 13, mostly replaying her songs over and over and trying to attempt copying her scatting. My (very limited) jazz self-education started there.
OTW: How did growing up in San Francisco help shape your dedication to social justice?
CLAY: I owe a lot to the city that raised me. So many social justice movements were born and cultivated in the bay area. It's an inherent part of the culture, so it heavily seeped into my upbringing as well as my formal education. Many of my childhood friends have built their lives and careers around serving the community, either working in or adjacent to social justice spaces. For me, it doesn't make sense to do anything in my life that doesn't have the goal of ultimately serving others, uplifting, empowering and building community for marginalized people. Period. I attest that to my being raised in such a (more so back then) culturally rich and diverse city (and family).
OTW: What prompted the shift from social justice to pursuing music as a career? How do you blend the two?
CLAY: I'm not sure there was a shift, it was more so that music was the route I had to take to achieve a larger goal. The thing that wakes me up in the morning, the need, the "so what?" is that fact that so many people on this planet feel alone, like no one understands, loves, or cares about them. Music chose me. I've been singing since before I could talk, and somehow I have this voice! I try to be as honest as I can, to practice radical vulnerability in hopes that I can free someone, somewhere of the shame, the weight the confusion or the isolation they feel.
OTW: In today's political climate, what do you think is the most important thing we can do as a society to resist MAGA culture?
CLAY: Use your voice and use your vote. While I think it's essential to use your platform to share and spread awareness via social media, I think that we need to learn as a generation how to put our money where our mouths are, to really learn how to show up. I have been really disappointed in myself lately and my lack of connection with people on the ground doing the work day to day. An idea of how to change this disconnect, and how to activate and build community was birthed from that shame, which I am working on and will hopefully be able to share soon…
Photo Credit: Angelina Papageorge
OTW: Can you expand on the inspiration on "project 5 (demo)"?
CLAY: Yes! This song just flowed out of me in the session with the producer, Dylan Brady. We were honestly just messing around and I was singing into a performance mic (vs a typical recording mic) and I loved what came out so much I decided not to change a thing. Not even mix it! I was inspired by my love, and by my community. The pride and the shame. The moments where we get to say "fuck you, I'm still here, still queer" and the moments when we lose precious souls to the violence that our community so often faces.
OTW: Your partner, Maisie Richardson-Sellers edited and directed the video for "project 5 (demo)." Can you tell us about your story together?
CLAY: Yes she did! She's the best! I am honestly inspired by her every single day and feel so grateful to have her in my life. Hmm, well the short version is that we met at a party that neither of us particularly wanted to be at. It's always the case, I suppose, to encounter something/someone amazing when you're least expecting it…
OTW: What inspired using real LGBTQI+ individuals in the message? Do you know each person personally featured?
CLAY: Everyone in the video is either a friend of a friend of a friend. It felt special to start out by reaching out to our own community first and letting it grow organically from there.
OTW: Can you tell us about your coming out story? How did you find the security to live your life and express your love freely?
CLAY: I don't really have a conventional coming out story. I'm immensely privileged to be in a family that has supported me throughout my entire life, and my loving women was no different. However, I will say that despite my supportive family and growing up in arguably one of the gayest cities in the world, I still felt soooo much shame around being queer, (and still often do). We live in an incredibly heteronormative society and constantly swimming upstream can get exhausting and feel isolating. Community is essential to survival, for those of us that can find it! I seek to create spaces by creating art for people to feel like they too have community, that they are not alone.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
CLAY: Easy! Manu Manzo- a Latin Grammy nominated, Miami-based, Venezuelan artist fusing all of her influences together to make her own lil sub-genre, en español & Ora the Molecule- an exceptionally talented, eccentric, fearless trailblazer.