Singer-songwriter CLAY does some of their best writing in their bathtub.
“I like the bathtub, because I have it really hot in there; I’m kind of floating somewhere,” said Gabrielle Walter-Clay, better known as CLAY, in an interview with The Daily Californian. “And sometimes the songs will come because it creates this very still, safe space.”
Much of CLAY’s recent EP, Breathing Into Bloom, feels this way: soft and reflective. Released in early May, the album is a soulful ode to springtime and nature. Its title track “Breathing Into Bloom” brightly unfurls like a blossoming flower, its fluttering chords reminiscent of birdsong. Walter-Clay attributes these elements to Minnie Riperton, a musical love passed down from her parents.
Another one of CLAY’s many muses is nature. A striking commentary on their relationship with climate change, their song “Numb” opens with the evocative line “My blood drips green,” a visceral piece of imagery that illustrates her deeply personal grief over the human destruction of nature.
“Being in the forest and seeing these trees wilting or burning or dying,” Walter-Clay reflected, opening up on the lyric’s inspiration, “almost to the degree of empathy or understanding of oneness, you become the tree. And all of a sudden your blood isn’t red, but it’s green.”
Climate change is far from the only difficult topic CLAY tackles — perhaps this graceful approach to the intersection between music and politics is a result of growing up in San Francisco. She holds a deep, eternal appreciation for the city and for the community it provided them with in their youth; neither of her parents grew up with parents of their own, forcing them to create their own community from scratch. Walter-Clay was raised by this conglomeration of her parents’ friends and family, who she refers to as her “chosen family.”
“They can’t even watch me sing three notes without crying,” they recalled fondly. “It’s very intense. Love is kind of crazy.”
Despite her inevitable migration to Los Angeles following a tryst in Boston at the Berklee College of Music, San Francisco has embedded itself in other facets of her art as well.
“I definitely think that it has influenced my lyricism. I think it’s influenced my purpose, why I make music more than anything,” they said. “I think that innate drive in me, that I’ve always had to redistribute resources and move capital to people on the ground doing the work, is very San Francisco.”
Creating music for a purpose other than capitalism is especially important to CLAY, whose chasmic craving and immense passion for music as an art form are often distorted by the music business’ blunt force.
“A lot of people who work in music just love music, and that’s why they started doing it,” they said. “But I think that the industry forces people to kind of sever that really deep relationship with the music itself. Which is unfortunate.”
Tackling tough topics with a bubbly and bright demeanor seems to be CLAY’s tour de force; their spoken words echo the flowery, vibrant tone of their EP. Her anti-capitalist rhetoric is persuasive, her criticism of the music industry bold but necessary.
“Capitalism is awesome,” she deadpanned, sarcasm punctuating the words.
Success may mean more to Walter-Clay than monetary gain, but she nonetheless maintains a balance of overflowing humility and gratitude for her fans’ support. Her contention with the business-centric industry is profoundly eclipsed by moments of joy and community kindled by the music itself. She always tries to respond to comments and DMs, with messages from their fans grounding them in the face of the industry’s harsh reality.
“Getting a message from someone who’s actually just received my music, and been healed by my music grounds me,” CLAY said. “This is my purpose. This is why I’m doing this. This is why I’m navigating the tumultuous waters of this business that doesn’t really give a f— about the music itself.”
The music itself is where CLAY dazzles most brilliantly. No matter what their purpose for creating, it is undeniable that Breathing Into Bloom is a masterpiece. Each song crashes into listeners with a flowery ferocity that suits itself well to personal, intimate interpretation.
“Once I put it out, it’s not mine anymore,” Walter-Clay said. “That’s the purpose of art. That’s why I create art: to heal myself in the process of making it, but in hopes that when you hear it … that you take it and use it for whatever healing you need.”
Sparkling and salubrious, CLAY’s music is just that: healing. Her voice, heady and low, harnesses a poignant, electric power. Meticulously crafted lyricism creates a potent backdrop for moments of staunch vulnerability to shine through, fierce and unwavering.
“The only thing that you need to do as a creative is to share what only you can share,” CLAY said. “Find what that is, and share it.”