Everybody, meet Claud. We like Claud. Once upon a time, they made music under the moniker Toast (we like toast, too) but these days their dreamy bedroom pop is coming out under their own name. Which is significant, really, because after a long and somewhat hectic year, Claud is ready to put themselves out there. Their EP 'Sideline Star' is a testament to their journey here, with songs about love, friendship and outsiderdom vying for space against a backdrop of transition and shifting identity.
The clue here is in the name: that feeling of 'outsiderdom', and being left on the margins, is the point around which Sideline Star orbits. It's also the thing that Claud is actively working to counteract in their music. Already they are crafting an inclusive world around themselves, starting conversations with audiences from the stage and posting their phone number up online in case anybody wants to chat. There is an element of queer community-building going on, Claud acknowledges, but that isn't the whole story.
"I guess the majority of the people who come to my shows are queer," they say. "[But] I think the biggest thing that I strive towards is [creating] an accepting space no matter who you are. I really like the idea of a group experience, as opposed to you're going and watching something and then leaving, you know?"
They turn this over for a moment longer. "Being queer helps me find a community. But I think everyone deserves the community."
For a while, after a rootless few months where they tried to find their feet in several different cities, the lack of a community really weighed on Claud. After dropping out of university to pursue music full-time, they found themselves adrift in LA, with no real support network to lean on.
The sense of isolation came through in their work, with the first few weeks in Los Angeles inspiring 'Miss You', a melodic 'what it says on the tin' lament on loneliness and longing.
"I had just gotten out of a relationship, I was alone in a new city, I didn't know anyone," they say. "I didn't have the capacity to like, tap deeply into my emotions, so I just wanted to say 'fuck, I really miss you', and that's it."
The strange loneliness of being new in town is something of a recurring theme for Claud. When things out West didn't go according to plan ("I hated LA," they say) they made like The Wombats and moved to New York. When they arrived, though, they were struck by the same sense of isolation that they had felt in Los Angeles.
"I was really lonely because I've moved so many times. Every time I move, it's like I forget how hard it is to move to a new city," Claud says. "And it just makes me work."
This time, the move inspired 'Want To', which draws on a one-sided relationship that they found themselves painfully embroiled in when they first arrived in New York.
"I had feelings for this one person, but they lived in this city, and they would only really talk to me when it was convenient for them, and they never really checked in on me or anything. I felt super alone, I guess," Claud says.
As is the case throughout the EP, both 'Miss You' and 'Want To' show off Claud's penchant for melodic lightness coupled with emotionally weighty lyrics.
"I think I have a hard time tapping into my feelings sometimes, and so when I sit down to write a song, the lyrics often show how I'm really feeling but I keep the melody kind of light," they explain. "It's sort of a blessing and a curse."
The combined effect can be charming and heartbreaking at once, especially on songs like 'Wish You Were Gay' that speak to an especially vulnerable or painful experience.
'Wish You Were Gay' is, in part, a wink to the queer community who - no shade to her - may have felt a bit let down by the Billie Eilish banger of the same name. Anecdotally, at least, it's been established that many LGBTQ fans were hoping for a song about the misery of falling in love with a straight person, rather than the plaintive hope that someone who wasn't attracted to you simply had a different sexual orientation. Never fear, my queer brethren: Claud is here to deliver the banger you deserve. It's also based on a true story, of course.
"I was on my way to a studio session, and I got off the train, and I ran into this girl that I hadn't seen in a long time. All these feelings that I had sort of rushed back. She was on a date with her boyfriend, and it was like, their like five-year anniversary or something," says Claud. "I just remembered how it felt the summer earlier, when I just had the biggest crush on her. And I got to the studio, and I started telling the producer that, and I was like, 'I just really wish she was gay'."
Their producer, as a joke, suggested that they write a song and call it 'Wish You Were Gay'.
"I'm like, 'yeah, let's do it!' And he's like, I'm joking. Billie Eilish just put out a song called that. It was literally two days after she dropped it," Claud laughs.
After listening to the track, and coming to the same realisation that others were coming to, Claud decided - both for themselves and for the good of the queer community - they had to write a song about this more specific kind of heartbreak. They feel that the two can sit comfortably side by side, neither taking anything away from the other.
"I feel like there is room for more than one song with that title. And I felt like it had to be done," they say.
Being in conversation with other artists and making space for people like them has been a big part of Claud's life recently. As the EP's title suggests, they have often felt like they were on the outside looking in.
"Especially in high school, growing up, I always felt pushed to the side and never part of anything. I always felt like, on the sideline," they say. "This year my writing process has been really focused on what it feels like to be on the outside of things, and what it feels like to not even feel completely accepted by people you love."
After finishing the EP, though, Claud feels like they are ready to put those themes behind them.
"By the time I was done writing ['Sideline Star'], I was so tired of feeling that way," they say. "I hope going forward, I allow myself to feel more accepted."
"I think it comes with embracing yourself as much as it does having other people embrace you."
Taken from the February issue of Dork, out now.
Featuring Bombay Bicycle Club, The Big Moon, Soccer Mommy and a whole load more!