Claud's debut album Super Monster is a lesson on vulnerability
The indie-pop musician tells us what it’s like working with Phoebe Bridgers and the real meaning behind ‘Super Monster’.
Photography Daria Kobayashi Ritch
It’s not until the final moments of Super Monster that Claud ties together the introspective set of songs that make up their debut album. “I’ve gotta know/ what it’s like to let your feelings go,” the musician sings, speaking to the ups and downs of moving through the world as a queer 21-year-old while wearing your heart on your sleeve. The line gives you the distinct impression that if Claud Mintz wasn’t so emotionally available, we wouldn’t get to resonate with their tender renderings of love, loss and everything that happens in between. But luckily, they've let us into their world.
On Super Monster, Claud offers a song for every romantic situation. The feelings they’ve caught for one person or lost for another are distilled into gentle, breezy tracks under Claud’s aching vocals. Though the album’s honest clarity is authentic to Claud’s experiences and replete with a whole cast of characters, friends and lovers, they’re the kind of tracks that let you know you’re not alone in the world, whatever you’re feeling — someone out there has felt what you have, and put it into words. And that person is Claud.
Standing at five feet tall with electric half-green, half-blue hair and pictured almost ubiquitously in classic Doc Martens, it seems obvious that Claud is poised to lead the indie-pop, Gen Z pack. For the three years that Claud’s been making music, they’ve been racking up emotionally raw singles you’ve probably already heard, from heartthrob hits like “If I Were You,” detailing the crushing first-time realisation that things just aren’t destined to work out, to “Wish You Were Gay” (need we say more?).
“It’s a lot for me to put myself out there,” Claud says. “I feel like personally I’m really proud and excited for myself, but then when I think about people actually listening to it, I get super nervous.”
But Claud’s got reason to believe that things will work out for the best. Their musical success has been as straightforward as their most confessional ballads or their first stage moniker, Toast, which they adopted in college. Having moved from Chicago to New York to attend Syracuse University, Claud found something better than a degree in meeting their creative partner, Josh Mehling, who performed with Claud as Toast at house shows. (Mehling also collaborated with Claud and friends, like Noa Frances Getzug and Clairo, on their sunny rock project, Shelly, and on several Super Monster tracks.)
Eventually, Claud left college to tour as Toast with The Marias and Triathalon, a decision that came easily enough with Claud’s conviction that this was their moment. “I’ve known that music is what I want to do for a really long time,” Claud says. “It was more like, well, ok, knowing that, how am I going to make this work? And do people actually listen to what I have to say?”
As it turns out, millions did — including Nick Hakim, Melanie Faye, Blu DeTiger, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jake Portrait, who all collaborated with Claud on Super Monster. But perhaps the most important listener was Phoebe Bridgers, who came across Claud’s music organically and was impressed by not only the down-to-earth sincerity they share with Phoebe’s own indie-rock, but by the fact that Claud had been able to pull everything off alone. Claud has always stood on their own two feet as a hands-on, DIY musician and non-binary person in an industry where representation is lacking. “I’ve never called myself a role model or anything like that,” Claud says. “And if people see that in me and resonate with me then that’s beautiful and I love it, and I feel amazing. If there is any weight that I would feel, it’s almost from people that aren’t non-binary who put that pressure on my back, if that makes sense.”
Phoebe offered to make Super Monster a double debut — the first full album for Claud as well as for Phoebe's new label Saddest Factory Records. “Between what her vision was and what my vision was, we just eventually really aligned,” Claud says. “It feels so good to have a team of people that I believe in and trust, and who believe in me, as opposed to being completely independent.”
Despite being taken under Phoebe’s wing, Super Monster leans more toward authenticity than melancholy. If anything, Claud’s obsessed with romantic vulnerability — the ecstatic rollercoaster of falling in and out of love. More heart-skipping than despairing, Super Monster edges toward the emotional limits of wishing, wanting and yearning. Even as the deepest cuts reveal themselves on ballads of unrequited love like “Soft Spots”, or the achy goodbye on “Ana”, Claud keeps their songs more downtempo than depressing.
“I am an optimist, almost too much sometimes. I’m always like, ‘Oh, it’ll be ok!’ Even when it’s definitely not going to be ok,” Claud laughs. “So I think that’s where a lot of the optimism on the record comes from — it’s definitely not sad.” The youthful hopefulness that comes through in the full-on heart-eyes nature of “In Or In Between”, and the hand-on-hips tell-off of “That’s Mr. Bitch To You”, balances out Claud’s more low-key tracks.
The album title itself plays with the the easy balance Claud strikes as they capture the chaotic emotional range of growing up queer. While Claud was recording at Electric Lady, the studio owner serendipitously unearthed a sketch by the late artist Daniel Johnston called “Claud and the Super Monster”. Claud says they’ve always resonated with the rocker’s rendering of creatures and the feeling of outsiderness inherent to his life’s work. “I was so moved by it,” Claud remembers. “[Super Monster] makes me think of a mix between a superhero and a super-monster, and I really like the contradiction and the overall complexity. Nobody’s 100% a hero or 100% a monster.”
But nothing about Claud seems monstrous. Their frustrations, triumphs and occasional feelings of alienation, all laid out in candid lines and effortless arrangements, may be personal to Claud, but they resonate with an entire generation looking for something to lean on in isolation — be it physical or emotional.
Though Claud is referring to the heartache of leaving home for bigger and better things when they sing, “There are cities and countries, I should go/ Things I want to know,” on “Ana,” they could just as easily be chatting about their plans for the future, which are as ambitious and exciting as Super Monster itself. “I really want to headline a world tour! That would be super cool,” Claud gushes. “That would also mean that the world had Covid under control, which would be awesome. I just want to go to places I’ve never been before.”
Photography Daria Kobayashi Ritch.