Born and raised in Chicago, the 22-year-old now lives in New York and recently released their first album, “Super Monster.”
Firefly is one of many events Claud will be playing this year, including Outside Lands, Austin City Limits and Pitchfork Music Festival Paris. They recently played Summerfest and the Music Midtown and said playing at a festival can be much more emotional than a show on tour.
“People came for me, and I was really surprised and emotional,” said Claud, who is nonbinary. “It was people who knew the words of the songs that even I sometimes forget. It was really special, and it was really different from just the show because it was people who made time in their day at noon to come see me.”
Claud’s road to stardom began at Syracuse University, where they studied music business for a year before releasing their first EP with friend, Josh Mehling, under the duo name, Toast. Soon after, they were asked to go on tour with psychedelic soul band The Marias.
“I really just wanted to take the semester off and try it, and Josh really wanted to stay in school,” Claud said. “So he stayed in school, and I went on the tour and turned the project into Claud. Then, I got to go on another tour and another one, and it just never really stopped.”
Claud’s song “Wish You Were Gay” blew up on YouTube in 2019, with more than 1.6 million views of the official music video. It also has about 8.5 million streams on Spotify. They said their fan base started out as a lot of young queer kids that liked the song but has started to draw indie and rock music fans, as well.
Claud’s favorite song to play now is “That’s Mr. Bitch to You” from “Super Monster,” which they’ll play in their set at Firefly on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on the Wonder stage.
“The lyrics are hilarious,” they said. “I think that a lot of people don’t know it before I play it, so it’s really funny to see people’s reactions.”
Some songs are emotionally harder to play, such as “Jordan,” in reference to former NBA star Michael Jordan, whose house in Chicago is in Claud’s grandparents’ backyard. Claud said a lot of songs on their new album are loosely based on fantasizing about leaving where they grew up, “just to see what else is out there.”
“(Michael Jordan) was like the only public figure who lived in my town, and I was like, what else is out there? Because this person knows,” they said.
Most of their work, however, spirals into love songs, they said.
Lyrics from “Overnight” tell a story of a pizza date, which turns into falling in love “like a fool overnight.” “Soft Spot” reminisces about a past relationship: “You made it clear that it’s over now, but you’re all that I think about, so now I don’t know what the hell to do.” “Guard Down” is about an old flame who’s seeing someone new: “I haven’t seen you since the summer, we’re getting further from each other, I guess there’s something in the water, and it’s only getting harder.”
The indie-rock artist was the first to sign with fellow Firefly performer Phoebe Bridgers’ record label, Saddest Factory, in 2020, but Claud said moving to New York in 2019 was another huge milestone in their career.
“It threw me into a community of musicians that I’ve been able to grow with, and we’re sharing the journey, and that’s really special to me,” they said.
Claud added that although their family doesn’t always understand the big moments, they’ve been a huge part of their support system.
“I’ll tell them, ‘I had an interview with this magazine today,” and that it was a big deal for me, and they’ll have no idea what the magazine is, but they’re just proud that it was something that I was excited about,” they said.
They said that, in fact, their parents don’t have any musical background.
“I was just a huge music fan, and I thought it was like the coolest way to express yourself,” they said. “I had a lot of energy as a kid, and I wanted to be moving and doing something with my hands and letting out all the feelings that I had.”
Claud started taking keyboard lessons at a local School of Rock as a young teenager and eventually learned guitar and started on vocals.
“I literally thought I was tone-deaf and thought I could never sing, but as I got older, I started singing,” they said.
The rest of this year and next is full of touring for Claud before they’ll have a chance to work on their next album. Meantime, “lots of caffeine” will keep them going.
“I really like playing shows,” they said. “So it’s worth it.”