Claud’s main character moment
When Claud Mintz – who makes music mononymously as Claud – reflects on their upcoming second album, Supermodels, they think about the winter.
“It was cold in New York,” they remember. “I was not going out a lot. I was very much in hibernation mode when I was writing.”
Mintz began the process of making their second album in November, 2021, and would spend the shortening day inside, working on music. At night, they’d stay in, watching Gossip Girl, the Harry Potter movies (“even though JK Rowling sucks”), and rom-coms like Clueless, all of which partially inspired Supermodels’ lurch into grander territory than their lyrically specific, big-hearted bedroom pop has ever roamed before.
When we discuss Supermodels, however, it’s high summer and Mintz is dialling in from Wisconsin, where they’re on an annual family trip. “My grandparents have been coming up here since my dad was a kid,” they explain. The morning of our interview, they had been fishing on an idyllic lake, sitting at the end of a dock, with their grandpa and brother (no fish, they are keen to stress, were harmed: “I caught absolutely nothing but I kind of didn’t want to. I was lowering my fishing rod and when a fish would bite I would just let it take the worm,” they say, laughing).
Now, only a few hours later, they’re talking to someone in London about their new album, which is a dissonance they are still getting used to. “I filmed a music video on Thursday. And then on Friday I flew to Wisconsin,” they say, amused by the extremes. “I feel like the process for this album has been a lot more baked into my everyday life than my first was – not that there’s ever anything to get used to, because being an artist is just so insane, but it’s become a bit more like my new normal.”
Claud’s rise to prominence has been reasonably quick. Having had big viral hits with tracks like Soft Spot and Wish You Were Gay, they released their debut record Super Monster in February, 2021, after signing to Phoebe Bridgers’ then-new Saddest Factory label. A whirlwind of touring ensued, but Mintz already had their eyes on their follow-up. “I probably could have waited until now to start the second album but I just felt like I had to write it,” they say. “I had experienced much more adult and real-life things when I was writing this album. When I was writing Super Monster, it was digging through the filing cabinet of memories of growing up. But with this album, I just felt like the well of things that I was writing about was much more formed.”
To match these higher emotional stakes, Supermodels is a bigger, more sonically expansive album than their first, from the grimy, Deftones-like guitar tone on Glass Wall to Wet’s 80s synths. The soaring chorus of Paul Rudd is directly inspired by their rom-com habit: “A lot of writing exercises I give myself are like, ‘Soundtrack this rom-com that was written 20 years ago.’ So if you’re gonna write a song for Clueless, it’s gotta be the winning moment of the movie, when he gets the girl or whatever,” they reason, matter-of-factly. “I love it when the song [leaves you] gasping or something.”
It makes perfect sense that Mintz has a sixth sense for expressing this type of heart-stopping emotion through their writing, because their love of music has always been based around deeply intense feelings. Growing up in Chicago, they were “a huge fan of music as a kid”, they recall now. “I had a Jonas Brothers fan account on Twitter; I was like, No. 1 Justin Bieber stan when I was 11. I really do specifically remember being obsessed with Justin Bieber and being like, ‘That’s what I wanna do.’ I wanted to sing and perform like he did.”
Their mother, then, did what any supportive parent of a pre-teen stan account admin would do, and encouraged them to channel their energy into finding their own creative voice. Mintz took the hint and started attending School of Rock, a US-wide after-school music programme. It was a keyboard teacher there that introduced Mintz to indie artists like Feist and Regina Spektor, whose work continues to influence them now (Spektor even figures on Supermodels by name, on the single Every Fucking Time). This combination of training and new musical interests lit the touchpaper, and Claud began writing their own music.
After spending their teen years performing around Chicago with their best friend – another hardcore Belieber – they wanted to figure out how their love of music could become a career. At 18, Mintz was accepted into the prestigious Music Business degree programme at New York’s Syracuse University. “Me and my friends always laugh about this,” they say now, entertained by the memory, “because we’re all musicians now. But it’s much easier to convince your parents to let you go to school for music business than it is for music. I think that’s how a lot of us ended up in that programme.”
Despite the professional trappings of their course, however, Mintz spent most of their first year of college playing house shows with “a bunch of like-minded kids”. There were, they explain, “two houses on campus that were always throwing big basement, attic and living room shows, every weekend, three times a weekend.” It was at this point, around 2018, that they formed the band Toast with their friend Josh Mehling. The pair recorded a self-titled EP out of their university dorm rooms, with lyrics by Claud and production by Mehling. The music caught the attention of Terrible Records’ Max Flohr, who then released the EP.
With touring offers rolling in, Mintz was eager to hit the road. Mehling, however, wanted to stay in school, and so with his blessing, they began life as a solo artist, leaving Syracuse in 2019 to pursue music full-time. The following year, after self-releasing two more EPs (2019’s Sideline Superstarand 2020’s Gay and Bored), they were the first artist to sign to Saddest Factory Records, where they now occupy a place on a small but powerful roster that also includes MUNA and Sloppy Jane. The label is dominated by queer artists with a firm grasp on ambitious pop-rock songwriting – as Mintz’s Supermodels continues to attest – but who have also put in time in local DIY scenes and remain committed to the inclusive ethics of those communities.
“Rock music has been so queer-coded for so long, whether or not the artists have been out. And I’m so sick of things being queer-coded – let’s just have it be queer”
Saddest Factory feels as though it is at the forefront of a significant moment in rock music right now, in which queer artists are more visible than ever. Take label boss Bridgers’ band boygenius, for example: made up of three queer people, they are one of the most talked-about rock bands in the world. For Mintz, this shift away from the typical perception of guitar music as a cis straight man’s game makes a lot of sense.
“Queer artists have always been there but have been overshadowed by the male artists who have dominated the genre,” they say. “I think a lot about the fans who are listening to it. There have been a lot of fans of rock music for a very long time who’ve been queer, including myself, and they haven’t seen themselves represented by people performing the music. It’s just about time. Rock music has been so queer-coded for so long, whether or not the artists have been out. And I’m so sick of things being queer-coded – let’s just have it be queer. Let’s be more out about it.”
Locking in their deal with Saddest Factory, which is committed to leading the charge on this type of change, was, Mintz says, “the best decision of my life”. They also cite the Dead Oceans imprint’s attitude to “creating a culture and a community, almost being tastemaker-y” that they feel has been lost among labels in recent years as a crucial factor.
It’s striking, I note aloud, to hear an artist talk positively about their record deal in a climate where we hear of so many forced into unwanted niches by the labels they are signed to. For Claud, however, working closely with Bridgers – who comes at her label work from the perspective of an artist – makes the experience a good one. “I had been a fan of Phoebe’s for a really long time,” they explain. “She’s never made a song I don’t like. She’s just so smart and trustworthy. I just think it’s really cool and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Bridgers isn’t the only major artist to have boosted Mintz’s belief in what they were doing – indeed, they ventured into self-production on some Supermodels tracks at the encouragement of one of the world’s most high-profile producers, Jack Antonoff. “It was Jack who was like, ‘You’re a producer, and you can do this,’” they remember. “And just him saying that to me really gave me the courage. There’s a handful of songs on this record that I produced myself. I’m really proud of them.”
Elsewhere across Supermodels, Claud worked with Ethan Gruska (who has produced for artists including Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers and Manchester Orchestra) and Dan Wilson of Semisonic. While the songs chart new emotional territory – Mintz says the album’s main common thread is “regret” – they maintain the solid foundation of “bouncy basslines and catchy guitar lines” that have become the Claud calling card – only amped up and in Technicolor.
Indeed, it’s this effervescence Mintz hopes people take away from Supermodels most of all. As we’re finishing up our interview, they ask me: “You know when you finish a big cup of coffee and you have the serotonin boost and you’re like, ‘I can do anything?’”
“Sure,” I reply.
“That’s what I want the songs to feel like.”
Supermodels is out now via Saddest Factory