Everyone’s path to becoming a musician is different, but Cautious Clay’s journey to his current status as an alt-R&B artist is unusual by any stretch. He started off playing the flute and branched into other instruments, but began making his own music as a remixer while he was in college, posting his creations on SoundCloud — and one of his first projects was remixing a song called “Ocean Eyes” that had just been released by a 14-year-old singer named Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas.

“Fin was a fan of my music and/or my remixes, I guess,” Cautious Clay — real name: Joshua Karpeh — says in this “Artist Den” interview, “and we struck up a friendship on Twitter and went back and forth on different ideas and things like that. He basically asked me to remix ‘Ocean Eyes’ before it came out, and I was a part of two other official remixes at the time.”

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After honing his chops as a remixer, he then began writing and recording his own songs, and in 2017, just a couple of years after that early connection with Eilish and Finneas, he’d released “Cold War.” the first single from his debut EP, “Blood Type” — which, in another unusual brush with fame, was sampled on Taylor Swift’s 2019 song “London Boy.” Two more EPs followed, and earlier this year, he released his debut album, “Deadpan Love,” which finds his background and his unusual collection of influences coalescing into a smooth but innovative R&B sound.

When asked about his early influences, Karpeh’s answers are so far-flung and unexpected that the originality in his sound actually makes perfect sense. “I was obsessed with the OutKast, the ‘Speakerboxxx/Love Below’ album [featuring ‘Hey Ya!’]. I loved that whole album as a kid. I was really into Creed, ‘The Evolution of Robin Thicke,’ and I loved the [legendary ‘60s/’70s R&B group] Isley Brothers when I was really young. And I was really into the [1996] ‘Space Jam’ soundtrack.”

How does all of that add up into Cautious Clay? Watch the performance and find out.