Cass Clay is a twenty-two year old hip-hop artist born and raised in Wollongong, Australia. He has been honing and mastering his craft in hip-hop for close to ten years and has supported the likes of Drapht, Illy, Bone Thugs N Harmony, and Scorcher. We caught up with Cass to ask him about his music.

When did you first start writing music?
As far back as I can remember, I started writing lyrics when I was really young. Maybe like ten years old. It wasn’t in the form of rap music though – they were just little cheesy songs I used to scribble down for fun! I started writing rap lyrics when I actually got in to hip-hop in the early days of high school. Before all that though, when I was little, I used to draw comics and write stories in my own time. So even at a young age I found myself being creative and expressing myself in some kind of artistic way.

What made you want to become a hip-hop artist?
Well I’ve always loved rap music ever since I can remember. I used to wake up every Saturday morning and watch Rage followed by Video Hits just to check out the charts and get in to the music Australia was pushing at the time. For some reason it was always the hip-hop stuff that caught my ear more than anything else. I also started to notice at a pretty early age, whenever I listened to hip-hop music, I would rap along to the song and I could always keep up with the beat and match the flow of the artist. So I guess I’ve always had a pretty good sense of rhythm and cadence.

I used to be a pretty avid skater as well and I always remember watching the old 411VM tapes and taking note of the soundtracks, which were mostly hip-hop and punk inspired. I even remember the very first hip-hop album I ever bought, Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty, which I still have to this day. I was only eight years old. It wasn’t until high school though that I really started to get in to the hip-hop ‘culture’ as opposed to just liking the music. I started making beats on my computer, I got into graffiti a little bit and I even tried my hand at breakdancing – which I absolutely sucked at. Around 2002, there was a time when a few of my mates got into the whole freestyling/battling craze.

I loved it because it was something I’d been in to for a while and now others were starting to latch on. From then, at school and at parties, people started to approach me and would just ask me to rap for them. I was always looked upon as the dude that could ‘rap’, so I started to take it serious from there and decided it was something I should pursue. Might I add, my actual initials are MC (my real name being Mitch Clay) – so as corny as it sounds, maybe it was something I was born to do? haha

Where does the inspiration for your lyrics come from?
I’m mostly inspired by listening to good music itself. It gets me in the zone to write my own stuff.
I like to write lyrics that people can relate to. Even if I haven’t experienced it first hand, I’m still more than happy to think of a situation or story in my head and write about it just so someone else out there can relate to it. In saying that though, most of my material is based on my own thoughts and experiences. I feel I’m at my best when I write honest stuff with substance. I used to write a lot of punchline-driven, crazy braggadocio rhymes more so than now. I still do of course, it’s always fun to wild out on a sick beat, those are the sort of songs that tend to get the best response when performing live; but I feel over the last couple of years I’ve matured heaps as an artist and the songs I make now are a lot more authentic and focused both in style and subject matter. I’m categorized as ‘Alternative Hip-Hop’ because I incorporate a lot of melody in to my songs, a lot of singing as well as rapping and I like to experiment with different structures.  I like to write stuff that eventually will sound like quality ‘music’, not just me ‘rapping over beats’ per se.

When writing songs what comes first, the music or the lyrics?
I tend to listen to a beat first because that’s what initially shapes the feel of the song or the style I’ll aim to go for. I’m pretty fussy with beats to be honest. I usually know within the first five to ten seconds of listening to it whether I actually want to use it or not. But if I keep the beat playing for a while and it get’s stuck in my head and I start rapping gibberish to it and begin thinking of melodies from the get-go, then we have a winner. Concept-wise I think I’m pretty flexible. So overall, whatever kind of emotion the beat tends to portray is what drives my choice of subject matter and how I go about writing the lyrics.

Where did the name Cass Clay come from?
The name Cass Clay was influenced by the boxer Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Mohammad Ali, which nearly everyone now knows him by. In saying that, my real surname is actually ‘Clay’. I took on the name ‘Cass’ because my Dad was a boxer back in his prime so because of the family name, ‘Clay’, his nickname back in the day was ‘Cass’ after the man himself Cassius Clay. So I adopted the name because it sort of keeps a tradition going as well as it having a personal meaning and sounding cool!

What was it like to play with Bone Thugs N Harmony?
The Bone Thugs shows were awesome. Bone Thugs actually toured twice around Australia in a matter of six months and I was chosen as local support for the Wollongong leg of their tour on both occasions. The first show was sick. The venue was completely packed out, well over 500 people.  The second show was a little more intimate, but still a mad crowd. On that occasion, I actually got to go backstage and meet them. I just remember walking through the door in to a cloud of smoke, shaking their hands and introducing myself.. Not surprisingly, they were grilling up in their room, it was funny because they actually had someone backstage to pass their blunt around for them. They didn’t pass it around themselves. Some dude was actually hired to be the ‘blunt passer’ hahaha – it was hilarious.

What was it like playing at the “Bring it on” festival?
The ‘Bring It On’ Festival was a recent all-ages festival that I played at. It was cool. I haven’t done a lot of ‘outdoorsy’ festival type gigs let alone ones that are all ages. This was cool because it was a different kind of atmosphere than the usual gig at bars and clubs. I’m really keen to do more shows on the festival circuit in the near future, especially considering my music these days certainly can appeal to a ‘festival goer’ demographic let alone your typical hip-hop purist. Hip-hop acts are pretty common at most major Aussie festivals nowadays anyway, so it would be sick to jump on board a few more.

What is the music scene like in Wollongong?
Wollongong has some really talented artists in the local music scene. However there hasn’t really been many artists to fully blow up and represent Wollongong on a major level just yet, as far as I know. Young people in Wollongong are really drawn towards the nightclub scene here, which in retrospect is great for DJs to market themselves, but not really live bands because those kind of venues don’t really cater to live music. There’s still a few awesome venues though, including Waves, UniBar, The Cabbage Tree Hotel and The Heritage Hotel – but personally I think Wollongong, being the third biggest city in NSW, definitely needs a couple more venues that provide music on the live tip.

The hip-hop scene here is slowly growing. There’s a few smaller name acts who do their thing, which is always great to see, but hopefully it continues to get bigger and the public start to recognize the existence of hip-hop throughout the Illawarra. Overall though, in regards to the Wollongong music scene as a whole, by far my favourite local act at the moment is ‘Never See Tomorrow’ who are an amazing hardcore band. I’m really good mates with them too. Huge props to those guys for making moves.

Are there any plans to release an LP?
Definitely. A couple of years ago, I released a mixtape which was basically used as a tool to build my name and create a buzz on the local scene. It was strictly just a a promotional CD which was given out for free at various shows and the like. However right now, I’m working on my debut EP which is still in the writing/recording process. Hopefully we’ll be looking to release and distribute that through a label at some stage this year when everything is finalized. As far as an album, I already have a few songs saved and put away which I intend to use for one, but realistically I’ll probably start focusing on that after the release of my EP. Sometime next year definitely.

Do you listen to your own music?
Haha as self-centered as it sounds, I do actually listen to my own music a little bit. Mind you, I never listen to my old stuff, more so the stuff I’m working on currently. I don’t listen to it for my own personal enjoyment though. Mainly I just listen to it to critique myself and pick up on little things I might want to further add or change before it gets mixed and mastered. Having said that though, I think it’s a lie if an artist tells you he/she isn’t intrigued by the sound of their own voice over music haha.

What (other) music do you listen to?
I listen to a wide variety of stuff. I don’t limit myself to one genre. I think people who do that are narrow minded. I’m influenced by heaps of different styles and sounds and I guess that sort of shows when I write my own songs because I like to incorporate elements from a diverse range of music. In terms of hip-hop, like everyone I guess, as a kid I started out listening to that which was getting the most mainstream play.Names like 2pac, Notorious BIG, Eminem, Dr Dre, Jay-Z etc. Then as I started to develop a love for it, I discovered heaps of other names both mainstream and underground that later went on to become huge influences and eventually became the main bulk of my listening. Just off the top of my head, people like Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Outkast, Pharoahe Monch, Mobb Deep, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Rakim, Gangstarr, Big Pun, Big L, Atmosphere, Murs, Immortal Technique, Common, Masta Ace, The Roots and a whole heap of others.

As far as other genres go, some of my favourite bands of all time are Linkin Park, Blink 182, Silverchair, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Regurgitator, Staind, A Day To Remember, TrustCompany, Death Cab For Cutie and more. I’m a huge fan of the punk/hardcore scene as well.  On top of all that, I listen to a lot of dance music too. I love a lot of the old 90’s trance and house tunes and I listen to a lot of drum & bass, garage, dubstep, grime, big beat and industrial…. I guess you can tell by now my general taste in music is extremely diverse!

What do you have planned for the rest of 2012?
The first box I want to tick is to finish recording my debut EP and release it at some stage this year with a couple of strong singles alongside a video clip or two. Upon the release, we’ll be looking to plan a national tour, playing in both major cities and rural areas throughout Australia to promote the CD. In addition to that, I just aim to further build my fanbase and get the name out there as much as possible by performing a lot of shows around the country and performing a lot of spam around the internet. Oh and I also want to learn how to whistle. I’ve never been able to whistle properly, so that is a must!

To hear Cass’s music check out his Facebook or Unearthed page.