by Steven Sanchez
If you combined ‘50s oldies and ’80s punk, and if the eccentric filmmaker John Waters was looking for a band to put in a movie, or to provide the soundtrack to his retro esthetic, it would most definitely be Shannon and The Clams. They look and sound like they’re from another era, and they for sure live up to it.
The quartet comprises Shannon Shaw, vocals/bass; Cody Blanchard, vocals/guitar; Nate Mahan, drums; and Will Sprott, vocals/keyboards. They provide a unique brand of visual style along with musical delivery. They’re all interesting in their own quirky, irreverent ways. They all have an affinity for art, and a taste for anything that’s nostalgic, but the one that stands out is Shannon. With her old-school pin-up fashion style, her quick bass lines, and screaming vocals, you can’t help but be automatically drawn to her.
The songs they’re known for are “Ozma,” “The Boy,” “Midnight Wine,” “If I Could Know,” and “Runaway,” just to name a few. But they have really evolved since they signed with Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Label, who has been producing their albums since 2018. Dan is most famous for being the guitarist and vocalist of The Black Keys, so his musical knowledge is vital to the band’s progress. Their recent release, “Year of the Spider,” dropped in 2021, and is their most complex album yet; on it they delved into serious subject matter, which is a different direction for the band. It will be interesting to see where it goes.
When I saw them play live at Fulton 55 on May 11, their fans cheered for every song they performed. The band told me their thoughts leading up to the gig. “It’s been a really long time since we played in Fresno, so we are stoked to be there. That will be the first show of this tour and that can be a really fun night to see a band on tour because the energy will probably be raw and wild. Who knows what to expect? I don’t. Could be crazy.”
It wasn’t too crazy, but they did attract a bohemian and free-spirited audience. Interesting choices of fashion, tattoos, piercings, and hairstyles, all added to the flavor of the night. I was able to interview the band before the show to find out more about their musical inspiration and trajectory, Dan Auerbach’s imprint on the band’s sound, and how much nostalgia plays a pivotal role in their musical creation.
KRL: The band combines elements of genres ranging from elements of doo-wop, classic R&B, garage psych, and surf. Quite a mix. Is it a challenge to combine all these genres? Has it gotten easier as time progresses? How do you decide that a song is going to be more rock, funkier, more bluesy. How do you decide on that distinction?
SATC: This is something that we don’t really talk about. However, [the way] we navigate this process is very instinctual. We are all music lovers who have been mining different genres and eras of music for a long time, and the music we make comes very naturally. We like expanding the definition of what a Clams song can be, but we also sort of naturally know the limits. We all listen to all kinds of freaky stuff, and sometimes we make things and then collectively decide they don’t really feel like the band. It comes naturally.
KRL: The sound is way different from many types of contemporary music out there. Was that the focus of the band, trying to update all forms of music in a popular fashion or were you trying to be as unique as possible and go against the grain? If it so happens to catch on in the mainstream, so be it?
SATC: We just make exactly what we want to make all the time. We make the music we would like to hear, would be thrilled to discover by accident on the radio or in a record store.
KRL: What drew you all to the nostalgic sensibility? I personally dig it, I appreciate the old days, but sometimes it can be a mixed bag for today’s generation. So, what is it about music and fashion from yesteryear that draws you to it and enables you to express yourselves through that lens?
SATC: It’s a gut reaction really, you see or hear something and just vibrate with it. There’s something to be said about production value in the past. The easier it is to make something, the more disposable it is, and the more competing noise there is. The more time consuming and expensive it is to make something, the more thought and planning go into it. That’s apparent in lots of old media and you can feel it. The modern content stream is a perfect example—tons of low grade, disposable material being churned out and clogging the airwaves.
KRL: I see that you play a lot of clubs very similar to Fulton 55 in Fresno, the show I’m covering. What is it about playing clubs that you like the most?
SATC: We will play anywhere. At this point we’ve played sweaty dives, museums, boats, weddings, arenas, underground bunkers. We just like to be somewhere where the music comes across and people can have fun. The size of the club generally sounds pretty good compared to tiny places with bad PAs or giant places with impossible acoustics, so that is a plus.
KRL: Shannon is an artist, and the band itself has an attraction to the arts, especially the kind that’s eccentric and different. Do you believe that your taste in art has made an impact on the music?
SATC: Yeah; art informs everything. It soaks into your brain and changes the way you experience the world. I actually wish we leaned into that even more, fostered an even deeper more singular scene of fans around a whole personal style and way of being. I think we will at some point.
KRL: Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys produced your albums “Onion” and “Year of the Spider.” That’s awesome. What has he brought to the table in terms of the new album making process? Where are his contributions most felt: is it the song writing or the sound?
SATC: Yeah, we like working with Dan. He’s a great producer. He hasn’t been involved much in the writing, but his production style has sort of allowed us access to a grander palette of sound. I feel like he really lets ideas blossom when we’re in the studio and is also a good editor. A lot of what we record ends up getting taken out by the time the record is mixed.
KRL: This is your second album on Dan’s Easy Eye Sound Label. Has transitioning labels from your previous one to his made a difference as regards the band’s trajectory? Where do you see the band going as part of his label?
SATC: The biggest change for us has been the studio experience and the production. These are the most lush, polished, and layered records we’ve ever done, and it’s all due to Dan’s production style.
KRL: Which song or songs would you say best represent what Shannon and The Clams is all about?
SATC: So hard to say, it changes all the time. Our favorites rotate all the time and the style we’re into shifts constantly.
KRL: The pandemic affected everybody. From the touring you’ve done, what would you say has changed, if anything, about the audience since then? Do they crave music more now than before? Are they more accepting? More open? I’d like to hear your insights from being on the road.
SATC: Post pandemic, people seem very wild and ready for music again. But there’s an inertia that’s set in and people are in the habit of just staying in. They’re still not used to being out of the house regularly. It seems to be industry wide; it’s harder to move tickets and get people to commit to a show.
KRL: “Year of the Spider” had the band writing and delving into some very heavy subject matter. Are there any themes that you haven’t written about that you would like to explore in a song, and if so what would they be?
SATC: We can’t really plan writing in that way. It’s always just about exactly what’s happening around us in the time leading up to recording.