Shannon and the Clams | Image: Supplied

Shannon and the Clams: “The Scene We Emerged From Seems to Have Died”

Shannon and the Clams have long borne the tag of a genre act. In a similar manner to slasher horror or detective fiction, the Oakland band, led by vocalist and bass player Shannon Shaw, have generally been classified as a retro rock collective that subsists on a strict diet of 1960s doo-wop and R&B.

But in the course of their six-album discography, the Clams – a band that also includes guitarist/vocalist Cody Blanchard and keyboard player Will Sprott – have outgrown such pigeonholing. Their latest release, 2021’s Year of the Spider, features elements of disco, stoner rock, glam and earnest singer-songwriter balladry.

Shannon and the Clams – ‘Year of the Spider’

Year of the Spider is the second consecutive Shannon and the Clams album to be produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. The two records were released on Auerbach’s Nashville-based label, Easy Eye Sound, joining a roster that includes other recent Auerbach productions, such as Yola’s Stand For Myself and Hank Williams, Jr.’s Rich White Honky Blues.

Shannon and the Clams are playing a string of Australian headline shows this month as well as appearing at Splendour in the Grass. Music Feeds spoke to Cody Blanchard about Year of the Spider, working with Auerbach, touring, and dancing.

Shannon and the Clams
L-R: Blanchard, Shaw, Sprott

Music Feeds: You’ve been touring the US before this trip to Australia. What are some albums/artists that have been getting a spin on the tour bus?

Cody Blanchard: Frankie Reyes, Cate LeBon, The Stylistics, The Louvin Brothers, Dion (Kickin’ Child), Buck Owens, The Bee Gees, Aldous Harding, Shocking Blue.

MF: You’ve had scarce opportunities to tour since 2019. Did you return to touring with any resolutions about how you’d behave on tour? Or a renewed commitment to giving it your all at each show?

CB: Definitely renewed commitment to giving it our all, stepping it up majorly. Got to take a breather and reassess our live show a bit, try to kick it up.

MF: You’ve been to Australia on a few occasions in the past, including in 2014 when you were touring Dreams in the Rat House. How would you compare the band you were eight years ago to where you are now—do you feel more assured in your music? Do you think your ambitions have altered? Do you have more/less fun?   

CB: Well, we tour with a keyboard player now and we’ve gotten more serious about nailing the live vocal parts, more backing vocals and harmonies. We’ve gotten more serious about our ambitions and I think we’ve gotten less fun [laughs].

We’re so much busier now and we have such early load-in times and we’re dealing with serious amounts of merch – it feels like we’re always rushing to get everything together and get out early enough to get enough sleep and get to the next gig on time.

But even downtime when we’re not actually doing anything is fun with us. We can’t help it, we’re just goofin’. People tell us all the time, drivers and tour managers, we’re the best to be on the road with. I mean the spectrum is very wide – there are many musicians that are a full-on daily nightmare to be with on tour.

MF: You’re playing a handful of smaller club shows in Australia, as well as Splendour in the Grass, one of Australia’s biggest festivals. What Shannon and the Clams songs, in your opinion, are most likely to lure in unsuspecting audience members?

CB: ‘Ozma’ [Dreams in the Rat House], ‘The Boy’ [Onion], ‘Vanishing’ [Year of the Spider], ‘Midnight Wine’ [Year of the Spider]. The first two are way catchier than you’d expect from a band you’ve never heard of; ‘Vanishing’ is a solid R&B surprise ballad that hits harder than you’d expect; ‘Midnight Wine’ is just gnarly.

Shannon and the Clams – ‘Midnight Wine’

MF: Year of the Spider is a more musically diverse collection than your previous five albums. Were you intentionally trying to broaden the range of sounds explored on this album?

CB: We’ve been on a broadening mission for the last few albums. It takes a bit to warm that engine up. Sometimes you think you’ve gone very broad but really you’ve just started to wiggle out of your zone. Then an album or two later, you’ve really eased into truly fresh territory. Hoping to get even broader on the next ones.

MF: Dan Auerbach produced Onion and Year of the Spider. What are some essential things that the partnership with Dan brings to your records? What’s the extent of his involvement?

CB: He really brings a lushness to the sound, lots of layers of instruments. And he really streamlines and tightens up the songs. He’s very involved – deconstructing songs, playing guitar, adding violins and backing vocals after we’ve already left the studio.

MF: You’ve been followed around by terms like retro rock and garage rock revival for most of your career. Have you ever felt boxed in by those genre labels?

CB: We haven’t felt too boxed in by it. At the time when we were more deeply in that scene, we were really going for it and it was a box we wanted to be in, with all our buddies. But the scene we emerged from seems to have really dispersed and died.

Most of the bands aren’t around anymore, and the ones who are, are mostly doing really well and doing their own thing, moved to other cities. But maybe that’s the fate of all scenes – they are short lived little fireworks that dazzle and expire, but a few things stick around.

MF: Shannon and the Clams gigs are generally wonderful occasions for dancing. Are you dancers yourselves when you go out to see bands?

CB: Not really. I get kind of serious and focused, really analysing the players and music, watching and listening to everything they’re doing, taking notes [laughs]. But I do love to go out dancing if there’s a good DJ playing old 60s hits. It’s one of my top five favourite activities, along with swimming in the wilderness, camping, and playing music.

Shannon and the Clams – ‘Vanishing’ (Live on KEXP)

Find details of Shannon and the Clams’ Australian tour here.

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