There are many articles that try to define what Shannon and the Clams sound like, merging movie references and bands from the past to create a quirky concoction of something we can hopefully agree on: John Waters meets The Supremes meets The Cramps meets this meets that…
In the end, however, Shannon and the Clams have somehow managed to carve out something that is distinctly their own, while unapologetically wearing their influences on their sleeves.
The band consists of lead singer and bassist Shannon Shaw, bassist Cody Blanchard, and newest member, drummer Nate Mayhem, with Shaw and Blanchard meeting early on in their Oakland, California art class; they didn’t exactly hit it off either.
“[Shannon and I] didn’t really like each other”, reminisces Blanchard. “I didn’t like anyone there actually. People were doing these video projects and they were all really bad except for ours and two other people. We were the only people in the class doing anything good so we started to hang out [laughs].
The music and arts scene in Oakland helped the group find refuge amongst like-minded creatives who supported their experimentation to find the band’s sound and aesthetic.
“Shannon started the whole thing,” adds Blanchard. She used to play by herself and she loved these oldies songs that she grew up listening to so we just starting writing songs like that.”
Blanchard turns to Shaw “It was a little weirder at first, right? I feel like the songs back then were weirder…”
“You mean, shittier?” whispers Shannon, who lost her voice at the time of this interview.
“Yeah, also shittier” laughs Cody. “I think at first we were like, ‘Can we even play an actual song all the way thru?’ That was our big goal. Then when we figured out how to play a song all the way through without fucking it up, it was about making things more interesting. I also started thinking more broadly about artists I liked other than just the usual oldies stuff; more weirder stuff…”
Anyone who’s been lucky enough to see them live can vouch for the band’s growing reputation of being a solid live act. Shannon screams at the top of her lungs like a punk rock Connie Francis, Blanchard’s beautifully melodic guitar contrasts his dirty garage chords, and Nate earns his name “Mayhem” by pretty much beating the shit out of his drum kit; keeping a beat that adds to the crowd’s non-stop movement throughout their sets.
The band’s uniqueness and art-school influence stands out among a growing trend of mainstream artists who wear the banner of “weird” for the sake of being weird; a way to create legitimacy in an era of music craving a certain type of authenticity. While the band isn’t really bothered by that fact, the impression is not lost on Blanchard.
“I just read this book called Slimed about when Nickelodeon started and how they were this really crazy TV station at first doing all this weird stuff that no one else did. The kids who grew up in the late 70s thru like mid-80s are now grown up and in charge of making mass media, so there’s this influence of like 20 or 25 years ago from Nickelodeon that’s coming around. Now that channel is not like that at all; it’s just kind of boring, but that early experimental stuff is like influencing the mind of people who are in charge now. So that’s something I think of; generations of people and what their influences were when they were kids and how that affects us. So maybe there’s some Nickelodeon kids that are trying to do some weird stuff but are going about it in some weird roundabout way.”
Regardless of where trends take music next, Shannon and the Clams have earned a devoted following. While many may try to pigeonhole a sound that is so heavily inspired by change makers of the past, their success lies in the way they choose to evolve those influences into something uniquely their own.
It also has nothing to do with an intellectual method of analyzing the band, as one fan described mid-way through their set:
“AHH, SO FUCKING GOOD! FUCK!”
Shannon and the Clams’s Playlist
Bruce Haack – Program Me
Haack was one of the first synthesizer musicians ever. His body of work is very outlandish and tons o fun. This is a very spaced out psychedelic synth jam. It doesn’t rock.
Burl Ives – the Ugly Bug Ball
Burl Ives is a magic old wizard man. This song probably crosses our lips spontaneously while we’re bored and weird and tired on tour more than any other song.
McKinley Mitchell – the Town I Live in
This song haunted me for a year. I heard it on a late night radio program and they never announced the name of it. I tried to look it up for months and couldn’t find it. Then a year or so later, it came on the radio again late at night and I LOST MY MIND. The DJ came on after and said the name and I couldn’t believe it. It’s one of my favorite songs now.
Zager and Evans – in the Year 2525
The message is terrible, but this song is so spooky and futuristic and weird. We cover it live sometimes. It’s a sort of fear-mongering zealous christian song about the dangers of technology. Maybe there’s some truth in there. Otherwise, this group has no other songs worth listening to.
Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Love Flow
There’s nothing like this song to pump you up for no reason at all. It is very stupid, but I love how embarrassingly positive it is. It’s part of a very short-lived country-disco genre.