If you have yet to listen to Shannon and the Clams, you’re missing out on a band that is unapologetically themselves. They get their inspiration from vintage sounds, and unlike others who may just borrow from older genres, they make music that sounds like them. I spoke with singer, bassist, and Shannon part of the Clams, Shannon Shaw.
When asked what it is about the sounds of yesterday that inspires her, she points to the honesty that the music conveys. “I was raised listening to oldies and have always identified with the emoting from the vocals, the minor notes, background harmonies the warm and glowy, sometimes clicky sound of vinyl. That openness of showing vulnerability in lyrics and singing and playing,” she says.
The band hails from Oakland, California, known for its DIY music scene. “As long as I have lived in Oakland, it's always been a hub for outsider art, outsiders, and fringe people,” Shannon says. “This creates a really cool, freaky scene that feels very much so alive. Lots of strange corners of music and arts intersecting.” She says Oakland’s open arms to newcomers as what separates it from other cities. “This scene is super open and welcoming of a varieties of talents. The novice is supported and beloved here, not judged.” DIY scenes “give an open floor to true experimentation and the vulnerability that goes along with it. It's such a paramount yet ever morphing community, full of diversity and brilliant minds, hiding in the shadows under every city’s noses.”
She cites such an environment as the source for her morale to perform. “I think back to when I first started playing and wonder, ‘Where could a fat woman who can barely play bass and constantly loses her voice go?’ My experiences in middle and high school sure didn't set me up with the self-esteem to really put myself in normie situations. I'm really lucky to have been taken in by that world, fostered and supported, given confidence that what I did was important, had a message and to go forward and keep on chooglin’.”
On December 2, 2016, the warehouse known as the Oakland Ghost Ship caught fire during a show. It had been being used as an artist collective without permits for entertainment or residential purposes, while operating as a space for both. 36 people died tragically due to the layout creating near-inescapable conditions. The effects of the fire took a toll on Shannon. “Just made me think so much about how we came to be, born in the same scene, playing the same kind of spaces, the same lack of safety, but feeling protected because of our community.” This loss "helped remind people of the importance sticking together and protecting this diverse and delicate niche.”
Shannon and her bandmate Cody Blanchard had been about half done with an album of new music before the fire. “It occurred when Cody and I were songwriting and stopped us dead in our tracks,” she says. “We had to write about it, that's what we do. Never did I think I would write about something like this though.” Onion is the result. It’s a phenomenal record with soul-baring lyrics that make for what is arguably their best work to date.
The title of the record came from likening herself to a particular vegetable. “I've done a ton of self investigating during the creation of this album. This included therapy and other experimentations. I kept coming back this this idea that I was like an onion, a never ending ball of layers. You peel back one after some problem solving and, gee whiz, there’s another layer under there.” She says this thought process had her questioning if it’s worth it to keep peeling. “The fear of how far to go? How deep should you explore? Are you still yourself when all the layers are gone?”
Despite all this, her soul-searching isn't over. She says, “I’m still going for it.”
images via shannonandtheclams.com
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Katie is a writer from and based in NYC. She enjoys discovering new bands to listen to, reading, and Googling "baby animals in party hats." You can find her having a political debate with her dog or on Instagram.