Interview: Shannon and the Clams
Feeling nostalgic? Got that desire to let loose and cut a rug to some jiving tunes? Long gone are the days of “American Graffiti"—save for Hot August Nights—but the music of the ‘60s is still alive and well in the East Bay, and you don’t need to feed a dollar to a jukebox to hear a refreshing take on some oldies music.
Enter Oakland’s very own surf rock sensation Shannon and the Clams, a band that is part pop, part rock, part punk, part doo-wop, and all fun. You might even say this group, with its unique brand of beach music, exudes happiness like a clam at high tide.
The band’s beginnings can be traced back to 2006, when solo artist Shannon Shaw was asked to play a friend’s birthday party. The buxom blonde bassist had only a Nine Inch Nails cover and a few original songs under her belt, but performing solo inspired her to get a backing band and take her music to a new level.
"I made it up as I went along,” Shaw admitted, referring to her pre-clam days. But the element of a band forced her to step up and take her playing beyond the bedroom.
After a rough start with a rotating roster for the first few shows, Shaw finally locked in her trio, filling it out with the sharp reverb guitar of Cody Blanchard and percussion prowess of Ian Amberson, both of whom she met while they were all students at California College of the Arts.
Since the day he first picked up his dad’s guitar, Blanchard, a native of Oregon, ran the musical gamut, playing songs with his siblings and taking his turn at being in bands during his high school years. Meanwhile, Amberson, who grew up in Idaho, had a VHS tape of Nirvana performing live, which he watched all the time. As he recalls, it was Dave Grohl’s drumming that first made him really excited about playing.
While the band didn’t set out to write songs with a particular sound, the combination of the members’ various backgrounds and influences resulted in the group’s trademark surf-infused sound, although it is not complete without the complexity of the female and male intertwined vocal line. And even considering the traditional song structure and pop sensibility so prominent in the Clams’ sound, there also exists a rough, down-and-dirty, punk rock edge that insists on making its presence known in the music.
As for the name of the band, it dates back to Shaw’s solo-run, and the group never bothered to rename itself once the lineup was in place.
“I always loved the little baby clams,” Shaw explained, referring to the clam-eo of dancing creatures in the movie “Alice in Wonderland,” which were the inspiration behind her solo moniker. “And then the clams became real,” she said, when Blanchard and Amberson joined the band.
“I actually hate that my name is in the band,” she shared. “I’m definitely not an egomaniac.”
But Shaw does struggle from time to time with being a female front.
Because of the gender imbalance and stereotypes which accompany female-fronted bands, “people are more interested [in us],” Blanchard said. But the attention they garner isn’t necessarily always positive.
“I get a lot of shit,” Shaw said.
Furthermore, the group regularly deals with being perceived by other bands or people in the music community as a gay band or as gay activists, a label which they don’t have a problem with per se, but the band prefers the focus to be less on speculation and more on the matter at hand: the music.
To date, the trio can count one full-length, a seven-inch EP and a three-song Christmas-themed recording as its releases, and has another full-length due out this November. In addition, the three have already toured the U.S. before, and have plans to do another nationwide tour this fall. While the group loves playing to its hometown crowd here in the Bay, all of them agree that life on the road—playing at a different venue or house show every night and meeting people from other cities and walks of life—is what makes them most excited.
And for a band that plays, on average, between 5 and 10 shows a month, the three tend to act more like best friends than quibbling bandmates who spend too much time together. In fact, it’s not uncommon to catch all the band members on an “off night,” hanging out at a show, supporting their friends’ bands, and having a good time.
Shaw noted the band only tends to bicker when writing and learning new songs. The rest of the time? “I feel like we get along exceptionally well,” she said.