Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shannon and the Clams' fairytales from the road

Posted By on Sat, Jun 22, 2013 at 10:24 AM

Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard are the nucleus of Shannon and the Clams intentionally raw sound.
  • Hardly Art Records
  • Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard are the nucleus of Shannon and the Clams' intentionally raw sound.

Shannon and the Clams is an internationally touring Oakland trio with a shared love for '60s pop, doo wop, and fairytales. Shannon Shaw's raspy voice and range are instantly recognizable, whether she's belting out a song with her Clams or for fellow Hardly Art act Hunx and His Punx. Guitarist Cody Blanchard handles his share of vocal and songwriting duties, making his name and voice known here and with his King Lollipop solo act. Landing on Sub Pop subsidiary roster came only after constant touring, and enduring a revolving cast of drummers. While caught it what she calls "the second most insane storm I've ever ridden through in my life," Shaw talked about the band's Hardly Art debut, Dreams in the Rat House, before heading South.

Let's start by talking about the new album, which is just now getting out to your fans due to a production delay.
It took so long for people to get them. Sorry about that. We were supposed to get ours May 21 for a big record release party, but they didn't show up. They had to get shipped to us on the road, and we got them on June 10.

When a lot of bands, like Dum Dum Girls or King Tuff, make the jump to Hardly Art or Sub-Pop, their next batch of recordings sounds more polished than earlier material. Dreams in the Rat House sounds like you always have. Did you intentionally stick with a rougher sound?
We choose to sound that way. We're always in progress, but recording-wise, we have no interest in sounding like we recorded in a studio. I want it to sound like we recorded in a barn or under your grandpa's bed.

  • Hardly Art Records

What is the album about? I'm really captivated by the cover, which has a surreal, fairy world feel to it.
The artwork is inspired by the Wizard of Oz and 20th century illustrations for fairytales and fables. The gold foil text is something I really wanted to happen. At first, the label said it would be way too expensive. I demanded that we do it, because it was part of my vision. It is based on the book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (the basis for the 1982 animated film The Secret of NIMH). There's a part where Nicodemus, the head rat, is writing a letter and using an ink that turns into gold. That's where I got that idea.

Do the music and lyrics fit that concept?
It's all related because it's coming out of me and Cody, and we are really bonded in how we think, write music, and enjoy things visually and sonically. A lot of Cody's songs are basically old fairytales, which relates artistically since bits of that are taken from turn of the century fairytale art, which I love. Most of my songs, like most fairy tales, are allegories or metaphors, based on real experiences I've had. The Rat House, for example, was a 1906 San Francisco earthquake house on my mom's property. I grew up being terrified of this scary old, run down shack. Me and my brothers would sneak around there, and it was all black and molded. We would occasionally find a dead cat inside. My oldest brother, a cool punk skater guy, used to have parties there and look at porn and smoke pot and shoot guns in there. So as a little kid I thought of the Rat House as a terrifying and intriguing thing I'd get to be part of when I became his age. It doesn't really exist anymore, because it got turned into a really cute little cottage. So the song "Rat House" is about fantasizing about the future, which is really terrifying, though it ultimately metamorphoses into something different.

There's a short documentary about you guys where they really get to introduce the band as individuals, and, during the shooting, your drummer (Ian Amberson) quit. I thought that did a good job of capturing the kind of unexpected obstacles a band on your level can face.
With that video, they followed us for a year. They really got to show our personalities, which doesn't get to happen often. Ian had basically stopped touring with us, but would not say "I no longer tour with you." So we'd have to figure out somebody to play drums kind of last minute over and over again. We'd not look forward to tour because we'd be frustrated having to find a new person again. We really do love him dearly and miss him, but he wants to pursue his art career, which we understand.

Has the transition that comes with adding a new drummer, with the added stress of touring on a new album, been relatively smooth?
We're on tour with a drummer from Oakland named Nate. We call him Huckleberry Nate, because he looks like Huckleberry Finn. He sometimes will hitchhike across the country, and one time he bought a WalMart raft and rafted down the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. He's a wild, berry-eating man. We really like him.

He must like to travel, which is probably a hard thing to find.
That's true. If we didn't travel, Ian would still be in the band. But if we just sat in our rooms and recorded, no one would care. We have to tour to make this work.

This time around, you're touring with Mikal Cronin, who arguably is getting more hype and press than your band. Is this tour allowing you to gain new fans by playing to someone else's audience?
The crowd is pretty split every night. There are always tons of people wanting to see us, tons wanting to see him, and a little bit of crossover. It has doubled the amount of people who would normally come see our show, and we're getting a lot of fans through people coming to see Mikal.

Shannon and the Clams, Mikal Cronin, and Del Venicci play the Earl on Sun., June 23. $10. 8 p.m.

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