Shannon And The Clams got their start in the warehouses and house parties of Oakland, California’s DIY scene. They won a devoted following with their girl group rhythms from the ‘60s, primal R&B backbeats, spaghetti western guitars, intergalactic keyboards, and post-punk energy, supporting heartfelt songs that deal realistically with the everyday joys and sorrows of modern life.
“Our albums are the soundtrack for the things we’re going through when we write them,” vocalist and bassist Shannon Shaw says. “We called the new album Onion, because I was doing a lot of self-exploration on this album. It got me thinking about an onion, the endless layers you have to peel back to get to the core. That’s what I’ve been doing: excavating myself and looking in.”
Onion was released on Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound logo on Feb. 16. It takes the band’s signature sound—a blend of influences that suggests yesterday’s visions of tomorrow—into exciting new sonic territory. They’re often tagged as retro, and although they love the sounds of the past, it’s a label Shaw is uncomfortable with.
“We’re not imitating things from the past, but that is the stuff I love, so I can’t help but be inspired by that sound,” she explains. “I grew up listening to oldies stations, but we’re a hodge-podge of every era and every sound. I don’t say I’m going to come up with a badass Chubby Checker song when I sit down to write, but those sounds are part of my soul.”
Shannon And The Clams’ guitarist and other main songwriter, Cody Blanchard, agrees. “There’s a rawness in the music of the early pop era, lots of weird sound experimentation,” he says. “I take a lot from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks. They were so alien sounding at the time, so bizarre. What I got from that is an intense love of sound and a desire to create my own strange sounds.”
The Clams were able to push their love of experimental sound to the limit with the help of Auerbach, who is also the guitarist for The Black Keys. He produced the album in an intense 10-day marathon at his Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville.
“Dan has mics permanently set up on organs and guitar amps,” Blanchard says. “If you have an idea about adding an instrument to a track, it only takes a minute to do. You can be as ADD as you like and add 20 tracks of instruments to a song. Then, Dan comes in and says, ‘What do we want to cut out, and what do we want to keep?’ He hears a lot of things we can’t hear, and his instincts are always right.”
Shaw and Blanchard wrote all the tracks on Onion, but they wouldn’t sound as expansive without the contributions of the other Clams, keyboardist Will Sprott and drummer Nate Mahan.
“Nate and Will are both songwriters, and they contributed a lot to this album,” Shaw says. “They’re both multi-instrumentalists like Cody, which gave us more room to experiment in this amazing studio. They’re all over the record. We were all impressed with everything they played on every track.”
Photos by Alan Snodgrass