July 14, 2013

Interview: Shannon and the Clams

We asked Shannon and the Clams about their zodiac compatibility,
high school prom, and the things they want to do before they die.

After the long and brooding winter, we owe it to ourselves to blast loud music from our backyards, patios, balconies, cars, etc. Oakland's Shannon and the Clams make music that we'd want to listen to from a wild tree house in the middle of nowhere. The trio's very own Shannon Shaw has described their sound as "weirdo oldies", and I personally don't feel any inclination to look further for a better way to describe them. At their core, they are one of those rare bands that take us back a few generations, but at the same time, to a place we've never been before.

THE LE SIGH: I know that you started playing together by chance. What were your first impressions of each other before starting the band?

Cody Blanchard: Me and Shannon didn't like each other. I thought she was a total square and she thought I was a total dick jerk. We had a class together at art school. After we saw each other's art, then we realized that we were each cool dudes in disguise. Ian was my roommate, and I remember thinking he was about 35 years old, but he was actually younger than me. 20 at the time. I thought I was a better drummer than him, haha. I think at the time he was just rusty and then he got back into drumming and sounded good.

TLS: Are your zodiac signs compatible? Maybe that's why you sound so good.

CB: I have no idea. I bet they are though, because we get along so well!! It's shocking!


TLS: You guys have said that you were raised on oldies, and are clearly influenced by stuff from the 50s and 60s. Who are your top five oldies?

CB: 1. Lou Christie 2. Buddy Holly 3. Joe Meek 4. The Coasters 5. Roy Orbison


TLS: Anyone from the past that you'd hate to be compared to?

CB: Any gimmicky surf band.

SS: Yeah!! People can be SO lazy with their comparisons. A lot of people consider us surf rock or girl group revival but if you actually pay attention, we are more than that. I also get compared to ANY chunky lady singer. Name one! I'm sure someone has told me I look just like or sound just like her.

TLS: Embarrassing high school memories? Better yet, did either of you go to prom?

CB: Umm, every high school memory is embarrassing. I did not go to prom actually. I don't think... I can't remember. I did go to the Homecoming dance though. And that's an embarrassing story. I was pressured by friends into asking a girl to the dance who I didn't particularly want to go with, but who liked me, and who I also knew my friend Noah had a crush on and had already asked. It was a major bummer. Why did I do that?!

SS: Haha, I went to prom with my long time best bud Amber Feigel because we couldn't get dates! We were called 'the lesbian witches' by many in our shitty narrow minded high school in Napa. I wore flip flops with a fancy dress and Amber wore big goth Marilyn Manson boots with a frilly pink dress. We went on a date to Blondies pizza and drove my moms suburban to the prom. I asked one of my beloved teachers (who I also asked to prom) to dance to Etta James' "At Last" and I was cruelly denied!! I think he hit on me a few years ago at Kaiser! I knew he liked me!! Amber also propositioned one of her teachers the same year but it wasn't as romantic/innocent as my prom request. More aggressive and forward yet sadly also turned down. Us lesbian witches gotta stick together!!

TLS: Each of your albums definitely has its own personality. Your new album especially covers a lot of ground in terms of style! If Dreams in the Rat House was a fictional character, who would it be?

CB: It would be a mad hobo, half-rat, half-wizard, who rides trains all night long, dreaming of new dimensions, haunted fairy tale villages, and when he wakes they have become real.

SS: No comment. Wow, he really hit the nail on the head!!

TLS: Is there anything musically (or just in life) that you want to do and haven't done yet?

CB: I want to play with an orchestra like Cab Calloway. Play wild cartoon songs. I also want to sing oldies like a 70s Bollywood singer.

SS: Yeah I agree with Cody. I would LOVE to play with a full band! Or a strings section. I'd love a tympani and xylophone incorporated our tunes. I would love to write a song for one of my heroes like Danzig (he wrote a Roy O tune ya know) or Connie Francis or something. I'm also down for a duet Danzig! Anytime, I'm available!!! The thing is I don't think he'd be interested. I think we are truly incompatible as people but you never know. I would duet with some of my heroes at anytime. I did a duet with my pal Lars Finberg on the last Intelligence record and it was a real treat. Look up the duet between Lou Christie and Leslie Gore, it's super 80s but I would LOVE to do something like that!

TLS: Shannon, this question is for you. There's been a lot of talk lately (with the Grimes' Tumblr post) on women in music and the certain struggles / judgments they encounter. How has this impacted you?

SS: In many ways I try to deny mental entry of thinking of myself as a woman in music. I prefer to just be an artist, not make my music be about being female. I want to create the way I want to and try and work with like minded people. The other side of that is that I love working with people (and being one) who have maybe had to work harder to be where they are due to things like gender, sexual preference, race, size, etc. Ideally, we would live in a world where anyone can play rock and roll and it's no biggie, yet people's struggle with society to get where they are can be so inspiring and life changing to many. I have certainly encountered a lot of sexism and negative judgments due to my size and gender and I ALWAYS ALWAYS will stand up for myself and other people. Honest straight forward discussion and simple behavior correcting I think is the most direct way to solve problems. Some people may be too dense to get through too so I disassociate from them on those occasions. I feel generally respected nowadays but when I was just a baby junior starting out with Shannon and the Clams in the San Francisco garage rock scene I will say that I've been motor boated, had hands in my bra, and had nasty old sex rumors spread by creeps I denied – and all of these people are or were once prominent band dudes that people look up to. If I could go back in time they would have all been punched in the sideburns. Now I try not to take shit from anyone, and that would be my stance if I were any other kind of person being disrespected. Everyone needs to assert themselves and absolutely refuse to be put in a weak position by predators of every kind. Woah! Sorry rantsville...

TLS: We've been toying with the idea of fleeing to California. If we cave, what are some of your favorite spots in Oakland?

CB: The Mountain View Cemetery is amazing. Joaquin Miller Park, the Albany Landfill (aka the Albany Buld, aka Eastshore Park), the Pacific Pinball Museum, Smokey J's Q House (if you like meaty BBQ!), the Parkway Theater (I go to the movies constantly), Thrift Town.

Check out Shannon and the Clams on their website.

Written by Diana Cirullo