We spoke with the retro-rock band about their fourth record and how it feels to have your heart broken.
Photo by Nadia Lee Cohen
The adored retro-rock band Shannon and the Clams have spent the past six years carving a cowlicked niche into the punk world with three albums of thrashing NorCal doo-wop. Their 50s aesthetic caked with lo-fi grit ushered in a wave of "weirdo oldies" that later became the reigning sound of Oakland garage-rock. Noisey is proud to premiere Gone by the Dawn, the fourth album from Shannon and the Clams, out officially on September 11 from Hardly Art Records. That said, it's Shannon's party. She can cry if she wants to.
This time around, the Clams have toned down the hip-swinging party rock for a a newly sophisticated break up record that aches like Roy Orbison while sounding like The Seeds. No one in contempoary rock straddles that divide like Shannon Shaw, the band's frontwoman and bassist whose towering alto could scare you to death or bring you to your fucking knees. We talked to the beehived punk singer about the new record before she hits the road this weekend for a massive US tour.
Noisey: Hi Shannon! Congratulations on your fourth album Gone by the Dawn. It's so impressive how underneath this stylish, patent-leather aesthetic is a raw sadness and arresting sense of doom. How do you manage to make something so campy feel so real?
Shannon Shaw: I think a lot of it is a reflection of my personality and my true natural feelings about things. I think I’m just like that. I mean, I definitely felt devastated when it came time to begin writing the album. I was in sort of a hopeless place.
I'm sorry to hear that. I understand both you and Clams guitarist Cody Blanchard were in the midst of tumultuous relationships while writing these songs. Do you care to address that at all?
Well, I had a really long relationship end maybe a month or two before I started writing the album. Maybe one month before I started actually sitting in the studio working on stuff. It was almost a five-year long relationship. It was hard—just having so many mutual friends. He lived two blocks away, so I had this feeling like I couldn’t go anywhere without being exposed to him. So writing Gone by the Dawn gave me a chance to sit in a cave and be alone. I feel really lucky to have music and art as a means of escape. Not everyone does. I can feel the good and bad in things at the same time, and I can see things from both perspectives, so I kind of try to put a spin on everything. If something’s really dark, I feel like it needs a splash of humor or a sprinkle of something sweet to round it out. Make it more digestible or human or something. I do feel overall that I understood the sadness that was feeling at the time. It made sense why things were ending. I feel like in a weird way, my head’s screwed on really straight when it comes to other people. And so I feel like a lot of the really sad songs also have this sense of getting the full picture and it’s not just wallowing in the misery.
You and Cody met in art school. Does your visual arts background come through when you’re writing songs? Would you agree there’s an aesthetic to Shannon and the Clams that goes beyond sound?
I definitely do. The time period I love the most in fine art is the turn of the century. I really love like the pre-Raphaelites and I escpecially love a lot of the illustrators from that time period. The symbolist painters, those are my favorites. And that was a big time where people were doing a lot of storytelling in one piece. Like symbolist painters were either taking political satire, and not necessarily satire but war or personal experience and sort of summing up an entire story or history into a painting and, I don’t know if that makes sense, but trying to tell one story through one image using lots of symbols and things to tie it together. You know how The Wizard of Oz is an allegory for the political stuff at that time? That’s the kind of illustration I like. I feel like a lot of my songs and Cody’s songs are like that. And probably a lot of other people’s music is like a story or something.
Yet the Clams feel so specifically like 50s and 60s pop, even when you dirty it up as a punk band. Your past three records have made "weirdo oldies" into a beloved sub-genre. Did you feel like now you could afford to get a little more experimental with Gone by the Dawn?
Definitely. I felt more experimental and more open to trying new things. I think part of that was being in the studio and working with Sonny Smith of Sonny and the Sunsets. He kind of produced the album and that was a really cool thing because I was really worried about working in a studio and I’m still not convinced that I love how clean this record is. I still prefer fuzzier, dirtier sounding things, but in a lot of ways it was freeing to have access to all of these different instruments to try different sounds to experiment with and having the encouragement of Sonny. It was just nice to have like a neutral helpful person that knows my aesthetic and knows what I’m going for and by no means was he telling us what to do ever. He was sort of just like this really warm presence. He and I have similar taste and because he gets it, he could push me to try more.
Gone by the Dawn is first-person in a way that a lot of you previous material is not. I'm thinking of the slightly more abstract songs like "Ozma" and "Rip Van Winkle." They seem to come from a slightly more distanced perspective.
That’s good. I actually felt that “Ozma” was my first step towards this new attitude. That was about my dog that died an insanely tragic and horrible death. So painful. People think it’s about a guy and I always wish people would ask you what songs are about or what the lyrics mean. I guess I wouldn’t want to tell somebody about certain songs, but I’m like wanting people to know what the story is about or find out. Not everything I sing about it about my ex or something.
Yeah, we’re so conditioned to interpret songs as love songs at this point. The first single you put out from the new album called "Corvette" is a perfect example of this. The metaphor for love as a corvette that never comes is totally devastating.
I used to joke with my ex about picking me up in his corvette. Like, “Yeah come get me in your corvette.” It became this joke, that he was going to come get me in his corvette. As obvious as the metaphor is for love, to me it has a sense of doom.
There’s a sense of doom to this whole album! Even the title Gone by the Dawn is so temporal and inherently fleeting.
Yeah, absolutely. But I guess always hoping, basically since he and I had gotten together, for things to get really good or a lot better. Not that I really want a corvette ever, but obviously the metaphor is wishful thinking that someday things are gonna be perfect and ideal. Like in the video, when it goes to color, it’s kind of like Oz where Dorothy wakes up and everything’s in color. It’s a similar thing.
You can pre-order Gone by the Dawn here from Hardly Art. Catch the Clams on tour at any of the following stops:
09.11.15 - San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall !
09.23.15 - Los Angeles, CA - El Rey Theatre #
09.24.15 - Pioneertown, CA - Pappy and Harriet's #
09.25.15 - Santa Ana, CA - Constellation Room #
09.26.15 - San Diego, CA - The Casbah #
09.27.15 - Las Vegas, NV - Beauty Bar #
09.29.15 - Denver, CO - Larimer Lounge #
09.30.15 - Norman, OK - Opolis
10.01.15 - Dallas, TX - Three Links #
10.02.15 - Austin, TX - Rock & Bowl Club House @ Saengerrunde Hall #
10.03.15 - San Antonio, TX - Paper Tiger #
10.04.15 - Houston, TX - Rudyard's #
10.05.15 - New Orleans, LA - Siberia #
10.06.15 - Atlanta, GA - The Earl #
10.07.15 - Durham, NC - Pinhook #
10.08.15 - Asheville, NC - Mothlight #
10.12.15 - Richmond, VA - Strange Matter ^
10.13.15 - Washington, DC - Comet Ping Pong ^
10.14.15 - Philadelphia, PA - Black Box - Underground Arts ^
10.15.15 - Baltimore, MD - Windup Space ^
10.16.15 - Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg $
10.18.15 - Providence, RI - Columbus Theatre $
10.19.15 - Boston, MA - Great Scott $
10.20.15 - Winooski, VT - Monkey House $
10.21.15 - Montreal, QC - Bar Le Ritz $
10.22.15 - Toronto, ON - Horseshoe Tavern $
10.23.15 - Detroit, MI - UFO Factory $
10.24.15 - Chicago, IL - Subterranean $
10.27.15 - Madison, WI - The Frequency $
10.28.15 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry $
10.31.15 - Seattle, WA - Neumos $
11.01.15 - Portland, OR - Star Theater $
11.11.15 - London, UK - Oslo
11.12.15 - Brighton, UK - Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
11.13.15 - Lille, FR - La Peniche
11.14.15 - Paris, FR - La Maroquinerie
11.17.15 - Lyon, FR - Le Sonic
11.18.15 - Geneva, CH - L’Ecurie
11.19.15 - Brussels, BE - Madame Moustache
11.20.15 - Antwerp, BE - Het Bos
11.21.15 - Utrecht, NL - Le Guess Who?
11.23.15 - Berlin, DE - Monarch
! - w/ Silver Shadows
# - w/ Cool Ghouls
^ - w/ Las Rosas
$ - w/ Shopping
+ - all-ages show
Bryn Lovitt is a Contributing Editor at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.