Interview with Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams
Interview by Sam Paul
Photo by Amanda Stosz
More often than not, Shannon Shaw looks timeless. She’s a larger-than-life blonde bombshell with winged eyeliner and perfect bangs. On other days, she wears gold suspenders that match the glitter that’s covering her face, her hair, and her outstretched tongue. She embodies the campy, punky, retro rock and roll that Shannon and the Clams performs.
Shaw isn’t only striking in appearance. She’s got a voice that doesn’t just blow you away—it takes you for a ride. It’s the kind of voice that, like Shaw herself, transcends time and straddles eras. It’s only natural that Shannon and the Clams warps genre and decade. At first you think their gut-wrenching ballads about love lost would be a perfect fit for your cool Aunt’s record collection, nestled between the Ronettes and The Shangri Las, but then someone belts out a scream, or the punk riffs take over. Imagine a doo-wop group in ripped tights playing in a musty Oakland basement. Or imagine the perfect soundtrack to a John Waters’ film.
Shaw, also a member of the famed queercore band Hunx and his Punx, met her original Clams bandmates Cody Blanchard and Ian Anderson at California College of the Arts. Later, Nate Mahan replaced Anderson. They released their first album, I Wanna Go Home, in 2009. The band gained a cult following quickly, charming audiences with their high-energy live shows, and raw and emotional songwriting. They released their fourth and latest album, Gone By the Dawn, this past fall on Hardly Art Records. They’ve been touring heavily since, and GAGC got a chance to see them at one of their sold-out Brooklyn shows.
SP: What was your first cassette tape? What were the kinds of songs that played in the background when you were a kid?
SS: My first cassette was Frizzle Fry by Primus followed by Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits, No Need To Argue by the Cranberries and Throwing Copper by LIVE. The background music was always oldies top 40 kinda stuff and 80’s country and a lot of Patsy Cline, Slim Whitman, Hank Williams, Roger Miller, The Cars, Willy Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins and Harry Belafonte. My oldest brother who I really looked up to listened to a lot of heavy metal like Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer.
SP: When did you start playing music? Why?
SS: When I was 25. I was driven to do it by heartbreak and utter madness.
SP: When did you discover punk? What were some of the earliest punk bands you listened to?
SS: There was a Sesame Street song called “Wet Paint,” and I remember thinking that was punk when I was a kid. Also on Sega Genesis there’s a game called Streets of Rage 2 that has a lot of punk villains that I always idolized.
Musically, it came later. My little brother, Paddy, and I had to share a room until I moved out of my dad’s house and so we would have to compromise on music every day. I remember discovering Dead Kennedy’s cover of Viva Las VEGAS and playing it on repeat to get ready for school in the morning. I have a very clear memory of our morning ‘get ready for school songs’ because that was such a difficult but interesting time in my life. We listened to Sweet Leaf, White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane (which I consider punk) and a lot of Pure Guava and Chocolate and Cheese by Ween and Type O Negative’s Black Sabbath covers.
My first punk band I felt like I had a solid connection to was Red Cross. We grew up in a tiny town with no punk scene at all. There was nothing to do but make your own entertainment. We made our own movies on VHS and HI8, and had a fake skate gang, and would put on dance parties whenever we could.
I have to give credit to Hollywood Video’s cult classic section because, when all else failed, you could peruse the weird shit they had in there and become more worldly pretty quick. We found the box for Desperate Teenage Love Dolls and thought it looked shitty and funny and rented it. Little did we know we were about to discover this greatly hilarious homemade movie from the ‘80s made by and starring Red Cross! They echoed what we had been doing in Napa for as long as I could remember except now they had a rad band too. After watching that VHS a ton of times and looking into Red Cross more and more I discovered a ton of other music (especially 80’s hardcore punk) and eventually started playing my own music. I think seeing young, zitty Steve MacDonald drinking beers in funny costumes singing old Coor’s Light commercials and acting in the silly homemade movie (joking very much like I do) made me realize that I was capable of making music. I met him a few years ago and told him this whole story and he was thrilled by it. He’s seriously one of my heroes, and is such a kind, talented, and down to earth person.
SP: Shannon and the Clams really seamlessly and really successfully melds 50s and 60s doo-wop with punk undertones. How did you end up combining these two genres? How do you juggle them and make it work so well?
SS: I just love both styles of music so much it has always felt really natural to write this way. Both genres speak to be with their unabashed emoting and yearning and rebelling. Early Misfits was probably one of my biggest inspirations of all time. Not lyrically AT ALL, but the way Danzig loved Elvis and Roy Orbison so much as well as punk and melts them together…Static Age is pretty close to a perfect album. The first time I heard that album our friend who we called Little Satan loaned me the tape and told me I would like it since I loved Roy Orbison so much. I used to drive a 78’ Buick Electra and the minute I popped it in the tape deck I just kinda had the urge to drive. I seriously just cruised alone listening to Static Age and told myself that my life was changing the more I listened to it. That tape made me have every urge ever: fight/fuck/cry. Haha, I feel so stupid typing that BUT ITS TRUE!!!
SP: Because we’re called Got a Girl crush and we focus on the women we admire, could you tell me who some of your “girl crushes,” are? Who are the women you look up to or are inspired by, musically or otherwise?
SS: Angel Olsen, Cat Labonne, Jessica Pratt, Rebel Wilson