We spoke with Cody Blanchard of Shannon and the Clams about their songwriting motivations and Bay Area inspirations.
How did the band come together? What did the earliest days of the band look and sound like?
Shannon started it on her own, then met the other band members at art school. It was pretty much the same, but a little rougher, more punk, more raw, looser. We always did costumes from the very beginning. I think in the early days we were more experimental with them though!
What's the songwriting process like for the band? Is it a collaborative process from the start to finish? Do each of you have your own components and expertise you contribute?
Usually Shannon and I each write pieces of a song or a whole song on our own then bring to the other to see how they respond. If the song isn't really complete or if it's messy, we'll refine it together. And then we bring it to the rest of the band and we all kinda work on chopping it up and adding little things. And then in the studio it usually gets even more cut up and refined. AND THEN when we play it live it changes even a bit more.
What has motivated your creativity as of late? How have your creative motivations changed from the beginning of the band and the first songs you wrote together?
Lately it's just been the habit and practice of writing, just making time for it and doing it almost every day, even if I have no ideas. I use to have a lot more free time and free mental space and angst and confusion and songs would kind of just occur to me throughout the day and I would write them down or record them. But lately I need to consciously tap into that zone and set aside to time to sit and goof around with a guitar until something cool happens. I really really like it, it feels more intentional and I'm writing better material more reliably. It's less chaotic. But yeah, just the raw practice of writing is really motivating lately. I think since the band has become so much more busy and I spend more and more time on planning and logistics and the business end of it, there's less space in my head for it, for the fantasy of it, so the songs don't just materialize out of the ether.
Shannon and the Clams have a psychedelic visual component that really seems to take listeners an alternate, down-the-rabbit-hole type of place. What role does the visual or theatrical component play in the songwriting process? Is it something developed afterwards or a conscious theme during the creation of your work?
I find the visual element to be completely separate from the music. For me, it always comes after and is like dessert, like a distinct thing that comes from another place in my mind. It's an extra treat that we get to play with. We're all passionate about visual art and like to be able to express that through the band and add this other dimension to the experience. Similarly, I feel like the live performance is a totally different thing from records and songwriting and recording, and that's always been tied up in theatricality and costumes and rawness and sweatiness. Whereas the writing and recording is very introspective and quiet and controlled.
You guys are sort of like cult icons in Oakland (and the West Coast in general). How do you think your music has come to resemble a culture that exists in the Bay Area? Is this something you strive to represent and embody in your music?
The Bay Area, particularly the East Bay, has a wildness and a raw DIY-ness to it that has always informed our aesthetic - taking garbage and scraps and trying to approximate the vision you want to realize. It's like a bizarro mix of folk-art and homemade and craft aesthetics, mixed with punk. Though, I don't think we've ever intentionally strove to show or embody that. It's simply where we came from and that's the way things were done there, and we adopted that.
Your four album were released across six years and each show a development of style and fine-tuning of your craft. How have you been able to produce new and challenging material while still maintaining the aesthetic and appeal of the earliest recordings even through to your last record?
I'm really not sure, but I can guess. We're just kind of doing the same thing, following the same creative impulse, and it inevitably changes and mutates because we get bored with what we were doing. But it always feels very natural and feels like it came from the same original place. I think we get better at doing it and better at editing and producing more and more material. It hasn't really felt like an effort. There's never any calculation or intentional direction, maybe that's the secret. Just hanging on to that original impulse and building around it.
How do the other musicians you are friends with and play with impact your songwriting and creative output?
I find SO much inspiration from watching my friends perform. I'm always chasing the rawness and vibration of the live performance and trying to harness and reproduce that wild energy. It's like recharging to watch friends blast through a set of songs with confidence. I listen to the stuff our friends are writing and through that I hear their influences and it will often steer my focus a little bit. Like somebody does a record with a lot of T Rex influence and then I start thinking about glam again and incorporating it, or somebody does a song with a heavy Beatles vibe and I start thinking about them again and it all creeps into the songwriting.
Which musicians or groups had the most profound effect on your playing style and songwriting with Shannon & the Clams?
Joe Meek, Ennio Morricone, Crystals, Shangri Las, Tammys, Lou Christie, Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, Raymond Scott even!