Shannon and the Clams are an Oakland-based band with a style that can sound old, harkening back to Phil Spector’s girl-group glory days—but also new, like the best possible version of the wide variety of California-based garage bands popping up over the last handful of years, mixing a cool, sometimes tough exterior with actual hearts of gold. They’ve released four albums: the first in 2009, I Wanna Go Home, and the most recent in 2015, the goosebump-inducing Gone By The Dawn. Lead singer Shannon Shaw, who’s also a member of San Francisco’s Hunx and His Punx, was nice enough to take time out during a tour break to talk to me.
You guys are in the midst of a pretty big tour but I’m looking at the schedule now and it seems like maybe you’re on a small break. Where are you right now?
Shannon Shaw: Yeah, I just got back from Puerto Rico, and next week I go to Palm Desert and Santa Barbara.
What was playing Puerto Rico like?
It was awesome. Basically the only good weather we’ve had on the trip so far. Puerto Rico was really balmy and beautiful, and the show was packed.
Did you swim with dolphins while you were there? Or pet a turtle?
No. But I found out way later after we were in Florida that we could have had a chance to go swim with manatees. And not like in a tank where it’s controlled, but in this place where they hang out and you can just swim.
One question that I pretty consistently ask touring bands is how they cope with being out of their comfort zone for so long, and away from home. How do you personally “self-soothe” when you’re on the road?
I grew up in a not-too-traditional setting. My parents went through a divorce so I stayed with my mom part of the time, and stayed with my dad sometimes. At my mom’s house no one was in charge because she went to school full-time and worked full-time, so we only saw her when she was stressed out and exhausted at the end of the day. So me and my brothers were pretty Lord of the Flies over there. And then at my dad’s house he had a real tiny house with one bedroom, so for a long time me and my brothers just slept in sleeping bags on the floor around my dad’s bed. And then when he was finally able to get a little more money, we were able to get mattresses, but I shared a bedroom with my brothers for a really long time. My older brother moved out when he was like 17 and moved in with my mom, and I didn’t move out until I was like 20 and moved to Oakland to go to junior college. I didn’t not move out for so long because I couldn’t, but my dad was kind of a lonely guy so me and my other brother decided to stay and let him have some company. So I guess what I’m saying is I grew up not having any fucking privacy. I grew up kind of uncomfortable and not having a lot of cozy places to unwind, so I think I’m sort of a hearty lady and used to living without walls. Touring works for me. On the rare occasion I get my own room, or even just my own bed, I’m celebrating any way I can think of.
Assuming that making and performing music is your favorite thing to do, what’s your second favorite thing to do?
Painting! I’m a watercolor portrait artist and I love that. I would love to do portraiture for magazines and illustrate fables and fairy tales someday. I also love to swim. Toss me in a lake, put me in a pool, launch me off a rock into a river! That’s the only place I feel relaxed and don’t mind it. I’m generally always working and busy running around and hate to chill.
I reviewed your new album not too long ago and I referred to it as part Phil Spector’s “wall of sound,” and part Scooby Doo. How would you describe it yourself ?
[Laughs] That’s actually so funny and good. That’s kinda spot on. Lou Christie and Etta James doing a duet on The Muppet Show.
You’ve put out a bunch of different EPs and albums as part of Shannon and the Clams. Does anything specific come to mind that you can say you concretely know about being in a band now that maybe you didn’t know when you first started?
I guess I didn’t give myself enough credit as being someone who is absolutely capable of doing something big and out of my comfort zone. Starting this band was scary because I couldn’t play or sing and had never done it before and especially not in front of people. But I was very determined to force myself to just try it. Fake it til you make it is very powerful.
There’s been a lot of instances online lately where women in the music industry are exposing gross, sexist publicists, managers, and general pervs who have done them wrong. How effective do you think it is to make these situations known?
Super effective. CALL THEM OUT! CALL THEM OUT! Actually, if you don’t call them out, YOU are putting another girl in danger. Your comment could change someone’s life! I’ve called people out, punched men in the face, and boycotted an SF venue and they never had another show. Assert yourself, rise, and take no shit from a piece of shit.
If you had to choose between going out to dinner with John Waters or Ronnie Spector who would you choose?
John Waters 1 MILLION PERCENT. Ronnie was super sweet but was such an uber celeb with a thousand-foot high wall up. Dinner might not be enough time for us to break down the wall! John Waters was the warmest, most hilarious freak and he treated me like an equal. You could taste and feel his charisma. He is a fascinating magic man and I hope we get dinner soon.
Shannon and the Clams will be at Siberia on March 14th with The Gazebos, GLAND, and Swampass opening. For more info, check out shannonandtheclams.com