Around a year ago, I was on tour in Europe. We had a day off and had headed to a festival in France. The day was filled with sun and music, and as it drew to a close, a friend of ours said they’d meet us at the Shannon and Clams show. At the time, I had no idea what this meant, but I’m forever grateful to them for introducing me to this band. I didn’t think too much about what to expect, but when we got there, you could feel the energy before you even got into the room. It was packed and sweaty, my favourite way to watch a show. Throughout the audience there were colourful outfits, glitter, drinks and dancing. I felt like I’d stumbled into a west coast dive bar, a little part of the San Francisco DIY scene somehow transplanted into this European town.
Shannon and the Clams are known for their golden oldies and doo-wop style, mixed with straight-up garage-punk: the Shangri Las on a date with the Cramps. I’ve always had a soft spot for ’60s garage music, a new generation of besuited hipsters carving out their own identity in a world not entirely ready for them, playing emotionally charged songs about being misunderstood, craving something new and ultimately facing the tragedies of young romance.
For example: The Seeds – “Pushin’ Too Hard
As well as the proto-punk sounds of the mid-’60s likes of Tacoma, Washington’s the Sonics and Peruvian garagists Los Saicos, Shannon and the Clams remind me of the groups on the Girls in the Garage compilation from around that time: the Luv’d Ones, the Belles, Pleasure Seekers (featuring Suzi Quatro): rebellious girl groups playing rock & roll in matching outfits, singing about everything that matters when you’re a teenager: love, lust and heartbreak.
For example: The Luv’d Ones – “I’m Leaving You”
Gone by the Dawn is the Clams’ fourth album. With Sonny Smith (of Sonny and the Sunsets) producing, this album feels like a whole, a collection of songs from a moment in time. The distorted rawness of their earlier recordings is gone in favour of a much tighter and cleaner presentation – but they’ve retained the energy and honesty that I love about them. They’re an exciting, generous and energetic band, and I hear a massive range of influences: Ennio Morricone, the Muppets, Troma movies, Joe Meek, Roy Orbison, horror author H.P. Lovecraft, Danzig, the Lollipop Guild – and it doesn’t end there. They take on a great deal of musical and visual inspiration from all hidden corners of obscurity and cult cool, then weave it all together to create a world you want to be part of. Their previous albums (I Wanna Go Home, Sleep Talk, and Dreams from the Rat House) effortlessly encompassed this mash of ideas, switching between oldies genres when necessary, but Gone by the Dawn is more settled — it’s an album of ballads and tearjerkers, a late-night ramble through the psyches of the loved and the lost, a wrestling match between the heart and the head.
Openers “I Will Miss the Jasmine” and “My Man” set a Spectoresque scene peppered with ghoulish backing melodies that could only be wailed by a Clam. “How Long?” is sadly accepting, almost relishing the pain and wallowing of an all-too-recent breakup; Shannon Shaw’s voice is incredible in its rawness, brooding with feeling and passion and pain and love and excess.
“Corvette” and “The Bog” are reminiscent of ’60s “death discs”: tragic tales of deceased lovers, too fast to live, too young to die, cut short before their time. “Corvette” mourns a relationship that never was, the memories of what it could have been, teen rebellion and desire burning through it all.
But it never was real
I swear I could feel
The engine revving so loud
I’m just waiting here on the corner
For a Corvette that never comes
“The Bog” is another “splatter platter” story about going to find the ghost of a drowned love. It’s more a narrative than an emotional confession, so I assume it was written by guitarist Cody Blanchard, who has described his love of writing fiction and how it has translated into the way he writes lyrics. The music itself is hypnotic, a galloping beat with repetitive riffs and magnetic tremoloed guitars.
“Knock ‘Em Dead” is a garage-punk seduction, with fuzz bass and rasping guitars, intent on getting you up, feeling good and ready for anything:
We are nothing
and that is something
Pick ’em up
Knock ’em down
Knock ’em dead
What I like about Shannon and the Clams is that everything they put out is consistently honest. They’re not trying to show you how it’s done, they’re inviting you into their world. It’s weird and it’s wonderful, and we can all have a great time. They’re a band that wear their heart on their sleeve; you feel your own heart break with theirs and feel the dizzy adrenaline rush of new love when they do. It seems their main inspirations are unique characters, misfits, people who don’t know how to not be themselves, and this is the unifying force behind the band. They celebrate individuality, they like doing their own thing and they do it well. They’re the gang that lets you know that the thing that makes you weird is the thing that’s fucking great about you. For all you young lovers just looking for a rebel from the wrong side of the tracks who really gets you, this one is for you.