Shannon and the Clams is the kind of band you want to have a beer with after their show. The Oakland, California-based foursome, led by longtime friends and collaborators Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard, has carved out a kitschy, throwback-inspired niche for those of us craving a delightfully weird combination of punk and garage rock meets doo-wop with some disco and glam thrown in for good measure. As an added bonus, they’ve translated their genre-bending sound to their personal style, offering epic eye candy for anyone who appreciates DIY fashion with retro flair. The band is back on tour with drummer Nate Mahan and keyboardist Will Sprott to promote their latest album, “Year Of The Spider,” with a stop at Black Cat next Tuesday. We caught up with Shaw and Blanchard about 15 years of crafting their signature sound, who inspires them, and what they love — and don’t love — about each other.
District Fray: What’s your origin story? How did you first meet?
Shannon Shaw: I started playing solo, just bass and singing, in 2007. It was called Shannon and the Clams because I thought it was funny. I didn’t think it would ever go anywhere. I played open mic nights, and then I got invited by Cody to play at his house. It was a retirement-themed party at his punk house called The Fanny Pack. I got some dudes from my art college to play with me, and that was the first Shannon and the Clams show. We would practice in his living room and all his roommates were like, “You should have Cody join the band. He really gets your sound.” I eventually heard him playing a Clams song I wrote, and I was just blown away. Ever since then, Cody’s been in the band.
I’ve heard the band described as “retro” before, but I’m guessing that feels like a limiting word for everything your sound encompasses. How do you define your sound?
Cody Blanchard: I like throwback a little better.
SS: Throwback is just — more loose. If you break down retro, it makes sense. People ask us all the time, “How would you describe your sound in one word?” It’s really hard.
Then how would you describe it using more words?
SS: Oldies-inspired prom garage rock. Someone said that we were acid spaghetti Western — I LOVE that.
How has your sound evolved over the years, both in terms of your influences and what you’ve experimented with?
SS: We used to more kitschy, punk garage doo-wop.
CB: We’ve gotten a little more dramatic and sci-fi and psychedelic. My songs have gotten a little bit more disco and glam.
Who are some of your major influences, both musically and just in life?
SS: Ronnie Spector. Roy Orbison. T. Rex. How about you, Cody?
CB: Slim Whitman. David Bowie. Mort Garson. Joe Meek. He was a producer, but his sound is so cool and weird.
SS: Ennio Morricone.
CB: Oh yeah, duh.
What sounds did you play with on “Year of the Spider” that were new to your repertoire?
CB: I got to do a really slow acoustic song. “Snakes Crawl” is spooky. There’s not that much percussion. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. We did an acoustic guitar song with a drum machine: “In The Hills, In The Pines.” I was pretty restless writing for this one. What about in the studio Shannon, or in general? Your writing was really different on this, wasn’t it?
SS: You think so?
CB: Where you did your writing and everything.
SS: Oh, that’s true. I ended up forcing myself to take my first adult vacation. I went to Hawaii with my fiancé and wrote a little more than half my songs on Maui. I felt very inspired by my surroundings. I was doing a lot of snorkeling. I’d get up at 6 or 7 every day and write for a few hours, and then me and Cody would email stuff back and forth. Something I’ve always wanted to do is write a song using a drum beat. Cody sent me six beats, and I think I wrote a song to every single one of them. That was really a different way. I did write things differently than usual.
How was your creativity impacted during Covid, if at all?
SS: Mixed bag. I definitely had lots of lonesome moments, but I didn’t write any music. I listened to our record a lot though because we’d finished it. Cody left Nashville, where he was mixing the record, just a few days before lockdown in California. We sat on the record for a really long time and so I listened to it a ton, which I’ve never done before. It was a really different experience to live with the album day in and day out during the pandemic. But I was creative in other ways. I really tried to take care of myself and others.
CB: I just recently hit a point of social nihilism where I was trying to socialize and keep it going and do things safely. And then at some point in the last month or two, I just stopped caring if I maintained friendships or relationships. It’ll probably change later.
How does it feel to be back out on tour playing for audiences again?
SS: You can tell people in the audience are starved for a good time — for music, for connection. It feels good to bring people joy. I think that’s one of the best parts about getting to be in Shannon and the Clams for a career is we’re joy bringers. Do you realize that, Cody?
SS: That’s very satisfying.
I’m personally very excited to see what you each wear onstage at Black Cat next week. Can you tell me a little bit about your style?
SS: We all have a lot of fun with it. I’m really glad I’m in a band where we can express ourselves in that way. My style is very strange and pretty unique. It’s basically a ripped, fluffy prom dress. Cody and Will and Nate have lots of interesting pieces in their closet, so a lot of the time, they already have something [that will match what I find].
CB: Lately, we’ve been trying to do a thing where we loosely match the colors, which usually looks really good. Rather than trying to find your personal coolest best outfit, you instead try to match the group — and it ends up looking stronger. Even if the looks aren’t as strong on their own, they all look way better together.
SS: This tour is going be a little different because it’s Halloween. We might have some Halloween costumes. They’ll probably all have a little bit of our own flair.
What’s something you love about each other, and something that drives you crazy about one another?
SS: Something I love about Cody is he’s really levelheaded. It takes a lot for him to get heated. He doesn’t take things personally. Something that bugs me about him is sometimes, I have to remind him to be sensitive to me. But we’re a good yin and yang because I’m a feelings person and he’s a logical person. I think we’re good for each other.
CB: I love that Shannon is so funny and creative and able to socialize with anybody. I can’t really do that. I’m pretty moody. I find it really draining to socialize, especially with people I don’t know that well. She has this raw, untrained instinct for writing music that’s very homemade. Something that’s really difficult is…
SS: No, that’s good. You can stop there. Just kidding. No, I want to know. Okay, I want to know.
CB: Trying to work with Shannon can be really difficult — scheduling and getting [her] to commit to big blocks of time on a regular basis.
CB: Because you guys have a million camping appointments, [or you’re] traveling or double-booking yourself or forgetting about something.
SS: It’s true, he’s right.
CB: But we’ve also both gotten way better at actually figuring out our problems and working on them.
SS: I feel like we have gotten our shit together in the last couple years, especially communication. We have it dialed in.
CB: Yeah, majorly.
What’s one thing you’d like to do as a band at some point in the future?
SS: I would love to tour South America and Japan.
CB: Yeah, I would like to tour some places outside of Europe.
Catch Shannon and the Clams at Black Cat on Tuesday, October 19. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $20. Instrumental surf rock-inspired band Baby Alcatraz and the Aurelions — comprised of Alyssa Bell (known to most as DJ Baby Alcatraz) and her husband, Des Demonas’ Mark Cisneros — will play their first show as the opening act. Learn more about Shannon and the Clams at shannonandtheclams.com and follow on Instagram at @shanandtheclams.