It was the summer of 2009, and I had plenty of options. These were the halcyon days of Myspace Music, today a time capsule, but then one of the gateways to discovering new bands. A keyword search for “garage” delivered some champion finds– The Rantouls, The Yolks, Thee Cormans, and Davilla 666– but nothing prepared me for the aural waylay of Shannon and The Clams’ “Heartbreak”, a slow-burn destroyer that combines the vocal bombast of Etta James with plaintive surf-inflected guitar. (The aughts’ greatest contribution to the American songbook? Perhaps.) I was sitting in my office, talking with a student about his fall schedule, when I first heard the song playing over my speakers. In a silent frenzy, I paused the conversation with the student to see who was playing, followed the link to purchase record, submitted my payment, and resumed my conversation as if everything were normal, wondering if this kid had also been moved to Teen Beat hysterics.
Twelve years later, Shannon and The Clams are releasing their sixth album, Year of The Spider. Recorded for Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound, the record delivers more of their signature fussy, good-bad, not evil stylings, but it also captures a band embracing a more sophisticated evolution. YofS is the sound of a band moving beyond its initial thesis. Strains of orchestral pop—from the baroque pop of The Association to the TSOP grooves of The Stylistics– course through the album. From the outset, textures abound: “Do I Wanna Stay” recalls the heft of Lee Hazelwood’s pocket melodramas, and “I Need You Bad” yearns with glimmers of Mick Ronson fuzz. “All of My Cryin’” bounces with Euro dancefloor suave, while cautionary tale “Midnight Wine” buzzes with psychedelic guitar and keyboard interplay. But listeners should stick around for the flipside. Late-album highlights nearly steal the show, including the pleading “Mary, Don’t Go” and perfect pop of “Flowers Will Return”.
Recorded before the Covid-19 crisis, YoftS isn’t a pandemic record, but listeners reeling from our current state of affairs should seek solace in the title track’s resiliency:
I know that change is good
But it hurts, and it is frightful
But you really gotta shake that tree
And see all that it leaves
It’s the year of the spider
I talked to Shannon Shaw (vocals/bass) and Cody Blanchard (vocals/guitar) about Year of the Spider, the creative process, Weezer, and action figures.
CF- Year of the Spider was supposed to come out last year but was shelved for a year because of the pandemic. Does this release feel like a comeback through no fault of your own?
Cody: It doesn’t to me. It just feels a bit delayed. It was supposed to come out in 2020. We recorded it early 2020. So it was delayed, but it wasn’t so off from our schedule from before.
Shannon: I feel like it usually takes us a year and a half or two years between each record. That wasn’t too off schedule
How have you maintained momentum and enthusiasm after a year in limbo?
Cody: In my opinion, the way to keep momentum is to take a break and not try to swim against the current. When everything is going against the idea of staying really active with a live band, don’t fight it. Take a break instead and then when it’s time to come back, you’ll have more energy for that.
Shannon: That was hard for me to accept, but in the end, it was good. We did need a break. Even though the circumstances were awful, we’d been touring pretty constantly and working pretty constantly since the Myspace days and wanting to maintain that momentum. It felt devastating at first and then I thought, “We need this. I need to accept this free time that I haven’t had in years.” So it was nice to slow down and not have anything to do in a day other than take care of myself. You know, see my family, go for a walk. It was nice for life to slow down like that. But what was hard is coming back. We went from zero to a hundred. I’m someone who needs structure and deadlines, so it’s hard to plan ahead. Our keyboard player Will was encouraging us to get started on things way earlier. We had nothing on the horizon when the world was in flux, and then all of a sudden, we have major deadlines and tons of stuff to do and lots of booking. It was harder to adjust to that.
Yeah, I remember not seeing your name around and wondering if y’all had any plans, and suddenly, you were everywhere again with videos and singles. Do you feel you’re on an upswing now?
Shannon: Yeah, I feel like we’re on a total upswing. The reception so far for everything we put out for this album has been really positive. We’ve gotten tons of support, and like we were saying, I think, before we started recording [the interview], we have amazing fans. We’re really lucky. I think some people have fair-weather fans that come and go really quickly. We don’t! Like you said, you’ve known us since the Myspace days, and we’re grateful to have you. And I feel like that’s been a real advantage for us.
As you’ve gotten bigger, what’s the promotional cycle like for you these days? In the midst of answering the same questions, how do you keep it fresh and interesting for you?
Cody: It’s pretty chaotic really. We don’t really know… There’s not a lot of planning ahead of time. It seems like we don’t really know what’s happening, and then all of a sudden, there’s a ton of interviews or something that we have to have ready for the next day. Yeah, it’s pretty chaotic. I don’t know if that’s how our team is working, or if that’s just the nature of doing promotion in a time when it’s really uncertain, and no one’s sure what the hell’s going on.
Speaking of the press, what’s your favorite or least favorite description of the band or your music that you thought was ridiculous or dead-on?
Shannon: One that bothers me that we get a lot is indie rock or throwback retro. I’ve come to just understand that it is so natural for people to categorize things. It makes humans feel more settled to be able to attach something new to something they’re already familiar with. Yeah, if you break it down, yeah, we are indie as in independent, but I don’t know why I have a weird association with “indie.” It just reminds me of an emo haircut and skinny jeans. And then the same with THROWBACK RETRO ROCK (laughs)! Yeah, you break it down? Yes, we love old music, and I know have a writing style that definitely emulates a lot of my favorites that I grew up with. It’s so cringy to be so minimized. There’s a few times where I felt like someone did a great job explaining we sound like “acid-soaked prom.” That was cool.
Cody: LSD spaghetti western. I don’t think that was exactly it but something like that.
Shannon: It’s sad because not everyone can pick up the nuances or our more specific references, you know? So it’s easy to put us under a big umbrella, and I totally understand that! I should not be offended by that (laughs)!
Do you think that as you get older, the more you get away from labels or binaries? Like, when I was a kid, I was always thinking, “Oh, I am metal, but this guy is punk,” or “I’m Powell Peralta, and that guy is Santa Cruz.”
Shannon: Yeah, it doesn’t matter anymore. When you’re younger and that stuff feels really important, it’s because you’re trying to define yourself. You want people to look at you and know what kind of person you are. You want to look at you and figure out where you belong and what you’re into. It’s people trying to become individuals and how important individuality feels at that age. I feel like I care less about that for sure.
Cody: I was thinking about this recently, how with capitalism when I was a kid or a teen, the way I would gravitate toward people or choose my social group had way more to do with the things that we consumed as consumers– like the things we had in common with bands, brands, tv, or whatever. And then it made me kind of sad because it wasn’t really about their personality or if they were good people. It was more about, “Do we buy the same records?” And then for me, after many years of playing music and being in a lot of places where we all like the same bands, we’re all here to hear the same kind of music, and then you realize how many people are just shitheads (laughs)! Like, not even actively a shithead but just sort of a boring person who likes the same band. I just had to experience that five hundred times, and then it was like, “Oh, okay, I don’t really care anymore.”
Shannon: But in this the same way, it’s also what connects with you and makes you become friends with others, you know?
Cody: Sometimes… (Laughs)
Shannon: You brat (laughs)!
I was finally able to hear the entire album last night. Before that, I’d just heard the singles that you’ve released so far, “Year of the Spider” and “Midnight Wine”. They have a sound that’s familiar to your longtime listeners. But then I heard the rest of the record. Do you consider the albums a departure from your sound? Or is it a logical progression? An evolution?
Shannon: To me, it’s an evolution, a natural progression. I feel like it would be kind of sad if we always sounded exactly like our first record twelve years later. I think maybe some people enjoy that, but I think that wouldn’t be healthy for us, to try to do the same thing, and then it would become more self-conscious where we’d think, “I need to sound more like Shannon and The Clams.” You have to force it in order to sound the same, whereas I think it’s really natural for people to get inspired by new things in life. You should hope you’re getting inspired. You’re kind of just dead and not growing any longer if you don’t. We are always experimenting. I feel like it’s probably easier for me to want to hide out in a more comfortable place musically, but the boys are more about pushing the boundaries with trying really [new] sounds. Also, all of them can play every instrument, and I can’t. And they know more about production and recording, so they push me to be open-minded to trying other sounds.
Are their artists you brought in or considered as reference points for a style or sound you were shooting for?
Cody: I was just talking about this yesterday. The Bee Gees, ABBA, and The Stylistics for me.
Shannon: I listened to a ton of Lee Hazelwood and that Dion record, Kickin’ Child…
No way! I got that record last week…
Shannon: I am so obsessed! His songwriting… People think of Dion, they think of his early hits, but he is such an incredible songwriter! So incredible! I don’t really like his upbeat songs as much, but his more moody songs on that record are so crazy. They’re hard to play, too, because they’re complicated, and there are so many parts, but they all need each other. I felt very inspired by that record.
Do you have a theme in mind when you’re writing for a new album, or do you just write independent of each other?
Cody: It’s all chaos.
Shannon: It would be interesting, though, to say, “Okay, let’s write a song about blue, the color blue, the problems about blue.”
Cody: (Laughs) I don’t think that would work for us!
Shannon: Probably not, but it’s an interesting idea. I have to write from my personal experiences and my heart at all times. It’s the only way that I can write an actual good song. If I try to write a song about something not real, or if I think, “I’ve got to write a song about… Let’s think… Rock n’ roll! Let me write about how I feel about rock n’ roll!” You know, it’s just going to not be good because it’s not coming from a real place.
Cody: (Laughs) You could never write a musical…
Cody, I read that one approach you take in songwriting is to write from another person’s perspective, to write about someone else’s story. Is [that] approach liberating for you? Does it ease the anxiety of writing?
Cody: I think I actually wrote like that on and off for a long time, but I think only on this record that I consciously realized that, “Woah, this is so much easier.” I can just crank them out if I do it like this. I also realize that I have this ongoing thing with my wife where we’ll be listening to some old song that we love, and partway through, I’ll think, “What the fuck is this song about?” and then I’ll look up the lyrics and most of the time, it’s not about anything, so I realized that you can have a really great, timeless song with no clear narrative. Or if you look at the words on paper, you realize that this doesn’t really string together at all, it doesn’t really add up. I’m starting from a story, almost like fiction writing direction, but then if I have to cut a verse to make something work, I don’t get bothered by it anymore.
Is writing fun or is it something that brings you anxiety?
Shannon: For me, it’s both. It depends. If it’s a really personal song, which most are, I have to be alone at first, it’s kind of emotional. I feel vulnerable. I feel like I’m embarrassed. I could probably never write a great song right in front of somebody, but what is fun is when there’s been a few times where me and Cody were working on developing stuff and then he’s just kind of popping around, messing around on some chords, and I’m like, “Wait! Stop! What was that?” He says, “I don’t know, nothing. I was just doodling” And I say, “Well, go back to that one you did like three shreds ago.” He’s just messing around and writes a song from there. That is really fun for me!
Cody: I think it’s fun, like a puzzle. Especially if it’s not personal, it’s pretty fun for me. Like it’s almost like crossword or something (laughs)!
The new record has a more orchestrated sound, lots of layers. I am curious how you take an initial kernel and expand on the idea. Do you anticipate the orchestration ahead of time, or is that improvised in the studio?
Cody: I would say it’s usually experiment and improv but every once in a while, there’s a song where the writer has a very specific idea. Shannon had a lot of specific ideas for “Do I Wanna Stay”.
Shannon: I usually have really specific ideas for percussion, not so much straight-up drums, but what percussion where and how I want it to feel. That initial idea is always there for me. I’ll know what kind of vibe I want, maybe something really soft and organ-y. I’ll know what vibe I want, but not necessarily technically to achieve it. A lot of the time, I’ll find songs for reference, and we’ll listen to them. Not like, “I needed this song to sound like this,” but, “Why does this song sound like this?” A lot of the time, it ends up being, “Oh, it’s because there’s vibraphone there,” and then say, “What’s a vibraphone?” And they play one for me.
Cody: Yeah, I used to be really preoccupied with Joe Meek’s record. I’m over that now, but he got a lot of cool sounds, and it’s not really that straightforward how you get them. It’s not like if you listen to Lee Hazelwood where you can pick it out because it’s so clean. You can sort of pick out what’s going on, but Joe Meek’s records are fucking weird. I’ve lost interest in that because I was chasing so hard for two years and lost interest in trying to find that sound. I like Chrissy Zebby Tembo and Mulatu Astatke, these African psychedelic musicians. I think there’s been a few old Disney songs that had a sound that we trying to get.
Shannon: Yeah, like The Jungle Book soundtrack is so good, you know, beyond just the score is incredible!
Where else besides music do you find inspiration? Books? Art? Film?
Shannon: My favorite author is Haruki Murakami. I love his books. I love his fiction generally, and then I read about his process on how he writes, and I felt so disappointed (laughs)! But you come full circle with it because when he starts writing, he does not know how it’s going to end. He just keeps going and exploring different areas until it comes to an ending. And that disappointed me because at the time I thought, “Wait, that means that it doesn’t mean anything!” Which is not true, but that’s how I felt at times. But like how you asked me if our albums have a theme, I guess it’s a similar process where I don’t know. This album is an adventure; it’s not this one thing. I want you to travel with us through the album itself. It’s an experience the same as a book. The book doesn’t mean this one thing.
Cody: Shannon, you should say Victor Ambrus…
Shannon: He is my favorite illustrator right now. He just passed away recently, but he did all these books on mythological creatures that I loved. There’s a King Arthur book that’s pretty well-known. You’d probably recognize his illustrations, but yeah, I’m very inspired by him.
Cody: I think about Andrei Tarkovsky’s movies a lot. I don’t watch them very often because they’re so long and spacious but heavy.
You mentioned Murakami and the creative process. Is that something you’re interested in– dissecting the creative, seeing what goes on behind the scenes to understand how people create? The podcast and show Song Exploder comes to mind…
Shannon: Absolutely. I love seeing how other people come up with stuff. It’s easy to think that everyone goes about it in the same way, but absolutely not. Even Cody and I, the way we write is so different, but we’re such a good yin and yang that we are able to work together. Did you guys listen to Rivers Cuomo [from Weezer]?
Yes! That’s the one I had in mind. It was disheartening to hear how he writes. He pulls lyrics and chord progressions from spreadsheets. It’s all non-sequiturs for him at this point, nothing personal…
Cody: I heard him on a different show, but I know what you’re talking about. I actually found it sort of relatable.
Shannon: But where’s the soul come in when you’re using spreadsheets and computer programs? Maybe it’s naïve of me, and I’m too old school, and maybe it’s very possible to get some soul back in there, but by taking someone else’s song and changing the speed and throwing it into a folder, forgetting about [that it] ever was, it just feels unfair. He hears the song and the progression and how it goes, and then he changes the speed in the computer and then throws it into a file untitled or whatever. And then months later, when he’s working on songs, he goes through all these songs where he’s directly taken a song but changes the speed and stripped it of its personality, so he’s not gonna know where it came from. I mean, that’s kind of interesting…
Cody: I got to say, it takes all kinds.
Shannon: Maybe I’m being too precious…
Cody: I also got to say that’s like one step away from having an AI just write music.
For me, it was heartbreaking because Weezer’s first two records, especially Pinkerton, were emotional, full of specifics and particulars that had real meaning, and now it’s so anonymous…
Shannon: Yeah. I will say, I’m a huge Weezer fan. I grew up being a major, major Weezer fan. I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone or Spin when Pinkerton came out where Rivers Cuomo was talking about how heartbroken he was that people didn’t receive that album as well as they did the Blue Album and that from that point on, he was never going to write a personal song again. That broke my heart back then in ‘98 when that came out. But now it’s full circle in a weird way to be talking about his songwriting, and if that’s true– if he really had to stop writing with his heart– then [the spreadsheet approach] does make sense.
What’s your secret to sticking around since 2009 or so?
Cody: I was thinking about this today. I was listening to this podcast about the psychopath test, a clinical test they give to prisoners when they’re being paroled to see if they’re psychopaths. There’s a certain type of CEO or successful corporate man who tests really high on the psychopath test. I was thinking about how with artists, there’s this mix that often would make you successful– like having some amount of talent and uniqueness, having a strong work ethic where you’re relentless, being a really pushy fucker and getting your way all the time, and then being really good at networking. I was thinking that we don’t have anyone who is pushy, who always gets their way all the time. But we’re really relentless. We just keep working. And then Shannon’s a really good networker, making friends and connections.
Shannon: It’s being hard workers, being easygoing, being flexible and ready to roll and saying “yes” to a lot of things. But I think also being talented, being good songwriters, and being genuine people. I honestly think that has had something to do with our success. I feel like a lot of people have burned out around us. Also, we’re kind of nerds! We’re not like the biggest partiers on Earth. I’m probably the biggest party animal in the band, but I’d say, most of the time, I want to go home to rest my voice and drink tea these days.
Cody: If you look at a lot of the really culturally important bands, they’re active period often wasn’t that long– like five years or something, and then they exploded. But they happened to do something at the right time and everyone got to hear it.
Shannon: I feel like we’re kind of a rare case. We’ve been fortunate to have this positive trajectory that’s going up a little bit at a time, all the time. I think that’s kind of rare. So I feel good about it.
Thinking back to when you were a kid and imagined making a living playing in a band, what’s gone as planned What’s turned out differently?
Cody: Probably none of it!
Shannon: Yeah. I think I thought I would be rich if I were to be in a band. I think I thought I would be rich, skinny, wear fancy designer clothes, and have bodyguards– and none of that’s true. Really just me. I’m the same kid but large and no bodyguards. And I’m not rich, especially after these last couple of years! Paparazzi is what I thought it would be, flashing lights. We do have crazy fans though!
Cody: Especially when we go to L.A. or Southern California, it gets a little nuts. Rivers Cuomo was talking about this on an interview a while ago, how he was going to be in a rock band, how he loved KISS, and he wanted to party and get laid, do drugs. Then Weezer became really famous, very fast. The reality was you were just getting up early and traveling, eating your dinner from a vending machine. The girls that were around who wanted to meet you were ten years old. He was incredibly disappointed by that reality.
Shannon: I also don’t think I ever fathomed becoming a musician or a rockstar anything. I didn’t ever accept that was a possibility. I probably sometimes fantasized about it, but never was like, “Someday when I become…” I never really felt like that. I thought that was reserved for special people. I never thought that I was the kind of person that would be special enough to get to do something like that. And here I am! In your face, eight-year-old Shannon (laughs)!
Cody: It’s not that different from a traveling circus they show in movies. They always show the traveling circus where they load the giraffe into the train and pack up the booth, and I gotta take my knapsack to the next town and that’s actually a lot like touring.
You have a huge catalog of work at this point. At what point did you look back, take stock, and think, “Damn, we have a library!”
Cody: I think when Onion came out, and I was realizing it was our fifth record– and it had been like almost ten years since our first record! And then every time I’m restocking our web store, looking at stuff to order. We have all the tapes and records and 7-inches and stuff.
How do you determine a setlist at this point in your career? Is it tough to find that balance between promoting your latest material, pleasing your fans, and pleasing yourselves with deep cuts that you love?
Shannon: It’s got to be a good balance because especially right now [that] we’re buckling up to present a new album to the world. When we think about a setlist, we do want to show off our new songs. We know that we have to play the singles, and we also have to play some of the old singles for the old fans. And then we want to play some deep cuts because we like them. You know we have to think about ourselves too because we want to have a good time on stage and give a genuine performance.
Cody: There are also tracks that work really easily live– and then there are tracks that just don’t work. Yeah, we just don’t play [them].
Shannon: Yeah, there have been songs where I’m like, “I can’t wait to play this live,” and then it just doesn’t translate.
What are some of your favorite deep cuts from other artists?
Cody: There’s this song by Stylistics called “Pieces” that I love. All their songs are really slow, trippy, sad songs, and this is one of their only upbeat ones. But it’s still at a weird speed! When you listen to it, you think, “This should be a little bit faster, but it’s kind of cool.”
Shannon: I love that Dion Kickin’ Child album.
Cody: Yeah what’s that song? “Knowing I Won’t Go Back There”? Yeah, that’s a deep cut!
Shannon: “Now” is a really good one too.
Cody: And I feel like there’s a couple of T-Rex ones. I’ve been really into some McCartney deep cuts. That song “Darkroom”, that’s pretty awesome. And the song “Coming Up”.
I just watched your new video for “All of My Cryin’”. I felt like it was the summer of 1994, and I was with my friends watching MTV all afternoon. That video is legit. How important are music videos to you? Most bands are content with their song playing over a screenshot of their album cover.
Shannon: I think that the visual component is very, very important to our band. Cody and I met in art school. I did video stuff before I did music. I think Cody did both. You say ‘94 in the summertime? I bet you can name at least ten music videos that changed your life and stick out to you forever from that one summer! I can!
You have a chance to show who you are. Sometimes it’s a little surprising when you hear music and then you see the band. You see how the band dresses and then you see how the band performs. Do they stare at their shoes and wear their street clothes but write great songs? Do they like have a visual component that makes it worthwhile to go to see them play? I feel like the visuals are important. We’ve written most of our videos. Ryan Braun, who directed this one, wrote it too. We don’t normally have someone say, “I’ve got an idea. Let me go for it!” But this time we did. This video is exactly how we wrote it out, and he did it with so little money and so little time and it looks so expensive! We’re so proud!
What’s a movie that you wish you could have written the soundtrack for?
Shannon: I want someone to hire me to write a James Bond song. I’m here! Ready to go! I’m dying to do it. I also would love to do a song to go on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Those are the best freaking soundtracks!
You’re about to hit the road in support of Year of the Spider. Are you ready to tour after all of this time off?
Shannon: Yeah, totally.
Cody: Yeah, we did some rehearsals and it was pretty fun. We always get hyped to play the new songs!
Shannon: The new songs are really fun to do live!
Cody: Yeah. I feel ready. I feel like I get anxiety when we start. When I look at the calendar and realize like there’s a festival this weekend, and then the next weekend we’re on the other side of the country, and then we’re doing a tour for a week. When the calendar gets full, I get grumpy and anxious because I don’t like coming home for a week, flying somewhere, coming up from going somewhere, flying out. It’s really easy if you don’t keep track of what’s going on. They’ll just keep booking you!
Do you feel that traveling is now essential to who you are?
Shannon: I feel like I have a travel bug now. When I was a kid, I never, ever thought I would see all these things. I thought, “Someday I’ll go to New York and I’ll go to Paris, France.” (Laughs) I thought like that. I wasn’t thinking, “I’ll go to Puerto Rico for a week.” I get to explore Mexico City, you know? I am so grateful for all these opportunities. I do really appreciate when we get to go overseas and have a little extra time. That’s really nice, but it is hard to be away from home. Cody and Will [Sprott] have wives and babies and homes and stuff. Me and Nate [Mahan] are still kind of nomads, but I’m becoming more of a homebody than I once was. But I do think about, “Where would I want to go back? Where do I want to go and not have a show? Where do I want to go and definitely have a show but get to look around a little bit?”
Cody: My family used to travel a lot when we were kids, but we never flew anywhere. We just drove. We’d [go] to Montana, drive to Idaho, go camping, stuff like that. Go to the Redwood. I love that kind of stuff, but I just experience the extreme end of that where you’re just never home for more than a few weeks at a time, and it’s pretty hard for me.
Any new merch you’re set to debut? Your web store always has some wild stuff. The satin bomber jacket is a must!
Cody: We’ve been looking at getting some metallic spider jewelry. Or some kind of western tie clip with an insignia on it or something. We’re looking at little jewelry stuff and posters.
I saw Shannon’s Facebook post about Halloween masks. For a second I thought they were masks of the band members. Then I thought, “If not masks, what about action figures?” If you sold Shannon and The Clams action figures, what would you action figure wear?
Shannon: Definitely a cape.
Cody: A dramatic cape! Not like a Superman cape.
Shannon: A dramatic cape, yeah. Really long and sheer. I guess something in She-Ra’s look. I would want some platform boots, a lot of metallic gold. I definitely need a gigantic, badass wig.
Cody: I would probably just have a full mysterious cloak. You couldn’t see my face or anything, like a wandering izard, a long cloak with a hood.
Shannon: That is so you!
Year of the Spider, the new album from Shannon and The Clams is available to order now on vinyl, cassette, and CD! Like & Follow Shannon and The Clams for news and LIVE performance updates!
Charlie Farmer is a Georgia writer and professor who loves his wife, his daughters, his students, his cats, his books, his LPs, and everything else one should love in life.