Happy as Shannon and the Clams
With a 10th anniversary East Bay performance and a stadium tour on the horizon, Oakland’s Shannon and the Clams are on the rise.
Nate Mahan, Shannon Shaw, Cody Blanchard, and Will Sprott of Shannon and the Clams.
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
The year 2009 proved auspicious for the Bay Area music community with the arrival of two future cultural phenomena: Oakland’s ’60s-styled garage-rock trippers Shannon and the Clams released their debut album, I Wanna Go Home, and the indie-rock festival Burger Boogaloo launched with a handful of shows in San Francisco clubs. That both openly embraced the DIY ethos of punk—and shared an affinity for the camp aesthetic of cult filmmaker John Waters (who returns this year for his fifth turn as the Boogaloo’s host)—seemed to ordain that the band and the fest would eventually become synonymous with one another. Ten years later, the Clams are making their eighth Burger Boogaloo appearance this month at the now-Oakland-based festival.
For guitarist and vocalist Cody Blanchard, the Clams’ steady upward trajectory has been a surprise. “We were just down to play in everyone’s backyard,” he recalls of the band’s early days. “I didn’t think we would ever be doing it as a career.”
The Clams’ origin story began at Oakland’s California College of the Arts (CCA), where Blanchard met fellow CCA student Shannon Shaw. The pair soon formed Shannon and the Clams, with Shaw on bass and vocals, and started sharing songwriting duties. Keyboardist Will Sprott and drummer Nate Mahan would later round out the group.
Embracing influences as diverse as 1960s pop and garage rock, punk, rhythm and blues, country, psychedelia, and rockabilly, the Clams possess a kinetic soulfulness that’s anchored by the raw, emotional vocals of Blanchard and Shaw. When blended, their voices bring to mind the tender harmonies of The Everly Brothers married with the naked intensity of the legendary punk band X. The Clams’ fashion aesthetic is flashy and flamboyant—an exaggerated take on the iconic styles of the 1950s and ’60s. It’s as if Etta James, the B-52s, and The Zombies came together to create a mega-cool Oakland indie group.
In 2015, Dan Auerbach of the Grammy-winning blues-rock band The Black Keys heard a Shannon and the Clams record and became an unabashed fan. He invited them to his Nashville studio, where he produced their 2018 album, Onion—an astounding collection of fuzzy, lo-fi heartbreak released on Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label. This fall, the Clams will join The Black Keys for part of the Let’s Rock stadium tour, which includes a November date at the Golden State Warriors’ new San Francisco home, the Chase Center. Blanchard anticipates that only 10 percent of the audience will be familiar with his band. He sees the other 90 percent as a challenge and says he looks forward to “the chance to show off and prove ourselves to these new people.”