Interview With Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams | Miami New Times


Shannon and the Clams Make Their Arena Debut With the Black Keys and Modest Mouse

The Black Keys kick off their "Let's Rock Tour" at the BB&T Center November 5th with Modest Mouse. Shannon and the Clams open.
Catch Shannon and the Clams opening for Modest Mouse and the Black Keys November 5.
Catch Shannon and the Clams opening for Modest Mouse and the Black Keys November 5. Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
Share this:
On the phone from her home in Oakland, Shannon and the Clams' Shannon Shaw asks New Times: "Have you ever been to Coral Castle?"

Why, yes. As a matter of fact, Coral Castle is one of New Times' favorite South Florida attractions!

Turns out Shaw, too, feels strongly about Edward Leedskalnin's unfinished Homestead monument to the woman who broke his heart.

"I obsessed over it!" Shaw says and then proceeds to relate how, years ago, bandmate Cody Blanchard turned her on to the 1980s TV series In Search of..., which he owned on VHS. "They did a whole thing on Coral Castle, and that was like 14 years ago, and I became so obsessed with it" — so much so that when the Clams finally played Miami years later, they crammed in a day trip. "It is amazing that they still have not 100 percent proven how he cut and moved all the coral and the bedrock," Shaw marvels.

If there's one thing that can be proven, it's that Shannon and the Clams — Shaw (vocals, bass), Blanchard (vocals, guitar), Nate Mahan (drums), and Will Sprott (vocals, keyboards) — are among the hardest-working bands in the industry, a quartet whose tenacity and energy is something to be admired. The band has spent the past year dominating stages around the globe, headlining shows, playing music festivals, and, most recently, supporting Greta Van Fleet on the fall leg of the March of the Peaceful Army Tour.

Now Shannon and the Clams are set to stomp through the swamps of South Florida once again, this time when they open for the Black Keys and Modest Mouse on the former's Let's Rock Tour, which is set to stop at the BB&T Center November 5.

Note to the uninitiated: To experience Shannon and the Clams live is to be #blessed by the patron saints of doo-wop garage punk. If you were one of the lucky weirdos who witnessed the quartet's joyful, booze-infused consecration of Churchill's Pub in 2016, you could probably attest to remaining in a super-rad, technicolor perma-dream ever since.

Growing up in Northern California, the Napa native had to overcome motherly doubt in order to pursue music.

"She asked to play instruments in after-school music several times; I wouldn’t let her because I thought she didn’t show enough interest," Shaw's mom, Glenna C. Hepner, told Tidal in an interview last year.

"I was begging her for years," a baffled Shaw tells New Times. "My brothers always got to play — she never gave me a chance. She doesn't remember that at all. She's like, 'I don't know why I didn't...'

"Her perspective on male and female roles is kind of interesting," Shaw continues, citing her own Mormon upbringing. "It's like kind of a feminist perspective, but there's some internalized misogyny in there too. I was always like, 'Why couldn't I play?' and she's like, "You didn't need it. You're a confident woman and you didn't need the crutch of an instrument. You don't need special things from Mom and Dad. You're good. Your brothers are the ones who need a little bit more encouragement and help."

Determined, Shaw eventually picked up the bass and taught herself how to play when she was 25.

"[My mom] figured I would figure it out myself and pull myself up by my own bootstraps," Shaw theorizes in retrospect. "And in a way that's true — she was right. It really hurt my feelings growing up, and that made me kind of bitter as a young adult... I did teach myself. I have worked so crazy hard, and I have always been the kind of person where if someone tells me I can't do something or I shouldn't do something, it makes me obsess and it's the only thing I want to do."

She points to an incident in middle school as one of the first moments she "harnessed her rage" and channeled it into a new skill.

"Me and some friends were playing with this guy's skateboard, and they were taking turns standing on it. I went to take my turn, and the guy was like, 'Oh, no, you're too fat. You're gonna break my skateboard.' And I just stared into his eyes — into his soul — and I was like, 'Well, this is my skateboard now.' And I took his skateboard and I taught myself how to skateboard."
For the next three years, Shaw says, she used the stolen Sun Devil board to propel her from her house in the country to her job at the movie theater downtown.

"I constantly had skinned knees and sprained wrists and fell over in public and did lots of embarrassing shit," she recounts. "But it's the same thing I did with playing bass. I didn't know what I was doing and was just determined, because people implied that I couldn't and shouldn't — and that just made me more determined."

In much the same way, Shannon and the Clams would earn their stripes while playing Bay Area backyards, warehouses, and basements. (Back then, Shaw was making ends meet by selling her watercolor paintings.)

Shaw and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys go back a ways. A fan of the Clams, he'd invited her to record her 2018 solo debut, Shannon in Nashville, at his Easy Eye Sound Studios. (Shaw's mother famously offered to hawk the family car to fund her daughter's airfare to Music City.) Shortly thereafter, Auerbach brought Shannon and the Clams to his studio to produce Onion, their fifth LP. Both albums were released on Auerbach's label, Easy Eye Sound. In 2018, the band opened for Auerbach on the Easy Eye Sound Revue Tour, where Shaw also joined Auerbach onstage.

Are Shannon and the Clams ready for arena shows?

"Yeah, I'm ready," Shaw says confidently. "I feel like my life story is just like, fake it till you make it, and just get in there and try to love every minute and learn from new things. I'm looking forward to seeing both of those bands play every night — it's such a huge honor. I'm really excited."

She says touring large venues with Greta Van Fleet primed the band for its biggest tour to date.

"Playing to some of those audiences at Greta Van Fleet was so intimidating, but luckily, they have incredibly sweet, happy fans. The second we took the stage, they'd be screaming like we were the Beatles. And so that instantly makes you feel like, OK, I can do this."

Asked how it feels to perform deeply personal songs for a large crowd, she says, "That was kind of an experiment with Greta Van Fleet. Every time I play one of those songs, I have to go back to that place I was when I wrote it in order to give a really genuine and heartfelt, meaningful performance. So now, if we double or triple the audience — I don't know, but I'm really hoping that it can still come across. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter as long as I cared about what I was doing and I put all my heart and soul into it when I delivered it. For me, that's what's important. And I just hope that people love it and that it makes them feel good and is healing and helps them.

"That's the dream."

Shannon and the Clams. With the Black Keys and Modest Mouse. 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 5, at BB&T Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise; 954-835-7000; Tickets cost $25 to $475 via
KEEP NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls. Make a one-time donation today for as little as $1.