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Although Shannon and the Clams’ new album was completed shortly before COVID-19 seized the globe, it wasn’t forged free of tumult.
In 2019, Shannon Shaw, the Clams’ magnetic front woman, was driven from her Oakland apartment by a persistent peeping tom. Later, on the eve of the Clams’ tour with Greta Van Fleet and the Black Keys, Shaw discovered that her father had been diagnosed with cancer. The Clams were then confronted by Nashville’s tear of a tornado, shortly after recording “Year of the Spider” with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Months later, a rash of wildfires ravaged Shaw’s hometown of Napa. And then, of course, the pandemic took the reins.
It’s no surprise the ’60s era-inspired garage rock band — a beloved fixture of the Bay Area scene since 2008 — sounds haunted on its sixth full-length album, “Year of the Spider,” released on Aug. 20.
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In light of this chaos, Shaw moved to Portland, Oregon, in October. There, she was reunited with Portland resident Cody Blanchard, the Clams’ guitarist and vocalist. Still, Shaw mourns her time in the Bay Area.
“I’ll miss everything,” she says. “It’s definitely where I got my start. If I would’ve been in any other city, who knows if the stars would have aligned enough [for me] to be here now.”
“Do I Wanna Stay,” the opening track on “Year of the Spider” seems to reflect this ambivalence. The track builds with stirring intensity, tiptoeing towards Shaw’s silky trill, “Is to go the same to leave?” Shaw’s rasp signals entrance into a plodding, deranged carnival, an atmosphere shared by tracks like “Godstone,” “Crawl” and “Leaves Fall Again.” Meanwhile, tracks like “Snakes Crawl” reflect Blanchard’s interest in Appalachian folk music, darkened by a disturbed, melancholic itch.
“I think we were ready to do kind of the same thing we did on ‘Onion,’ but do it better and faster,” Blanchard says. “I’ve been getting more attracted to disco and glam, but also really dark, old folk music. So that was stuff I was more interested in doing, versus being really entrenched in this ’60s pop stuff that we’ve been doing for a long time.”
Darker themes color tracks like “In the Hills, In the Pines,” “Midnight Wine” and “I Need You Bad.” “In the Hills, In the Pines” incites chills with the following hypnotic refrain: “I can see them drag in a body bag, the streets where I met you,” potentially inspired by Shaw’s penchant for true crime and thrillers.
“Shannon and I have gotten into really different stuff,” Blanchard says. “She talks about Lee Hazlewood a lot as inspiration for this record,” an influence felt in the warm, aching lull of tracks like “Vanishing.” The album reverberates with a sense of loss and reflection, heavy-lidded dreams. But “All Of My Cryin’” and “Flowers Will Return” offer lighter shades.
After a year spent anticipating their album release, the Clams are eager to go on tour starting next month. “Do I Wanna Stay,” “Midnight Wine” and “Snakes Crawl” are among the tracks they’re especially excited to perform.
“For me, it’s the ultimate test,” Shaw says. “You’re watching the audience and seeing how they feel about a song they’ve never heard before. … So it can be kind of a tense moment, but definitely thrilling if people are responding to it.”
In addition to touring, the Clams will continue to create content for their Patreon, which allows members to access monthly mixtapes, live karaoke sessions and a “potpourri of wild video entertainment,” among other exclusive treats. Shaw and Blanchard also have an interview podcast in development.
“We don’t really talk about anyone’s career or art. That’s really easy to find,” Blanchard says. “We started curating a list of questions that people always have an interesting answer for.” The podcast has yet to air, but Shaw names Elle King, Doug Martsch [of Built to Spill], and TrueAnon’s Brace Belden as guaranteed guests.
Despite Shaw’s recent move to Portland, she continues to express her love for Oakland, where she emerged as a musician over a decade ago.
“When I moved to Oakland, that was the first time where I was around different people than who I grew up with, where I felt free to be myself, and felt free to explore,” Shaw says. “I feel like [Oakland has] supported every album, and nothing ever sounds the same. Every album is like a graduation, and has new influences and a new vibe. But they all need each other. Every album needs each other.”
Shannon and the Clams, on their “Year of the Spider” tour, play an 8 p.m. show Jan. 7 at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco. Find tickets at https://www.livenation.com/event/G5vYZpiE5QeXm/shannon-and-the-clams.