“They’re one of my favorites,” exclaimed filmmaker John Waters as he introduced the band Shannon and the Clams at the sold-out Burger Boogaloo music festival in Oakland on the 4th of July. The moment was just the latest career highlight for the Oakland-based trio, who met and formed while attending California College of the Arts.
Lead singer and bassist Shannon Shaw (Illustration 2007), guitarist Cody Blanchard (Writing + Literature), and former drummer Ian Amberson (Painting + Drawing 2008) got their start playing house parties while attending CCA; they became a favorite in the Bay Area and beyond not long after graduation. In 2013, their album Dreams in the Rat House kicked their career into high gear, earning rave reviews for their raucous live shows and signature garage-punk-meets-1950s-doo-wop sound.
“We’ve played with Ronnie Spector two times— at Burger Boogaloo, and then New Year’s Eve in Austin. We also played with the Zombies. What a huge inspiration! We played with Redd Kross. I got to nerd out to Steve McDonald about how Redd Kross changed my life and he was as stoked as me! He asked to take a photo with me!” Shaw says of her whirlwind musical career.
“We played with Missing Persons, also. They were extremely great. And we got to go to Australia,” Blanchard is quick to add.
“I can’t even believe we went. We’re still very excited and appreciative, and I can’t believe we’re playing music and getting money for it,” says Shaw.
Art School Confidential
Blanchard and Shaw first met at CCA in 4D, a core studio class. Despite their obvious musical and style chemistry, the two admit to having gotten off to a rough start.
“We were learning how to make video and websites. Basically, I thought Cody was kind of a jerk, because he came late to class and rolled his eyes… Then we had a video project to turn in and his was really good. I was like, how could I hate someone who made such a good video? And then he loved my video,” Shaw laughs.
“I thought Shannon was a square. But she made a really funny video with her brothers in Death Valley,” says Blanchard, poking fun back at his band mate. At the time, Shaw had already started the band. It wasn’t long before she began using Blanchard’s house as a practice space.
“The band formed while we were in school. Cody was one of my first friends, and I was kind of a loner. Shannon and the Clams started as just me—I’d play open mic nights. I got invited to play a house party at Cody’s old place called ‘the Fanny Shack’ at 54th and Genoa but was too scared to play by myself, so I got a band together. Cody was there filming it, along with basically everyone from school,” recalls Shaw.
“I remember being at CCA and thinking there was a really strong community. There were always house parties and everyone was at every party,” says Blanchard.
“I remember being at CCA and thinking there was a really strong community.”
Movies, music, and mixed media
The band recently released their fourth full-length album, Gone by the Dawn. Keeping the production local, they opted to record at John Vanderslice’s Mission-based studio Tiny Telephone and worked with Sonny Smith of Sonny and the Sunsets (who performed in April at CCA’s Back Lot Party & Spring Fair) to tighten their distinctive sound.
“It was the first time we went to a real studio and weren’t doing everything ourselves,” says Blanchard.
Prior to Gone by the Dawn’s release, the band played many tour dates in support of the album. On top of all this, Blanchard and Shaw are still staying active in their other creative endeavors.
Shaw occasionally exhibits her illustrations of idols like Etta James throughout the Bay Area at offbeat venues like Vacation in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, while Blanchard spent the summer gearing up for his show Specimens in Oakland’s Econojam Records.
“We’re making more funny movies, and I’ve been taking mechanical toys and covering them with monster stuff, so they move around and it’s kind of gross,” says Blanchard.
“Try lots of different classes. Don’t worry about when you’re going to graduate. I’m so glad I explored other things. It was really uncomfortable, but many teachers encouraged me. My friends who tried lots of things are really well adjusted because of it.”
Finding the right future
Though Shaw graduated with her BFA in Illustration, she began her college career in Painting and Drawing and dabbled in Jewelry and Metal Arts and Video before she found the right fit—something she suggests all students do.
“Try lots of different classes. Don’t worry about when you’re going to graduate. I’m so glad I explored other things. It was really uncomfortable, but many teachers encouraged me. My friends who tried lots of things are really well adjusted because of it,” she says.
“Randy Chavez changed my life . . . and Shawn Barber, Robert Hunt, Owen Smith, Marilyn da Silva, Carol Peel, Raymond Saunders. There are so many amazingly talented faculty who have no idea how great they are.”