It was at a basement show that I first met Shannon Shaw of Shannon And The Clams. Now, a couple years into their career, Shannon stands strong as a talented songwriter, role model, and golden-hearted icon of all that’s good, fun, and colorful in rock culture. The band has become well known across the international garage rock circuit, affiliates with Burger Records, and released their latest album “Gone by the Dawn” this year — an instant classic blend of heartthrob rhythms and Shannon’s signature husky vocal deliveries. You can watch a documentary about the album here.
I was able to catch back up with Shannon at Ace of Cups (a Columbus, Ohio bar owned by Marcy Mays of Scrawl) recently, and we had a long conversation about the exact moment at which Shannon might have realized she’d be playing music for the rest of her life. (Spoiler: She still hasn’t.) That left us with a lot of important gems to discuss.
So, without further adieu,this interview will be titled:
R. Hennessey: If you never thought you could play music until you forced yourself, what made you force yourself to play music?
Shannon Shaw: Extreme depression. Really really really needing an outlet. And on a really bad day I noticed this bass in the corner of the room, which I had never really played before. My high school boyfriend gave it to me when I was 15; then ten years later I was 25 and just super sad, feeling like I’m on fire all the time. And it just appeared to me – it’d been in the corner of the room for years. It just caught my attention and I pulled it out and wrote a song.
R.H.: What was the song? And does your bass have a name?
Shannon: I’ve tried to name it but nothing sticks, like I was trying to call it Excalibress for a while… It just doesn’t stick. What was your other question?
R.H.: What was your first song?
Shannon: “Heartbreak” — a very old Shannon And The Clams song. Or actually maybe it was “Cat Party.” One of those. They both came around the same time. I think I wrote Heartbreak before I could play bass, but I knew what the notes would be.
R.H.: For someone else starting out with music for the first time, what would you want to tell them? If somebody thought they wanted to, but they were scared or they didn’t think they could be respected?
Shannon: Well I guess something I didn’t know was that if you want to play music, you can and you should. Just do whatever it takes to make it happen. Only you can make it happen. No one’s going to come help you do it, and if they do, it’s not going to be as good. I feel like anyone that wants to do it is totally capable of it.
Shannon: Hunx is like sleazy, porno punk and the Clams is like psychedelic prom punk.
R.H.: You said earlier tonight that you like to get super pumped up right before you play. Do you have rituals or anything that you do to get pumped up? Jumping jacks?
Shannon: I used to do more, like, jumping or weird singing… I warm up my vocals a lot in Hunx. Or do shots of tequila. Kind of basic.
R.H.: And, let’s see, what’s your favorite thing to do when you’re at a show?
Shannon: My favorite thing to do? I don’t know. I’m single for the first time in years.
R.H.: Hooray! Fun!
Shannon: I know. I’m actually kind of stoked. I was kind of sad for a while, but now I’m really stoked. I think dancing and making out, I guess.
R.H.: Dancing while making out is probably best.
Shannon: That hasn’t happened yet.
R.H.: That’s when you’ll know.
Shannon: I’ve never dated someone that liked to dance, and I realized how important dancing is and how good I feel, so I think, yeah, dancing.
R.H.: What do you look for in a good band mate? What makes you attracted to a band, or decide that someone should be playing with you or you should be playing with them, and you know it’s right?
Shannon: Definitely a positive, easy-going, happy-go-lucky person. Someone that’s positive, considerate, really funny, but even-keeled, responsible. Responsible but fun and hilarious, I think. It is hard to play with people who are not fun and who are not responsible. Or moody, it’s not fun to be in band with someone is moody.
R.H.: Storm clouds everywhere, that’s what it’s like.
Shannon: Yeah and I’m really, I’m a pretty happy person, but I get affected by other people’s moods and attitudes.
R.H.: I think that’s part of being an artist. I think that we can really change, according to what’s going on around us. What’s your favorite memory related to music ever?
Shannon: Well, one that’s really burned in my head is that when I was a little kid, probably from when I was four years old on, I had insane nightmares. Like every night, really weird shit that there’s no way I could have even known about yet. Like kidnapping and rape and murder, stuff that a little kid shouldn’t have in their psyche. But I just always had more of this this really weird, mature, true-crime-oriented brain. I remember I was about six years old, sleeping in a bunkbed, and I had this dream that my boyfriend — I had a boyfriend in the dream, seven years old or whatever, named Sweet Tony Pie – and he was killed in this really tragic car accident.
Now, I was really really into girl groups, and “Leader of the Pack” and all that. That’s probably how I knew about all those kinds of things is loving super sad tragic music, plus I watched soap operas with my mom and I just really loved tragedy as a child. Not loved, but I was really drawn to it. So I wake up from this nightmare weeping, and I probably felt heartbreak for the first time in my life. And I couldn’t stop thinking of Sweet Tony Pie, gone too soon. And my clock radio had just turned on and our oldies station was playing the Chiffons’ “Sweet Talking Guy” and so my little kid brain turned “Sweet Talking Guy” into Sweet Tony Pie. Do you know that song? The bridge and the outro are so sad and tragic, and I just feel that theme, not the theme of death but the feelings I get from the bridge and outro of that song are just so burned into my mind forever, I associate them with the strongest possible feelings. I also feel like the feelings you have access to in your dreams are on a much larger spectrum than the feelings you have in real life. Do you know what I mean? Like if you’re super happy and laughing in your dreams, it’s like the best fucking laugh that you’ve ever had in your life. And so, I can still think of Sweet Tony Pie and be sad. It’s weird. I can get in touch with those feelings like I did when I was little. So I don’t know if that’s a good memory, but it’s one of my first really deep connections to a song via feelings.
R.H.: Yeah, sounds like getting your first opportunity to be consoled through something musical.
Shannon: Yes, that’s a very good point. And I think, getting to feel something deep through music correctly.
R.H.: That was a really good story. Thank you.