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Upfront: Clams Casino

Ahead of his 2017 Australian tour, we chat to one of the most unique producers in the game today

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Clams Casino is the embodiment of commitment and musical love. What started out as an after-school hobby and an escape from the tediousness of a hospital internship quickly turned into a full-time career as one of the industry’s most sought-after hip-hop producers. After spending years spreading his name as the brains behind star tracks from the likes of Lil B and A$AP Rocky, Clams Casino dropped his first full-length 32 Levels in June to critical acclaim. In support of the smash record, the New Jersey native is set to tour Australia in January and February 2017 as part of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. ACCLAIM caught up with the proprietor of dark, atmospheric hip-hop production to chat about his upcoming tour and what it means arguably being the most unique producer in the game today.

ACCLAIM: Hi Clams, let’s talk about your beginnings. Was it hip-hop or electronic (or both) that inspired you to start making your own music?

CLAMS CASINO: I’ve been doing it for a real long time. I first started producing beats when I was in high school, when I was about 14 years old. But I always played music. I started off playing drums when I was very young, and that was the first thing I did. I started doing beat stuff when I was in my first year of high school. I was just doing it as a hobby. I was always trying to get my music out at the same time I was going to school and college. But I still took music seriously; I was always trying to get it out. I finished school at the same time it started spreading around, so I never ended up getting a physical therapy job.

Music was always one of my main interests and hobbies. I just never expected – or believed – I could actually make a living off it or that it could turn into a career. I never relied on it like that, that’s why I went to school. At the same time, I was trying to do whatever I could for my music. I just never believed it could happen.

A: What was the process of making your music? Were you an avid collector of records or did you just stumble across samples online you thought would fit well with your beats?

CC: When I first started I had a little hardware sampler. It’s a much different process to what I do now. Now, I mostly use software and my laptop. My main process was finding samples online – not really from records or ripping it from turntables – mostly from using file-sharing services. At the time, the file-sharing stuff was the way to getting things. I’d just download an mp3 and use that.

A: What sort of music were you listening to when you were developing your sound?

CC: A lot of hip-hop. Even when I was younger and when I first started, it was always hip-hop that made me want to do it.

A: Ever since your production credits on Lil B’s ‘I’m God’, your work has been known for the deep bass and murky tones. What emotions do you try to convey with this musical atmosphere?

CC: I usually don’t think about it too much. I just know when I hit something or when I hear something if it’s something I’ll want to keep. I just get a feeling. Usually I don’t go into it thinking “I’m gonna make this type of beat, or make this type of feel”. I just throw stuff out there. Once I discover it, I follow it. It’s about mistakes, messing around and experimenting.

It’s about learning how to follow them and chasing an emotion or a vibe or whatever’s coming out of it. I don’t think about it consciously, like “I’m gonna sit down and make a beat”.

A: What do you think makes your style of production so distinctive from the works of other producers?

CC: It’s really important to me; having something that stands out and that’s easily recognisable as something new or something different. That was always very important to me. What keeps me interested is hearing things and making things that I haven’t heard yet. That’s what I set out to do all the time. I still take inspiration from things that I like and that I listen to. But I also never try to do anything too close to what anyone’s already done. That’s what keeps me interested; making things that I haven’t heard before.

A: You dropped your debut 32 Levels earlier this year. You’ve got a fuck tonne of guests on that record. What was the process of getting all those guests together?

CC: It was a long process on my part making the music that I love enough to put on there. So it’s a long time on my part and it doesn’t make it any easier waiting for artists as well. You’ve got to rely on people to do stuff. When there’s a big amount of people involved it’s definitely challenging. I’m glad it was able to come out. After a long time, it all worked out. When there’s that many people and that many artists involved, it gets a little tricky.

A: You previously worked with rappers such as Lil B and Soulja Boy by communicating over the web. Was it the same with 32 Levels or was it a more intimate, in-person process?

CC: I definitely got in the room with the artist, and pretty much everybody at some point. More than usual, actually. A lot of the stuff – including getting everything started up – was done through emailing. I’m pretty sure I met up with everyone throughout the course of it. It was definitely a different sort of process. I always learn stuff working with different producers and different artists. I always take something away from it, even if we don’t make something good on the day. It’s always a learning experience for me. It also helps to take that stuff we do for demos together then take them back and spend time with them alone. The best thing is to mix it up a little bit.

A: You worked with Vince Staples again on 32 Levels. There seems to be a real connection between your moody, atmospheric production and Vince Staples’ rattling lyricism. Why do you think both your styles work so well together?

CC: He’s a talented enough rapper, writer, and performer to figure out how to work around my beats. That’s the main problem with a lot of rappers. With my production, it’s a little tricky to try and wrap their head around and see where they fit in. He’s one of the few artists and rappers who really know how to work with my beat. Whether it’s (A$AP) Rocky or Lil B, there’s only a few that can figure it out. A lot of it’s on him. He just knows how to tackle it.

A: Hip-hop production and instrumentation seem to be taking more layered and texturised forms. What direction do you see your style of music taking in the future?

CC: I think it’s always evolving. It’s clear to see on the album there’s such a wide variety of stuff. There’s different types of artists I enjoy working with and different types of music I like to make. I don’t know where it’s gonna go from here, but I’m always looking to do the next thing. That’s what keeps me doing it.

It’s about getting as deep as I can into my own world. It’s kinda what I did with the album. I didn’t want to do too much of what I’d done before. But I know a lot of fans want to hear that and I don’t wanna stray too far from what I’ve done before, because I feel like it’s mine and I’m proud of that. I always need to do new stuff. It’s important to balance. It’s also important to keep going and make new things that excite me and that I haven’t heard before. But it’s also about having the things I have made and then expanding on them and getting deeper and deeper into my own sound.

A: You’re touring in Australia next year. What can fans expect from your live shows?

CC: It’s gonna show the wide range of music I do; instrumental music, music for other artists. There’s something for everybody. People come to a live show and they get to hear all the different stuff I do. They can probably even connect the dots of things they didn’t even know I produced. It’s funny, at some of the shows a lot of people say “Oh, I didn’t know you produced this for this artist”.

It’s the case with Vince Staples. ‘All Nite’ could’ve ended up on his album and ‘Norf Norf’ could’ve ended up on mine. We actually worked on ‘All Nite’ first, and then his first album came out in the process of working on mine. So, those songs could’ve ended up anywhere. But people tell me that a lot too; they didn’t know I produced stuff from Vince’s album.

But these shows do have a little bit of something for everybody. It’s gonna be fun, I’m looking forward to it. This is the first time I’ve ever been anywhere on that side of the world, so it’s exciting for me.

We’re proud to present Clams’ upcoming Australian tour. Peep full details here.

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