clams casino on his debut album and eight years of collaborating with lil b

The enigmatic producer’s distinctive sound has been sought after by A$AP Rocky, Blood Orange, and FKA twigs. Here, we discuss his long awaited full length record and finally meeting the BasedGod in real life.

by Emily Manning
15 July 2016, 2:55pm

In 2011, a 22-year-old A$AP Rocky released a mixtape that heralded a new guard in modern hip-hop. Live.Love.A$AP not only introduced the world to the young Harlem native's darkly languid lyrical flow, but set the tone for the woozy soundscapes, chopped and screwed distortion, and regional remixing that presently dominate today's rap tracks. Who was this crew of Hood by Air-clad uptown pretty boys, and how did they concoct such a hypnotic sound? They teamed with Clams Casino, the New Jersey-based producer who, like them, was a mystery.

Mike Volpe — a hospital intern and physical therapy student — considered making beats reminiscent of Just Blaze and Kanye's sped-up soul samples as his hobby, even when he was supplying them to Lil B back in 2008. He'd make beats by searching words like "blue" or "cold" on LimeWire and download the first few results to chop up. This individualistic experimentation has resulted in a distinctive moody sound that's since been sought after by Blood Orange, FKA Twigs, The Weeknd, and Vince Staples. Yet Clams' work without vocalists is just as evocative; he's produced a trinity of cult Instrumental mixtapes that flourish his glitchy productions into abstract compositions.

Today, he releases his long awaited debut album, 32 Levels. For it, he's recruited a dynamic roster of trusted collaborators: Lil B, Rocky, Staples, Kelela, Wet's Kelly Zutrau, Mikky Ekko, and Future Islands' Sam Herring. We sat down to discuss the importance of experimentation and trust.

Why did now feel like the right time to do the full length?
It takes me a while to do stuff. I never stop making music, but if it's not good enough or not feeling right, it's not gonna come out. Everything I do musically, I never force anything too hard — if it's not working, it's not working. I first started putting the album together, fully working on it, in January or February of 2014. But I knew it was gonna take a while because I know how I work; things take time.

Did the process for making this record differ at all from how you work on instrumental projects?
A lot of the times, the process isn't too different. I make beats not thinking if I'm going to get someone on it or not - I just make music. I'll send it around to a bunch of people, but if no one uses it, I'll make an instrumental version that may be more detailed or tweaked. All the instrumentals that I have on this album could have had people on them, it just didn't work out like that.

I read you made most of the samples by playing the instruments yourself rather than sourcing the sounds.
I played most of the drum sounds on the record by using different drum kits and effects to create samples that I'd chop up and use to create the beats and textures. I played drums all over it, played keys — not properly, but enough to bring it into my computer and chop up. I also recorded my buddies who are other musicians playing stuff I need to be actually played well. As far as things I need to make beats out of, I can get enough down myself that I can manipulate it in my computer.

What were you listening to while making this record? It has to be challenging to try and avoid being influenced.
I definitely wasn't listening to much, I was shutting stuff out. I really wanted to get as deep into my own sound and own world as I could, because that's the way to progress for me. I'm not getting influenced now by trends or anything that's happening; the way I want it to progress is naturally, by hearing my own stuff, only listening to my own stuff — taking things I like and don't like about it and learning from it, then going deeper and deeper in my own rabbit hole. So I wasn't checking for new music, which I don't really do anyway. I'm not always on top of new stuff.

That makes sense  Lil B features so much on this record, and you guys have been working together for eight years. How has your relationship evolved?
We've worked together for a long time, but making this record was also a new experience because it was the first time we actually ever worked together in the studio. That was a whole new element in the mix because we'd never even hung out before in real life. We worked for about three days straight in the studio, which in itself was a brand new thing and really inspiring — a new feeling for both of us.

You've worked with many of these artists before, but each of them brings something new to this project. Kelela and Kelly from Wet turned it out especially; Kelly's almost sounds like a house vocal.
It just comes out of not knowing what's gonna happen, and that's what interests me most about it. I encourage them to try things out; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. That's the way to get something that's new and exciting for me, and is something that inspires me — it's very much about the experimentation process. I think this type of project is cool for artists because they can step out of their box a little bit and try stuff that maybe they can't on their own records. It's also making me step out of my own world a little bit, and what I'm used to. So we're both meeting in the middle and trying something neither of us might try otherwise. I wouldn't be doing this without them and they wouldn't be doing it without me, so we create a whole different branch off the both of our stuff. It's really exciting.

What do you hope that listeners take from this record?
To be inspired to do their own thing. Thankfully, I've become known for doing my own thing; I'm happy and proud that that's what people recognize me for. So I hope it's an inspiration for people that, music or non music, to be inspired to be unique and not be worried about anything else. Take chances and don't be afraid to do what you want to do.



Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen

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