INTERVIEW: Groundbreaking producer Clams Casino chops it up with HNHH about the impact of his work, "Moon Trip Radio" and working with everyone from Lil Peep to Lil B.
As we near the end of a decade, Clams Casino still stands as one of the producers who shifted the soundscape of hip-hop, and perhaps, music as a whole. The Internet's influence, in combination with social media upstart, helped a certain aesthetic and sound seep into hip-hop as a whole. Clams Casino's atmospheric work was pivotal in creating the Cloud Rap genre and everything that's descended from it.
But for Clams, all of his work to date has been made in the confines of his own world. The atmospheric vocal samples and crashing drums bring together elements of two of his biggest influences -- The Alchemist and Dipset. Although it isn't entirely noticeable off the bat, the trails of their influences are heard throughout his music.
"Alchemist, when you listen to his beats it takes you into some kind of world. Whatever it is, whatever he’s doing, samples that he’s flipping… They always have this strong world that you get sucked into. It’s very cinematic," he told HNHH. "Some of those guys are just who I take direction from and had to do it in my own way. I kind of figured out my own sound and got deeper as the years went on, deeper into my own world, and expanding it."
On his new project, Moon Trip Radio -- his first since 2016's 32 Levels -- Clams got deeper into his own world. He strayed away from features and went back to creating music on his own. The interesting thing is that the world he's created also formed an ecosystem of artists feeding off of each other's creativity. And sometimes, he doesn't even recognize his own influence.
"I’ll hear some stuff and be inspired by that and not even know that I directly inspired them too. So it’s kind of a crazy feeling to just hear something, be inspired by it, and then reach out to them and they’re like, 'Oh man, I wouldn’t have started doing this if it weren’t for you.' So it’s just like a full circle," he said.
HNHH: Hey, how’re you doing, man?
Clams Casino: Hey, I’m good.
"Rune" served as the first single off of Moon Trip Radio and your first drop of the year. What was the process like behind this project?
It was just kind of…I don’t know, just following the feeling that I need to get back to making some music by myself. I kind of just go through different cycles of doing my own music and doing more behind-the-scenes kind of production for other people. Just kind of following my feelings of what I feel like I need to do. Sometimes I get bored of working by myself and want to do some other stuff and make some hip hop stuff. Or I get tired of doing that and working with other people, and I want to just get back into my own head a little bit and make music by myself. So this is just kind of starting that process of feeling like I need to get back and make some music by myself, really.
I know it’s been a few years between your last project and this one. But with “Rune,” it was just good to hear you back in the fold again. I was wondering why you chose that as the first release off of the project?
That was actually one of the first tracks that was done for it. It just kind of felt like that was representative of me and the kind of world that I’ve been trying to create for my whole time making music. It felt like everything that represents it was on that one track. That just felt like a good starting point. The rest is kind of similar, some of it is kind of old school vibes that people may think sounds like my older music, and some of it evolved a little bit from there. But that just felt like the right one. It felt like a good way to get back into it.
Yeah, because with your last project that you dropped in 2016, you definitely had more features and collaborations on that. Aside from bouncing back and getting into your groove, why was it important for you to have this as a solo Clams Casino project?
I think one of the main reasons was really just giving back to the fans that have been sticking with me, and listening to my music for so long, and waiting for something like that. It’s kind of a gift and a thank you back to them because I see them at my shows and I talk to them, and it seems like they were just waiting for something like that. I never really gave a proper full-length project that was like — instrumental tapes are a majority of stuff that’s been out already, just in a different form. My last solo project, besides instrumental tapes, was a bunch of features. So this is kind of just giving back to the original fans who have been sticking with me for so long. I just kind of felt like, and personally feeling like, I wanted to get back into making music by myself, it lined up at the same time. That was the right time to do it. But on the other side, for the people who look for my instrumental music, it’s been a long time.
Nah, definitely. You had such an impact on the game. Do you spot your own influences on it?
Yeah, I definitely do. But like, I do and also, sometimes I don’t know, but some of the newer stuff I listen to is like Lil Peep, and Wicca Phase [Springs Eternal] and Joji. I work with a lot of those guys now. I can hear some of my influence, but also, they tell me that I kind of influenced them to start doing what they do, or other producers. But it’s like, I’ll hear some stuff and be inspired by that and not even know that I directly inspired them too. So it’s kind of a crazy feeling to just hear something, be inspired by it, and then reach out to them and they’re like, “Oh man, I wouldn’t have started doing this if it weren’t for you.” So it’s just like a full circle. It’s a crazy feeling.
Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s like you’re receiving the energy you put out into the universe. You know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s coming back to me without me even really knowing. Like I just hear something and I’ll be like, ‘Wow that’s good, that’s different.’ And that person is going to tell me it’s like — it’s like my influence going, somebody taking something from my music and what they take away from it they kind of turn into their own thing and put it back out into the world. I just happen to hear it and be attracted to it, it’s all just a really organic thing. It’s pretty wild.
It’s like a little universe and ecosystem kind of feeding each other’s creativity, in that sense.
With Joji, how did that collaboration work, and how do you feel about this new generation of rappers coming out? How do you feel about the direction that music is taking and what’s attracting you to that sound?
There’s a lot of exciting stuff to me. I like a lot of new rap stuff. A lot of new producers are just doing their thing. I like some of the new guys like Ronny J. When I heard his shit I was, like, sonically, he’s just going crazy and doing his own thing. That’s one of the new guys that really stuck out to me, as far as rap production. I don’t seek out too much new music. I’m not sitting online trying to listen to stuff, it’s kind of just too much these days. It’s just too much access to shit. But when it gets to me, every once in awhile, I’ll hear something that really sticks out and sounds unique.
Mobb Deep and Dipset were huge influences to you, right?
Yeah. For sure.
What was it about their sound growing up that you really gravitated towards?
A lot of it, like for Mobb Deep, was production. Like Alchemist, he was one of my early inspirations for starting to make beats. Diplomats, they kind of just stuck out to me. They were doing their own thing, the way they were rapping, like Cam’ron and Juelz, just kind of a weird way that was different, and the beats were just... Pretty much undeniable beats. The production is still timeless. It sounds even better now than ever. A lot of that stuff has aged really well. You could tell that it was very well done. That’s still some of my favorite rap music, for sure, The Diplomats.
It’s interesting that you mention Alchemist. To me, whenever I listen to an Alchemist beat, it’s smokey and you can feel it out. It feels like you give this real emotional depth in your music, but it’s also in that atmospheric realm. What do you think you’ve taken from those influences and honed into within your own music if anything?
Well, that’s a good example. Alchemist, when you listen to his beats it takes you into some kind of world. Whatever it is, whatever he’s doing, samples that he’s flipping… They always have this strong world that you get sucked into. It’s very cinematic. That’s something I took away from him. He’s one of the main reasons I started making beats and getting a little sampler and stuff when I was in high school and trying to make stuff like him. Another main one, kind of a blueprint for what I would try to do, would be RZA. Another guy creating a whole world to be immersed in, in terms of sounds and textures and unique production, especially for rap. Some of those guys are just who I take direction from and had to do it in my own way. I kind of figured out my own sound and got deeper as the years went on, deeper into my own world, and expanding it. So yeah, those are some guys I take direction from.
Dope. You just did a piece with The Fader and they talked about how you had a little corner of your studio where you had some Lil B memorabilia. You guys first met up on MySpace. What was so compelling about him that made you want to work with him at the time?
I was a super-fan of The Pack for a couple of years before I reached out to Lil B. So even before I started getting serious about making music and getting it out into the world, I was a super Pack fan, just listening to them. A year or two after that, I was getting serious about making music and I started hitting people up on MySpace and online and he was just one of the guys that hit me back and I started sending beats. Some of the other guys in The Pack, I started doing stuff with them on MySpace. He was making a lot of music at the time, and I was just sending beats nonstop. We kind of started narrowing something down and after a while, it started making sense. We just found a sound over months and years of working a lot.
Did you ever expect the work you guys did… because Lil B is more than just a prolific rapper. He’s obviously an icon of internet culture. Even with the music you made, and with him especially, did you ever expect it to be as impactful as it was?
Nah, not what it became. I was just happy to make music with him. He’s one of my favorite artists, so at the time I was just having fun and making music. I couldn’t really believe it. Even he was just freestyling on my beats and stuff, not even really making real writing, serious songs. As we went on, we started making some real serious stuff that I wasn’t expecting. So nah, at first I was just having fun, making music with my favorite artist. I didn’t really know what it was going to turn into.
That’s interesting. What are your thoughts on what it has become since? The legacy of the work you and Lil B did together.
It’s the best thing. People respect it, people appreciate it. We did something that hadn’t been done and people recognized that. So that’s the main thing I’m really happy about. We did something different, we were just being ourselves, and we just wanted to do something new. People recognizing that I can’t ask for much more than that. So that’s the best thing for me. We’re getting recognized for doing something different, and for doing something that’s never been done, and just creating new sounds. That’s all I could ask for.
Is that the most rewarding part of your career so far?
Yeah, or also on a more personal level, speaking to fans after shows. Taking time to speak to fans who tell me how it’s affected them, maybe it got them through some tough times in their life. That’s the most rewarding thing over being recognized for doing something. The most rewarding thing would be talking to people face-to-face and them telling me how much of an impact our music had on their life or how much it helped them. That’s the most rewarding thing for me.
For sure man. You live in New Jersey right?
As a producer, was there any part of you that wanted to move to LA or NY earlier on in your career?
Yeah, I would’ve liked to move to New York, probably not LA. It just kind of never really made sense or worked out because I’m close enough. It didn’t really ever make sense. I’m really close to the city so I never had to. I’m lucky enough to be able to stay around where I always was, but still be able to go to the city and work with everyone coming in and out. It just never really made sense to make the move.
True. Does your environment, whether you’re in New Jersey or New York, affect your creative process in any way?
Yeah, I have my little set up at home. Out here it’s a little quieter and laid back. Then I’ll go work with other producers or artists in the city and we get a bunch of work done. A lot of the time it’s with people that aren’t from or in NY, they’ll just be coming through. So they’re in a super work mode. They’re coming for two or three days. It’s kind of just making a bunch of music. It’s a different type of situation. So yeah, sometimes it can be a little more fast-paced. Just a different vibe. But it’s good to have both and to be able to go back and forth. There’s never too much of one or the other, it’s good to have that balance.
If you’re in too much of one environment, do you find that it plays a role in getting beat block?
Yeah for sure. I get like that all the time at home. I’ll be making beats by myself. Yeah, it’s super easy to get blocked, and get stuck doing the same thing and not really come up with anything new. That’s why I like to work with other people and new types of artists. It kind of gets me out of my comfort zone a little bit and shakes things up when I start feeling like that. So yeah, I definitely try to be aware of that when it starts. When I start feeling like that, I can go link up with some other people or some new types of artists. Anything that’s a little bit of a challenge, shaking it up, kind of restart my brain a little bit, creatively.
What can we expect from you after the release of this project? Will you be hitting the road?
Yeah, after this is out, I’ll be doing some shows. I’ll be doing some short touring around this project. I may start getting back to work on some rap stuff. I may start working on another instrumental thing. I don’t really know yet, I gotta see how I feel. I’ll just follow whatever I’m feeling and follow the most natural way of making music. I never really try to overthink it. So whatever I feel like I need to do at the time, I try to just follow that. So yeah, I don’t know what could be next. I do have some rap stuff on the way that’ll be coming out soon. There are some collabs that will be out too. But as far as my next solo music, I might be starting to work on that.
Dope. Could we get a hint of who you got collabs with?
Nah, if anybody wants to know, just follow my socials. I’ll probably drop some hints here and there, or some retweeting, or some reposting. I don’t know if I’m in the place to be talking about it yet but you might be able to catch some hints if you follow my stuff.
Dope, that’s what’s up. I’m looking forward to it man.
Yeah, thank you a lot man. I appreciate your time.
Cool, no problem. I appreciate you. Thank you.
STREAM CLAMS CASINO'S NEW ALBUM MOON TRIP RADIO HERE.