June 9, 2019Feature

On the release of his new record 'Moon Trip Radio', revisit our interview with Clams Casino from Issue 007, with photography by George Vornov.

“Sometimes I wish I made music that was easier for rappers…”


We arrived at Electrowerkz in London in late 2018, just a couple of weeks after Clams Casino had dropped a track with South London’s Flohio. ‘Pounce’ was co-produced by the New Jersey artist, also known as Michael Volpe, and regular collaborator Cadenza, and Volpe was excited on this wintery evening because Flohio would be joining him on stage to perform the track.

He first released music under the name Clams Casino in 2006 with his “official” debut EP ‘Rainforest’ arriving five years later. Since then collaboration has been a key aspect to his work, producing extensively for pioneering artists like Lil B, A$AP Rocky, FKA twigs and Blood Orange.

His ‘Instrumental’ mixtape series has been running since 2011, with the fourth edition arriving in 2017, which came a year after his debut album ‘32 Levels’. That record was the most indicative of his style of creating. It featured the aforementioned Lil B (several times) and Rocky, as well as Vince Staples, Kelela and curveballs like Future Islands lead man Samuel T. Herring. It proved his magnetism as a producer, with artists of many ilks clambering to work with the still relatively young artist. Now 32 years of age, his black book is bursting at the seams with some of the most innovative musicians of the last two decades.

In this conversation Volpe discusses the process of working with other artists, including the late Lil Peep, as well as the therapeutic nature of creating.

“That’s why I do it, because I respect that kids want to come out and hear my music loud.”

There were a lot of releases this year, some under the radar, a lot of projects with different artists, was that intentional?

It was just naturally how it happens. I always work the same amount every year, I never stop working. Some-times it just happens that it falls all together like this and it seems like I’m doing more!

Especially when ‘Pounce’ [featuring Flohio] came out, I looked back on everything. There was the Lil Peep stuff, a few production credits… Did the right artists come around in 2018?

Yeah for sure, maybe stuff fell into place for who knows what reason? Maybe the right artist… For example the Peep stuff, that came out about a year after we did it, we did it in April or May 2017 and it didn’t come out until May 2018. So that’s what I do, I work and work and then stuff comes out whenever, especially in that situation…

Would you have liked that track [‘4 GOLD CHAINS’] to have come out sooner?

Yeah, I tried. He was so busy at the time… It was just about to come out, the video was already done, he shot it out in London, but it was just a crazy time for him. Then, you know… When his team reached out to me I was so happy, because I didn’t think it was ever going to come out after he passed away. Especially because of the song, it’s a very important song for his fans. They wanted something like that, so it’s very special.

The lyrics are obviously incredibly poignant.

Yeah, and then after everything… It’s a whole other level.

That must have been a trip…

When I listened to it before it was heavy, but then after the fact, it became a whole other thing.

It often happens, especially in hip hop, that an artist’s meaning increases when they pass away, but with him it wasn’t just the music it was a message he was spreading with a certain demographic.

People are always going to look at things differently when someone passes away. You start thinking about what they’re saying in a whole new way, you listen to something and hear something you never realised before.

In terms of other collaborations, the Flohio link up being one of the most recent, it seemed like a perfect time and a perfect combination of MC and producer. She opened up for me in London two years ago! I did a show at XOYO during my album tour and her and AJ Tracey opened up for me and we’ve been in touch but not really working since. Just on each other’s radar. When the time was right it was right.

It’s interesting, because Flohio released that track with Modeselektor a couple of weeks before ‘Pounce’ came out. It shows her versatility, is that an important trait for collaborators for you?

I don’t think they’d be able to work with my music if they’re not versatile! It’s not easy for some artists to fit into it… Sometimes I wish I made music that was easier for rappers, because it gets frustrating, I make beats and not a lot of people know how to work with them! Anybody who works with me needs to be open to maybe stretching what they’re doing a little bit. It’s not very straightforward, and I’m always trying to do new stuff, I’m always experimenting.

Would you include Cadenza in that? Because you’re perhaps most known for your solo work and your collaborations with rappers, but to actually work with other producers, how do you find that process?

I like making beats with other producers. I do a lot of sessions with them because you learn from one another. You put yourself in a spot where you’re doing stuff you wouldn’t do by yourself. I like doing new things and things that keep me interested, and that includes making something that surprises me. Working with other producers helps them help me bring things out of me.

For the ‘collaborative process’, do you have to be in the same room as the other artists?

Sometimes it’s better, but no. It depends on who it is, some people I work better with when I’m in a position where I spend lots of time alone making beats and then email them on. Other people, we get in a room, make four beats in a day… It depends on the people and every relationship is different.

How do the collaborations come about? Which order is it in, do you have an artist in mind for a certain beat then you approach them, or… Say with Samuel T. Herring, how does something like that come to fruition?

That was actually a funny one. I had a beat idea, I emailed it to him, he sent vocals back which I had no idea what to do with. I thought he would sing, but it was this spoken thing that I wasn’t ready for! I didn’t get it at first, so I sat on it for a while because I was thinking there was something there, but I didn’t know what it was… I had to figure it out. It took a couple of months, so I rebuilt the whole thing, we didn’t use that beat I had sent. Then Sam eventually re-recorded for that new beat!

When collaborators are speaking about you they go out of their way to call you a genius. How do you build these relationships to be so strong?

I think it’s the respect for thinking outside the box and being yourself. Building something that’s your own and they see that. I don’t know… I guess you’d have to ask them!

You mentioned in an interview in Complex that you don’t necessarily like being in the spotlight, but it’s sometimes necessary to get your music seen. Does that cause any pressure or anxiety for you?

I never really thought of myself as an artist, I thought of myself as a producer. So this was all unexpected as it was never something I wanted to do, but I appreciate it! That’s why I do it, because I respect that kids want to come out and hear my music loud. I do it for them more than me.

The thing I like about your music is that it can be therapeutic. Is it therapeutic to create?

When it’s done, or when I get to the point where I know it can be finished, at that point it’s relieving, but during the process, I don’t know… The best kind of stuff comes out without thinking about it. Any time I’m overthinking a song, usually it’s not going to turn out good. But then sometimes things just fall together and I’m like, ‘I just blacked out there and it’s done’. I’m moving in a certain zone and it’s happening. As far as when it’s done, that’s a really satisfying feeling though.

Words: Craig Connolly / Photography: George Voronov 
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