The accessibility of music production software has a sea of burgeoning beatmakers fighting for the attention of their favourite artists, often with the goal of making it out as an artist in their own right. But as their numbers continue to rise, the ratio of those that will actually produce game changers decreases. New Jersey’s Mike Volpe, better known as Clams Casino, through LimeWire digging sessions on his Dell laptop, managed to create a sound that became instantly recognisable as his own, and has been much imitated over the years. His atmospheric concoction of knocking boom bap drums layered with a melancholic collage of distorted samples and abstracted vocals, created an otherworldly sound that broke through with Lil B’s ‘I’m God’ in 2010 and cemented itself in 2011 with 5 tracks across A$AP Rocky’s debut mixtape Live.Love.A$AP.
Since then Clams has racked up an impressive list of production credits, from Mac Miller to FKA Twigs, secured remix work for the likes of Lana Del Rey and Florence + The Machine, and gained acclaim for the instrumental versions with his own mixtapes. His has always been progressive yet instantly recognisable, and that’s exactly what he brings into his brand new solo album 32 Levels, which feels like his own mythology encapsulated into 12 tracks.
The first half of the album will keep fans of his rap production excited, with appearances from A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples, as well as three features from Lil B, with the Based God playing a narrator of sorts for the album. While the second half experiments more with song, bringing back existing collaborators like Mikky Ekko and Sam Dew, as well as collaborating with some wishlist contributors like Kelela and Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring. It’s an ambitious record, and one that he certainly does justice to, but most impressively he succeeds without leaving his roots in the dust.
With such a unique sound, it’s not surprising that many artists find it difficult to approach his beats, or that when they do, the results are often too different to fall into a cohesive album. Luckily 32 Levels puts Clams in the drivers seat, allowing him to deliver his own vision and unleash music that otherwise wouldn’t have a home. Despite being such an exciting record on paper, with a dream line-up of collaborators, Clams Casino himself is undoubtedly the star of the album, with the full freedom to create and make the executive decision without having to tailor his sound to appease a client.
We sat down with Clams Casino for a rare interview, discussing a debut that’s been years in the making…
How does it feel to finally be putting out a debut?
I feel relieved that I can talk about it now, after working on it for so long. It feels good to step away from it for a little bit and just be able to enjoy the other stuff, the other parts about it. I was working on it for a few years, almost a little over two years. It’s just refreshing to get back to making beats for other things and just, with no goals and stuff and so that’s what I’ve been kind of getting back into.
It’s been around five years since you had that first breakthrough releasing stuff with Lil B and A$AP Rocky, and your Rainforest EP. I was wondering why you felt like now was the right timing to release an album where you’re the lead artist?
Is really just the timing of it naturally. I felt like when I was ready to do I, it just happened. I don’t really force anything, things come naturally. I started this album because I was working on a lot of other people’s albums and there was just a lot of things that were left over, and songs that weren’t really going on people’s albums, because they didn’t fit in [with the rest of their album]. But there was a lot of amazing music, so the way to get that out and not waste it, is to have me be the string that’s tying everything together, instead of working on other people’s stuff. It’ll have a home if I just be the one thing that connects them all. That’s the first idea that I had a few years ago, and I take a long time to make stuff that I’m really happy with.
As someone who’s used to working on other people’s albums, was it quite liberating to be working on your own and be able to really make the choices?
Theres definitely less demand to fit in with other things, there’s a lot more freedom. That was really something that helped the creative process, just getting deeper into my own world rather than trying to fit on other people’s projects, because my music doesn’t really fit in a lot of places. It’s not easy for a lot of artists to [fit on my beats]. So that was a really big reason why I wanted to do it, was to have that freedom and control.
How would you describe the overall process of making this album?
The whole beginning of the process I was just going around recording sample material for a few months. Almost a whole year, I was just going around the studios and recording samples. I was playing drums, playing keyboard; just messing around and recording things that I could go back to. That first part of the process was a really long time. I wasn’t even really making beats, I was just recording things that eventually I would be going back to to make samples.
Then once I got a whole bunch of that stuff, after a few months in I did it a lot in New York in a studio in Brooklyn. I went to LA, a studio over there, and flew out to London as well to do the same thing. Just running around a bunch of studios with a lot of equipment. Then I just took all this stuff and I started getting into the beats, a lot I made a home by myself. Some of them started with artists in the studio together, but I’d say the majority of it is made at home by myself.