Skip to content

Shannon and the Clams Are Real Magic

Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard on the band’s bittersweet new album, ‘The Moon is in the Wrong Place’
(Credit: Jim Herrington)

A few days after her fiancé died, Shannon Shaw received a “visitation” from him. 

“I think it was him saying goodbye to me,” Shannon says, of Joe Haener, who lost his life in a car accident on August 16, 2022. “He woke me up to give me a kiss to go to work, which was an everyday thing. Normally he’d be getting up really early to go farm, and he’d come give me a kiss. I’d always ask him to crack the curtains before he left because, otherwise, I could sleep all day.

“When he was waking me up that morning to leave, I thought the curtains were already open because the room was so bright, and Joe was completely bathed in light. I was looking into his eyes and just thinking, ‘You’re so beautiful.’ He was kissing my eyes, which is something he would do when I would cry, very sweet…I was feeling so happy and comforted, and then I realized that I could see him smiling, too.”

The moment inspired the song “Real or Magic,” its lyrics drawn directly from Shannon’s experience, its sound equally as beautiful and dreamy. As guitarist Cody Blanchard says, “Real or Magic” is not the band’s usual—“We don’t usually play stuff that relaxed. Our energy leans toward nervous”—explaining how they decided to keep it simple, careful not to “over-engineer the song,” allowing its lyrics and Shannon’s intimate, heart-wrenching performance to tell the tale.

Woke up from another terrible night
Bad dreams working overtime
But then I looked into his beautiful eyes
You were there, you were bathed in light

— “Real or Magic”

Certainly, anyone who’s previously classified the band as any mixture of garage/surf/punk wouldn’t pluck “Real or Magic” out of a lineup, but somehow, from a band that’s defied genre since forming 15 years ago, it’s completely in line and without compromise. Though “Real or Magic” was the last song considered for the new album (Shannon hesitated to share it, fearing it would be too “sad”), it’s an integral part of the story for the band’s new, seventh LP, The Moon is in the Wrong Place, a story that starts with “The Vow” (Joe died weeks before he and Shannon’s wedding) and ends with the song “Life Is Unfair.” 

Arriving on May 10, nearly two years after the car accident that took Joe’s life, the album is directly inspired both by the tragic loss itself as well as its aftermath—the process, the feelings—including the celebration of life.

The Moon Is in the Wrong Place marks the Clams’ third LP (Shannon’s fourth, if including her solo work) with longtime collaborator Dan Auerbach of Easy Eye Sound, a process that’s grown, as Cody describes, “more streamlined and comfortable” over the years. 

(Credit: Rick Kern/WireImage)

For Shannon, it was critical that The Moon is in the Wrong Place reflect the wide-range of emotions that arose, including the “extreme awe of nature…being overwhelmed by a sunset or just being more in tune.” The song “Bean Fields” can be characterized as nothing short of upbeat or, as Cody aptly describes: “a bunch of bluster and wildness.”

I heard I must keep living 
I know you’d want me to 
So let’s live this life to pieces 
Dedicate each day to you

— “Bean Fields”

Shannon drew inspiration by revisiting the crash site in the bean fields, “just sitting in this hot field that’s all green and has blossoms blooming, and the green beans are starting to grow, and there’s bees buzzing and crickets, and then we’re right next to this big burnt-out hole in the earth where Joe’s accident occurred,” she says. “I think just that juxtaposition of life and death was an epiphany for me or something like being in the darkest depths, only being there is the best way to see the light.” 

She adds: “You can’t appreciate the purity or the brightness of a light until you’ve been in extreme darkness. That’s probably cliché, but I don’t give a fuck because that’s truly the experience I am having and living. I just feel like things that I would’ve taken for granted are like, ‘Oh, that’s a nice flower.’ I just feel so much more power from the natural world. I just appreciate it really differently.”

Far from funereal, The Moon is in the Wrong Place harnesses a purity and hope that might be the band’s signature. It’s perhaps an art student sensibility (Shannon and Cody first met at the California College of the Arts, and keyboardist Will Sprott and drummer Nate Mahan joined later), approaching every piece as its own unique project, the album its collective exhibit. When I bring up a parallel to David Lynch—signed and sealed with their Erasurehead-esque “Big Wheel” video—both Shannon and Cody respond with: “Love it.” Thanks to director Vanessa Pla’s eerie black and white execution, the conversation easily segues to the estimated loss of the majority of silent films. “Don’t you wish you could…watch all those?” Cody asks. It’s not an everyday conversation, but for Shannon and Cody, you get the impression that it, in fact, absolutely is. 

The Clams universe (as Shannon calls it) was the perfect place to create a loving tribute to Joe—and to life itself. This is why there was no option but to move forward and make music after his death. “If I was discouraged, if I was told that I can’t write about this suffering and loss and celebration of his life, if I’m told I can’t do that, I have no interest in music, zero,” Shannon says. She credits both the band and their fans—“we have the best fans”—for their caring and support.

As Cody points out, the process was far from easy, if not terrifying at times. “I think making [this album was] almost like getting online for a rollercoaster or something. You’re just doing a step. You’re writing the song, and you’re like, ‘This is fucking scary…’ You don’t realize a year from that point you’re going to be lip-syncing this on camera or whatever, but you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m just getting in line for this rollercoaster. I don’t know how crazy it’s going to be.’ Or just like climbing up to the diving board, and you can’t really go back down the ladder—you’re already at the top of the diving board.”

“The whole time, I’ve been a little nervous about being so brutally honest,” Shannon adds. For her, the process has affirmed there’s “still a lot of pureness and love and positivity in the world.”