By Brenna Ehrlich
Oakland singer-songwriter Shannon Shaw of Shannon & the Clams is set to go solo on June 8 with Shannon in Nashville, a record that puts her Janis Joplin-esque pipes on full display.
Shaw has made a name for herself among acts in the throwback, weirdo pop scene over the years, populated by the likes of Man Man, Nobunny, Hunx & His Punx, many of which she has collaborated with. Her upcoming solo record draws more on ’60s influences than the punky Clams, and Shaw enlisted friends like the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to come along for the retro ride.
Before digging into that album, which follows the Clams’ most recent offering, Onion, TIDAL decided to drop in on Shaw’s mother, Glenna C. Hepner, to find out more about how Shannon found her voice.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you raised Shannon.
Shannon was raised in the country in Napa, California. We had horses, geese, chickens, ducks and several dogs. She loved Frosty, our big, white horse who was half Percheron and half Arabian. When she was two or three, I would put Frosty in our front yard and Shannon on him bareback. I taught her to hold on to his mane. As I worked in the yard, Shannon and Frosty roamed the yard, Frosty eating grass and some flowers, Shannon looking like she was on top of the world.
We also camped a lot and Shannon and her three brothers loved it. We also went to church. One time I dressed her for church and put a little necklace made of candy beads around her neck. Two boys in her Sunday school class ate the beads right off her neck. Because of having three brothers at home, she tolerated it pretty well. We also spent a lot of time with her Hepner cousins in San Jose.
Shannon was always nice and polite and was well liked by everyone. She’d wake smiling as a baby and as a toddler walked around the house declaring that she was awake; she was always pretty sunny.
What music did you share with her? How do you think that music affected her as she grew older?
When she was little I played a lot of Raffi, county western music and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison. We had three new glass doors added to the entrance to our home when she was about four. She loved them once she discovered at night they looked like mirrors. She would make up songs and sing as she danced in the reflection.
When did you realize that she could be a musician?
She asked to play instruments in after school music several times; I wouldn’t let her because I thought she didn’t show enough interest. I realized she could be a musician when I found her out in our barn, playing a few notes on a bass and writing and singing songs.
I knew she would succeed because once she set her mind to something, she did it no matter what the barriers were. She was about 24 then and was already an accomplished artist with several important artistic awards.
What advice would you give other parents of musicians?
Maybe listen to them the first time they ask to play an instrument. Encourage and support their practices and praise their efforts.
Any perks to having a musician as a daughter?
I come from a family of musicians. My dad is a standup bass player, my brother Tommy is a guitar player and my brother Richard is a guitar player who played with Captain Beefheart for a time. It makes me very proud that she is following in their footsteps. Her three brothers also play guitar and have a vast knowledge of music.
Do you have any musical skills yourself?
I played piano in church. I got to pick the songs because I could only play the ones I liked. I also sang in the choir and in double quartets a few times at church, of course. I am one of the least talented in my family.
What music has Shannon hipped you to that you love?
The songs she writes are amazing. I can’t always discern the words to songs unless I’ve read them first or heard them over and over. Her words are on occasion about incidents in her life. The songs are poignant and it is easy to identify with them.
As a child she often ‘illustrated’ her feelings through drawings and sometimes singing songs when she was in trouble and she now she puts them to music. The songs Shannon and [her band mate] Cody [Blanchard] write together do have that personal feel to them but are also exciting and really fun to listen to. In short, she has ‘hipped’ me to her unique and varying style of music.