For Clams Casino, Innovation is Everything

For Clams Casino, Innovation is Everything

Before Lil B became the cultural phenomenon he is today or had his Based gospel reach mass audiences with the help of cosigns by A-list celebrities, daytime television and Ivy League universities, it was only a niche demographic that acknowledged the validity of the rawest rapper alive. Even for the majority who had been been graced by the blessings of the BasedGod, B's music, lyrical content and fashion sense were often something that was mocked and not taken seriously. Fortunately, divinity recognized divinity. Clams Casino did not need cosigns or hype to realize Lil B's immaculateness. He knew from the get-go that the young artist was going to be a massive cultural icon. In 2009, the New Jersey instrumental god e-linked up with B through MySpace and blessed the BasedWorld kingpin with a beat that features stretched-out samples of Imogen Heap's "Just For Now." Thenceforth, "I'm God" was born and the rest is history.

Fast-forward seven years. Clams Casino, aka Michael Volpe, now has a unrivaled catalog of collaborations. Since the Lil B partnership, he has made standout tracks for A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, The Weeknd, MF DOOM, Blood Orange, ScHoolboy Q, Foster the People, FKA twigs, Jhené Aiko, A$AP Ferg, Mikky Ekko, Vince Staples, Danny Brown and more. Volpe's also crafted up masterful remixes for Lana Del Rey, Florence + The Machine, Sia and others. It's a shared sentiment amongst music lovers that Clammy Clams is undoubtedly one of the most innovative producers today. Not only has his sound been replicated and emulated by many, it's become somewhat of an staple, defining texture of music in the last five years. Some of today's biggest, most revered hits utilize the same aesthetic that Clams had invented -- a sound that just doesn't seem to be getting old either.

With such a notable discography, has Clams Casino received the awareness he deserves? We don't think so. Had Volpe have been any other artist or producer, it's assumable that the overwhelming imitation and the lack of overall recognition would've been quite upsetting. Luckily, Clams is no regular guy. He's not the type of person to spend his time being bitter at how things should've been. Instead, he utilizes it efficiently by experimenting and learning. Thorpe doesn't stay content with his past successes. To him, the ability to be innovative reigns above the music world's extra, petty and trifling values. If everyone else was making songs that appropriate his "I'm God" or Live.Love.A$AP formulas, he'd drop something completely different like "Norf, Norf" and make the same people hop on the Hyphy wagon. True innovation prevails; Clams Casino is a living example.

Clams Casino is a household name for our readers; you have an impressive catalog and people genuinely love your music and style. However, not many know that much about you personally. How and when did you get into music?

I always was into music. I started playing drums when I was six and started making beats when I was a freshman in high-school.

You said that you weren't very adept at instruments before. How do you record your music now that laws are stricter with sampling clearance?

I play some instruments, just not well. All I need to do is play the instrument enough to sample it. I teach myself guitar and keyboard stuff and have recorded myself playing drums, guitar and synth. From there I manipulate it and sample it.

In your early career, you got a large following from your well-known collaborations Lil B and A$AP Rocky. How did these link-ups come about? 

I linked up with Lil B through MySpace. I would make beats and I was sending beats to artists or their managers through the addresses they had listed on the site. Lil B was one of the artists I contacted. A$AP Rocky came a little later, not through MySpace but with Twitter actually.

How was it like to re-link with The Based God for "Witness" and how was it different from your earlier collaborations?

When we got together in the studio for recording sessions and to make Witness, it was the first time we had worked together in person; those sessions were the first time we actually met in person, period. All of our earlier work was done together online. It felt very normal as we just picked up where we left off. After all of those years of working together online, it was easy to work together in person.

Are you still working with A$AP Rocky and the Mob?

I’m always working with those guys; I worked with A$AP Ferg on his last album. Of course, A$AP Rocky is featured on my album.

We can't wait for that. Take us back to your three Instrumental mixtapes. What spurred the idea behind them?

Mostly that was because of requests from fans on Twitter. I had been working with Lil B and his fans would hit me up and ask me to posts beats. I kept seeing all of the requests over and over again, and they were usually for the same few songs. After about a year of all of these requests, I decided to put the collection together and share it.

It's been several years since you've released them. Do they in any way relate to your upcoming album, 32 Levels?

Yeah, I think the mixtapes were a good way to lead up to what I am doing now with my album. You can see how the sound progresses, what I was experimenting with and where I was taking the music. They are a good progression leading into the album.

One of your biggest tracks to date might be Vince Staples' "Norf Norf." However, not too many people know that you made the beat perhaps because it sounds quite different from the stuff you were known for. How'd that collaboration come about and are you always experimenting with different styles?

That collaboration came about from the process of working on my album. We were in the studio working on my song, “All Nite”, and he said he needed some beats. I left him with four beats and he ended up using three, which included the “Norf Norf” beat. Originally I had made the “Norf Norf” beat for my album; it is a very hyphy/Bay Area instrumental. A lot of people say it sounds different, but that actually is a style I have been making for ten years and I’ve done a lot of work for Bay Area rappers -- I just don’t get associated with it.

Did the music industry change in any way in the past 4 years? How have you coped with the evolution?

I still use Twitter to share music. I started on MySpace but I haven’t used that since 2009. SoundCloud is really big now, a lot of kids get discovered on SoundCloud. I’m sure there will be another platform that people will start using soon.

What type of legacy would you like to leave behind?

I would like to be remembered as somebody who always did my own thing and was known for trying new stuff and always experimenting. I’d like to be remembered as innovative.

'32 Levels,' which features Lil B, A$AP Rocky, Vince Staples, Joe Newman of alt-J, Mikky Ekko, Kelela and more, will drop on July 15 via Columbia Records. Grab your pre-order here.