“I don’t know if I’ll ever really feel like an artist…” Clams Casino confesses down the line from his New Jersey abode. “That’s kinda happened on its own. I mean, I never really wanted to do that. I just set out to be a producer for other people, I never really saw myself as the artist. It was never on purpose, you know…”
Regardless of what he considers his role, it was probably inevitable that Mike Volpe, the man behind Clams, would eventually find himself pushed to the forefront. Since bursting on to the scene back in 2011, he’s already spearheaded a new genre, cloud rap, with his three Instrumental mixtapes that gloriously showcased the beats beneath his work with the likes of Lil B and Soulja Boy. But despite all his experience producing The Weeknd, Vince Staples, FKA Twigs and more, the road to the release of his own grandiose debut, 32 Levels, hasn’t exactly been easy.
“I had never done a project like this from the start,” he points out. “The mixtapes were things that I had laying around, things that people had used already. So that was a brand new thing for me. I was lost for a little bit, I wasn’t sure what to do for a while.” To add to the challenge, Mike also had to teach himself how to make the sounds from scratch, rather than delving into the thousands of samples he’s collected over the years. “Sometimes you make something that’s restricted from coming out, sometimes you’re just not able to get something properly released because of legal issues, and it gets a little frustrating. I had to teach myself how to make things sound like I found them… Now I know how to do it very quickly, I can do it very comfortably and fast, but that took a few years to get to that point.”
Despite having worked together since 2008 when Mike originally reached out to the rapper over MySpace, this was also the first time that Clams Casino found himself in a studio with Lil B, who lays down his ferocious rhymes on a couple of tracks at the start of the record. And there must have been a bit of a fear that working together in person would be completely different from internet chatter.
“I never really saw myself as the artist. It was never on purpose, you know…”
“I had done three or four shows opening up for him, but we had never really met, we would kinda just say ‘what’s up’ passing each other.” He tells us, “I didn’t know what was going to happen. We’ve been talking and working online for almost ten years, so I was a little bit nervous at first, but it was really cool. I felt maybe from the work that we had done over the internet, it was real. We didn’t really have to think about it, it just came really naturally. Thankfully.”
That Lil B, along with A$AP Rocky, appear on 32 Levels isn’t a surprise (although ‘Be Someone’, featuring all three, together will definitely have fans salivating); to begin with, there’s a sense that this record picks up where his earlier work left off. But as the record progresses, and Clams explores newer directions, some of the guest artists seem like more leftfield choices. Especially when Future Islands’ frontman Samuel T Herring steps up to the mic for the extraordinary ‘Ghost In A Kiss’. “I was a fan of Future Islands, I love that album that came out a couple of years ago. I didn’t know what was going to come out of it, and that was a huge surprise, I would never have expected to make anything like that…”
“And that’s kind of the big pay off for me, for what I wanted to do with this album,” Mike considers, summing up 32 Levels in two words, “Just experiment…”
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