A while back there was an article in the NY Times discussing JD Beck and Domi and it begged the question what are these kids doing to jazz? Well meet Boston band Clamb who are as well taking a sledge hammer to the standard jazz bands you were used to. Complete with their own cryptic messages on social media and hidden imagery in their album art, Clamb is high concept and high reward for the average jazz enthusiast. They recently became one of the flagship bands for the New Jersey label Mint 400 Records sub-label Raining Music, a label dedicated to jazz and instrumental music. Enjoy their debut album as we go in depth and ask band leader Peter Danilchuk all about what makes them tick.
Why the name Clamb? So what is interesting is when I try to find the clear definition it seems there is not just one, but this is what I found " Obsolete strong preterit of climb." What does that mean and are you worried people just think you spelled the name of the mollusk and combined it with Lamb or some weird thing like that?
A CLAM is a musical mistake. A beef! So why not take the band who wants to redefine mistakes and simply name it AFTER those mistakes but also spell it badly. That hopefully signals our lack of apprehension about how and what we sound like, in a world where otherwise one might live in fear of making those very mistakes. We went full-bore with it and left an obvious typo on our album cover just to drive the point home.
The music has so many elements, sometimes it's jazz, other times it's indiepop, then it switches to almost big cinematic themes. One song in particular "Fields Cornelius" to me reminds me of this 60's score to a James Bond film but with more funk to it, I forget which one. Is that on purpose or is that just what comes out?
Clamb's process is to find compelling grooves and explore them with a strong focus on meditative repetition—the rolling discovery of those grooves informs how the songs end up live or on record. As a result many of the tunes are born out of repetition and the development that it brings. Fields Cornelius is the outlier since I wrote it a few months before we started the band, It was written with the same principles in mind, but perhaps a younger form of them. I think the lack of band from those early days had driven me to write something with a finished arrangement, while most of the subsequent Clamb material has a lot more timbral interest between the three of us but a lot less harmonic development. We decided not to futz with its arrangement to furnish a contrast to the rest of our set which is either 0% composed beforehand, or perhaps 40% composed before stepping on stage. Stylistically, Fields Cornelius is a funeral dirge if Jean-Luc Ponty wrote funeral dirges...I was listening to a lot of Enigmatic Ocean in the months we were working on that one and tried to use the type of polychords they would have used in that mid-70s fusion era.
On other tracks like "Four Step Ascension" it's repetitive almost as if it's meant to be a video game soundtrack, with weird keyboard squeals, was that a conscious decision or just how it ended up sounding?
None of this stuff was planned ahead. The first time we played Four Step Ascension was at State Park in Cambridge, Mass. and it was a free improvisation that we did completely off-the-cuff. Later we learned the ideas from the audio recording from that show and subsequently played it at a few other shows, never stopping to write it further but rather jamming on it in rehearsal with little regard for composition, and eventually we created enough little corners for ourselves to explore that we got in the studio and it was one of the first songs we did, maybe the third take was the one that made the record. The synth squeals are because I like my keyboards to sound like styrofoam rubbing together, or perhaps those hot dog shaped balloons bouncing around in the car on the drive back from the balloon store, and likely when we initially created the song my synths were probably already set up to make that sound from the previous song we had played. We get the video game comparison a lot, which makes sense since we love the same jazz fusion that those video game composers were listening to in the 80s, so for musicians our age to come around to those genres in our adolescence feels almost like meeting a long-lost grandparent, except this is all happening through a filter of rap and progressive metal.
It's not often jazz trios sound so modern and you seem to be taking a page from JD Beck and Domi as pioneers of breaking apart traditional jazz and infusing it with many modern genres. Do you feel that is what you are doing or do you think of it more as just you three guys doing what you do?
Domi and JD beck are a perfect example of the younger end of the trend I just described, clearly they are tremendously hard-working musicians and composers with jazz school education but they bring in the polyrhythmic energy of Meshuggah and the slack beats from D'Angelo and there's the feedback loop of them being inspired by someone like Flying Lotus who I'd classify as being born from the exact same elements but a few decades earlier. How many jazz-adjacent artists have dipped into rock in the past decade, between Robert Glasper doing Nirvana or the Donnie McCaslin quartet playing as Bowie's band? We were all collectively raised on a common canon of popular music so it makes sense that as our own musicians we want to take those elements and pick them apart. It won't sound like jazz as one may remember but the idea of a large group choosing its standards and a style developing out of how to interpret them certainly sounds like the building blocks of jazz to me, even though the demographic of who is playing jazz and the source material they are drawing from has completely changed over the past century.
You have almost your own language online, can you elaborate on the cryptic social media messages?
What would you say are the main influences of Clamb's songwriting?
We chose a fairly constricting method of playing together with certain goals in mind, the goals vary from song to song, and by letting ideas develop gradually we find ourselves able to carve out unique spaces for each other to play around. Rarely has one of us sat down with pencil and paper to flesh something out for this band. When we practice together the goal is usually to practice observing each other and playing to fill the gaps in between what the others are already playing. So the purpose of this process is that it lays out every piece of music on the ground floor and the band has to build everything up together. Even though one of us will be guiding the others from moment to moment, the whole thing is pretty democratic, and I think the end result is that everyone feels the same sense of collective accomplishment in a finished piece.
The artwork ties everything together, who created them and is there hidden meaning in them?
I did the artwork for all our releases—we felt our music was big and splotchy and wanted the artwork to reflect the blobs of sound, so blobs of bright color was the obvious choice. From an imagery standpoint we love the idea that each of us is able to channel our own energy to motivate our own selves, and the power pyramid is clearly the perfect symbolic conduit to channel earth energy into the air above, as it has been used in such a way for millennia. The Clamb ethos is constantly evolving but it revolves around the concept that playing this kind of music is a form of self-care and is inherently anti-capitalist. It's hard for someone else to profit when you do it, and it can't be bought or sold. This past year had seen so many of us pushed to different physical and emotional extremes, changing every facet of public and private life in response to such a public health emergency, and we all found ourselves looking for some sort of salve. What we found worked for us in some ways, as we tried to adapt as musicians suddenly without any semblance of a career for those 17 months. We took a step into Dadaist escapism and let some frivolous mystic imagery drive the album's creation and the subsequent months. Everybody needs a totem sometimes.
What is the scene up in Boston like for a band that is definitely not the traditional jazz project? Do you play more indie type places or traditional jazz spaces?
There is a stunning amount of versatility among the musicians here in Boston and the surrounding areas. You can see the same musicians in multiple configurations playing vastly different genres often in the same weekend. We all explore different styles in our careers, and the result is that rarely would Clamb find ourselves in a jazz-only space since basically every venue tends to showcase our styles of music right next to loud rock bands or electronic music, or free improvised groove music and Southern rock. And frequently the type of bill we would put together would include bands of different genres like these, since we know and love the people making this music and it usually ends up being the kind of variety that keeps a four-band bill entertaining throughout the whole night.
Do you feel that by just changing up keyboard tones you can completely create a new overall sound as you go forward with writing new material? Do you plan on that or is this the set Clamb sound that you are developing?
I am constantly changing my synth sounds, even from gig to gig. I love treating each sound like its own instrument, with different advantages and limitations. Some sounds have a very fast attack and then release immediately when I pick up my hand, like on an electric organ, while others might take a long time to sweep in and then ring out after I pick my hand up. Some are very direct and on-pitch while others are so bent and modulated as to be more noise than note. Some are made to be washes of chords and others are made to be only a single melodic line, and between the two synths I have been using for this band I am trying to layer contrasting sounds. Take a soft chordal sound and add a bright melody, or take a confident chordal sound and pair it with a wheezing and out-of-time melody. Each of these sounds is to be treated with a completely different approach, since most of the things I'd do on one sound would not work at all on another. So no matter the song, each synthesizer sound has to reflect my needs for its performance as well as blending with the sound of the fretless bass and drums. The same things could be said about the fretless bass since Jameson frequently uses a pretty brazen fuzz effect, paired with an actively moving chorus sound, and often with an octaver to give him a similar level of timbral control that I have. We certainly plan to explore this relationship more in-depth, and we love the inspiration that comes out of changing the tone of your instrument in such a way that only certain things are possible. These sorts of limitations frequently give way to creative results! We haven't even touched on the ideas of Josh using alternative drum kits or percussion either, but we are all prepared to find new and interesting sounds that fit the project and constantly be re-interpreting the way we play together.
What are you working on next?
We are excited to get back into meeting and rehearsing, which completely fell to the wayside over the past 16 months. We are excited to bring the energy of our debut album to more people. And we want to be releasing more music, perhaps in smaller formats like one-off singles and mixtapes, with another album on the horizon, and we would love to get back to playing for audiences since that is where this music was made to exist in the first place. We are excited to explore new ideas, both in composition and in the way we present our music to the world, we are excited to collaborate with other musicians and artists who inspire us, and we are excited to be inspired by all our colleagues who are also finally able to make music together again after such a long break. Because it really takes an entire community to pull off something like this. We can't wait to see what everyone comes out with in these next few months because it's bound to be unlike what any of us would have expected.
- Sam Lowry