Given how saturated the electronic music scene has become, it’s sort of comforting to see a producer stay true to their creative need to be different. CLAMS CASINO, aka New Jersey’s Michael Volpe, has stood by that ethos since Instrumentals I and now with the release of 32 Levels (out now on Columbia), he’s entering New Game+ territory — bending genres that evoke modern rap, heady vaporwave beats, and glitched-out patches of ambient electronica. To shed some light on his progression, we recently caught up with the producer at The Thompson Hotel in Toronto and discussed his new project, his love for Lil Yachty, and why it helps to step outside of your comfort zone.
Your portfolio is pretty vast and impressive, and your production always seems to carry a newfound sense of creativity with every track and beat that you produce. How do you keep up the creative process and make sure new ideas etc. are always flowing?
I think a lot of it is collaborations. I like to put myself in different situations with different types of artists and producers, and I think that’s a good way to keep my mind fresh. I get bored pretty easily if I do the same thing for too long so it’s great to have somebody else to bounce ideas off of rather than me being home alone, making beats and stuff. Since I finished my album, I’ve been able to go back in with a clear head and do a lot of stuff myself, but sometimes you just get to a point where you get stuck and need to keep things moving.
How do you deal with creative blocks if it’s just you sitting at home and making beats by yourself? Do you push through them before reaching out to other artists?
I try to push through but sometimes I’ll know when it’s really not working. I try not to force things too much, but I always schedule sessions with whoever’s coming through town or whoever’s in New York and reaches out to me. Even if it’s for one day, I’ll go in just to get out of my usual zone — my everyday zone. I do a lot of work from home as I have a little studio set up there but sometimes I’ll be stuck for a week or two and then I’ll meet up with one of my buddies that’s in a different room in New York or something and we’ll make a bunch of music. Sometimes it’s just all about where you are.
Like a change of scenery.
Yeah, and that’s a big help. I’m pretty much open to a lot of stuff, including any opportunities I have to meet new people — like the ones that reach out to me and want to work. Even if we don’t make music, it helps. I mean, it can be hard because you’ll meet up with somebody you’ve never met before and you’re supposed to make music, but you only have one day to actually make music together.
How do you find that initial rhythm with that person?
It’s hard. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t, and you kind of have to really get to know each other a lot of the time. But either way, I always do it. I like to take those opportunities because I’ll take something away from them either way. If we don’t make music, I’ll still take something from the experience of learning how to work with that type of artist. Sometimes they’ll do something new but it’s not always easy because you usually don’t have a lot of time together. I just love meeting new people I can work with because they keep my mind going.
Would you ever work with an artist outside of your electronic/hip-hop range? Like if a pop artist came to town and reached out to you, would you pursue that?
I’d probably be inclined to take that [opportunity] if it’s outside of that. Like if it’s something new to me, I’d probably be more interested in doing it than if it’s inside my spectrum.
I bet it would present an interesting challenge in terms of making new music. Especially since the beats you make are already quite fluid and tend to bend genres.
Most of the beats I make can be instrumentals but if I edit them a little bit and make some more space, they can be for a rapper or for a singer. A lot of the stuff I make can go in a lot of different ways and that happens all the time. Like I’ll have a rough idea and I’ll try to get a rapper on it and I’ll try to get a singer on it, but if nobody uses it then I’ll save it, and if it’s been two years or something and it’s sitting around and I still really like it, I’ll just make an instrumental version of it.
There’s a lot of freedom as far as what an idea can turn out to be. 32 Levels is a good example of that as there’s so many different types of artists on it and there are also instrumentals on there that are basically ones that I tried to get people to rap or sing on and nobody could work with them. So it goes to show an idea can go a lot of different ways.
Well, what have you found yourself listening to these days?
I listen to mostly hip-hop — do you know Lil Yachty? A lot of him. He’s one of my favourite new guys. Let me check some of the recent things on my iPod… there’s some new stuff… some old stuff, like what I used to listen to. There’s Interpol — I started listening to them again. There’s the new YG album [Still Brazy], I like that lot. But yeah, Lil Yachty, he’s one of my favourite guys.
Have you drawn any inspiration from his work?
I don’t know if it’s been directly inspirational but he’s definitely inspiring. I also don’t know how it’s going to translate into my music but it’s definitely doing something. I just don’t know exactly what yet. I’m sure it’ll come out at some point. It’s just something about him — his delivery and how he’s rapping, and just the timing, like rhythmically and stuff, is really interesting to me.
You tend to keep a pretty low profile regarding your personal life. Do you prefer being out of the spotlight?
Yeah, I do. I think that’s why I started producing in the first place. I never really thought of myself as an artist. When I started putting instrumental tapes out, they got picked up by people who like electronic music and to me, the tapes were just hip hop beats without people on them. But the crowd that was into them was a whole different kind of crowd that I wasn’t even really aware of and they thought of me as an artist — which I had to get used to because it was a little weird. I do like to go down that lane now since I have the opportunity to do so, but with producing, I try to keep them parallel — like the two lines. I like to do artist stuff and solo stuff but I enjoy staying behind the scenes too. I’m definitely not trying to be in the spotlight all the time as it’s not really what I set out to do.
Right on. Well you’re on tour right now and performing. Do you find that the road has a positive effect on you and your music?
I’m not on the road for too long. I’m making a lot of music in between shows and this tour is kind of spread out. I did that purposely because I don’t want to be on the road for too long. I’ve been able to make music in between dates and shows. It’s kind of new to me. I mean, I’ve done a few shows here and there but actually touring and stuff is new to me. It’s fun to be able to see fans reacting to my music live and it’s been pretty inspiring as I never see that too much — like seeing them during shows and meeting them face-to-face. I’ve had a lot of fun doing that.
How does it feel to have released your first official album?
I guess it’s technically a debut, but it doesn’t feel like that for me because I’ve been putting out music for a while. Plus, the Instrumentals tapes are like albums to me. 32 Levels just felt like a step in a different direction — I had never done a project like that, like mostly with guest vocalists and stuff. It didn’t feel like a debut, that’s for sure. It just felt like something new, like another chapter. It didn’t feel like, “Oh, this is my work that I’m presenting for the first time” which is what a debut would be. This album was just a different direction for me.
With it being step in a different direction, are you excited to work on new music that stays in that lane or are you eager to get back to your older, Instrumentals vibe?
Like I said before, everything I do is parallel. I’m always going to be producing behind the scenes for other people and I’ll always be doing instrumental stuff. How things are released and how things come out, I don’t really know. I’m just always working. I’m always making beats and whether they end up on somebody’s album or if I save them for my next one, I don’t really know. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and see where they end up.