Studio Session: Clams Casino Never Wants to Stop Evolving

Tim Saccenti

Producing is no longer “just a hobby” for Clams Casino. He’s set himself up as one of most prominent producers over the last five years. From a physical therapy student in New Jersey to a full-time producer, Clams, born Michael Volpe, has worked with a wide variety of artists like A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, FKA Twigs, The Weeknd, Blood Orange and many more.

His wide range of music can be attributed to his everlasting journey to discover new sounds. Clams was at the forefront of the cloud rap movement but continued to build and developed his sound over time. His Instrumental mixtape series has been well received and featured some of the most progressive and innovative production in not only in hip-hop but in music in general. The guy is always evolving.

“There’s always got to be some kind of forward thinking or forward elements for me because that’s what keeps me into it,” he tells XXL over the phone.

On July 15, Clams will release his debut album, 32 Levels, with guest features from Lil B (who he finally met in person for the first time even though they have been working together since 2011), Kelela, Sam Herring of Future Islands, Joe Newman of alt-j, A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples. The songs that have already been released from the 12-song LP have been fantastic so far and each one takes you on a distinct sonic journey. As the release date inches closer, anticipation is building rapidly.

XXL spoke with Casino about 32 Levels, exploring his sound, creating samples and hoping to do a project with Lil B.

XXL: Describe 32 Levels. Full-length debut, how do you feel? The music you’ve been releasing off it has been fantastic.

Clams Casino: It doesn’t feel like a debut. Technically, it’s my first full-length album but my previous projects, my mixtapes, those are full projects to me. I feel like I’ve been out for a while now. But I think what it’s about, it’s just really about exploring new sounds and new things that I haven’t done and working with new artists and just seeing what will happen.

The whole process for me is not knowing where it’s going to end up. I didn’t know if this was going to be an all hip-hop album or all instrumental album or all singing stuff. I just wanted to make music, see what I came up with and figure it out later. Up until last summer is when it really started to take shape and feel like I was making an album. It was very much exploring and digging deeper into my own sound and having these collaborators help me explore that.

You touched on exploring your sounds in particular in the past before.

It’s a goal for me because it keeps me wanting to do it. I get bored with doing the same thing. There has to be something that keeps me interested to keep going. If I’m doing the same thing, I’m not going to be interested. For another producer they may feel differently and I can’t talk for those guys but for me that’s the number one thing. Keep progressing and keep evolving. Make sure its natural too. Not trying to do too much or too hard, staying true to what I do but naturally progressing.

How would you describe your sound? It’s so unique, man.

I think most of the stuff that [people say] like woozy or trippy. It’s hard for me. I don’t really put it into words. It’s tough for me to describe, especially the music I make for myself. I usually don’t put it into words too much.

So out of 32 levels, hypnotically, what level do you think you’re on right?

I would say I don’t know if I will ever get to the end, 32 levels. Maybe level 31. 32, that’s the thing, that’s the progression, the evolution. If I’m lucky I won’t ever get there, I just want to keep exploring. Hopefully, I won’t get to level 32 you know? That’s how I look at it.

The lettering on the cover of 32 Levels looks Game of Thrones-inspired. Are you a fan or just a weird coincidence?

That’s a coincidence [laughs]. I seen people saying that but I think that’s because it’s the same time the show is on television. But that’s not on purpose on anything. The lettering is kind of an evolution from my first mixtape [Instrumentals]. It’s hard to see because of the black lettering but the cover of the mixtape has similar lettering. It’s just a little bit kind of evolved from there.