We live in the age of the bedroom producer. The epidemic of easily affordable, relatively hi-tech, equipment that has swept the globe, coupled with the natural democracy of the internet, has meant that a 14-year old from New Jersey can start making tracks for the likes of Lil B and Soulja Boy. They are also beats that are widely considered to be amongst the respective rappers’ most inventive. Meet Clams Casino aka Mike Volpe – now 23, he’s just released his first EP, Rainforest, with Tri Angle. Dense in atmospherics, the five tracks are plucked from the huge array of samples Clams has sourced over the years. Considering the disparate sources, it’s an amazingly cohesive work. We caught up with him to find out more.
How did you first get into music?
When I was really young I used to play drums and was always trying to teach myself other instruments. I didn’t start trying to produce and make Hip Hop beats until I was about 14 years old and I was in my first year of High School. I bought an old Yamaha sampler and was just messing with my friends and rapping over them.
How did the transition go from making beats with your friends to becoming a producer?
When I first started making beats I didn’t put them online. We used to just take them to school and give them away for free. I was doing that for years: just bringing out music and not many people hearing it. The end of 2007 was when I started trying to get stuff out, and putting it online. We got a MySpace page and just started sending out messages to people and sending them stuff. I was hitting up everyone that I wanted to work with and that was when I started to talk with rappers that I’d actually heard of.
Where do you get the ideas for your music?
I just mess around. I never have any ideas about what I want to make. I just go up and mess with samples until I hear something. It’s rare that I’ll have any idea of what I want to make, and, if I do, it’s rare that it’ll turn out like that. I try not to think about it too much. I just wait till I hear something I like and then run with it.
Where do you get your samples?
They’re mostly downloaded from file sharing sites on the internet. I haven’t done any in a while though, as I’ve got so many from over the years. I’ve got enough stuff to work with for now.
Do you think it’s the case that for you, and a wave of producers, the internet is now the overarching influence?
Yeah, I guess. Everything I’ve done is through the internet so I suppose that’s true. I have always downloaded my stuff for free from the web and I’ve always used that.
Your tracks are becoming known for being able to stand up whether with a rap on, or as an instrumental. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because there’s so much detail in it. With a rap a lot of the track gets covered by voices, you take that off and there’s all this other stuff that you’ve not heard – all of the small details. That came out when people heard the instrumental versions. But because I know the tracks, and all the small details, it’s different for me so I wasn’t as aware of it.
Would you say you’re a perfectionist?
I spend a lot of time on my tracks. I probably shouldn’t go back to my music as much as I do. I’ll make something and love it and then here it through different speakers and have to run home and change it.
How did you come to start working with Tri Angle?
Somebody sent them the instrumental tape I put out in March and they sent me a message on Twitter saying they really loved it and wanted to hear some more stuff. I already had this project done and was looking to put it out. I’d never heard of the label, or any of the artists, so I checked it all out and found it pretty cool. I thought it was really similar to some of the stuff that I was doing, which really surprised me – how well my project fitted in with the rest of the music. I thought it was a good mesh for the project.
How did you select the tracks for the EP?
I wanted to keep it similar to the instrumental tape, there are only five tracks on it but I feel they’re really strong. I have loads of stuff that I wanted to put out but it wouldn’t have been as cohesive if I added everything. They are all songs that I’ve tried to get people to rap on too that no one would touch. When I heard the reaction to the instrumental tape I just thought I’d put them out like this.
Why did it not go down with the rappers?
I don’t know! A lot of people liked them, but I don’t think they knew how they’d rap on it, or it might be tough for them to write on it. They just couldn’t get how they’d fit on the tracks. I got some really good feedback but maybe it was just meant to instrumental.
What’s next for you?
It’s tough, I don’t really know. I’m definitely not planning on putting out another EP or a full LP any time soon. I’m just going to take it slow and see how everything works out.
The Rainforest EP is out now
Words by Sam Ballard