2016 may have been the worst for some but not for super hip hop producer Michael Volpe, aka Clams Casino, whose year was nothing short of exciting. Better known for producing records for modern rap icons like A$AP Rocky, the New Jersey-based beatmaker seemed content to settle for the backseat. Not anymore.
His debut album 32 Levels is an essential catalogue of dreamy instrumentals and lo-fi beats that critics have labelled ‘cloud rap’. And Volpe’s taking it to the big stage, playing shows across the globe, including this month’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. He tells us why it’s such a big deal for him.
It took three years after your third mixtape before 32 Levels dropped. Tell us more about the album.
I was working with a lot of other artists on their albums, and we had leftovers that I thought were amazing but didn’t seem to fit anywhere. So I figured one way to stick them together was to have my own project. It took a long time to figure out if it was going to be hip hop or instrumental, but it ended up being a mix of everything.
'I remembered how good and dark Mortal Kombat’s music was'
You mentioned that Mortal Kombat inspired the record.
During the process of making the album, I wasn’t listening to too much music. I didn’t want to be distracted and so I played a lot of games. I guess I was probably taking in a lot more inspiration from there than actually listening to new albums. I came back to a lot of the older games that I used to play, and remembered how good and dark Mortal Kombat’s music was.
Did you have a favourite fighter?
I have a few of them so that’s tough. Originally I liked Sub-Zero, but later on came to like Quan Chi.
Are there any other games that inspired the record?
The music in The Legend of Zelda was amazing as well.
Lil B, A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples feature on the album. What other rappers are you keen on cutting tracks with?
Lil Yachty and Kodak Black. Or those I grew up listening to, like Lil Wayne. He’s one of my greatest inspirations, but I haven’t gotten the chance to work with him yet.
'[Performing is] something I never sought out to do, but I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to connect with fans in real life.'
You’ve said that you’ve ‘never seen yourself as a performer or a DJ’. How does it feel to be thrust into the limelight now?
I enjoy it more now. It’s something I never sought out to do, but I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to connect with fans in real life. It’s a whole different experience, and it’s rewarding – it’s not just about putting music online and staying out of the way.
What do you think of music sites and blogs using ‘cloud rap’ to describe your music?
I don’t really mind at this point. They’re trying to label something that’s new or hasn’t been done. I’m proud of the fact that they had to give a name to something that I did. It just means that there hadn’t been anything like it before.
You’ve also said you’re keen on composing film scores. Is there a type of genre or director you’d like to work with?
Definitely in the coming years when the time is right. I’m a big fan of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. I think those would be a good match for me, but obviously I can’t do that anymore.
What else do you have in store for 2017?
Continuing to do more shows. Anytime I’m not touring I’ll be making new music in between, so you definitely got a lot of new stuff coming.