An Interview with Allen Clapp of The Orange Peels

I think that the landscape around where we live-and I’ve lived here my whole life-around the San Francisco Bay area is such a great natural [setting]. Surreal, really. There are these beautiful coastal mountains, and every night the fog comes in over them with the sunset behind it. There’s the ocean on one side, the bay on the other side; there’s San Francisco 45 minutes one way, and there’re redwood forests 45 minutes the other way.

It’s just such a strange place, that it’s quite inspiring,” Allen Clapp, frontman, multi-instrumentalist, and bandleader of the Orange Peels, lovingly muses about his native California. Especially on the band’s latest album, Circling the Sun, Clapp feels that “the natural landscape has been

a huge influence. I’m not sure how you go about capturing something like a natural landscape in terms of music, but we tried. We tried to make it feel as spacious and lush as the landscape does around here, and maybe that’s [a] reason…why this album has a certain sound to it, a sort of conscious effort to capture that somehow musically.”

The Orange Peels’ music is as spacious as the richly verdant climate in which it was created. The sunny Californian pop presented on the band’s third album is warm, with catchy melodies and shimmering string parts that interlock, stretching the ear, but never past the comfort zone. Clapp explains that the Orange Peels have had a different lineup on each album they’ve put out, and that, like their surrounding environment, the current lineup has something to do with the sound that was produced on the current album. “Right before we recorded this album,” Clapp notes, “version two of the Orange Peels came to an abrupt halt, and then we made this record with Orange Peels version three, which had just come together almost by accident. And so I think right around that time, it was this new experience playing together…and we had never really recorded anything with these people before, so we just decided [to] experiment around with some sounds that we hadn’t really used before… and everything just started sounding huge on its own.”

“I think that our sound evolves on every record,” Clapp continues, “and it’s partially due to the fact that the band breaks up and goes through this big emotional upheaval every time we’re about to put out a new record. It’s not like I would choose to have that happen every time, but it just does.” Despite certain changes in the lineup, Clapp and bassist Jill Pries are constant

fixtures within the group, providing some continuity between incarnations of the group. “Jill and I are always in the band, no matter who else is coming and going,” Clapp notes, “so our sensibilities are still there.”

Not only has the band undergone extensive personnel changes between each album, but they have also released each of them on a separate label (most recently Urbana’s Parasol Records). “We were signed to [our first label]…for three records initially, and we thought that that was going to be a good thing…but we just weren’t seeing eye-to-eye with the label, and they didn’t like the direction our second record was going…and we loved [our new direction].

Then we saw that the downside of being signed to a label was that these people aren’t only going to put our records out, but they also want a lot of input. I have to draw the line somewhere. I want the people who have input in our music to be musicians, not A & R guys.” Since then, Clapp adds, the band has just sought out single-record deals with labels, which “allows us to make the records that we want to make, without anyone else interfering in it….it’s probably more work at the end of the day doing it [that] way…but it’s given us a lot of freedom. We only do what we want to do, not what anyone else wants us to do, so it’s pure art, in that respect; this is exactly what we intended [to] produce, and here it is.”

“I think…early on, when I started making music, I wanted to have a lot of input into the parts that people played,” Clapp reflects, adding that as time has passed, he has taken a more hands-off approach to music-making in a group setting. “I think I’ve realized that when you have people, and they have good ideas, you’re going to make a better record if everyone can share their ideas. So I’ve become more inclusive of people’s ideas-especially on this record-than I have been. I’ll come up with the core song sometimes: a melody and a chord progression, lyrics, that kind of thing, but then everyone fills in the cracks, and everyone’s personality comes through.”

Being the primary songwriter for the group, Clapp provides some insight into the way he works: “More often than not, [musical ideas] just sort of arrive. I’ll be doing stuff like mowing the lawn or washing the dishes, some brainless activity, and boom! Suddenly there’s a melody going and maybe some lyrics accompanying it, even, and it’s just there, when a couple of seconds before, it wasn’t. And then you get into the process where you have to complete those things, those little bits and pieces that arrive on their own, and I guess that’s more arrangement that you’re doing later on….maybe the writing is what you do when you fill in the blanks of a song….the melody suggests lyrical ideas a lot of the time, and sometimes these little things that arrive on their own are both melody and lyrics, [and] a lot of times, they just kind of dictate which direction they’re going to be going at the outset,” Clapp comments, “some take more work than others.” “Circling the Sun” “started off as…a little lullaby that I would play on piano, and ended up being…a Cars-esque sort of 80s pop song. So that one went through a major transformation, and it started off as just a musical idea with no lyrics, and the lyrics gradually got filled in over the course of a year.”

After their second album came out, “[the band] decided that it was better to just have fun playing live and not worry so much about it sounding just like the record, because it’s never going to sound just like [that] anyway, unless you bring a bunch of computers along, or twenty people…. it’s going to sound different live, but there’s going to be a lot more energy live, and it’s probably going to rock a little bit more, because we’re a rock band. It’s not going to sound as pretty, maybe, as it does on the record, but there’s going to be a different kind of energy there.”

As far as future plans go, Clapp is interested mainly in the present. “Since it takes us so long to get these things [to promote an album] together and to release them, we want to give [our current album] a fair shot.” The Orange Peels plan to give Circling the Sun fair airtime, but to follow up on this one sooner than their current pace of four years between albums. “We definitely don’t want it to be four years before our next record comes out,” says Clapp. “We’re already writing for another record right now. We’re aware that it’s taken us four years to put out every record so far, and we don’t want to be repeating that; we want to keep the momentum going….I think that there’s a lot of really mediocre music out there right now that masquerades as important…and it’s just really boring. And [the Orange Peels] are not boring. We’re melodic and we want to be your new favorite band.”

The Orange Peels will be playing at the Canopy Club in Urbana on Wednesday, August 24th with a $5 cover. Openers include Bailey and two local acts, Darling Disarm and the Elanors.

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