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On Re-Adjusting to the Creative Process Through Constant Lineup Changes
A band from California and true to their Cali sound, The Orange Peels took the time to speak to Performer about their latest album, Sun Moon.▼ Article continues below ▼
The Orange Peels — The Words Don’t Work from The Orange Peels on Vimeo.
Allen Clapp, who first started recording with a four-track recorder, formed a band around a few songs he’d recorded early on. Since then, The Orange Peels have gained a name, a record deal, and have recorded an album about every four years. They’ve also taken on a new sound with each record they release, an interesting feat for any group these days. They have an ever-evolving lineup that leaves each record with a different feel. With music that is intended to transmit an atmosphere to the listener, the band has one that matures with each album, and with a name like theirs, they attract fans that evolve with them.
Each album has a different lineup – can you explain how that affects the record-making process?
Well, it all started in 1996, with just a four-track recorder and me. I called myself Allen Clapp and His Orchestra, which was a joke because it was just me. I made an album like that and it ended up being famous and I started to get offers to be signed. I put a band together to play the songs; at that point it was my wife, Jill Pries, Larry Winther who used to be in The Mummies, and Bob Vickers. We started recording under Allen Clapp and His Orchestra, but then it became obvious that it was more of a band, so we decided to really become a band and get a name.
We live in San Francisco, and no one really has any idea of how to be in a band and live in San Francisco. It’s expensive, and people move a lot because they can’t afford it. Each time we put out a record, we have a grace period where we tour on that album, then the band disintegrates. So we always form another band and record with them. As a result, each album has a new sound, even though people sometimes come back.
Each time we put out a record, we almost do an informal evaluation, and move on from the sound of each record. Ever record evolves into something beyond the original California sound, even though that’s the root. There are lots of similarities, but a lot of differences. We continually evolve, just like the things we listen to. When I think about our new album, we focused more on the approach to songwriting than our past album. I don’t know where it’s coming from, except that it’s coming from the four of us all at once. I used to write most of the material and bring it to the group, but this is different because we just showed up with no idea what we wanted to do. A lot of the songs happened in an hour and we recorded it really quick.
When did you buy your first guitar and what model was it?
The first instrument I ever played was a piano in my parents’ house. I did have a synthesizer in the ’80s – an analogue synthesizer with knobs and sliders on it and I still use it. But the first instrument I ever bought was a guitar. It was a mid-’60s Harmony Rocket, six strings. Harmony made knock-offs of Fender and Gibson guitars in the ’60s, but this guitar is perfect for me because it’s not a showpiece. It’s a cheap knock-off that happens to sound good. I’m more of a singer/songwriter/producer, not really concerned with the sound as much.
What sort of gear do you use now? Are you into vintage gear?
It’s a combination of keeping updated and using vintage gear. We’re all using Ampeg amps from the mid-’60s – all the same make, for our guitar sound. It has amazing reverb, and you can get some great vintage tones without too much effort. Jill plays an Ampeg bass amp. It has a flip top and is just easier to travel with. Our drummer, Gabriel Coan, uses three old drum kits. He buys them for cheap and restores them. He has his one vintage drum set from the mid-’60s. We stick with this stuff because it’s easier to record if you have things that sound good already.
I have a Fender Rhodes that I use in the studio and a Nord too, that I just got. That’s handling all my electric piano, string synthesizer and Mellotron, which I use for live shows now.
Can you tell me a bit about your artistic approach to songwriting?
For me, it’s got to be something that transmits an atmosphere or a feeling to the listener. I’m not sure how that happens, but if we’re working on something that I feel like isn’t doing that, we’ll stop working on it. I think the songwriting, lyrics, chord progression, ambience, mixing and recording itself has to support that mission.
How does writing typically work within the group?
It’s always been predominantly me writing the songs, but there have been one or two things on each record that other people have written. This album, we split the music four different ways, but I’d come up with the lyrics later. There was more of a division of labor and more collaborative this time around.
Does the lyric or the tune come first?
Definitely the music comes first. The way we were writing it, the band would be together and I’d just say, “Hey, I don’t have anything today, but we’re all here so let’s just work on it until it seems like it’s a song.” I’d usually go back out there later in the week and try to sing on it and figure out what the message of the song would be.
What is your favorite song off of the new album to perform live?
The last song, “Yonder,” was fun to record for the same reason that it’s fun to play. It starts off simply and it’s the kind of song that always feels like it’s going somewhere, and that’s how you feel when you’re playing it. In the middle of the song where it takes off, we transition into this modulation, and [it] kicks into this high gear.
What are your touring plans for this release?
We are in promotion and publicity gear right now, so we are rehearsing for live shows and whatnot. We have tours coming up in San Fran and LA. There’s a band that’s been around for a while, Ocean Blue, that just released an album, and we’re playing with them in San Francisco then going east to DC, Philly, New York. In the middle of the summer, we’re hitting Portland, Seattle, and hopefully late summer going to the Midwest.
If you could open for any group, who would it be?
I’d have to say the very first version of Pink Floyd headed by Syd Barrett.
Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Make the recordings and songs that you want to make for whatever reason that is. Don’t try and figure out where that fits in, or if it fits into a specific genre. Don’t even try to sound like another band; make the music you want to make. I had success with my four-track, which was weird to me, because I just thought that these songs would be so much better if I recorded [them] properly, but that wasn’t how I was supposed to get out there. I was supposed to get out there with a four-track recorder. It’s changed my way of thinking about music.
photos by Harry Gregory