Opening the songwriting playbook has the the Orange Peels on a big winning streak
As any fan of the Food Network knows, a few scrapes from an orange peel adds zest to a dish. San Francisco Bay Area indie-popsters the Orange Peels, according to master chef Allen Clapp, reinvented themselves by inviting more cooks into the kitchen. The result, Sun Moon (Minty Fresh), is a fully collaborative and very tasty effort.
Last summer, Peels bassist (and Clapp’s wife) Jill Pries asked the other two band members—guitarist John Moremen and drummer Gabriel Coan—to drop by their Sunnyvale, Calif., home/studio.
“It didn’t mean I was happy about it,” says Clapp, grown used to demoing the band’s material before presenting it to the others. “I told her I didn’t have any songs ready.”
“I didn’t know what would happen,” says Pries, “but my favorite Orange Peels sessions were those magical early days when we’d bounce things off Allen.”
Clapp grew up in Foster City, a planned community on the shores of the San Francisco Bay. It seemed anything but utopia to him. “It was a weird, sterile place, built around these dredged-up waterways,” he says. “It was a wasteland with no history, no old part of town, no trees. It was like growing up in Legoland.”
Still, Clapp admits, it had its moments in the summer: “Everyone made rafts and sailboats, so there was this Huck Finn kind of side to it.” As an act of protest, Clapp and his pals would jump off its many bridges, some as high as 17 feet above water. “It got more dangerous when people started dumping shopping carts into the lagoon,” he says. They had to send down someone in a skin-diver’s mask to see if it was safe.
Clapp and Pries, the only two Orange Peels who’ve been there since day one, met in 1985 while attending Concordia University, a Lutheran college in Irvine, Calif. “I was blasting Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ from my room, and Jill, the only person on campus who knew that song, knocked on my door. I expected some fire-and-brimstone guy telling me I was going to hell.”
“Allen looked a little pissed off,” says Pries. “He was nothing like what I expected. I just wanted to make friends with somebody to talk about music.”
Through the many incarnations of Allen Clapp & His Orchestra and the Orange Peels, Clapp believes his current personnel is best-suited to the “off the cuff” creativity that made Sun Moon possible. Moremen, he says, “is a very in-the-moment kind of person with a Zen quality about him. Whatever’s happening, he has an instant reaction.” Coan, who collects ’70s drum kits, “tunes them resonantly, like an instrument.”
Who better suited to fathom the 15/16 time signature and Led Zeppelin-like drone of “All At Once” or the Todd Rundgren-ish veneer of “Bicentennial Bridge,” a tribute to Clapp’s high-flying Foster City days, than his current group of musical daredevils? Clapp and Co. might even feel like reciting the San Francisco 49ers’ current mantra before gigs: “Who’s got it better than us? No-body!”