An interview with The Orange Peels leader Allen Clapp
by John Noyd
As the mastermind behind California pop-rockers THE ORANGE PEELS, guitarist-songwriter ALLEN CLAPP works magic within classic formulas, sorting and transporting pre-assigned designs into unforeseen regions populated in bracing ocean-sprayed melodies atop beautiful six-string maneuvers and electric kinetic harmonies. With Clapp and his musical companions touring the Midwest with alt-rock troubadour MATTHEW SWEET promoting their sixth studio album, the refreshingly fetching, “Begin the Begone,” MAXIMUM INK had the opportunity to toss Allen a few questions in anticipation of The Orange Peels landing in Madison for the very first-time, July 12th at the High Noon Saloon.
MAXIMUM INK: What originally drew you to your particular musical style?
ALLEN CLAPP: I suppose the framework for my idealized version of a pop group came out of the bands in the mid-1980s who were navigating this massive push forward in technology while still being influenced by the melodic dominance 60s and 70s radio. Bands like the Three O’Clock, Camper van Beethoven, XTC, and REM definitely had a foot in both realities, and sort of became templates for how you could put a band together that could evolve and still hold on to your melodic roots. The other thing is, as a child of the 70s, I’ll always remember listening to Top-40 radio on my transistor radio and the feeling of freedom that gave me. I guess it’s a combination of music that frees you somehow, along with being able to evolve.
MI: As a songwriter/pop artist is there a life-long search for hooks, rhymes or harmonies?
AC: Oh, sure! And I’m grateful when those things just fall out of the sky into my path. I’m not very intentional about trying to make those kinds of things happen, and I realize that if I tried harder on that front, I might write more songs. I’ve always had people try to get me into these exercises where you write a song a day, or force yourself to do something creative every day, and I just don’t actually come up with anything good under those circumstances. I have to wait for hooks, rhymes and harmonies to find me, and you never really know when that’s gonna happen, unfortunately.
MI: What is your holy grail in song-writing, the most elusive element in the process for you?
AC: Lyrics take me forever to write. A melody can just hit me on the head and be written in a few moments, but the lyrics always keep me guessing. In the case of our last two albums, we’ve written most of the music together at the house—just stuff that came up in the moment that we crafted into verses, choruses, and bridges—and then I sit with the music for a while until some idea springs to life. On, “Begin the Begone,” I remember having the words to, “Satellite Song,” “Wintergreen,” and, “9,” come rather quickly, while others like, “New Moon,” “Fleeing the Scene,” and, “Embers,” weren’t finished until early last fall. Sometimes it helps to see the direction an album is taking. Late last summer, I already could tell the kind of album this was going to be, so it kind of gave me permission to fill in some of the blanks with these ideas of starting over, escaping some past situation or coming to some sort of realization.
MI: The new album came together after a near fatal car accident, did your survival bring on a life re-evaluation? What surprised you the most in its aftermath?
AC: Yeah, there was a pretty major life re-evaluation in the months following that accident. There are a lot of things we’d been wanting to change, but life’s momentum was just kind of keeping us in our old patterns. Jill and I had been talking about moving to the Santa Cruz Mountains for years, and we’d also been thinking about trying to disengage from our careers a little bit so we could spend more time on creative endeavors. Getting out of Silicon Valley was a way to do both. So we sold our place in Sunnyvale and bought a hexagonal house in Boulder Creek on a couple acres. At the time, I couldn’t believe we were actually doing it, and then when we had to actually put our house on the market and move all our stuff, it was pretty overwhelming. I think surviving the accident kind of empowered us to get through it.