Pulp Friction

How the Orange Peels turned sour grapes into freshly squeezed pop

Most bands have high expectations after they finish an album, and the Orange Peels were no different when they completed their first record, Square, in the winter of 1996. The quartet figured it might get a review in Rolling Stone, a few plum tour support slots, and some serious college radio play. After all, the record was being released by Minty Fresh, the Chicago label that had launched the careers of the Cardigans and Veruca Salt. And the band thought its debut was radio friendly, with a familiar-but-you-can't-quite-place-it West Coast sound.

Upon Square's release, critics from music magazines such as Option, Magnet, and Puncture weighed in with glowing reviews (Rolling Stoneremained mute). The band received two Bammies nominations -- for Outstanding Independent Album and Outstanding Debut Album -- a remarkable fact considering that its competitors were major label monsters like Third Eye Blind, Smash Mouth, and Meredith Brooks.

Alas, the Orange Peels didn't win (Mr. T Experience and Third Eye Blind did). Then, when college radio play proved minimal and the band's members balked at the idea of quitting their day jobs for a poorly arranged tour, Minty Fresh's management threw up its hands, and the record died. Disheartened, the band returned to its Redwood City base and began demoing songs for its next album. When the Peels sent them in, Minty Fresh's brass weren't impressed.

Trent Ruane
Trent Ruane

Details

Saturday, March 3, at 1:30 p.m. The Aislers Set, the Shins, and the Henry Miller Sextet also perform. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455.


Sample of Orange Peels' "Mystery Lawn," from the CD So Far. Click the "play" icon in the control console below.

<p align="center"> If your browser doesn't display a control console, <a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/media/2001-02-28/orangepeels.mp3"> download the MP3 file</a> to be played by a separate application. </p>

Find more information, or order the CD, at www.spinartrecords.com.

Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Missouri), S.F.

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"They'd say, "This is not going to further your career,'" head Peel Allen Clapp recalls. "Or, "The first album was nice but on this one we don't hear a single.'"

Disillusionment set in. Eventually, drummer Bob Vickers quit the group, and guitarist Larry Winther followed soon after. The band was disintegrating.

Yet here it is, February 2001, and the Orange Peels have just released their second full-length, So Far, a record that may be even better than their first. What happened?


The Orange Peels' story begins in Redwood City, where Clapp, 33, and Winther, 34, grew up. "It's a nice place until you're 12," Clapp says. "When you're a teenager, there's nothing to do." Bored with petty thievery, the duo started the Batmen, a garage band that played covers of the Amboy Dukes and the Dukes of Stratosphere ("Anything with "duke' in it," Winther says). In 1989, the group split, with two members forming a hippie jam band that later included future Counting Crow Adam Duritz and two others starting the Mummies, a high-concept combo that enjoyed some popularity during the late-'80s garage rock revival. Meanwhile, Clapp started a folk duo, the Goodfellows. "I spent two years trying to look like Art Garfunkel," Clapp says.

"What's amazing is he got his hair to recede like Garfunkel," Winther adds.

By 1992 the Goodfellows had imploded. Inspired by English wispy-pop label Sarah Records, Clapp began writing lighter songs. Maz Kattuah, drummer for the Batmen and the Mummies, put out Clapp's first single on his label, Four Letter Words. Upon hearing it and some other demos, the head of the Bus Stop label, Brian Kirk, asked to release a whole album. Clapp figured Kirk wanted him to rerecord the demos in a real studio, but Kirk wanted the homemade feel of the originals.

"I said, "You're insane. Some guy sitting around recording with a four-track and you want to put it out?'" Clapp remembers. "Some of the drums were recorded in a bus, some in a church -- basically, wherever I could go."

The subsequent album, One Hundred Percent Chance of Rain, was credited rather facetiously to Allen Clapp and His Orchestra. While many reviewers placed the album alongside lo-fi efforts from Guided by Voices, Lou Barlow, and Smog, the record was different: It transcended its recording limitations instead of embracing them. On songs like "Why Sting Is Such an Idiot" and "Something Strange Happens," Clapp captured the heady rush of viciously strummed guitar and scattershot drum rolls using a $20 Radio Shack microphone and a cheap Space Echo machine. An Australian reviewer called the record "the soundtrack to cocktail parties so cool that nobody is capable of hosting them."

"I hadn't seen Allen for years and got a copy of One Hundred Percentand I was floored," Winther says. "They were totally different songs than Allen used to write back in high school. Back then he had conceptual pop stuff but he hadn't figured out how to sing."

Winther was tired of the Mummies shtick and was hiding out in Concord, installing ovens for a living. After moving back down the Peninsula, he reconnected with Clapp and bassist Jill Pries, 33. With the addition of Kattuah on drums, the quartet played for a year as Allen Clapp and His Orchestra, eventually changing its name so that people wouldn't think it was a swing band.

For the Orange Peels' debut, the players decamped to Jeff Saltzman's Campbell trailer studio to record. Saltzman, who recently engineered ex-Pavement leader Steve Malkmus' solo debut, was recommended as a producer who could capture the band's desired '60s sound. Unfortunately, when it came time to record, Saltzman wasn't impressed with Pries' or Winther's playing, and even told Clapp he couldn't sing. Saltzman then hired Bob Vickers, 37, to complete the sessions as drummer (Kattuah had by this time quit). The only bright side of the experience was that Vickers got along with the Peels so well that he ended up an official member.

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