While many people moved out of the house during the pandemic, Alan Clapp and Jill Preeze went in the other direction and left their longtime Bay Area home in search of a new one.
The husband-and-wife duo – which represented two-thirds of the acclaimed indie-pop act known as the Orange Peels – relocated from Boulder Creek to the US Virgin Islands.
They also brought along a hard drive full of recordings, along with eight of their pets, which will find their own home on Orange Peel’s latest offering – “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life.”
It is the group’s first double album – featuring clap on vocals, guitar and synthesizer; Prez – on bass and Gabrielle Coen on drums, programming and synthesizer – was released earlier this month by the minty fresh label. (See theorangepeels.com for more information.)
I’ve been following the band’s career since the late ’90s, the first time “Square” came out in ’97, and most recently the excellent new album with Clap as well as a chance to catch up on all things Orange Peels. met.
questions: It’s always nice to be with you again, Alan. Let’s kick off one thing for now: the US Virgin Islands!?!? that sounds amazing. Do I have to take this step as just more proof that you are smarter than me?
a: Ha! Well, we’ve been visiting these islands for almost 10 years now, and we’ve really fallen in love with the Caribbean. Especially St. John. If you ever felt like falling apart at the pace of life in Silicon Valley, this would be the place to do it. California time and island time don’t match up well—especially when things are taking longer than you’d like. At any time, traffic can be blocked by donkeys, or a herd of goats on the road. You are constantly reminded how insignificant your own plans are. “Island Time” is like kryptonite for schemes. As far as smarts goes, I’ll happily defer to (mutual friend) Miguel Rodriguez.
questions: I thought the new album might have a little island-like flavor because of your move. Have you ever considered throwing some calypso or soca into the mix to mark the occasion?
a: I think the closer we get to the “whenever” which definitely has a summer, the island feel to it. It is also the only song that was written here. But I wrote this before I knew we were going to be here, on a trip back in winter 2019. It was then that we realized that we might see ourselves living here at some point in the distant future.
Of course this was just before 2020 and whatever has happened since then. I think we processed almost a decade of emotions and issues in a very short amount of time, and now we find ourselves halfway across the world. I think it is inevitable that we will be affected in some way by our new environment. However it may take some time. Everything down here is on its schedule.
questions: Due to its reliance on synthesizers and programming, “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life” is a different sounding album from the Orange Peels than some might expect. Was he going to Target Studio?
a: When we started recording there was no goal or process in our mind. I think the only rule we made was to not impose any rules or preconceived notions on what we were doing. We had just decided to be a three-piece after a decade of being a quartet, and there was a sense of freedom and exploration. We followed where it led.
And of course, here are some songs that rely more on programming and synthesizers. But there are also many where only three people playing in a room live to tape cursing a song together. I think it’s a pretty organic balance between the two, and there’s a lot of cross pollination too: featuring acoustic instruments on some more program heavy tracks, and introducing electronics into band-based songs. It’s always been about doing whatever you need to do in service of the song.
To answer your question though: I think the ultimate goal is the song itself. You have to do what is needed for the song to work, even if it is uncomfortable. Especially if it’s uncomfortable. This can mean that you play far beyond your ability, use your instrument in a way that is not traditional, or is out of your comfort zone.
questions: Last time I saw you were at your father’s funeral in March 2020, just before the pandemic stopped. I later heard that you also lost your mother last year. How did those losses affect the material on this album?
a: I think loss is the lens through which we made this album. It frames everything, but maybe not in the way you might think. After losing both my parents, I was just starting to grow out of a funk when a wildfire broke out in the Santa Cruz Mountains last summer. We got an emergency evacuation order and an hour’s time to grab the essentials. It was a whole new level of tension after an already terrible year. Suddenly we didn’t even know if we had the basics anymore: a house. a studio. an address. It was just overload after what we were already doing.
So yes, there are ghosts in this album. the ghosts of a life we can no longer live; the ghosts of friends and family; In a way, there used to be a life of ghosts.
questions: Considering all you’ve gone through—and everything that people around the world have gone through—in 2020, some might expect you to act angry, bitter. But it’s not your style. Talk to me about how you found hope and how it translated into music.
a: During our three-week evacuation, just when we thought we might lose everything, we realized something important. We already had everything we needed. right there. Jill and I had each other, and our animals, and we were so grateful to be with Jill’s sister, Juliet, who let us bring eight animals to her house and camp out.
Going through something like this forces you to take stock of your life in a way that might not be possible otherwise. And we felt that we were given this gift of perspective. So yes, 2020 was like going through the ringer for us. But it was also transformative. It allowed us to take a leap of faith and say: “Hey, we’re ready for the next adventure.”
To actually be able to make this record while all that was going on was another gift. I mean, we were in the middle of making just one album when 2020 came out, and we just kept working on it and writing through it. It was a way to help make sense of everything. One song from the album, “Thank You” is really an acknowledgment of that: being able to be grateful even when things seem bleak.
questions: In addition to Orange Peels, you and Jill led a gospel rock band at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Mountain View for many years. How much did your faith and dependence on God help you get through the tough times of 2020?
a: We’re just celebrating Surviving: Going through 2020, plus some of the family tragedies that happened in the years before it. I think that was a big part of our decision to move to the Virgin Islands. Simply saying, “Hey, we made it through this. We did that. Now let’s start a new chapter.” I don’t know if we would have done that if we thought we lived in the universe without God. Especially during the last one year when there was so much fear about everything. We really felt like we were being taken care of in all those ups and downs.
questions: One of my favorite songs on the new album is “Birds Louder,” where you ask the very pertinent question: “What if we never go back to normalcy?” would that be OK? I mean, what if we never got back to normal?
a: Well this is the big question of our time. I think there’s a longing for some things back to normal, like being able to hang out with family and friends without the fear of a pandemic. But other things, the model of how people work, maybe we should take a beat and rethink that? Do we really need to populate people to work in office buildings? We proved that there were entire industries that worked fine in the last one year without forcing people to commute. As a result we experienced a huge drop in carbon emissions.
I think the biggest mistake we can make right now is to go back to normal without re-evaluating some of the things that have been normal in the last 70 years. It seems that our planet is trying to warn us that we are not on the best path. I mean, it’s “fire season” in California now. We never had anything like this when I was growing up here. Only in the last several years has this become a thing. I think it is a mistake to assume that we play no part in this. What if we looked at the past year as an opportunity rather than a disaster? learn from it. Improve how we treat the planet. how we treat each other.