A&E

The Orange Peels Rerelease Breakthrough 1997 Album ‘Square’

Record was a hit with ’90s indie-rock fans who loved salty-sweet Beatles-pop

The Orange Peels—originally from Sunnyvale but now based in Boulder Creek—scored an indie-pop hit with their debut album in the ’90s.

In October 1996, Allen Clapp and His Orchestra played a successful show in Portland with Cake and John Cale. Things were looking up for the band despite the fact that their ’60s-jangle-pop sound was not the most sellable style in the mid-l90s. But there was one problem: They weren’t technically a band.

As they drove back to the Bay Area, the three members that backed Clapp spoke up. They wanted to be more than Clapp’s Orchestra. After a brief discussion, they landed on the name the Orange Peels.

“Honestly, I was so happy that they did it, because it meant that we were really a band,” Clapp says. “It wasn’t just the solo project with people helping me out. It was a real thing.” 

It was good timing. The Orange Peels, originally based out of Sunnyvale and currently in Boulder Creek, were about to release their debut album Square on Minty Fresh Records. The 1997 record would become a hit with ’90s indie-rock fans who loved earnest, salty-sweet Beatles-pop, and it set them up for a career that has spanned two decades. They’re currently working on their eighth record.

But that first record was such an important moment for them, they decided to reissue it. On June 26, Square was rereleased for the first time on vinyl, along with several bonus tracks and alternative versions for a deluxe CD version.

Back when Clapp was working solo, he’d recorded an album’s worth of material on his battery-powered four-track tape recorder, playing every instrument himself. He showed the demos to friend Maz Kattuah, who liked it so much, he showed it to Brian Kirk—who owned hip indie the Bus Stop Label. Kirk dug the tape-hiss-filled, lo-fi recording, and wanted to release the tracks as they were. The album, One Hundred Percent Chance of Rain, was released on vinyl in 1993 and CD in 1994. It got great reviews and some radio play.

“I’ve never actually been a lo-fi guy. I wanted to sound as good as it possibly could. It hit at this moment when the lo-fi movement started to happen,” Clapp says. “I was partially excited for them to put it out. I was also partially mortified that it was going to come out. ‘These are just four-track demos, guys.’”

The record’s success led Clapp to form a live band, which included Jill Pries (bass) and Larry Winther (drums). As a trio, they started to record Square, Clapp’s follow up, on his four-track again. They were surprised when Atlantic subsidiary X-Mas Records signed them, providing the funding to record in a real studio. But X-Mas Records went under after spending all of their money on a lavish Melvins box set of 45s. Chicago-based indie label Minty Fresh picked them up and had them rerecord again. During this period, session drummer Bob Vickers joined the group, with Winther moving to guitar.

“Allen’s tunes were out of step with what was happening at the time. But for those of us who’ve always listened to music that’s been out of step, it was great,” Vickers says. “Allen’s stuff was really pop-oriented. It had humor in it, but also real touching sides to it as well.”

The original intention to reissue the record was to finally have Square on vinyl, something they’d wanted since day one. In the year-long process it took to obtain the original recordings to remaster it for vinyl, they found recordings for all three versions, and figured why not release it all?

“We knew we were never destined for household name status. But I think in that small little world, those people are passionate about their bands,” Vickers says. “We did find a following with that record.”

They raised the funds for the rerelease on Kickstarter just to make sure this wasn’t strictly a passion project; they wanted to make sure fans were interested. There were more than enough people ready to preorder.

“A lot of the people that backed the Kickstarter, those are people that have been there since day one. Square was the thing that kicked off everything,” Clapp says. “Those people are still with us. They drink the Kool-Aid—or the orange juice.”  

For more information, check out theorangepeels.com.

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