When Allen Clapp first asked me to write liner notes for his new album, my initial response just didn’t work—especially via email. If he’d made the request man-to-man, as in days past, I could have stood there, with arms folded across my chest, eyes gazing at the ceiling, before replying, “I thought you’d never ask.” It’s the way famous ’40s comedian Jack Benny would have replied (Google him).
The first time I cold-called Clapp back in the ’90s—no need to use a publicist since he didn’t have one—was for an interview for a story about Allen Clapp and his Orchestra’s debut album, One Hundred Percent Chance of Rain, to be published by revered indie-rock mag The Bob. He was living in Redwood City, halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, and was working for a local newspaper. Unlike some music contacts, he seemed most congenial.
I learned the basics about Clapp. He was a UC Berkeley grad who also took music history classes. He’s a practicing member of his local Lutheran church and is particularly well spoken (My mom would have loved him). And now the interesting stuff. Surprisingly, this God-fearing man was associated in his callow youth with some kids who went on to form the Mummies. They were an uncontrollable rock band from Clapp’s hometown, Foster City, Calif. so rank they arrived at local clubs in a vintage Pontiac ambulance and created havoc onstage, busting rented PAs while stumbling around in rotting rags and trailing foul strips of gauze.
“Those stage get-ups smelled awful after a while,” says Clapp who tossed public light fixtures into nearby San Francisco Bay back in the ’80s with some of those same future Mummies as an act of teenage rebellion. He’s probably still going to confession for associating with such uncouth fellows. Oh no, those are the Catholics, sorry.
In the late ’90s, Clapp and his wife Jill Pries bought a house in Sunnyvale, about 15 miles closer to San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley. “It’s an Eichler and we’re fixing it up,” he would excitedly tell me of the flat-top “mid-century modern” tract home, a breed that flourished 50 years ago. He lightly skewers Sunnyvale these days—a town with no music scene, whatsoever (except for him)—as “the vale of sun.”
Mixed Greens is the work of a true pop music craftsman, full of impossible-to-ignore hooks and plenty of peaceful soul. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of well-constructed, perfect-sounding adult pop should add this to their collection right away. Just as they should with any record that sports the name Allen Clapp on the cover or in the credits. — All Music
Before relocating, Clapp had started a band called the Orange Peels with himself on vocals/rhythm guitar and Jill’s bass as the only permanent members. It was a worthy vehicle for the brilliant pop songs Clapp was creating then, little gems that occasionally brought back memories of ’60s pop/rock titans the Zombies and Herman’s Hermits.
A signature element of much of the zesty material he penned for the Orange Peels was its use of foul-weather imagery. “Rain is something I’ve always found appealing,” he told me in an interview for another indie-rock magazine, Magnet. His love of rain, he must have realized by now, is a strange choice for someone dwelling in “the vale of sun.”
Skipping over most of the mundane moments since then—taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, vacuuming his Eichler—just about brings us to the present and the (hopefully) triumphant return of Allen Clapp and his Orchestra. Cue the baroque trumpet voluntary, and roll in that phalanx of keyboards, if you please.
Created at his own Mystery Lawn Studio, which now occupies the garage space where his vintage Maserati once grazed, Mixed Greens is an entirely new breed of cat. “Picnic At The Hermitage” is a sweeping instrumental whose piano and synths, floating on a thin bed of industrial noise, turn the unwrapping of sandwiches and the opening of a jar of fresh ants outside Andrew Jackson’s ancestral home into a cinematic moment (or maybe it’s the museum of the same name in St. Petersburg, Russia, who knows?).
“Downfall No. 3” has something of the right-hand turn Brian Wilson once made when he ditched surf ‘n’ psych for the soulful sounds of “Wild Honey.” “All Or Nothing” adds something new to the morning weather report: an overriding sense of melancholy. And the majestic “Treeline,” with its stepladder modulations and heart-wrenching vocals, leads the man into virgin forests and blazing New World sunsets.
I’ll always love the Orange Peels, but this stunning body of new material is, to borrow an early album title from Ornette Coleman, something else. It sounds so right, like something he’d never have dared to do before. Just Allen wailing away in front of his keyboards, flying off to faraway horizons that even he never imagined possible. This is the music Allen Clapp was born to create. Welcome aboard and please keep those seatbelts buckled.