From the Boulder Creek fog hugging the redwoods to the Virgin Islands sunsets.
(Via the Orange Peels)
Recovery & Reopening

From mountain time to island time: Boulder Creek couple’s home spared but they started over elsewhere anyway

While Allen and Jill Clapp of the Bay Area indie band the Orange Peels had longterm plans to move to the U.S. Virgin Islands, it wasn’t until they were displaced from their Boulder Creek home/studio, assuming it was gone, that they mentally moved on. The event caused them to move up their plans. “I think we felt that in order to move forward with our lives, we were going to have to do something transformative,” Allen said.

Before 2020, Allen Clapp had spent his entire life within a more-or-less 50-mile radius of San Jose. And, until 2020, when he and his wife Jill were living contentedly in Boulder Creek, he had no plans to break that bond, at least for the foreseeable future.

Then came the fires.

The Clapps were lucky. They did not lose their house in the ruinous CZU fires of August 2020. But, at least psychologically, they felt they had lost something. And they decided to leave the area anyway, to a place where no California wildfire could ever reach them — The Virgin Islands.

At 54, Clapp remains a prominent name throughout the Bay Area, thanks to The Orange Peels, the indie power-pop band he formed with Jill and two other musician friends more than 25 years ago.

Since then, The Orange Peels have produced a number of widely admired lo-fi pop albums and have attracted a national base of fans, none more so than in Northern California where they are considered a below-the-radar musical discovery.

For the past seven years, the creative epicenter of everything Orange Peels has been the San Lorenzo Woods neighborhood north of Boulder Creek on Highway 9. It was there in 2019, in the band’s in-home recording studio, that the Peels — now consisting of Clapp, Jill, and drummer Gabriel Coan — began work on their most recent recording.

They were in the studio, in fact, putting together the finishing touches on that new album when the March pandemic shutdown occurred. Suddenly quarantined in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Orange Peels did what they usually do when confined in a closed space together: They made more music.

The result of all that creativity has just been released this summer, an old-fashioned double album (think “Frampton Comes Alive” or the Beatles’ White Album) called “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life.”

“Instead of just having a clean-up session for the single album,” remembered Clapp, “we ended up writing a whole album of new material in, like, four days, reflecting the pandemic and what was going on in the world. And finally, I said, ‘You know what? I think we’re working on a double album.’ And everyone was just laughing, because it’s kind of ridiculous these days to put out a double album.”

In fact, by summer, 2020 had already been a traumatic year for Clapp, having endured the death of both of his parents that year. Then came CZU.

Allen and Jill had retreated to the home of Jill’s sister in San Francisco when the fires began to spread, and ended up staying there for three weeks. From all they were hearing, the area north of Boulder Creek, adjacent to Big Basin State Park, was being engulfed. They struggled to understand what it meant that their home was in a “red zone.”

“The fire boundaries kept changing,” said Clapp, “and the fire kept moving so fast that we didn’t know if we had anything left. So, for three weeks, we were on edge, waiting to see if our house survived.”

When they were eventually allowed to return to their home, they were shocked to learn that their home, their recording studio, their musical instruments, all of it, was spared. Instead of a relief borne of hope, they felt a kind of confusion borne of the conviction that they had lost everything.

“It was a very strange thing when we came back,” said Clapp, “because we had already gotten used to the idea that we didn’t have anything anymore. It became this way to, like, say goodbye to everything that we had owned.”

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Going back many years, the Clapps had visited the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean several times. They had fantasized about retiring there one day, but the idea never moved much beyond wishful thinking.

In November, suffering from some undefined amalgam of PTSD and survivor’s guilt, Allen and Jill headed off to Saint John, one of three main islands that make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, due east of Puerto Rico.

The idea was to refresh and de-compress, to get away from the anxieties of that traumatic year. Impulsively, against the nagging idea not to do so, they bought a house.

Alen Clapp in his home studio in Boulder Creek before evacuation.
(Via the Orange Peels)

“It wasn’t really on a whim, because we had had a plan that 10 or 15 years down the road we might do this. But, all of a sudden, our timeline got compressed.”

Clapp had lost his parents and, at least psychologically for a couple of weeks, he had believed he had lost his home as well. Like a hot-air balloon suddenly freed from its earthbound tethers, he felt unbound to the region that had been his home his whole life.

The Clapps have now traded the everyday threats of earthquakes and wildfires for the unfamiliar threats of hurricanes and island fever. The new album has meanings and allusions that are only clear now, after the fact.

All of a sudden, our timeline got compressed. ... I think we felt that in order to move forward with our lives, we were going to have to do something transformative.

The album’s title, “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life” was, in 2019, a smart-alecky joke, a hipster ironic reference to those 1980s-era General Foods International Coffee commercials. After 2020, though, “it’s not a joke anymore. We really mean it.”

Half a year after moving to the Virgin Islands, Clapp cops to an acute sense of homesickness for the Bay Area. “Man, I miss the Santa Cruz Mountains,” he said by phone from Saint John. “I see photos of my friends on a hike somewhere and I’m like, I know what that feels like! Here it’s 82 (degrees) every day. You don’t get that cooling fog coming in.”

Clapp said that The Orange Peels will remain a working band, though he can’t anticipate how the band’s sound will change as a result of their new Caribbean home. But the big move brought about by COVID-19, the death of his parents, and the CZU fires now seem inevitable to him.

“The fire was kind of a last straw for us,” he said. “I think we felt that in order to move forward with our lives, we were going to have to do something transformative. I couldn’t imagine staying there after everything that had happened. I know that doesn’t sound very rational, and just listening to myself talk, I sound like a crazy person. So, yeah, I guess we did this.”

For more information on The Orange Peels and their new double album “Celebrate the Moments of Your Life,” go to their website.