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INTERVIEW: BRIAN VANDER ARK of THE VERVE PIPE – October 2018

| 13 October 2018 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “Last year (February 2017), THE VERVE PIPE—Brian Vander Ark (vocals, guitar), Lou Musa (lead guitar), Randy Sly (keyboards, backing vocals), Joel Ferguson (bass, backing vocals), Sam Briggs (drums, percussion), Channing Lee (backing vocals), Craig Griffith (harmonica, backing vocals)—released their latest studio album, Parachute, along with their first-ever live album, Villains – Live & Acoustic (featuring acoustic reimagining of their platinum-selling major label debut album Villains), recorded at The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI. With a new lineup and a renewed energy and focus, lead singer/principal songwriter/co-founder Vander Ark and the band, known for their spectacular live performances, continue to deliver original music that is distinguished by innovative arrangements, soul-searching lyrics and layered vocals. Multi-platinum alternative rock band THE VERVE PIPE—recognized worldwide for their radio hits “Photograph,” “Hero,” “Never Let You Down,” and their massive 1997 #1 single “The Freshmen” as well as the song “Colorful” as featured in the movie Rock Star—are returning to The Ark on FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26 at THE ARK. “After years of hearing about it, I was finally introduced to The Ark in 2006 and now it’s our favorite room to play the acoustic shows,” shares lead singer/guitarist Brian Vander Ark.” We get Brian to discuss new music, touring, and much more…

ToddStar: Brian, thank you so much for taking the time out. We really appreciate it.

Brian: Thanks for doing this.

ToddStar: At the end of October, you’re coming to a place near and dear to your heart. You guys are going to play The Ark in Ann Arbor.

Brian: One of my favorites.

ToddStar: What’s it like for you when you see The Ark coming up on your tour schedule or you know it’s going to be coming up. What’s it mean to you professionally and personally?

Brian: Always exciting, on a personal level as a singer/songwriter to go into a place that’s a listening room where you could hear a pin drop, if you want to hear a pin drop, if you want, you know, a rowdy crowd you can have a rowdy crowd as well. It all depends on what kind of show you want to put on so, I mean the sky’s the limit. Sometimes we do specialty shows there where we’ll play an album front to back, like we did the with Villains and then we recorded it live, the only live recording we’ve ever made by the way. And then sometimes we’ll go in and do a show where we play fan favorites from our first two independent records and really it’s such a room that’s conducive to any kind of show you want to put on and that’s very exciting, from a personal and professional standpoint.

ToddStar: Well that being said though, the band was formed at East Lansing, what’s it like for you guys to excel so well in Ann Arbor?

Brian: Well, the great thing about it is that typically we do this show, or the last few years, we’ve done this show actually on the day Michigan State plays University of Michigan and, for me personally, being a Michigan States fan, it’s always nice because there’s always some Michigan State fans that come afterwards and go to the show. However, I hate to split up an audience, and it’s nice that U of M and MSU fans can come together and sing songs together for a great night of music, so it never bothered me.

ToddStar: Having been a fan myself since the mid 90’s right around the time Villains came out, the first time I was able to see you, you guys opened a show for REO Speedwagon at Pine Knob. What’s it like for you guys to play home state shows? Is there something special about that for you guys, are you better received locally or are you just well received everywhere?

Brian: The only place we haven’t been received was when we opened for Kiss for thirty dates, that was horrendous. Other than that, we’re very well received wherever we play because I think I’ve got some of the best musicians in the country in my band, and best songwriters. I’m fortunate that we can go any place and wow people. We’re not a shoe gazer band. We like to be entertaining, we want people to be entertained and I think that goes a long way, especially in today’s climate of young bands. Well, we’re not in a young band but of new bands.

ToddStar: You guys have Parachute out there, the latest release that you’ve got out there for everybody. You guys are all over the place, you’ve done rock records, you’ve done kids and family albums, you’ve done, like you mentioned, a live album, you’ve done some EP’s over the years. Are you guys always constantly writing, and when you are, do you have Verve Pipe in mind, or are you constantly, as you said, as a singer/songwriter, thinking, “I just want to write. I don’t care who runs with this.”

Brian: I mean, I’m constantly writing. I’m always working. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about a song I’m working on or a couple songs, or three songs that I pepper my day with, going back and forth from this song to this song to this song because I’m trying to figure what the lyrics should be. But, once the lyrics take shape and I find the lyrical hook, then it becomes whatever type of Verve Pipe or solo song that it’s meant to be. I had a song called “When Three Became Two,” that was supposed to be a Verve Pipe song. Very depressing, about a family that lost a child. And that ended up being, “When One Became Two,” which was on the kids album about a couple whose family grows exponentially. It just depends on the shape of the song and where it takes off to as to whether it’ll be a Verve Pipe rock song or a kids song or a Brian Vander Ark solo song. Organically, I think the music is always the same. I mean, the music, we don’t pander on the kid’s records, we go balls out with the rock n’ roll and the four part harmonies on the kid’s records as well. The only difference I think is between the Verve Pipe and my solo stuff, which is much more acoustic based. Because that’s where my strength is. My strength is not in the electric guitar.

ToddStar: Well, you kind of leverage that strength even with The Verve Pipe stuff, when you’ve written that. Has a lot of that, kind of, originated from that acoustic standpoint and you’ve just kind of built upon by using your band members at the time, to help fill it out, so to speak?

Brian: On my songs, yeah. I mean, everybody writes in this band, but on my songs it starts with an acoustic guitar or a piano. And I’ll know right away if this is a hard rock song or not. If I think it’s going to be a rock song, I’ll bash on the acoustic for the demo and then I’ll immediately think of Lou and what he can do on it, and that I’ll need a heavy guitar riff here, and then I’ll also immediately think of what the drums so do and what the piano should do, and background vocal harmonies. And that just comes with having a producer’s ear, you know? But yes, most everything starts out with the acoustic guitar for me.

ToddStar: Brian, looking back over your catalog of songs you’ve written, not necessarily recorded, but songs you’ve written, were there songs from your personal writing catalog that you feel just didn’t get the attention that it deserved?

Brian: “Colorful”. Easy answer.

ToddStar: Hands down, that’s my favorite song you’ve ever written.

Brian: You know, it’s a lot of people’s hands down favorite, and over the years, I mean this was a huge fight with RCA. I wanted desperately for them to pick up the Rock Star Soundtrack which was up for grabs when I was in the movie, and when it came out, and Warner Brothers had the movie, RCA, I suspect, wasn’t interested in working with Warner Brothers on it, so I believe Marilyn Manson’s label ended up picking up the Rock Star Soundtrack, which I believe sold over a million copies. Now “Colorful” should have been the first single off of, or at least the second single off Underneath. But I really feel they really dropped the ball on that one. I feel like that’s the one time that, the previous album, the sophomore album, I definitely dropped the ball as a singer/songwriter in the band, but the Underneath album, I have to say, they really dropped the ball on that one. That should’ve been a single and to this day, you play the opening chords of the song and the crowd goes crazy. That’s the sign of a song that definitely has the potential to be a hit so, I think that’s probably the only one. The rest of them were a big of a hit as they should’ve been. “Photograph” had a nice hook, and “Cup of Tea” had a pretty nice hook so. They went up the charts, but failed ultimately, but I feel like “Colorful” could have been a number one. I mean now, I get hit up every day by fan mail for that song, and then I get so many people that cover it because it’s a really simple song to cover.

ToddStar: I thought it was a nice twist in the movie and on the soundtrack – it was just a nice twist because you had all this coming straight at you and then you just had a beautiful track to kind of help close out the movie.

Brian: Well, subtlety sells when you have that bombastic bass and drums for an entire album, an entire movie. I mean it’s very bombastic great, Zakk Wylde’s amazing, Blas Elias on the drums, and, you know, Jason Bonham and Jeff Pilson of Dokken. These guys are tremendous rockers. So when you have all of that, and I think a couple of songs written by Sammy Hagar, you have this rock n’ roll, rock n’ roll, of course “Colorful” is going to stand out and be a nice moment. And another reason why RCA should’ve made that a single and made it the priority.

ToddStar: When you look back at the progression of The Verve Pipe, is there anything you view as a misstep? That you’d like a second crack at? Not even that it would necessarily change the outcome, but you’d just like another crack at it.

Brian: I wouldn’t want the outcome to change, no matter what it is because I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve got a great family and a great house, and the kids go to a good school, we get to travel and I still get to be in the band. But, if I could redo anything, I would redo the second, the follow-up album to Villains. I just think, using the producer we used was a mistake. I think we spent too much time in the studio, we used too much money. We were so full of ourselves that it really destroyed us in the end. Destroyed our commercial value at least. So I’d take another stab at that, but listen, I am where I am because of the choices that I’ve made and I’m in a pretty good place. How bad should I want to redo something?

ToddStar: You made the mention how you guys are kind of full of yourselves, do you think that “The Freshman” blowing up like it did harmed you or benefited you when it first blew up?

Brian: In the immediate, and up until now, it’s helped benefit exponentially from where we were. Of course, because we’ve always got that song that still helps pay the bills and still makes the band recognizable to people, it’s terrific, you know. There were some caveats to that, the fact that when we put “The Freshman” out, and then we put another single out right after it, radio was like, “we can’t play this, we’re still playing ‘The Freshman'”. I mean, it was almost a year later, maybe almost two years later that they were complaining. They were still playing “The Freshman”, the couldn’t add another Verve Pipe song. So that was tough, it was hard to get other songs off that album release because of it but, hey, what a great problem to have, I guess.

ToddStar: Definitely. When you guys are touring, whether you’re doing a full blown rock tour, you’re scaling things back for your acoustic shows. What is a song or two that when you know it’s coming up in the set, you kind of get that extra kick of adrenaline and you can’t wait to start playing it?

Brian: Anything that we go and revisit. We went back to a couple of songs from Overboard that we hadn’t played in years, in particular, this song called “Carry On” that we all really like and we played it on this last tour and it was so fun. It was terrific. So to go back and relearn songs is always fun. For instance, we’re thinking about doing The “F-Word” which is on the ‘Frog’ [The Verve Pipe self-titled] album. And that was really fun to go over that, and relearn the lyrics, and get back into that vibe again, and that dark space. Any time we go with the old material, that we haven’t played in a while, great. Another exciting thing is to play something new, you know, to try something new. And we’ve been known to try something new and I stop the band half way through because it’s not, it doesn’t sound good, or somebody has made a mistake and weren’t ready to play it, but we have a good laugh over it. I think as long as you include the crowd in on the laugh, they feel like they’ve witness something special because you’re trying something new on this particular audience. Just mixing the setup and enjoying ourselves is the most important thing to keep ourselves entertained, as well as the crowd. Once the band stops entertaining themselves, in any band, you can bet that it’s going to come across off stage. That’s why one of the great things about, or great comments I always hear that you guys look like you’re having a great time on stage, and we are, we always have a great time on stage.

ToddStar: We’ve talked about Parachute, your last studio album. What is a song or two from Parachute that you think, over time, will hold up best against the rest Verve Pipe catalog?

Brian: Well, I think from a commercial standpoint, I feel like “If I Could Make You Feel” is probably the most popular song off the record. People happen to love that one. I mean that sounds like a single to me if there was a single. I’m a big fan of “The Fine Line”. If we go down in history as The Verve Pipe, and when we’re all long gone, I hope people appreciate that one and, I think “Wallflower” is another one. I feel really strongly about the lyrical content. There’s a lot on this record. This is by far a fan favorite since, oh boy, I want to say “Underneath.” For sure.

ToddStar: I know you’re a busy guy and we got to let you go, but when everything is said and done, what personally, and then I’d also like a professional look at it, do you feel, are the moments you’re most proud of?

Brian: Personally, my kids. No doubt. My kids are brilliant. They’re all incredibly funny and they’re all different, and they’re all incredibly talented in their own way. And that has to do with my wife too, who has an immense talent as a singer/songwriter. That, by far, is my greatest achievement, and the most thing I’m proud of personally. The professional thing, I think “The Freshman” has to be the thing I’m most proud of. The song completely changed my life, and the course of my life, there’s no other song that’s done that for me. I would say that. If somebody says, “oh, you wrote ‘The Freshman’,” it doesn’t make me feel bad; it makes me feel good, you know? There were a lot of worse songs that could have written that I would have to perform every night. Believe me. I’m probably most proud that I write that on a professional level.

ToddStar: Fair enough. Well listen Brian, I thank you so much for the time and we wish you well and safe travels until you make it to The Ark on October 26th.

Brian: Thanks Todd, appreciate you doing this.

ToddStar: Thanks man, we’ll talk to you soon.

Brian: Bye-bye.

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Todd ‘ToddStar’ Jolicoeur

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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