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The Verve Pipe’s Brian Van Der Ark on Kids' Music and Returning to Rock

Courtesy The Verve Pipe

Michigan band The Verve Pipe has had one of the most twist-filled music careers you could imagine. They started near Kalamazoo, playing in venues like Club Soda back in the late eighties. But then they hit it big with their single “The Freshman.” Soon they were selling out bigger places like the State Theatre for three or four nights in a row. But that was the peak. From there, they entered the kids circuit. But last year, the band went back to its roots with a new rock record, called “Overboard.” WMUK's Robbie Feinberg caught up with the band's singer, Brian Vander Ark, before they return to Kalamazoo on April 11th to play at Bell's Brewery at 8 p.m..

ROBBIE FEINBERG: So what are you working on right now?

BRIAN VANDER ARK: I’m working on a new kid's rock opera right now. These are the kinds of things I enjoy, more than anything. So the band right now is working on that kid's rock album. And hopefully that'll be out in the next six months or so. But no, this'll be, this is like, I describe it as a concept album for kids. It's like "The Wall" for kid,s essentially. It should be really good! It'll be a conceptual album. It'll be 45 minutes long. There'll be segways, you know, already about half of it's done right now. Then hopefully it'll turn into a book and stage production.

FEINBERG: So I’m curious – you sound really into the kids’ stuff. What brought you back to the more rock stuff last year?

WMUK's full interview with Verve Pipe singer Brian Vander Ark

VANDER ARK: You know, the first thing was the fans. A lot of the fans really wanted to hear something that was dark again. We were always really a dark band. When we came out with "Villains," that was a pretty dark album. "Underneath," the record released on September 11th, unfortunately, that was a sunnier record, but nobody bought that. You couldn't promote anything, so that went by the wayside. I think the idea of putting another rock record out really just, you know, we've been doing kids' music for the last five years, let's do something dark. The album we just put out called "Overboard" is very dark. One of the reasons why I wanted to call it "Overboard" is because I felt like once the process starts with the writing, the songs were really coming out dark, I felt like we were going overboard with the darkness. We decided to embrace that and just go for it, because we were so mired in the kids' music for so long that it was a nice release again to write something that was more adult and adult-themed.

RF: And that’s something I wanted to bring up. When you listen to “Overboard,” there is this theme of death throughout it. Was that a reaction to writing about homework and breakfast and scavenger hunts for so long?

BV: It's a great question! I think it was. I don't think it was a conscious effort, but you know, writing comes the way it comes. The songs, for me, and I've always felt this way, and I"m not much of a huggy feely type person, but I always feel like the songs are out there and the melodies come to you in some mystical way and the lyrics come to me in some mystical way, too. I can't pinpoint where they come from but they're out there, and they just gravitate towards me, the ones I want to write. Sometimes I just here songs that other people write and I go, "Oh, I should have written that one!" But the fact is they just come to you can you have to just embrace what it is and go with it, and this happened to be a dozen songs that are really dark that came to me. And it probably was some sort of reaction to the kids' music.

RF: I’m curious, though. The Verve Pipe has had been together for more than few decades, and that’s a shelf life far longer than so many bands. When you look back and play or listen to that earlier music, what goes through your head?

BV: The sad thing about it, most bands who've been together that long, U2 or the Rolling Stones, they're usually more successful than we are! The fact is that I've always loved my band, and I've always loved the sound I get from the other players and that when we got bored with things from "Underneath," the fact is that going into kids' music opened up a whole new world in a good way! You can use whatever instrumentation you want on it. You can put an oboe on a kids' record and it would sound perfectly normal. If you put that on a rock record, an adult record, it sounds pretentious. So the beauty of it is that it's wide open landscape! If you listen to Sargent Peppers, from the Beatles, there's elements in that that make it a kids' record! I mean it really is just like a lot of fun, entertaining record with the horns and everything. It really, to me, sounds like it could be a kids' record! For that reason, the same thing. I aspire to that with kids' music. That's the template! You go back to the early Beatles records they did and you see the landscape is wide open. You can't get away with that stuff on a rock record now! But you can on a kids' record!

RF: Now, you’ve talked before in interviews that Kalamazoo is your absolute favorite place to play. First, thank you, but what is it about the city?

BV: Well, there's a nostalgia for me. I started there in '87. First place I ever played was Club Soda in a rock band. I played the Holiday Inn bars there for years playing cover tunes. So a lot of it is nostalgia. But I owe a great debt to the city of Kalamazoo. And the support I got in the beginning. People would come out in droves and go to the Kalamzoo State Theatre shows. I think at the height of it we sold out four nights. And that's just a thrill to me. The music scene there has always been really supportive of other bands, radio and college radio have been really supportive. BUt mostly it's the fan that came out to see our band early on. And it was that energy you get from the Kalamazoo crowd in the State Theatre. I've never had a bad show there in the dozens of shows we've been there, it's been tremendous. 

The Verve Pipe will be playing Bell's Brewery April 11th at 8 p.m.

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