The Verve Pipe will perform two shows March 5 at the Brighton Center for the Performing Arts. The first performance begins at 2 p.m. and is part of the Children's Cultural Series. The second begins at 7 p.m. and is part of the BCPA's Adult Series.
The Michigan-based band released five rock albums between 1992 and 2001 and is best-known for “The Freshman,” a remorseful track from its 1996 album, Villains. A Family Album, released in 2009, marked The Verve Pipe's turn toward children's music.
We recently spoke with founding members Brian Vander Ark (lead guitar, lead vocals) and Donny Brown (drums) about Michigan, children and the power of music.
Brighton Patch: The Verve Pipe has been together for two decades. What the secret to your longevity?
Brian Vander Ark: Keeping in mind why you are here in the first place; playing with great musicians that you respect.
Donny Brown: Like any other adult relationship, it’s about space, respect and acceptance. And it helps that we share musical tastes of what we enjoy listening to and what we enjoy writing and playing.
Brighton Patch: The Verve Pipe have been playing music for adults for a couple of decades. What made you start writing songs for children?
Brown: It kind of just happened. We were asked to submit a song for a charity children’s album compilation, and between Brian and I, we wrote maybe five ideas. They chose the one they wanted on the CD, and we had these other songs left and sent them to our manager. He called and said he loved the energy, the spontaneity and the fun he heard coming through in the songs. So we wrote a few more and finished them.
Brighton Patch: Do you all have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Brown: Learn to play. Then learn to play with taste. The day of getting away with gimmicks can’t end soon enough, and in the end, the sound outlives the look. Sin on the side of the former.
Brighton Patch: Are you all friends outside of the band?
Vander Ark: Like brothers … (wink).
Brown: We are all friends. But because of where we live and the distance between us, some of us hang out together more than others.
Brighton Patch: Are there any new albums in the making?
Vander Ark: Yes. A new children's album is on the horizon.
Brown: I’m working on all different kinds of stuff. Definitely some kids' tunes and some rock tunes as well.
Brighton Patch: Is it easier to write songs for children?
Brown: Not necessarily for me. I think it might be easier to write bad songs for children. When we were writing, I noticed that we were taking the high road and not talking down to kids and that we were including the adults’ perspectives as well. I think that may be why it turned out so well, and that’s why it’s A Family Album.
Brighton Patch: Is it easier to record songs for children?
Brown: It can be very fun because you can be silly, AND it can stay in the song (instead of being an outtake). Also, I kept it open, instrumentation-wise, and let the song tell me what it needed. That’s why you hear banjo, French horn, bassoon, flute, roosters and operatic voices on the record.
Brighton Patch: Is it easier to perform songs for children?
Brown: It’s different. The entertainment quotient is different. Kids need to be drawn in and love to be part of the process once they are. It really is just a lot of fun. I enjoy it most when the kids are right up next to you and can see the creation and everything coming together.
Brighton Patch: He's only 10 months old, but I can imagine myself rocking out to “Wake Up” while driving my son to school in a few years. It seems as if it'd be a great complement to coffee. Do you all keep parents in mind when writing for children?
Brown: Absolutely, we do. We try to sing and play for both of them (parents and children) because the last thing we’d want is (getting) you to the point of “I’m going to eject this CD and throw it as far as I can” that some kids' music WILL drive you to.
Brighton Patch: In the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted's band, Wyld Stallyns, brings about world peace through music. Michigan could use a little pick-me-up. Do you think music can play a role in its transformation?
Vander Ark: Music is the only thing that will help the state, as far as I can see. Nothing else has worked! I sure hope the new governor breaks into song on occasion.
Brighton Patch: You've all traveled the world. What brought you back to Michigan?
Vander Ark: I've always been here. It's a great place to raise a family.
Brown: Michigan is home, first and foremost. It’s where my family and the other people I care for most are.
Brighton Patch: In your opinion, what role does music play in the lives of children?
Brown: In my life, it was HUGE. My parents were the “cool” ones who would let my older brother’s bands practice and leave their gear at our place. So I could go to the basement and be in this wonderland of amps, cords and drums. I still know that feeling, and it’s kept my musical imagination bubbling to feel it.
I’m so thankful for my family being unabashedly in love with music (we had a stereo and speakers with a turntable in a tiny dining room with a table set for nine) and because of all of them, I can appreciate everything from the Mills Brothers to the Brothers Johnson to “Brother Louie” to “Brother to Brother” by Gino Vanelli to “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.”
Brighton Patch: The first “grown-up” song I liked was “Turn the Radio Up” by Eric Carmen. I was 8 years old. Can you remember your first favorite song and any other turning points in the history of your musical preferences?
Vander Ark: “Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond and "I Can Help" by Billy Swan. Discovering Elton John was my biggest turning point. I was obsessed.
Brown: There really are too many to mention. Just singing harmonies with my brothers and sisters while we would do the dishes. (Learn to sing guitar solos! It’s invaluable!) I do remember playing along to my older sister’s 45s on cardboard boxes with wooden spoons in my basement. And also, my first album, A Farewell to Kings by Rush, given to me by my oldest brother, Randy.
Brighton Patch: Did you have any favorite kids' songs while growing up?
Brown: I grew up listening to Schoolhouse Rock (“I’m just a Bill/on Capitol Hill”), but 99.9 percent of the music I grew up with was what my older brothers and sisters were playing. I was always in love with love songs, for some reason. To this day, I think “If I Fell” from the Beatles is beyond brilliant.
Brighton Patch: What's a normal week like these days?
Vander Ark: Working on my radio show, writing songs, hitting the gym and hanging with the family. That's seriously about it!
Brown: Right now, lots of work behind a computer—recording, writing and editing. Fleshing out song ideas and trying to get them more solidified, speaking better with one another. And I teach drums, too. I have about 15 very cool students ranging in age from 3 to 43.
Tickets for The Verve Pipe performances may be purchased at the BCPA box office on the campus of Brighton High School or by calling 810-299-4130. Tickets for the children's show cost $9. Tickets for the adult show cost $25. Check BCPA's ticketing information page for details.