Insider Gossip
  Monthly Hot Picks
  Book Reviews
  CD Reviews
  Concert Reviews
  DVD Reviews
  Game Reviews
  Movie Reviews
  The Home of WAXEN WARES Candles!
  Check Out Anne Carlini Productions Now!!
  NEW! Crystal Gayle
  MTU Hypnosis
  NEW! Ellen Foley
  Sony Legacy Record Store Day [April 2023]
  Gotham Knights [David Russo - Composer]
  Michigan Siding Company for ALL Your Outdoor Needs

Ghost Canyon

The Verve Pipe The Verve Pipe
‘Brian Vander Ark: What’s Lurking Underneath ?’

For an entire decade, The Verve Pipe’s music has been the little engine that could, and could very well indeed. These Michigan boys got together back in 1992, beginning with Grand Rapids natives Brian Vander Ark (lead vocals, guitar), his brother Brad (former bassist) and Donny Brown (drums). Then joined by A.J. Dunning (guitar) and Doug Corella (keyboard, percussion) the guys were ready to rock our little state’s world. It is a well-known fact that they are local legends in Grand Rapids and East Lansing, which would explain the impressive record sales ensuing from their first two indie albums, I’ve Suffered a Head Injuryand Pop Smear. Impressive enough were the sales to catch the eye of RCA who signed the band and released their next three albums, debuting with Villains in 1996. With a label behind them and two top ten hits, the guys toured with Kiss in Europe and then as headliners in the States. In 1998, at tour’s end, the group also wrote two songs for the films, ‘Clay Pigeons’ and ‘Great Expectations,’ and in 1999 came the self-titled album The Verve Pipe. Now, it may have seemed like they took a break for awhile, considering there was a two year gap until the release of Underneath, but believe me these are artists that keep themselves busy and inspired. While Brian is doing solo gigs, acting and producing independent films, Doug is exhibiting his photography, Donny is producing local bands and A.J. is working in the band Miles to Mars. Top that off with the work they are doing for The Verve Pipe’s next album and one might say that they have a lot on their plate. However, there is not a doubt that they can handle it, as they have a love of the game. Recently, I got the chance to catch up with Brian before their Freedom Hill show. I walked into the Marriott Courtyard and waited in the lobby with a few minutes to spare. Brian was right on time and after chatting about the horrible rainy weather and the usual introductions, we found a table at the rear of the empty lobby. Having gone to Michigan State and having heard so much of this band, I let my curiosities start to run by asking where Brian calls home these days. “I keep a place in California and Grand Rapids. I go back and forth. I’m at both about 6 months out of the year.”

Well, all of your family is in Grand Rapids… “Yeah, except Brad. He was in the band and now he’s in New York. He used to play bass.”

Why did he leave the band ? “He got really bored with it, you know. It just got too much for him. He didn’t want to tour anymore, so he got kind of a bad attitude about touring and stuff. He didn’t want to do anything, so it was kind of a mutual thing. I tried to get him to stay, but after the arguments I was just like, whatever [a dismissive hand wave]. We still keep in touch and we still write together too.”

How old were you when you began writing songs and when did you decide that you wanted to make this into your career ? “That’s tough. The first song I ever wrote was like in the third grade. A silly little birthday song or something. It was probably in the seventh or eighth grade that I really tried to write stuff. My first gigs were at the Holiday Inn when I was like sixteen and I was trying to play my own stuff, so that’s probably when I thought that I could do this. But, then I joined the Army for four years and got distracted with that. Then I got out and decided that I never wanted to go into the Army again and I thought let’s make something happen.”

What made you join the Army ? “I got married right out of high school. I got my high school girlfriend pregnant and I felt it was the right thing to do, which it is a fucking stupid thing to do. But, I grew up in a really Christian reformed home and so it seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t have a job or a career, so the Army was always there, dangling that carrot of security. It was just stupid and awful and I hated it.”

Do you still write most of The Verve Pipe songs ? “I used to. Donny wrote half of the last record, so we pretty much share it now. In fact we are going to collaborate a lot more on this record. He gives me song ideas, which we did the first couple of years, and now we are going to go back and write together again.”

Where did you guys come up with the band’s name ? “Brian Stouda, our first guitarist who was in the band for four months, a Michigan State guy. We were sitting around drinking one night, trying to finish up the first record. We had the record done before we had a name for the band, so we were like we gotta get a name for this band. We just drank and drank and drank until four or five in the morning and we had six or seven names in a hat and finally we pulled out, “The Big To Do”. It was such a bad name, so we were all really bummed. Then Brian was just like, “Fuck it, we are going to call it the Verve Pipe”. We were like that’s cool and that was it. Then we got stuck with it. I always hated the name and we are still stuck with it. Now, people know it, but when we first started out, we had to repeat it ten times. We still have to repeat it to people that don’t know the band. It doesn’t make any sense, so it’s a terrible name because of that.”

How does Underneath compare to your other albums ? “In my opinion, Underneath sounds better. I think that it’s sonically the stronger record. I like the record a lot, but it’s not my favorite. The album before that with the frog on the cover [The Verve Pipe] sounds bad in my opinion, but the songs were so much better on that record. There’s something about the vibe of that record that I like so much more. But, you know, they are two completely different records, so it’s hard to compare. It’s just that if I put one in, I’d probably put the frog record in first, just cause I like the songs better. I like my writing better on that record.”

How did you come up with the album name Underneath ? “It started with the song. Our band was going through a really hard time and we would try not to argue and just stay on the surface of everything. Not really dig into anything, because it would be ugly. The album is really kind of pop and fun and not really angry sounding. It’s very kind of happy, you know ‘Happiness Is’, but there’s really something disturbed under that whole thing. It was going to be called The Path of Least Resistance, but we fought about that. Some guys thought it was like, “why let it be known that we are having a hard time.”

Do you have any kind of album in the works right now ? “Yeah, Donnie and I are working on demos. I’ve got almost thirty songs that I’m sitting on and half of them would be Verve Pipe songs, and Donnie has got a ton of songs as usual. So, anytime that we are ready to go, we can go in and do an album. It’s just a matter of scheduling for everyone.”

All of you in the band do a lot of solo stuff. Is there a kind of understanding about this ? “We’ve never really even talked about it. I think it’s kind of a silent understanding you know. I encourage anyone in the band to do whatever to stay creative. We don’t get together that much, you know other than to play shows and maybe write a little bit, but we are not on tour and haven’t been on tour in a year and we just do one or two shows a month. So, yeah, I encourage anybody to go out and do something else creatively. And I do, and Donny and Doug and everybody does. Joel [from the band Papa Vegas, who were produced by Brian] and AJ are in the same band, Miles to Mars now and they do their own thing. Donny produces other bands and plays in a cover band just for fun. I’m not sure if Dougie plays with anybody else. I mean, there’s no point in waiting around for everybody in our band to make the call to do something.”

Griff from the East Lansing band Botfly plays with you on your solo acoustic shows. Are you doing anything to help out these Motherbird bands ? “Not really, other than just trying to raise his profile through our own selfish endeavors. He’s going to Austin and Houston with me this week to do a couple of shows. He’s a blast to have along, and the band loves to play with him because he adds so much more to the live show. And with me doing solo stuff, I love it because, again, it adds so much.”

He’s an amazing harmonica player “Yeah, he’s great. And, he can drink too…and smoke too.”

Do you still hold a special place for East Lansing because you guys were so big there ? “Well, yeah. But, you know Donnie was from East Lansing and I lived there for maybe a year. I really don’t know that much about it, I mean I didn’t go to school there. But, we used to say that the band was from there because Donnie did all of the business, so all of the T-shirts said it because he did all of that. But, Grand Rapids was still my home, it’s still my home and it was back then. In fact it’s impossible to play there now. We can’t get a show there because there’s no place to play. Unless, you want to play at Rick’s, which just sucks. There’s just no way I’ll ever go back to Rick’s again. And, Small Planet’s gone. It was such a great club. And now, Temple Bar is up and running I hear, but there’s really no place to play. The band hasn’t played there in over a year I think.”

What about the East Lansing music festival, which is oddly enough in the parking lot of Ricks ? “Oh, really. The back parking lot there ?” [he chuckles]

Yeah, I saw Mustard Plug there a few years back “That’s another Grand Rapidian band. I saw those guys out in LA a few years ago at the Roxy and they were doing their version of ”The Freshman”, so AJ and I jumped up there and sang it with them. Have you heard that version ? It’s fucking great. It’s ska, so it’s all just up, up, up, and it’s so fucking funny with the horns playing [busts into a ba-da-da of the horn sounds]. It’s so fucking great ! It’s on one of their records. I think it’s a hidden track, I think. I remember that they contacted me about going to RCA to get permission to put it on an album, which they didn’t even have to do, they were just being nice. I was like, ‘just do it’ and RCA was livid. They [RCA] wanted nothing to do with it, they thought it was disrespectful. Whatever.”

It’s your song anyway Yeah, it’s my song! What the fuck do they care !”

Speaking of “The Freshman”, did any of that song actually happen ?“Yeah, I mean I used a dramatic license to have the girl commit suicide when she is actually still alive and well. But, for the most part, yeah. She had the abortion and that’s about the whole story.”

Any plans for a national tour ? “No, not at this point. We have to finish this record. We hardly toured for the last record. We had no support from RCA, so we had no money. I mean we could get in a van and go anywhere now, but nobody’s really into getting into a van. I mean, I would, but five guys, four crew members, you really need to have a bus. And to have a bus, you have to have a lot of shows, and to have that many shows we’d never finish the record.”

Do you prefer to play at the smaller venues ? “Yeah, definitely. Well, not all of us. I think that Donnie and Dougie like the thing today at the ampitheatre. As much as I love the station and the promotion and everything, I loved it when we played the Emerald Ballroom in Mt. Clemens. I loved that vibe. Ampitheatres to me are just tough because there’s no intimacy. You can’t touch people in the audience, they are so far away. I’d much rather be in a small club. That’s why I like doing the solo thing.”

What’s the craziest thing that you ever did while touring ?“That’s a tough one… Well, we were on tour with Kiss and at the end of the tour we had six shows in Germany and the Germans just sucked to play for. Every show before that was great. I mean, people would boo you when you first went out, but we would always win them over. We could not win the Germans over. They spat on us and threw shit at us. I remember Brad coming back and he was covered in loogies and it was disgusting. He would go right up front and flip people off because they were booing and flipping us off, and he would just be covered in spit. I had stomach problems by the end of that tour, just because it was too much to go out there every night for forty minutes and be booed by the Germans. But, the last show of the tour, we asked Kiss if we could use the monitors, you know the big screens, and they were like sure, it’s your last night. We put a monitor in back so they could watch our last show, then I took my shirt off for the last song and I had cut out these teeth from a Styrofoam cup and put them on and did a Freddie Mercury impression. I looked just like Freddy with these bucked teeth and sang “We Are the Champions” to twenty thousand booing Germans. It was so fucking funny. We have a tape of it somewhere. Kiss loved it and Gene came up afterwards and was laughing hysterically. That was probably the silliest/craziest thing besides whatever shenanigans go on on the road.”

Which leads me to my next question, what is the craziest groupie incident that you’ve ever had ?[He pauses to think]

I mean, I’ve heard of girls drinking some singer’s sweat ! “We would never do anything, and I’m being completely serious. I have friends that are in bands and they do really degrading stuff, we’d never do that. I can’t say for me. I mean nothing really crazy, except for the occasional sexual exploit. I can’t really think of anything crazy. Well, there was this one girl who was really drunk and really annoying at this theatre in Kentucky or something. She came down under the theatre to where we were and she was really annoying and would not shut up. So, I was like, “I’m outta here” and went upstairs. But, apparently Donny was with her and there was an old walk in safe under this theatre and the door was open and it was really dark and nasty and cobwebby. Anyways, Donny went to the bathroom and he came back and she was gone. He thought she took off on him, so he goes upstairs and hears her screaming. So, he goes back down there and she had taken a step off into this safe and was just covered in shit and mud. If she would have hit her head or anything and he wouldn’t have heard her, she would be dead. But, that’s not really crazy good. I can’t really think of anything. We are really not much of a groupie band.”

No skimpy clad girls throwing bras and stuff ?! “Oh, yeah, that kind of stuff happens all of the time. I’ve gone back to the dressing room and there have been girls naked and stuff, but that’s just typical. It’s girls being silly. We usually just laugh at them. It’s funny, I mean why would anyone even do that. I’ve gotten messages before a show where a girl wants to give me a blowjob. And, I’m like really kind of thinking about the show and that. I mean, sure a blowjob would be nice, but I’m not going to get somebody to go and grab the girl and come back and all of that. It’s not my thing and it’s not the band’s thing. That kind of stuff mostly comes from the groupie type girls.”

Okay, new subject. You were in the movie ‘Rock Star’ and you did the song “Colorful” for it. You have also produced and acted for indie films. What are your plans in the film arena ? “I just finished a screenplay with a couple of friends of mine about a couple of guys in Michigan in their thirties. So, it’s a little autobiographical I think. We’re producing that and we are going to film it in February of this year. So, right now it’s sending the script out to Sam Raimi’s production company and Jeff Daniels, all of the people from Michigan who help out young filmmakers here. So, that’s the next step with that. And, there are two other screenplays that are in the works. The production company that used to be Sid Flips Records has now it’s Sid Flips Films and money is going into that to produce independent films.”

Will you be appearing in this film ? “Yeah, this one. The other ones I won’t be.”

What was it like to work on ‘Rock Star’ and how were you on the set ? “It was a blast. It was three months, dude, that’s a long time to be on a film because you spend a lot of time in your trailer waiting and I had a mullet for like three months. They were extensions too, so it wasn’t like a wig. I mean I had to wear that around and I came home to visit about three or four times and people were just flipped out over this awful mullet. Which, actually I fit in really well in Northern Michigan. But, for the most part, people just thought I was a freak. I would go see friends of mine bands in LA and I’d be right in the front row just banging my head and they wouldn’t know that it was me until I’d see them backstage. So, that was probably the most fun about it. Mark Wahlberg was just great. He loved the song and really championed it and got behind me to make sure that the song was in the movie a lot, and it really is like the last five minutes of the movie, but it wasn’t originally. So, he really helped out a lot. And, Jennifer Aniston is just a doll. I mean everybody was great. But, Stephan Jenkins, Third Eye Blind’s lead singer was the only rocker that was there that kind of had a bad attitude. Otherwise, all of the other rockers, Zack Wylde from Ozzy’s band, the guys from Dokken, all of the guys were great. We just had a blast. Zack used to have a brewery in his trailer. He’d brew his own beer and be like, ‘Hey come on over and see what I did today’. So, we’d drink his flavored beer. It was a blast and he’s such a good guy.”

If you could sum up what your music means and is trying to say in one sentence, what would it be ? “I want to have some kind of dramatic impact on any listener’s life. If I can do that in some way and make somebody stop and go, “hmm, I like that line, or that line means this to me”. I want to make that connection. So, I guess one sentence would be, ‘I want to make some sort of musical connection with every person in the world…’ There you go.’”

Interviewed By G.M. Pasfield

Any questions or comments please contact Gina at:

Back To Archives