Q&A: Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe on Writing Music and Being Confused With The Verve

We caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Brian Vander Ark to ask him a few questions about his music, his acting and the band’s potentially confusing name.

Known for its memorable melodies and thoughtful lyrics, alternative rock band The Verve Pipe will perform 8 p.m. March 30 at the Back Room at Colectivo, to be joined by Daniel Rey (Dejan Kralj) of Wisconsin band the Gufs.

Formed in East Lansing, Michigan, in the early 1990s, The Verve Pipe launched its debut album I’ve Suffered a Head Injury in 1992. The band achieved commercial success with its 1996 album Villains, with singles “The Freshmen” and “Photograph.” In 2017, The Verve Pipe released its sixth studio album, Parachute.

The Verve Pipe was known in the 1990s as a “college band.” Is that how the group got started?

We had a good following in Michigan and played lots of fraternity and sorority parties. We’d do a lot of college tours, because schools are in pretty close proximity. We did a lot of self-promotion back then. We’d show up to campuses and hand out free CDs, and it worked. We sold close to 40,000 CDs at college campus shows.

So how did you come up with the name “The Verve Pipe?” Were you often confused with the British band The Verve?

The name is much more interesting than the story (laughs). One of our band members came up with it one drunken night. It’s a terrible name, really — people mispronounce the name and call us “The Verb Pipe,” and we do get mistaken for The Verve. Some people come to our shows and complain that we didn’t play “Bitter Sweet Symphony (a hit from The Verve’s 1997 album Urban Hymns).” I wonder if Richard Ashcroft (lead singer of The Verve) gets that — people going to his shows and demanding to hear “The Freshmen.” The Verve is a great band, though. I’ve always thought it would be fun to do a cover of “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”

The Verve Pipe is known for its candid, intensely personal lyrics, like in “Photograph” and “The Freshmen.” Did you write most of the lyrics?

I did write most of the lyrics, and I still do. Now, my bandmate Channing Lee and I collaborate on writing. She’s terrific.

Besides being a musician, you are also an actor, featured in movies like 2001’s Rock Star (starring Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston) where you played the bass player of a band called Blood Pollution. How did you get into acting?

Through friends. I’ve also done a few independent films, including Road Kill, directed by Matthew Leutwyler. I wrote the song “Colorful” for Rock Star. I feel that it’s so important to exercise the right side of your brain by screenwriting, acting, playing music. I have three kids, and I teach them to be creative every day.

Besides rock albums, The Verve Pipe has also released two children’s albums: 2009’s A Family Album and 2013’s Are We There Yet? What inspired you to create these?

When my daughter was young, about two years old, I’d take her out, and I noticed lots of parents buying cool T-shirts for their kids. I thought it would be fun to make music for children. My band started playing kids’ shows at festivals, which were enjoyable but very high-energy and exhausting. We do a song called “Cereal,” where cereal comes out of my guitar while I’m playing it. I’d come home sweaty and tired, with Fruity Pebbles stuck to me [laughs]. We’d perform two shows for kids and one show for adults in a single day, which got to be too much. We don’t do that anymore.

I have been working on a kid-themed rock opera for years, complete with a graphic novel. It’s a behemoth of a project.

In 2007, you launched your “Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms” music series, in which you perform solo in people’s homes. How did that get started, and how has that been going?

In 2007, no one was booking singer/songwriters. But I had a mortgage to pay. I got booked to play a birthday party, which I was initially hesitant about, but I had an absolute blast, and the series kind of took off from there. In my 12 years of doing this, I’ve played around 700 shows, almost 70 this year. I don’t have to deal with surly sound guys or managers, which has been great.

You will be performing with Daniel Rey of the Gufs for your Colectivo show. Since you were both part of the Midwest college music scene in the 1990s, did you play many shows together?

We used to play with the Gufs all the time, back in ’95 or ’96. We just did a show with them last year. They are terrific guys and a terrific band. I’m a big fan of The Back Room at Colectivo, too. Since the March 30 show will be the third show on the tour, hopefully the kinks will be worked out by then.