The Verve Pipe
The Verve Pipe
Alternative pop group
The Verve Pipe’s third album, Villains, earned gold status on April 24, 1996, establishing their rise from college radio smash to mainstream success. The album produced two hit singles, “Photograph” and “The Freshmen,” which continue to propel them towards platinum status. Many years of hard work are behind their apparent overnight success.
Producer Jerry Harrison was brought in to work with the band on Villains. Harrison, ex-member of the Talking Heads, has produced many other successful bands, including Crash Test Dummies and Live. After recording the album at The Plant in Sausalito, Harrison stated, “I may be biased, but I think this record has the depth and quality of playing you’ll want to hear over and over. This band is not about looks or anything else. It’s about music.” As usual, Harrison, who also was a member of the legendary Modern Lovers, shows an ability to bring out the heart and soul of the bands that he produces.
Jon Weiderhorn of Guitar World refers to the band’s pop oriented sound as “grunge lite” and goes on to describe
Members include Donny Brown, drums, vocals; Doug Corella, percussion, keyboard; A.J. Dunning, lead guitar, vocals; Brad Vander Ark, bass, vocals; and Brian Vander Ark, guitar, vocals.
Formed 1992, in East Lansing, MI; released I’ve Suffered a Head Injury, 1992, and Pop Smear, 1994, on their own LMNO Pop! label; signed with RCA and released Villians, 1996; opened for Kiss on their world tour, 1996; appeared on the The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman, 1997.
them as, “A hard rocking, level-headed group that layers crashing riffs and textural guitar fills over howling vocals, The Verve Pipe has been lumped in with a score of other bands who make their living riding the coattails of Live and Pearl Jam.”
However, the band is quickly achieving the level of success of the bands that they are accused of emulating. The band’s lead singer and songwriter, Brian Vander Ark, states in Guitar World,“I want to bridge the gap between the American alternative scene and the British pop scene. I’ll admit that sometimes the record cuts a little too close to the grunge cloth, but I like that stuff. The first time I heard’Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on the radio I thought,’Finally, something I’m into has taken off.’”
The hit singlefrom Villains,“The Freshmen,” has pushed the band into a new level of success. The lyrics tell the story of a college campus suicide. The song has touched the lives of many young people, many of whom have suffered through the suicide of a friend or family member. Michigan State’s campus in East Lansing, the band’s home base, experienced the painful reality of six young men committing suicide on campus during the 1996-97 school year. In fact, suicide is so pervasive that few college students remain untouched by the phenomenon.
The song relates the story of a young woman’s suicide as told by two young men who once dated her. The apathetically detached response from the men is that they “can’t be held responsible.” Songwriter Brian Vander Ark explained to USA Today his inspiration for the song: “These guys were talking and laughing about a girl they’d both gone out with and basically passed around.
They were so callous, it was disturbing. I embraced that idea but invented the story line. It’s total fiction. People e-mail me with so many interpretations. They say,’It’s uncanny, this song is about my life.’ Even people that never went to school identify with the story. I guess we’re all freshmen of some sort.”
The band formed in the summer of 1992, in the quintessential college town of East Lansing, Michigan. The band came together in the wake of the breakup of two other locally well known bands, Johnny with an Eye and Water 4 the Pool. The resulting lineup includes the Vander Ark brothers (Brian is the lead singer and guitarist, while Brad is on bass), lead guitar is played by A.J. Dunning, Doug Corella is on keyboard, and Donny Brown plays the drums.
The Verve Pipe earned a name locally by playing college frat parties in their adopted hometown. The hard-working band toured endlessly, building up a gradual and loyal fan base. Constant touring perfected the band’s sound, and they are well known for their emotional and passionate live performances.
Their regional success prompted the band to form their own independent record label, called LMNO Pop! On this label, they released two albums, I’ve Suffered a Head Injury and Pop Smear. The success of these independent releases quickly brought major label interest, and the band was soon picked up by RCA. Because of the commercial success of Villains, RCA plans to re-release the band’s first two albums.
Although the band’s success seems sudden, their rise in popularity was really a slow, steady climb. Brian Vander Ark told Billboard,“We’ve always taken things at a slow pace. When we came out with our first album, we sold a few hundred units out of the gate, and it took a lot of touring to drill it home. During that time, we put out another album, and once again, it took some time to catch on. We’re used to this pace, and that works to our advantage.”
In addition to their three albums, the band also enjoyed the opportunity to participate on a tribute album to XTC, one of Brian Vander Ark’s major influences. The album is called Testimonial Dinner/XTC Tribute Album and features The Verve Pipe, Joe Jackson, The Crash Test Dummies, and XTC playing under the assumed name of Terry and the Lovemen. The album is a compilation of XTC songs played by other musicians who have been influenced by the band.
Today, the band enjoys all accouterments that success offers: sold out tours, heavy rotation on MTV, a gold record, and an appearance on the Tonight Show. During the summer of 1996, the band scored a major coup by securing an opening spot on the Kiss world tour. Musically, it was an unlikely pairing. However, the band rose to the challenge when their reception in Germany tested the band’s mettle. Dunning told Guitar World, “We were in Germany. We walked out in front of 15,000 people, and the first thing we saw was 15 guys in front giving us the finger. We learned how to dodge coins, beer bottles and spit. I don’t think there’s a better way for a musician to develop a thick skin.”
I’ve Suffered a Head Injury, LMNO Pop!, 1992.
Pop Smear, LMNO Pop!, 1994.
Villains, RCA, 1996.
(Contributor) Testimonial Dinner/XTC Tribute Album, Thirsty Ear Records, 1995.
The Trouser Press Guide to ‘90’ Rock, edited by Ira A. Robbins, Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Album Network, May 24, 1996.
Bass Player, November, 1996.
Billboard, March 29, 1997.
Boston Globe, April 25, 1997.
Break, September 25, 1996.
Guitar World, June 1997.
Metro Times (Detroit), April 30, 1997.
Rolling Stone, August 22, 1996.
USA Today, April 15, 1997.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials supplied by RCA, 1997.
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