With hits like “The Freshmen” and “Photograph,” The Verve Pipe has made a career out of being free of gimmicks.
Hear songs like those on retro and pop stations and they sound just as fresh as when they were released in the 1990s. The sole original member, singer Brian Vander Ark, says that’s because The Verve Pipe adhered to a traditional pop-rock sensibility. No gimmicks there or on the last two albums, 2014’s Overboard and last year’s Parachute.
“I was very conscious of not putting in, say, record scratches when (Hanson’s) ‘MmmBop’ came out, or have a DJ join the band for an album,” Vander Ark says.
“If for the next 25 years, I had to play that stupid record scratch sound, it would drive me crazy. I avoided all those sonic pitfalls as much as I could. I just tried to put out music and stay true to what the song was.”
The Verve Pipe continues to tour, performing rock and kids shows throughout the United States, including special appearances at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits Festival, Hangout Music Festival and SummerStage in Central Park.
The Michigan-bred band will perform during an Arizona Spartans party kicking off “Spartans Storm the Desert” weekend Friday, September 7, at Wasted Grain in Scottsdale. Proceeds benefit the Arizona Spartans Endowed Scholarship Fund at MSU. The following day, MSU plays ASU at Sun Devil Stadium.
“Because it’s an MSU vibe, we’re going to play old-school stuff for the graduates or anyone who was in Michigan in ’93, ’95 or ’96, songs from Pop Smear or Villains.
“We’ll do new ones just to keep our own sanity, plus we’ll do four different versions of ‘The Freshmen,’” he adds with a laugh.
The lead singer of the Grand Rapids band wrote the song in 1990 and The Verve Pipe released it two years later on its indie album, I’ve Suffered a Head Injury. Most fans know the re-released version on the act’s multiplatinum major-label debut, Villains, in 1996.
Between recording rock albums, including the most recent release Parachute, and its first live album Villains – Live & Acoustic, featuring an acoustic reimagining of its platinum debut album Villains, The Verve Pipe expanded its repertoire to include writing and recording A Family Album, one of its critically acclaimed children’s albums.
Besides Vander Ark, the current lineup includes Lou Musa (lead guitar), Randy Sly (keyboards, backing vocals), Joel Ferguson (bass, backing vocals), Sam Briggs (drums, percussion), Channing Lee (backing vocals) and Craig Griffith (harmonica, backing vocals). Brad Phillips will guest on violin and mandolin.
“Channing is terrific,” says Vander Ark, who starred in the 2001 film Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston. He also penned the song “Colorful” for it.
“The original idea was we needed somebody to hit the high notes for the harmonies. I’ve been in love with Channing’s voice for six, seven years, when I saw her and her husband perform.
“I thought we would try this out. It worked, and she moved to Michigan from Nashville. She’s a great songwriter and a great lyricist. Her stage presence is amazing. She’s really sweet and fun to be around. Adding her has really made us all step up to our game.”
The Verve Pipe is writing new music and, once again, the songs will be on the band’s terms.
“I’m always aware of gimmicks and steering clear of them,” Vander Ark says. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to stand it.”
The Verve Pipe, Wasted Grain, 7295 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, eventbrite.com, 7 p.m. Friday, September 7, $40-$125.