Brian Vander Ark’s opinions of his band’s most famous song have changed over time. When he wrote The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen” as a young man in the ‘90s, the song came from a place of real pain and emotion. Writing, recording, releasing and performing the track – which made the band household names and remains a radio staple to this day – were almost cathartic.
Nowadays, as a 40-something family man, Vander Ark is of two minds regarding the band that put him and his bandmates on the map. One view is pragmatic.
“Well, we grew up pretty poor, so to be able to have a family, three kids, and live in a nice neighborhood where the kids go to good camps and schools, having a hit song has certainly been very helpful,” Vander Ark said on a recent phone call. “On the financial side, it’s been very good to us.”
Then, there’s the more emotionally resonant side of things.
“As far as having something musical out there, if my song is heard by someone and affects them in some way 100 years from now, that’s wonderful,” he said. “That’s my legacy. If I’d written ‘I’m Too Sexy’ or something like that, I would feel awful. But it’s a good song with a good story to it, and if it affects people in a positive way, I hold my head up high; I’m very proud of that.”
Yes, The Verve Pipe is certainly most known for its multi-platinum smash, but the band has remained active – both in the studio and on the road – in the years since. That includes a show at The Heights Theater on Thursday night.
The band is touring in support of its latest album, Parachute, which released last year. The band’s previous release, Overboard, came out three years prior.
“It just felt right to get back out on the road,” Vander Ark said. “We’re often motivated to do other things, but the band decided it was time to get back out there. I do what the universe tells me to do, so I’ll stockpile ideas and when things come to fruition, we get in there and record a song.”
Vander Ark is the very definition of a working musician. In addition to his more traditional work with The Verve Pipe, the band has also recorded a couple of children’s records, while Vander Ark has also been working on a musical. He has also put out some solo material and dabbled in acting.
He also did something very few musicians have the pleasure of doing – he wrote a song, in “The Freshmen,” that will live on forever.
“It’s a whole different song to me now and it certainly doesn’t have the emotional impact on me, as opposed to when I first sang it,” Vander Ark said. “When you sing a song 4-5 times a week for 20 years, it’s just become another song we play. But you know that opening chord will still elicit a response from people, and that’s wonderful. Years ago, it was a very emotional part of the set, and I couldn’t wait for people to hear it, to see if they felt the way that I did. I don’t really have that feeling anymore.”
Now, this is the point in the conversation when we clear up an oft-confusing fact regarding The Verve Pipe. The band did not, in fact, record “Bittersweet Symphony,” a fellow radio hit from the ‘90s. That hit came from the British band, The Verve, so it’s certainly understandable that you may be wondering why the song had not yet been addressed.
Not that Vander Ark ever expected the two bands to ever rise to a similar level of prominence. Once upon a time, as The Verve Pipe was beginning to gain a little steam, the band saw an advertisement for an upcoming show from The Verve.
“We thought, ‘oh, shit, we have to change the name,’” Vander Ark said. “But then we thought, what are the chances this little band from Grand Rapids, Michigan would every get to a point where we’d have problems with a band from England.”
The bands’ respective songs hit radio within months of one another in 1997. So, yeah…
“I’m sure there are people who wish we played ‘Bittersweet Symphony,’” Vander Ark concedes. “Every now and then, we’ll run into people who will come up to us and say, ‘I love ‘Bittersweet Symphony.’’ And I’ll tell them, ‘I love it too.’”
The Verve Pipe is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 13 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. For information, call 214.272.8346 or visit theheightstheater.com. $20-$176, plus fees.
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