ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 17, 1997
By Steve Newton
Anyone who’s been listening to mainstream rock radio lately has likely heard “The Freshmen”, a pretty little ballad by the Verve Pipe that seems based on the singer’s poignant recollections of indelible collegiate relationships.
But as “The Freshmen” creator Brian Vander Ark explains via phone from a Texas tour stop, the tune’s creation didn’t require enrolment at any place of higher learning. “I never went to college,” he reveals, “so it truly is a story, you know. I like to tell stories, so I just wrote one up about a coupla guys.”
Vander Ark’s penchant for spinning yarns with his music comes from the heavy influence of such storytelling songwriters as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Bernie Taupin, Harry Chapin, and Simon & Garfunkel. The last CD that the native of East Lansing, Michigan, purchased was actually S&G’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, which includes such chronicles of isolation and urban alienation as “The Dangling Conversation” and “Patterns”.
“I saw it on a budget rack for like 10 bucks, so I picked it up,” says Vander Ark of the classic 1966 release. “I’ve listened to it almost every night for the past two weeks.”
While the 32-year-old Vander Ark has been immersing himself in the poetic ruminations of Paul Simon, his own band has been making waves on the North American pop charts with its major-label debut, Villains. The band’s third recording, it features heavier guitars, fewer three- and four-part harmonies, and a darker tone than previous efforts I’ve Suffered a Head Injury and Pop Smear. Former Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison—whose name keeps popping up in CD credits everywhere—handled production on Villains.
“Everyone in the band is a Talking Heads fan,” says Vander Ark, “and our drummer, Donny, was also a big fan of his production. I hadn’t paid much attention to [Harrison-produced bands] Crash Test Dummies or Live, but when I listened to Throwing Copper I thought it was a pretty good album, so we decided to go with him.”
Local Verve Pipe fans can check out the band at the Rage on Monday (July 21), when it tops a bill that includes L.A.–based Tonic and Belgium’s K’s Choice. There’ll no doubt be a few postsecondary types in the crowd, swaying to the enchanting strains of “The Freshmen” as if it were a firsthand account of their academic lives.
“A lotta people ask [what the songs are about],” says Vander Ark, “but I find that if I tell ’em the answer, and it’s different from what they believe it is, they get upset with me. So I usually don’t explain it any more. I just tell ’em, ‘Hey, whatever you think it is, that’s what it is.’ ”