Brian Vander Ark is best known as the lead singer of The Verve Pipe and their hit single “The Freshmen” was ubiquitous on radio in the late ‘90s. Though the band did not sustain the same level of commercial success they enjoyed with their early work, Brian has stayed busy, recording solo music, collaborating with other artists, continuing to perform with The Verve Pipe, and has played over six hundred Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms House Concerts. This year has seen the release of Simple Truths, an album with acclaimed-actor Jeff Daniels, along with Parachute, a new record by The Verve Pipe.
The band celebrates their twenty-fifth anniversary in 2017 and will be on tour this summer, culminating with an acoustic performance of their entire platinum breakout album, Villains, at City Winery in New York City, and you can also catch the band at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo in September.
Brian has also recorded several children’s albums and is a father of three. We spoke with Brian about his new music, the fun of family life, and fatherhood.
Brian, you recently collaborated with actor and musician Jeff Daniels on an album called Simple Truths. What was that experience like, and what are the simple truths?
It was a terrific, different from past experiences where I was at the helm. It was nice to get to collaborate with someone again, especially Jeff, who is a prolific songwriter. Not enough people know that—or [not] as many people know about his songwriting skills as he would like. He has the talent to take it mainstream if he wanted to. Simple Truths: every song has a story, a simple snapshot of everyday living.
You’ve moved through some significant changes in your life and career, from the successes as lead singer of The Verve Pipe to marriage and family life in Michigan. You and your wife have three children, two girls and boy. How has fatherhood changed you, and how has it influenced your music and songwriting?
I’ve changed immensely. You realize when you have kids, nothing else matters. Things that bothered me before seem to roll off my back now. Of course, that could be the meditation, or medication. (Just kidding!)
You realize when you have kids, nothing else matters.
What lessons about fatherhood did you take from your relationship with your dad, and how are you like or unlike him as a father?
My dad was from a different generation, the generation that believed the woman stayed home and took care of the kids. He was pretty quick to smack you upside the head if you got out of order. I don’t blame him for it, that’s just the way it was. He had six kids, so I know he loved having a house full of them. I learned the value of making a daily list of things you want to accomplish—it was his obsession, that big yellow-lined notepad with his to-do list. I was out of paper one day pre-show, and the club owner gave me one of those yellow pads to write a set list on, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel like each song I played was like checking something off my dad’s to-do list.
You have a young son. How has your relationship with your father shaped how you want to relate to your son?
It’s a whole different can of worms. (Speaking of, my son is afraid of worms. Loves bugs, won’t touch a worm.) I’m an older father, so my dad was different from the helicopter parents you see today. My relationship with my son is very hands on. He’s a real joy—almost two—and fearless, except for the worm thing. If anything, I try to be more involved with my son than my dad was with me. But I think that’s natural. We should all try to outdo our parents.
Are there men you particularly admire as fathers, and if so, what attributes do they have that you appreciate?
That’s a tough question, or a tough answer to give. I have to remind myself constantly that no matter how happy the neighbors seem when they are hanging out in the neighborhood, who knows what goes on behind their front door? You can’t compare yourself with others, it’s just impossible. We all put on some kind of face in public. I grew up with Mike Brady (of The Brady Bunch) as a role model, or Charles Ingalls (from Little House on the Prairie), the list goes on. I longed for them to be my dad, but I think every kid who grew up in the ‘70s felt that way to some extent.
I don’t know how anyone can be a good parent and not have a sense of humor.
What are some of the primary qualities you hope to model and instill in your children, and what do you most want your children to remember about you?
I want my kids to reach for their dreams, whatever they are. If they want to pursue music, wonderful. Politics? Sure thing. Liberal or conservative, it doesn’t matter to me—as long as they are impassioned. I went full bore for the music thing, even though I was from a seemingly impossible place to “make it” from. Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the ‘70s and ‘80s was incredibly conservative. I wasn’t able to go to my first concert until I got out of the house (and joined the army). I teach my kids to ignore anyone at school who says their idea is stupid. That is that kid’s parent talking.
You began playing music at an early age. Would you want your kids to pursue a music career, and how can fathers better support and nurture the artistic interests of their kids?
Let them gravitate towards whatever pulls them. My eldest daughter plays around with guitar, piano, viola, uke. She’ll figure out what she likes best. My other daughter doesn’t have any interest in learning an instrument, but she’s a brilliant little comedian. (My son with probably overcome his fear of worms in the next few months, because we are going fishing as much as possible.)
In an interview you once stated that “what comes naturally to me is dancing around the bedroom with my kids and goofing off.” How important is having fun and a sense of humor to parenting? And what songs do you enjoy dancing to with your kids?
It’s supposed to be fun. Life, that is. What’s the point otherwise? We took our kids to Disney World a couple of years ago, and you know, it just wasn’t that fun for them or us. There are other things that they would rather do, and I love them for it. I don’t know how anyone can be a good parent and not have a sense of humor. Our kids have us in stitches all of the time. Even when they are screaming at each other over something. We still laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Music wise, we like the silly kid’s songs for the little ones. My eldest is really into La La Land right now, and I’ll catch her dancing around to it. I have yet to receive an invitation to join her. I think she thinks it might be weird to dance romantically with Dad.
Finally, you formed the band twenty-five years ago and you’ve called The Verve Pipe a “terrible name” for a band. If your children were to rename the band what would it be called instead of The Verve Pipe?
My kids would DEFINITELY rename the band The Verve Poop.