There’s a good chance that if you listened to top 40 radio in the 1990s, you probably heard The Verve Pipe.
The alternative rock band, which headlines FestivALL’s second Live on the Levee Friday night in Charleston, is best known for its hit “The Freshmen.”
Released in January 1997, the song peaked at number five on Billboard Magazine’s “Hot 100” chart in June of the same year.
The sad, thoughtful song about guilt and loss had legs. “The Freshman” spent over a year on several of Billboard’s charts for pop, alt-rock, mainstream rock and adult contemporary music. If “The Freshmen” was the only song you heard from The Verve Pipe, one might expect a melancholy, morose concert.
But, that is not the case. The Verve Pipe — and even the record “The Freshman” was released on — is a lot less depressed and more rock oriented.
Singer/songwriter and front man for The Verve Pipe, Brian Vander Ark, said, “I think we had issues with that at the time.”
At the time the band recorded its breakthrough record, “Villains,” who they thought they were and what the record label wanted them to be were two different things.
“We had knockdown, drag-out fights with the label and even amongst each other in the band, as to what the band was,” he said. “It was important to me to be known as a rock band.”
The song, “The Freshmen,” was recorded twice. Donny Brown, a member of the The Verve Pipe, recorded it for the band in 1991, as an acoustic single. Then it was recorded again in 1996 by producer Jerry Harrison, the former keyboardist for The Talking Heads, and mixed by Grammy winner Tom Lord-Alge.
“Tom mixed all those grunge records in the 1990s,” Vander Ark said. “We used to call it the Tom Lord-Alge box. You’d plug your songs in and out would come this mix.”
Albe’s mix of the song had more of an edge to it, Vander Ark said, though it was still a sleepy song compared to most of the album.
The song sort of sticks out, but also helps define the split identity of the band, which careened from ragged rock songs to softer material.
“To this day, our band is pretty schizophrenic,” the singer said. “We’ve got an eclectic style.”
While Vander Ark said The Verve Pipe has always worn its influences on its sleeve, the newer material leans more toward an acoustic song and the lyrics are more thoughtful.
“We all grew up,” he said.
With growing up, the members of the band started families and settled down. Along with writing, recording and performing, Vander Ark has developed a career as a speaker, usually talking to companies about reinvention.
After spending a couple of years in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the singer moved back to western Michigan, where he grew up.
He doesn’t regret it.
“Michigan has always been my home,” he said. “There’s no better place to raise a family in my opinion.”
It’s been good creatively for him, and he thought he fit in with the wild musical menagerie of the state — which includes everything from the stars of Motown in the 1960s to Ted Nugent, Bob Seger in the 1970s, Kid Rock and The White Stripes, to name a few.
“It’s schizophrenic, but we fall into that category as well,” he said.