The Verve Pipe will hit Ludington with rock, family-style.

November 21, 2013
The Verve Pipe

The Verve Pipe

By Carrie Klemm. MCP Correspondent

LUDINGTON- Local music lovers will be in for a rocking good time Friday night as the Verve Pipe performs at L.F. Peterson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. The concert is part of West Shore Community College’s Performing Arts series.

The band hails from East Lansing. Formed in 1992, it began as an alternative rock group, suiting the wave of grunge with its most notable song, “The Freshmen,” hitting high on Billboard charts in 1996. Following the hit, the band came out with several other noteworthy songs including “Photograph,” and “Never Let You Down.” In 2009, The Verve Pipe switched keys and began producing albums for the family, the first being “A Family Album” and in 2013, “Are We There Yet?”

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Donny Brown, writer, producer, drummer and one of the remaining original members.

MCP: What triggered the shift in genre?

DB: We were asked to create a family song as part of a compilation album called “Calling All Kids.” It was funny, we laughed about it and were charmed by it. We recorded a song and submitted it. While we were working on song ideas for the compilation, we were creating and building on other ideas for kids. We kept writing until we each had three or four songs for families and decided to make something of it. The songs were fun and really smart, not dumbed-down for kids. We decided to put it out there and let people hear it. There was no game plan, we never thought “hey, let’s make a family record.” It was good music that we were proud of and we put it out there. That was it.

MCP: Does the band still play the old hits from time to time? You must have fans that request to hear a lot of that.

DB: We play “The Freshmen” at every rock show.

MCP: Recently, you went to ‘Austin City Limits’ to perform your recent albums. Did you find that you had fans who weren’t expecting what you put out?

DB: We were playing at what was called “Austin Kiddie Limits” instead of “Austin City Limits,” so that kind of defined what we were doing there. Chris Ballew from The Presidents of the United States of America has a kid’s project that he does and he was there playing. It was cool, it was alright. Yeah, there were people there who were expecting “The Freshmen” and we’ve dealt with that before. The guy who hired us made announcements about the family records and essentially told everyone “if you don’t have these records, you should own them. That is what you are going to hear right now and it is really good stuff.” Fans are given a preemptive warning as to what to expect before we play.

MCP: Did you find that in the changing of times, as you grew as individuals and as a band, that fans transitioned with you?

DB: We did see a lot of the same people as we saw in rock shows only they had a stroller in front of them, but that is a part of the process for us. Again, we did not set out to make kids’ music happen, but the second album came out because we still had so many ideas to keep it going.

MCP: How would you say the performances compare, going from a more angsty grunge-rock to a family oriented sound? Is there a difference backstage?

DP: There is no difference in the backstage area. When we play a show, it has always been, more or less, that we’re just trying to get our heads into playing the tunes.

MCP: Do you have kids?

DB: No, but I have a lot of nieces and nephews.

MCP: Do you find that they influence what you write?

DB: Oh yeah. As I’m working on an idea, I will get them downstairs in front of the speakers and play something for them and gage their reaction. When I was writing “Wake Up,” my niece, Riley, who was four or five at the time heard me playing it. I didn’t tell her I was doing a test on her, but later I heard her singing it. I thought “okay, I’m on to something.”

MCP: As you grew up, what sparked your interest in music? What made you want to be in a band?

DB: Just like a lot of people, I grew up with it. I come from a family of seven. My two older brothers had bands and our house was “the band house.” I remember once my brother had his band over and they put their gear up and then left it sitting there. When no one was watching I went and played the drums.

MCP: You always had an attraction to the drums?

DB: I did, but I had an attraction to all of music. My family was a singing family.

MCP: What are some memorable “family singing” songs?

DB: I have a vast record collection because of my family. Everything from big band music to Judas Priest and beyond. My wife lives for music, too and we run to see The Killers anytime they are around.

MCP: What would you say is your favorite Verve Pipe song?

BP: Well it’s really hard to be objective about it. I like songs that people move to and relate to. Of course “The Freshmen” is a favorite because it gets such a great reaction. I like the song called “Happiness Is” that I wrote, it is up and fun. For the kids, I like “Suppertime!” and “Cereal,” those are definitely my favorite.

MCP: I really enjoyed the song “Cereal.” Does he actually put cereal in his guitar?

DB: Well you’ll have to wait and see.

MCP: OK, OK, don’t give it away. I don’t want to know. Outside of Verve Pipe, what are you listening to right now? What is on your current playlist?

DB: I’m kind of a pop-geek, I like singing-happy-pop music. I have been listening to 13 in My Head, a new album by my friend, Nick Piunti, I actually played and worked with him on it. Dawes was a band I wanted to see at ACL but the last day was rained out. I also just reloaded Elliott Smith’s “XO” onto my phone.

MCP: Nice, nice. Great album. Of all the places The Verve Pipe has performed over the years, where would you say is your favorite?

DB: Michigan, definitely in Michigan. We’ve done a lot of shows at the State Theater in Kalamazoo in the past and that is such a nice venue. It is such a cool place.

MCP: Throughout the years, you must have met some noteworthy people. Was there anyone that you were influenced by as a band who you had a chance to meet?

DB: Oh yeah. Plenty of them. I like meeting people who love music. It is exciting to love an album and go somewhere and you are able to talk with the people who made that record. For instance,  a long time ago, there was a band called “Trip Shakespeare.” I really liked that band. They were from Minneapolis. The Verve Pipe went to Minneapolis and we did an opening for a band called “Pleasure.” We were just doing club dates, I don’t know if we even had a record deal yet, but we ended up playing this show for a band. In the middle of the afternoon, we get there, start to set up and this band, “Pleasure” comes out, and I recognized the guys from the band. Trip Shakespeare had broken up and it was a few of the guys from that band. As it turns out, Pleasure was in a lawsuit for their name with another band called Pleasure. They lost the lawsuit so they named themselves “Semisonic.” The guys from “Trip Shakespeare” became “Semisonic.” Then The Verve Pipe went on tour when we got our record deal and decided we needed to play with Semisonic. I could probably walk up to any of the members from Semisonic and say “how are ya?” and I would get a “Hey, how are ya, Donny?” and that is just nice because they have made a lot of music that I like. It was very cool to talk with people who love music.

The Verve Pipe is performing Friday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at L.F. Peterson Auditorium. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for children and $14 for seniors and can be purchased in advance by calling West Shore Performing Arts at 231-843-5507 or by visiting www.thevervepipe.com. Friday night’s show will be a mixture of all of their records. All ages are invited to attend.

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