Massive success and its aftermath have sent many artists into oblivion, forever trying to recapture the moment when the world first bowed at their feet. That moment came for Brian Vander Ark when, as the principal songwriter and lead singer for The Verve Pipe, he scored a succession of Top Ten hits, ruled MTV and lived to stoke the star maker machinery. The Verve Pipe continued to have success after their star left the global stage, but Vander Ark felt the pressure. Rather than blindly attempt to reclaim a throne that was ephemeral at best, the Michigan native instead rid himself of worries, sold all his possessions, and hit the road. Crisscrossing the country in his 1994 Ford Searcher RV, Vander Ark played his songs for the faithful and nourished the muse that had inspired him in the first place. His ongoing journey has resulted in Resurrection (Brash Music), a lyrical, engrossing collection of songs wrought from an experience that many have dreamed of but few have faced.
“Resurrection” is a record of diverse themes, lush production and penetrating, incisive songs that stay with you long after the CD is done. Vander Ark performs a kind of magic whether reflecting over past memories or spinning contemporary concerns, which range from affairs of the heart (?hen You Went Away,” “Resurrection”) to the thorns of success (“Written and Erased”) and to his fans, old and new (“To the Front Row Junkies”). Vander Ark still writes effortless, Top Ten ready vehicles like “A Million Things,” but he gravitates to the sincerity of mood and an almost Elizabethan melodic sense that make his songs unique, riveting, utterly personal and entirely gripping.
The title track releases the energy of a solid hit single, but its title is deceptive. “‘Resurrection’ is one of my few love songs. It is about being in a relationship and sticking with it.” “‘A Million Things’ happened when I was working on a tune for a movie. I just started with that little riff and thought there was something there.
I decided to write the lyrics from the perspective of my girlfriend.” “Written and Erased” exposes Vander Ark’s cutting wit and perceptive eye. No doubt influenced by his time at the top, the song asks, “Do you want to be jaded, self-medicated, gonna be rehabilitated, then congratulated?” and “We sell our souls cause the rock just rolled over and died.” “I wanted to [express] that when I was young there were definite lines between musical styles that I actually appreciated more than I appreciate the melting pot we have today.”
Several songs detail Vander Ark’s process of restoration. “When I’m Gone,” “Someone Like You” and “Second Hand” are straight from the gut. “There is mention of death all through ‘When I’m Gone’ and ‘Someone Like You’ as well. That is the clich?: life is short. After I’m gone is my life going to matter to anyone other than my immediate family? Hopefully, I have a catalog of songs that people can listen to. And at my wake they can put on my favorite song.”
The Verve Pipe’s smash singles “The Freshmen” and “Photograph” were cast in the grunge style of the era, but the songs remain singular and special. Vander Ark’s gift is one of tremendous storytelling clarity expressed through melodies and rhythms that are familiar but somehow new and fresh. His honeyed voice and intimate finger picking guitar style hearken back to an era when artists were unafraid to express their heart’s direction and the soul’s design.
“The singer-songwriter thing was not cool then,” he recalls, “but it’s who I am. Artists like Harry Chapin, Nick Drake, James Taylor and Cat Stevens were a big influence.
I started playing Holiday Inns at 16 and I did nothing but fingerpick every song.
I used some of that in ‘The Freshmen’.”
“There was a time after our major success,” Brian continues, “where we became what my parents would call ‘too big for our britches.’ Things were too comfortable and I wasn’t happy. It just wasn’t me going through that whole rock star car wash.
I look back and wish I had enjoyed it more.”
That was then. Vander Ark has rediscovered the muse that almost deserted him, and reinvented himself. But it hasn’t come easy. “Once a year I will go through everything I own and decide to either throw it away or give it to somebody,” he explains. “I need to be clean. That is where it comes back to the music and being as naked as possible. I didn’t do that with Resurrection as much as I would have liked to. My producer, John Holbrook, convinced me to lend what I could to these songs. We produced this album more than I had intended but I love the results.”
But while Vander Ark enjoys reflection, his music lives in the here and now. “I am really in a good place. I drive to all my shows, I pull up to the club, plug the acoustic in and let it go and after the show everyone ends up in the RV. Living on the road helps me gain that perspective I had seven or eight years ago that I lost. I can sleep at night now. I am having more fun than I’ve had in years.”
As he travels the road, playing his songs and enjoying his fans, Brian Vander Ark revels in a freedom that few can claim. His Resurrection is complete.
“Resurrection is an album about interiors – extremely personal, understated and often beautiful songs that call for introspection and an intimate setting. Which isn’t to say there aren’t any blissful pop moments here – “A Million Things” wastes no time delivering its superglue hook and a jaunty, uptempo drum shuffle, and the title track offers an ascending guitar riff. The real gem here, however, is the gentle, melodic “And Then You Went Away.” As with most of the album, the song hits the sweet spot between poetry and bald-faced directness, and embraces simplicity without being simplistic. With a mixture of pop hooks, contemplative moments and unusual instrumentation, Resurrection is Vander Ark’s most refined and inspired songwriting yet.”
– Grand Rapids Press
“Resurrection is the ideal vehicle for Vander Ark to show that he is one of the must underrated songwriters in music.”
“Vander Ark is an imposing figure, who wields a mighty pen as well as a guitar.”
– Washington Post