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The Verve Pipe rocks again with "Overboard"

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After two consecutive collections of music for children, A Family Album (2009) and Are We There Yet? (2013), Verve Pipe leader Brian Vander Ark wanted his band’s next release to be a rock record.

He pitched the idea to his band mates about a year ago, but it didn’t exactly have a slam-dunk effect.

“Some of the guys liked it, and some of the guys didn’t like it,” Vander Ark recalls. “We ended up losing an original member [drummer Donny Brown] over it. If we hadn’t lost him, I’m not sure the album would be out now.”

Vander Ark is referring to the recently released Overboard, The Verve Pipe’s first new rock effort since 2001’s Underneath. The group’s latest project was kept under wraps — and for good reason, he says.

“You don’t want to promise anything; you don’t want to tease anything,” Vander Ark explains. “You want to make sure that all the elements are in place and that you can really do this, and that’s why we were really quiet about it. Because I’ve done this before: Before we put the kids records out, we talked about a rock record. We tried to; we got into the studio and it didn’t work.”

This time around, it did work. Produced by Vander Ark, Overboard took about three to four months for the Michigan-based band to record, with breaks along the way for touring. One song that came together rather easily was the single “Crash Landing.”

Scot Alexander from Dishwalla sent me a song, and it was pretty much that chord progression,” Vander Ark says. “He asked if I would consider singing it; I think J.R. [Richards] had just left the band. I said, ‘I’m not really into this song, but let me take a crack at a new melody and lyrics.’ And I did that, then I presented it to The Verve Pipe, and we changed some things up and added instrumentation. Once I sent it to Chris Carmichael, who did the string arrangements, then it really came to fruition.”

Vander Ark had a tougher time with the title track, but actor Jeff Daniels, whose own albums have shown him to be a pretty good songwriter and guitarist, helped him finish it.

“Jeff’s a really smart storyteller, and I knew that,” Vander Ark says. “And I knew that I was in a bind with this song. I couldn’t focus it enough, and I knew if I gave it to him, he’d come up with some great stuff. And he did. He came up with an awesome opening and helped me structure the song better. Once he got involved, it really came together.

“He’s been writing songs for 30 years. Going to him probably seemed odd to some people, but it’s about the story first: If you don’t have the story, you don’t have the song.”

The song that The Verve Pipe is best known for remains “The Freshmen,” which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997. Vander Ark understands there’s nostalgia associated with “The Freshmen,” but adds, “the people who appreciated it as a good song with a great story and a nice melody — I think those are the people who are going to be attracted to Overboard.”

— By Chris M. Junior

The Verve Pipe on tour (schedule subject to change):

* July 23: Detroit Zoo — Detroit
* Aug. 24: Bronson Park — Kalamazoo, Mich.