"When you get a message in a song, you make that song your own." - Brian Vander Ark

Posted: June 3, 2024
My process is pretty simple. I think about songwriting and lyrics all day, no matter what i'm doing! And what I do is, if I'm having a conversation with somebody and they might say something that strikes me as interesting, I'll make a note of it.

Photo by: Michael S. Dore

Renaissance Man and Entrepreneur Extraordinaire! Singer-Songwriter, Guitarist, Producer, Actor, Film Score Composer, Motivational Coach and Speaker. Such an eclectic, rich and bountiful artistic tapestry, Brian Vander Ark!

Villains, your debut album featured your band's highest charting single "The Freshman". It was also one of the most successful tracks in 1997. Underneath, your 2001 album release featured your single "Never Let You Down," ranked in the Top 50 Most Played songs that year. Adult Top 40 and Adult Contemporary.

You've released solo albums and toured them extensively, including a double-bill acoustic tour with the epic Georgia rocker and record producer Bradley Glenn "Butch" Walker. And, in 2016 you released an album of story songs with Hollywood heavyweight actor, and songwriter Jeff Daniels, who's also from your home state of Michigan.

You said: "When somebody has a vision and it's their interpretation of my song, I just sit back and go, "Wow. This is somebody else's interpretation of what the song is about and it's beautiful." That's what's so wonderful about what we do: You can create something and put it out there, and then somebody who has a different vision of what it is, who's a tremendous artist, can find something that's totally different and still make it gorgeous." - Brian Vander Ark

Sophia: Can you please tell me how you came to understand this about the songs that you put out into the world?

Was there a particular song, covered by an artist and/or used in a film score that you especially respect and appreciate? Or, is this a general observation about the impact of your songwriting on other artists?

And, have you ever felt protective of any of your compositions and why?

Brian: I think it's a general observation. I think it happens with everybody's songs.

When there's enough ambiguity in the lyrics, where you can make the song your own and give your own interpretation of it, people are gonna do that. Because, people who are non-musicians or musicians alike, we're all similar in the way that we all have music in common.

Everybody loves music in some capacity.  And when you get a message in a song, you make that song your own. That message becomes your message; whether that's what the songwriter intended, or not.

I've never been protective over what the meaning of the song is. Here's the thing about songwriting for me. I believe that once the song is out there, it no longer belongs to me. It belongs to the listener. That's why I try to make every single song as perfect as I can before I release it. Because, I wanna say exactly what I wanna say. Then, I release it into the world because then it's no longer my song. It now belongs to whoever hears it.

Sophia: Brian, you're an actor and you worked alongside "featured performances" by some legendary and iconic Rock Stars!  The likes of Zakk Wylde, Jason Bonham, Myles Kennedy, Blas Elias and Nick Catanese in the 2001 film titled Rock Star.

You also wrote the song "Colorful" which appears at the end of the film, and is sung by the Chris Cole Band and simulated by another Hollywood legend, Mark Wahlberg.

In addition to this, you've composed musical scores and acted in several Independent films.

Like many great poets and writers of fiction, your songwriting is extensive in range and scope; always deeply aware, conscious, and layered in a way that is meaningful and resonates with the listener.

You've truly honed your craft. You are a masterful songwriter and musician!

How do you "prepare" yourself to write?  Is there a particular process or method that works best for you? 

And, How do you feel that your writing has matured over time? 

Brian: Great questions, and I appreciate the compliments as well!

My process is pretty simple. I think about songwriting and lyrics all day, no matter what i'm doing! And what I do is, if I'm having a conversation with somebody and they might say something that strikes me as interesting, I'll make a note of it. And I'll go, that's a song. This concept is a song!

And, playing with my kids! We, The Verve Pipe, wrote two kids albums!

Yeah! So, I think about songwriting all the time. I love it! I think about writing all the time. I've got melodies for days! I've got so many lyrics and ideas in my notes app, and melody ideas in my recordings! It's just a matter of sitting down.

Usually at the end of the week, I'll sit down and go okay, what did I do this week? I've got this idea, and that idea, can I work on this now? And, if they don't come together I'll put it away and wait another week, and I'll go back to it. Or, maybe I'll have new ideas!

So, there's never really a moment where I go, okay, I'm done doing the motivational speaking. I'm going to go back to the hotel, and in the morning I'm going to get up and write. That's not really my process. My process is all day, all the time! Thinking about lyrics, and how I can make a song better! Or, what is going wrong with the song I'm currently working on, and trying to make that puzzle come together!

Sophia: Thanks Brian! Do you have any advice for young songwriters?

Brian: My advice is to write all the time. Constantly write. Think about songwriting. Think about lyrics. All the time! I mean, honestly, as a young songwriter, you're going to write terrible songs! We all write terrible songs, until we're better at our craft! Then we know how to get to the good songs sooner, and the only way you can know how to get to the good songs sooner, is by making a lot of bad songs! haha!

Sophia: Staggering!  I'm truly honored and humbled to be speaking with you today, Brian!  I have so many more questions! Hahaha

I'm impressed with the magnitude and breadth of your accomplishments and your incredible tenacity and hard work ethic. Exceptional!

I have read that you are absolutely and especially passionate about music!

You first began playing the guitar at the age of 8. That's so young! Do you remember why you chose the guitar? Is the guitar the muse for your writing? 

Brian: My older brother Scott, who I idolized, played guitar and he was in bands and I wanted to be like him!

I got an acoustic guitar for Christmas. He taught me a couple of chords and from there I was hooked.

I was such a fan of the Singer Songwriters of the 1970s; like Cat Stevens and James Taylor, for example. I just devoured all of their albums. I would pick up the needle on the record and bring it back a couple seconds, over and over and over, to try and learn those finger picking licks. It was very important to me!

That acoustic guitar at 8 years old was everything to me! I think if I didn't get the guitar at that point, I'd be in a whole different occupation now!

Sophia: I really appreciate your 2016 album Simple Truths, with Jeff Daniels. I think it's a spectacular album of blues-driven country music! Absolutely brilliant!

What was the songwriting process like with Jeff? You are both superior and distinguished writers and guitarists, so how did each song on your album evolve?  And, how would you say you compliment one another as a songwriting duo?

Brian: I think what Jeff is really good at is telling the story. He's a better storyteller than I am. I think that comes from reading so many scripts and reading so many books and being in so many movies!

Whenever I had a question about one of my lyrics, or if the story of my song wasn't good enough, I would send it to Jeff. This is the pre-making of the album. And, he would always comment and say, well, you got this extra verse here you don't need. It's superfluous. Or, you know, this line doesn't have as much impact as it should. I worked with him on a couple of songs "Overboard," which ended up on The Verve Pipe record. And, "My Little Town" on my solo record.

I just suggested that we sit and start writing stuff together. And, we did! For the most part, Jeff would go and do his own thing and write his songs and send them to me. I would say whether I liked it or not. Sometimes, I'd change some things. But, for the most part, we would work on our own. We would swap lyrics back and forth; here's an idea! Here's an idea!! Here's an idea!!! And, we'd get together and sing to each other! That's how it all came together.

By the end of it, we would have 12, maybe 14 really solid ideas. I think we got it down to about 10. But, all of the ideas he had were great! I feel like my contribution was also good. So, I'm very proud of that record! We both love a good story song and most of those are story songs!

Sophia: I hear that along with touring with The Verve Pipe, you love performing house concerts. That's really beautiful!  In what way do you feel that you reach and connect with your fans differently in this style of performance? And, how does it affect you, differently, as an entertainer?

Brian: Well, at most house concerts, we limit guests to about 50 people. In this way, it's more of a conversation. It's not really a show. It's more like me coming in, sitting down, picking up the guitar, and playing songs as people request them. Or, if they don't request them, I'll just play. And then, I'll ask if anybody has any questions about anything.

So, it's really a conversation between me and the audience. Not at all like when we play in clubs. It's a very different vibe and it's a real open communication between the artist and the audience. That's what I love about house concerts.

Sophia: Would you say you play more house concerts in a year? Or,  more clubs, arenas, concert halls and festivals?

Brian: Well, in 2008, when I started doing house concerts, I was doing 3 a day on the weekends! So, that was a lot. Going from one, to the next, to the next. But now, I don't do them as often. I do maybe 4 or 5 a year.  I've done over 800 total in the last 17 years! Crazy amount! A crazy amount!

Sophia: 3 a day?!!

Brian: Well, we had a great way of doing it! If someone from St. Louis, say, wanted a house concert, we'd set the price at a certain amount. And then, we would say, if we can find more house concerts in your area, the price will come down. And, that's how I would do it!

We'd find another one, the price would come down. We'd find another one, and all the prices would come down for people! So, audiences and fans really appreciated the fact that I was working with their budgets, and trying to play as many as possible!

And yeah, I'd go to St. Louis. And yeah, I'd play 3 on a Saturday and 2 on a Sunday. That happened all the time! I really believe that music is the ultimate connector.

Sophia: The universal language!!! I know that you have a sweeping and all-embracing fan base from children's music to country, to blues, to Alt-rock!  And, I've probably left something out!!! Hahaha! 

Can you please share something significant with your fans about where you're going from here and what they can expect from you, artistically speaking, in the coming two years? I've done my research and I know that you always have a two-year plan.

Brian: Yes, you're right! You're exactly right! You've done really good research for sure.

Next year, we'll be finishing up our latest album. I forget which studio album it is. It might be the 10th or 11th. That, to me, is the priority. I've still got some lyrics to write. I'm working on it. And, that will be released, probably, in the next 6 months.

For the remainder of the next two years we'll be touring on the strength of that album. Our touring schedule this year is up about 80% over last year. We're playing a lot more this year, which is great! I love to play live! I like to try new songs out on people before they're released; so that's helpful as well. But yeah, it will be a new album and we'll be touring on that album for the next two years!

Sophia: What do you consider the top three personality traits that you have that have enabled you to achieve all the accolades that you have earned, especially as a songwriter, aside from your obvious God-given talent?

Brian: Oh, that's nice! Well first of all, it's discipline. I learned discipline in the army. I was in the army for 4 years, out of high school. That taught me the discipline to get up early everyday and to work on whatever I should be working on at that moment.

Tenacity would be another personality trait. I'm very tenacious. I like to get what I want. I don't like to lose. I like to get things, and get things and get things! Hahaha

And, I have a pretty good business mind. I think that's the third thing. I have a pretty good eye and ear for business and what is good business. What could make money and what could help me sustain a life in music. And, so far so good!

Sophia: Thank YOU Rock Star! It's been amazing! Congratulations on all of your extraordinary achievements in the Arts!

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