Primarily known for their post-grunge blockbuster hit "The Freshmen," the Verve Pipe formed in 1992 in Lansing, Michigan, where frontman Brian Vander Ark pieced his group together from the ashes of two local bands. He and his brother, bassist Brad Vander Ark, had previously played in Johnny with an Eye, while drummer Donny Brown and guitarist Brian Stout were veterans of Water 4 the Pool. Both bands had been local favorites throughout Michigan, which helped the newly formed Verve Pipe become a local hit on college campuses across the state.
They released their first independent album, I've Suffered a Head Injury, in the fall of 1992. Stout was dropped from the lineup in 1993 and was replaced by A.J. Dunning. The same year, the band released a second independent album, Pop Smear. Through constant touring, they developed a strong reputation and rabid following in their home state, packing large venues with converted fans and eventually selling a combined total of more than 40,000 copies of their first two albums.
In 1995, the Verve Pipe signed to RCA Records and began recording their major-label debut, Villains, which appeared the following year. The album spent 15 weeks in Billboard's Heatseekers chart, and its lead single, "Photograph," enjoyed respectable airplay on alternative radio and MTV. Keyboardist Doug Corella was added as a full-time member the same year. After spending 12 months touring and promoting Villains, including an opening spot for Kiss on the European leg of their much-hyped reunion tour, the Verve Pipe finally began to make some serious headway in early 1997, when a re-recorded version of "The Freshmen" — originally found on the group's debut, I've Suffered a Head Injury — was released as a single. By that spring, "The Freshmen" had become a number one modern rock hit and a Top Ten pop smash, sending the album into the Top 40 and earning a gold certification. Villains eventually went platinum, and "The Freshmen" became the band's signature song.
The Verve Pipe released a self-titled sophomore album in mid-1999, but its grungy songs sounded sorely out of place in a market now saturated by nu-metal groups like Limp Bizkit, and the record failed to produce any hit singles. The band returned in 2001 with Underneath, a considerably stronger album with production by Adam Schlesinger. It, too, failed to spawn any hits as big as "The Freshmen," and the group took an eight-year break from the recording studio while Brian Vander Ark turned his attention to a solo career. Reconvening in 2009, the Verve Pipe issued a collection of family-friendly songs — the aptly titled A Family Album — and toured in support of its release. Four years later, the Verve Pipe released their second children's album, Are We There Yet?
The band returned to adult-oriented rock music in 2014 with Overboard. In the years that followed, they toured regularly, building up to the 20th anniversary of 1996's Villains which they celebrated by acoustically playing the album in its entirety at Ann Arbor's The Ark. This performance was released as a live album in 2017, accompanied by Parachute, another collection of original material. ~ Chris Woodstra & Andrew Leahey