The Rise and Fall of The Verve Pipe Part 6 By Brian Vander Ark
We first met Jerry Harrison at a club on the lower east side of Manhattan. He showed up at one of our gigs with his wife Carol in tow. Jerry wore a top hat that was far too small for him, while Carol wore a baby doll shirt; again, too small for her. They looked a bit ridiculous, as I reflect on it now. However at the time, I’m sure I thought that they fit in perfectly with the hip crowd. Hell, I was still wearing stone washed jeans and a baseball cap (backwards) at that point.
Steven Van Zandt was at the show as well – I remember being more impressed with that fact. I watched him as he watched us on the stage. He stood alone, hunched over his drink in the middle of the dance floor, bandana and all. I was a huge Springsteen fan, and found it very difficult to approach him. It was intimidating to me to have him watch us. He was clearly a fan; this was the third time I had spotted him at a show.
Meanwhile, Jerry was to produce the first major release by The Verve Pipe. I remember having a conversation with him after that first show in NYC, and feeling confident that he was the right man for the job. He had produced two very successful records with the band Live and one by Crash Test Dummies. We fit in the same mold as them.
A few more conversations, and we were set to record in San Francisco. I was excited with the opportunity, and decided to re-record all of my demos in a fashion that would be very simple for Jerry to understand. I wanted the band to sound like we did live. 2 guitars, bass, drums, keys and vocals. A few harmonies here and there as well. Not too much ear candy. Not a lot of reverb or effects on the guitars. Raw, muscular pop music.
Once we made it out to Sausalito, we were split up into two groups. Brad and I were in one group, and shared a houseboat, docked in the San Francisco bay. Donny, A.J. and Dougie shared the other. This configuration set the tone for the future of The Verve Pipe. Brad and I sided with each other on most days, while the three of them stood firm on their end. The problem was, and would always be: 3 vs. 2. “Democracy” would send me off into my living quarters for hours, stewing about how the vote always seemed to go.
Over the course of the next three months, we recorded Villains. Our midwestern work ethic was not welcomed by Jerry Harrison, it was soon apparent. He believed in recording at a slow pace. Let the album feel its way, and become what the universe intended. It was frustrating for all of us. We didn’t want to take the day off to go sailing in the bay, and yet, we had to. Many days, Jerry took long naps on the couch in the studio, or spent a few hours at his kid’s soccer games. It was infuriating. I remember the first time we played him “The Freshmen” in pre-production, he actually fell asleep. We all politely walked out of the rehearsal studio and played a game of hacky sack.
Having the opportunity to work with an icon was worth the inconvenience of forking over petty cash for him to get across the bridge (he never carried any), and occasionally watching his kids for him. I felt like a child, myself, in his presence. Like he was the father that I needed to please. I sacrificed much of the relationship with my band mates in an effort to keep Jerry happy.
There were moments where he was great, mostly with arrangement suggestions, but those moments were offset with negative experiences, like profanity-laced rants at family restaurants, with toddlers within earshot.
RCA had asked the band to make a promo video, introducing ourselves to the label. It was supposed to be standard stuff: “Hi, we’re The Verve Pipe. We’re grateful that you have signed us, and we can’t wait to get out there and work our butts off for you.” But we NEVER did anything the easy way. We made the video our way. Each band member was given about 10 seconds of screen time. Donny was shown missing a drum fill in the studio and going on a profanity-laced rant of his own. Brad was shown saying that I had a pussy. A.J. Was shown playing guitar and smoking at the same time, with edits from various films- Woody Allen trying to inhale smoke, etc. Gerry was given 10 seconds of his own and of course, the 10 seconds that Jerry had were of him sleeping on the couch in the studio, as we were listening to a mix of “Photograph.” It was intended to be funny, and it was to us. But when RCA got the video, and also heard of some problems in the studio (unrelated to Jerry), they flipped out and nearly fired him for sleeping while we were working.
I was invited to Jerry’s beautiful home in the hills, overlooking the ocean. We were going to have a Sunday brunch. I arrived with a friend at 11 a.m. as instructed, and I saw him in the house reading a book. He was a bit disheveled, and for a moment I thought that I may have had the date wrong. He answered the door and immediately lit into me.
“What the hell are you thinking sending a tape of me sleeping in the studio? ” This was the first time I had heard that RCA had seen it, and that they were upset.
“I…ah…it was a joke…” I replied, sheepishly.
“Really funny. They are talking about firing my ass.” He walked away, and left my date and standing in the doorway. “Do we go in? Do we just leave?”
I decided to stay, and try to make things right. I apologized. He dismissed it, and we ate an uncomfortable brunch.
To this day, I regret not calling him out. It was clear that he wanted to record the album close to his home to spend more time with his family. Admirable, yes. But the lack of sleep he was getting at home kept him napping in the studio. Thank god for Karl Derfler, the engineer on the project, who, in my opinion, did the real producing of the record. He and the mixer, Tom Lord-Alge, made that record happen.
A few years later, and I was sitting at the Whiskey Bar in New York with a group of friends. Someone came up and said that Jerry was there, and asked me to come over. I ignored the invitation. That was my lame attempt to make a statement.
As much as I wanted to tell him off all of those times, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It would be the beginning of a long line of working with producers that would be distracted from our project, and me gutless to speak in defense of the band. I was enamored with the “genius” of these big time record producers.
Turns out, the Jerry Harrison experience was a finger prick compared to the hemorrhage of an experience that we had with the producer of our follow-up album. Michael Beinhorn would soon bring us all to our knees, begging him to stop the bleeding.