One of Brian Vander Ark's least favorite musical genres is '80s metal. But when the Verve Pipe singer was approached to play a musician from that era in the upcoming Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston movie Rock Star, he jumped at the chance.
"Oh my God, it was amazing," Vander Ark said about his experiences in the R-rated film, which opens Friday.
"I hated those bands in the '80s. I hated hair bands. It was totally against anything that I wanted to do musically and lyrically. So when the opportunity arose to actually be able to transport myself to 1985 and have a mullet for three months, I loved it."
Rock Star (Warner Bros. Pictures) tells the story of Chris Cole (Wahlberg) who performs as part of Blood Pollution, a Steel Dragon tribute band. When Cole is kicked out of his band, he is recruited by Steel Dragon to replace its frontman.
Vander Ark, who plays Blood Pollution's bassist "Ricki," is one of several musicians who has roles in Rock Star . Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins, Dokken's Jeff Pilson and Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist Zakk Wylde are among the real-life rockers who appear in the film.
Rock Star is Vander Ark's first major studio production, as his previous efforts were indie flicks such as Road Kill and Mergers and Acquisitions . This time, the gig had a snowball effect. It led to a two-month run as gun slinger Charlie Bowdre in the La Jolla Playhouse's production of The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, written by The English Patient author Michael Ondaatje. Rock Star and the playhouse, located near San Diego, shared the same casting director.
"It taught me to relax. The only way you can become the character is to relax or the entire production will fail."
Also, if it wasn't for Rock Star, the poignant ballad "Colorful" wouldn't exist.
"They sent me the script and said, 'We need this Seattle-based grunge ballad for this character' and they picked me on the strength of 'The Freshmen,'" Vander Ark said about the Verve Pipe's biggest hit.
He explained that writing a song for a film was much easier than personal tunes penned for a Verve Pipe record "because you already have the idea for the story laid out for you."
"You've got the characterization. You don't have to flush anything out really. You don't have to be incredibly personal either. So I think it's easier to take this person and say, 'OK, I'm going to write a song about him.'"
Besides promoting Rock Star, Vander Ark will be busy this month pushing the Sept. 25 release of Underneath, the Verve Pipe's new album for RCA. (The song "Colorful" appears on the Rock Star soundtrack on Priority Records as well as Underneath.)
The Verve Pipe's album is the first since the group's early days to include songs penned by drummer Donny Brown. The first single, "Never Let You Down," is among Brown's credits on Underneath.
Vander Ark, a former Royal Oak resident who lives in Grand Rapids, admitted he was "quite arrogant" about giving up space on Underneath for Brown's tunes.
"We fought, fought, fought," Vander Ark said during an interview prior to the Verve Pipe's Michigan State Fair performance.
"I fought to get all my songs on there. And he fought to get all his songs on it. I was quite arrogant about it. I had a hard time singing his lyrics. ... They are simply written and they didn't really mean anything to me. But I got over that. The important thing is that we have two songwriters in the band that are hopefully capable of writing songs that are memorable."
Vander Ark called his lyrics "more esoteric."
"I was pretty much beaten up over that by everybody. Now that I listen to the album and I thank God he wrote some of these songs because the s--t I was writing would have been an anchor and dragged this whole project under. There's no way that the stuff I wrote (that didn't make it) would have been on the radio."
One common thread between some of Vander Ark and Brown's songs is former Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger. The musician, who also wrote the tunes for the Tom Hanks' movie That Thing You Do, produced Underneath and shares co-writing credits on the album.
"Adam was, by far, the best producer I've ever worked with," said Vander Ark. "He wanted to be involved in everything. He was the most creative. He was a no-nonsense guy, 'Let's just do it and get it done.' We were tired of working with overblown budgets, and just decided to work with a good guy, good songwriter, good hook-writer. ... I don't think I'll ever work with anyone else," he said.
Vander Ark will embark on a short solo acoustic tour of radio stations before heading out with the band in October. He expects that these Underneath performances will be an improvement over what fans have previously seen - thanks to Rock Star and Billy the Kid.
"I can definitely become somebody else easier (when I'm) performing. I know what it takes to get the energy up for the camera and when I did the play in LaJolla. I knew that every day I had to be on. I hadn't experienced that because I hadn't played live in so long."
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