Heartstrings Interview New Release

HEARTSTRINGS EXCLUSIVE – Old Meets ‘The Newpart’: An Interview with April Verch

Interview by Andrew Kase

To witness a performance by April Verch is to participate in a multi-sensory experience. Some of the many hats she wears include fiddler, singer and stepdancer, all of which she combines into a single performance. She is also on the verge of releasing her 10th album (yes, 10 albums), The Newpart, with her band, featuring bassist and clawhammer banjo player Cody Walters and guitarist and mandolinist Hayes Griffin. The Newpart, available tomorrow, is named after the Verch family room where her father’s country band rehearsed, and where old meets the new. The house, a one-room schoolhouse her parents attended, received a new addition the same year Verch was born. It was dubbed “The Newpart.” To Verch, it’s the perfect symbol of family, tradition, and music, the things she values most: “It’s the place we gather to jam, to practice songs for family baptisms, funerals, and weddings. It’s where I practiced countless hours and wrote many tunes, including the songs on this album. It’s where we take family pictures, visit and entertain our guests. It’s the most special place in the house, the scene of my most cherished memories.”

At the heart lie Verch’s delicate voice, energetic footwork, and stunning playing, a trifecta of talents she brings together simultaneously to jaw-dropping effect.  Even as she plays with the tradition she inherited in her native Ottawa Valley, Verch’s energetic and breathtaking performances speak to the heart of roots music with mature and reflective songwriting, interpreting, and storytelling.

Get to know April through our exclusive interview and premiere of “Bring Your Clothes Back Home” below. The song’s version, performed by John Hartford, lies at the source of April’s inspiration for contributing to the life of the song, by adding it to the expansive repertoire she has eternally given to the world. In her own words:

It’s widely known that John Hartford is one of my favourite musicians across the board.  For me, his music and career is an unending source of inspiration.  When Casey and I started developing the idea of using my “feet” for more than dancing, expanding on the percussion aspect that different taps and shoes might provide to the vocal selections on the recording, I coincidentally came across a Youtube video of John performing a version of this song that I have loved, with just his voice, fiddle & feet, and 2 double bass players.  Casey and I also talked a lot about changing up the instrumentation available to us as a trio on this recording, and approaching this with just me & Cody became a wonderful challenge.  It’s one thing to play, sing and dance at the same time (which I hadn’t attempted previously) and another to do it in such a vulnerable setting.  But in the end, that’s what makes it even more special.

Andrew Kase: How would you say your upbringing influenced the direction of your music?

April Verch: I was raised in a very tight knit family and community.  Music and tradition were also a big part of my upbringing, and all of that had a lot to do with my early involvement in music and also in the directions I took, and still take.  Though I’ve branched out and now play a lot of different styles of roots music, that passion for the “traditional” remains at the centre of what I do.

What was the inspiration behind the direction of your new album?

Sometimes it’s difficult to expand as an artist when you already really love what you do and play, but at the same time, you never want to feel like you’re “standing still.”  This record was produced and engineered by my friend and amazing musician, Casey Driessen.  He really helped steer and push me to expand on what I was already doing and that became part of the inspiration, and challenge, for me. For instance, using my feet for more than just “dancing”…  Incorporating the use of different taps and leather soles behind some of the vocals for a percussive effect.  Researching music from the 20s and 30s, blues and vaudeville entertainers, reaching back to other forms of traditional music that a “string band” could still pull off.  Using just our tight little trio without overdubs or guests, and featuring our instrumentation in different combinations to create different spaces.  I think all of those things stand out to me and were a part of the inspiration in creating this record.

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If you had to pick one favorite song off of your new album, which one would it be and why?

I can’t pick!  Don’t make me 😉  We made sure that absolutely everything we picked was something that we had a personal connection with on some level, whether it’s evident to everyone else or not.  That means that everything came from a really honest and heartfelt place, and is special in its own way.

What specifically has driven you to explore North American roots in your music?

I’ve always believed that I should play what I love and what speaks to me, because that is what translates best to an audience and really makes a connection.  It just so happens that I am drawn to a lot of different styles.  Part of that is traveling and being exposed to so many different artists, I think.  My roots in the Ottawa Valley style where I grew up are deep and that is also a big part of what drives me to keep exploring, enjoying and respecting traditional music.

How long have you been playing the fiddle, and how did it start?

I started playing at the age of 6.  After bugging my parents to get me a fiddle for 3 years, I finally got one for my birthday!  I grew up surrounded by great musicians; my Dad played and we attended a lot of dances, jamborees, etc. as a family.  So it was something I wanted to take part in – both the music and social aspect of it.  I took lessons from local teachers and learned to play by ear.  Later on I studied classical violin and learned to read.

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Starting at an early age, did you always enjoy dancing in competitions? Did you ever think of where it might lead?

I did enjoy competing while I was growing up.  Honestly, it was always more about gathering with like-minded kids and jamming than it was about the competition part.  And I was fortunate to have parents that taught me the best attitude of “competing against yourself and not anyone else.”  And yes, I think I did dream of where it might lead.  From an early age I had aspirations of performing full time.

Describe your process behind writing songs for The Newpart.

I don’t usually write songs or tunes for an album in particular…  I tend to write when inspiration hits, and that varies of course.  And then it depends on which of my compositions feel like they might be the “right fit” for an album when it’s being put together.  The exception to that rule was the dance solo piece, “Gilchrist”, which Casey suggested I write for the album.  It is the first and only tune so far I’ve written for my feet 😉

How would you describe the amazing longevity of your career so far? Also, did you ever think you would be discussing the release of your tenth album?

I’m not certain if I thought I would be discussing the release of my tenth album.  I don’t think I ever ruled it out, but I tend to really take it one day, one year, one album at a time.  I am proud and honored to have had the career that I’ve had.  It’s been amazing and very difficult at times.  Like anything else, there are a lot of ups and downs and it’s a journey.  It’s certainly one I am glad to be on!

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Are you excited for your upcoming tour? And how do you feel about performing in such a place as New York City?

I really love to tour – it’s my favorite part of what we do as musicians, recording artists, teachers, etc.  It’s always really exciting to perform in New York City.  The vibe of the scene there and of the audiences always inspires me.

What are your plans following the upcoming album release and tour?

I plan to keep touring and recording and finding my way in this crazy industry, making music that I love and sharing it with as many audiences around the world as possible.  I am also looking forward to working on some collaborations over the next few years and expanding in that way as well.

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