M897 Artist Spotlight: February 2015
From The Verve Pipe to The Van Dell-Tones
Story by LCC Radio Staff Reporter Sarah Spohn
his first solo show was just last November, Donny Brown is anything but an
amateur. Brown’s claim to fame was The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen,” but this
singer/songwriter and drummer has graduated and since moved on to his own band.
Brown, who released his very own material, The Hess Street EP spoke about his new band. “The band is comprised of a bunch of friends of mine,” Brown said, “guys that I’ve done recording with, guys that I’ve played with for a long time.” Brown describes The Van Dell Tones (Donny Brown, Andy Reed, Scott Van Dell, Jake Greenwood, Chris Zehnder, and Jake Bartlett) as both very cool guys and very accomplished writers and musicians in their own way.
“It was easy for me to find a bunch of cats who are really good players but to kind of throw ‘em together and ask, ‘hey, would you play my songs’ was a little daunting,” Brown said, “but it turned out fantastic.”
The Hess Street EP was inspired by Brown’s childhood home on the East side of Saginaw. “I was there my whole childhood ‘til I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 18 years old,” Brown said. “That was the house and the home that I knew and that’s where I learned my love of music.”
The EP includes photographs of his former house covered in graffiti in Saginaw, a city, according to Brown, that has a lot of fight left in it. “Saginaw is like a prize fighter in the twelfth round,” Brown said. “It’s just had the crap kicked out of it. That’s how I feel about it. And don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of love for Saginaw. I do. It will never ever change. It will never go away. Saginaw means a lot to me; it is my hometown.”
Brown initially began pounding on pots and pans, an early predecessor to his drumming later. While in the Verve Pipe, Brown tried his hand at guitar.
“Guitar I kind of picked up when I was with The Verve Pipe,” Brown said. “If you want to write songs, you need to be able to speak the language to people and the rest of the band.”
While Brown had been drumming for years and studied percussion at MSU in the nineties, Brown admits it’s not his strong suit.
“When you start as late as I did, learning to play guitar, and you start playing with the people you’re playing with – they’re already really good guitarists,” Brown said. “So the bridge between your beginning and their playing, you had better start working hard at it to get on a stage with them.”
Sharing the stage with other Verve Pipe members led to a successful music career in itself, a major record label with RCA and touring the nation, but Brown continues to rock on.
“I left the Verve Pipe last year, but I played on the record,” Brown said. “I kind of stepped back from it. I purposefully step back from it and let it be what it is, and put myself into my solo stuff.”
While exciting, Brown admits it was very nerve-wracking to be front and center at his first solo show in November 2014 in his hometown of Saginaw.
“I was nervous, because for years and years, I’d been behind a set of drums,” Brown said. “And it’s kind of guarded back there, you’re usually towards the back a little bit, and you’re sitting down and there’s all these things in front of you. You don’t have to converse with the crowd.”
And now the same show is coming locally. “We’re bringing the same show to the Grand Ledge Performing Arts Center on Valentine’s Day,” Brown said. “I’m just so excited to be able to play my own music in a concert venue in Lansing,” Brown said. “I’m very grateful to Grand Ledge and the Chamber of Commerce for opening that up that building to me and I’m grateful for LCC Radio to get behind it and help me to do this.”
The show is all-ages and includes everything from an acoustic guitar and a voice to a full rock band, according to Brown.
“It’s structured that way because music wants to live that way. I’m happy that I’ve got a group of people who play the music and are willing to let me shape it the way I want to.”
Shaping the minds of fellow rockers – young and old is something this drummer never pictured himself doing. The singer songwriter currently teaches at The String Connection in Okemos.
“If I have a strength in teaching it’s that I’ve got so much more practical experience than someone who may be a little bit more schooled,” Brown said, “and I know what the reality of the situation is.”
“I just want them to be everything they can be. That’s the goals with my students, I just want to bring out the person they are musically and let them rock and roll on their own.”
Brown invites everyone to rock and roll with him and The Van Dell Tones Saturday, Feb. 14 at the Grand Ledge Performing Arts Center inside Grand Ledge High School. Tickets are $10 in advance at www.seatyourself.biz. Tickets at the door the day of this all-ages show are $15.