Photography by David Irvine
Fiddler, singer, and stepdancer April Verch knows how relevant an old tune can be. She was raised surrounded by living, breathing roots music—her father’s country band rehearsing; the lively music at church and at community dances; the tunes she rocked out to win fiddle competitions. She thought every little girl learned to stepdance at the age of three and fiddle at the age of six. She knew nothing else and decided early on that she wanted to be a professional musician. While Verch is perhaps best known for playing traditional fiddle styles from her native Ottawa Valley, Canada, her performances extend into old-time American and Appalachian styles and far beyond, for a well-rounded tour-de-force of North Americana sounds. Verch and her fellow trio members pare down their arrangements, highlighting the simple pleasures of upright bass, guitar, clawhammer banjo, voices, fiddle, and stepping in intimate conversation. At the heart lie Verch’s delicate voice, energetic footwork, and stunning playing. Sometimes she sings, steps and fiddles all at once, with apparent ease and precision. Verch is - as they say - a triple threat in performance, her live show a beautiful companion to her music: versatile, robust, and masterfully executed. Even as she plays with the tradition she inherited, Verch keeps the community-fired celebratory side of her music at the forefront, honing a keen awareness of how to engage contemporary listeners. And Verch never forgets the roots of her music, that connection to the people out there in the audience, on the dance floor, to the community sparked by a good song. “It’s about joining together to celebrate everyday life, through music. We’re all in this together.”
AHC: What has this journey in music, so far, been like for you, the highs and the lows, and what life lessons do you feel you've picked up along the way?
April: I’ve been around music and playing music for as long as I can remember, so it’s very much a “way of life” for me. In many senses, the business aspect of it is like any other job, in that there are things you love about it and things you find hard or challenging… It’s not an easy way to make a living. I guess when I think of the “lows”, that comes to mind first. All of that being said, I feel like I am living my dream. That’s where the highs come in, for sure. This is what I’ve always wanted to do - play, perform, record and share music. And it’s an honour and privilege to be able to do that. I don’t take it for granted and am so thankful for the opportunities that music has brought me. It’s difficult to separate the life lessons that I’ve learned through my journey in music from all of the others, but I think that overall, it’s taught me to be a more compassionate, understanding and caring human being, in large part from getting to travel to so many different places and meet so many people from various walks of life. It’s provided me a glimpse into what life is like for people in different areas, and that is educational and humbling.
AHC: What first drew you to music and what was your early musical environment like growing up? Were there pivotal songs for you then that just floored you the moment you heard them?
April: I grew up surrounded by music as my Dad played (he had a local country band that played for dances on weekends), and my parents were fans of the local music scene and we were always attending events, dances, festivals where music and dancing were part of the fun. I think more than any one song or tune or even person, what drew me in and what I still remember is the vibe at these events. When there was music and dancing, people had stopped working so hard, and were having a good time and celebrating. And I liked being part of that. And I liked that music provided that outlet. I still do!
AHC: Do you remember the first song that you ever wrote or played? Or that first moment when you picked up a pen and realized that you could create whole worlds just by putting it to paper?
April: I wrote my first fiddle tune when I was about 9 or 10 years old. We were camping as a family and I realized it was my parents wedding anniversary that weekend and I didn’t have a gift. But I knew how much they loved fiddle tunes, and so I decided I would write them a tune. I didn’t write lyrics until more recently, and I remember first feeling very vulnerable in putting words to music. Often times I was saying very specific with a fiddle tune but nobody knew it. In writing lyrics all of the changed immediately and it was both liberating and scary all at once.
AHC: Which musicians have you learned the most from? Or writers, artists, filmmakers etc?
April: I’ve learned a tremendous amount for John Hartford. He was such an immense talent and well-rounded artist. I have studied his playing, his writing, his performances, his business sense, his all around “artistry”. I still find inspiration in all that he contributed.
AHC: What do you think makes for a good song, as you're writing and composing, is there a sudden moment when you know you've found the right mix, that perfect angle of light, so to speak?
April: For me, that spark that I think you’re speaking of comes when I’m able to put forth something that is completely honest. That’s not always as easy as it seems it would be. It’s not just the desire to be honest…it’s finding a way to say that truth in a manner that conveys the meaning in a straight forward, or poetic, or beautiful way, or whatever way is necessary to strike a chord and ring within us.
AHC: Do you consider music to be a type of healing art, the perfect vehicle through which to translate a feeling, a state of rupture, hope lost and regained? Does the writing and creating of the song save you in the kinds of ways that it saves us, the listener?
April: I believe music to be extremely healing. I still find myself capable of expressing things through music that I can’t in any other way. And I absolutely love how personal it is. How it can mean different things to different people, even though the musician or composer might have meant something totally different. Music meets us where we are, provides us with what we need based on our own situation and experiences. And when it causes us to feel, or remember, or inspires us, it has achieved its purpose. I think sometimes it does that for the composer, the musician and the listener, and sometimes for only one of that group. And that’s okay.
AHC: What are your fondest musical memories? In your house? In your neighborhood or town? On-tour, on-the-road?
April: I have so many wonderful musical memories. I think the common thread that ties them all together is the people - whether it be a jam session with inspiring musicians, or tunes with just my Dad at home, or an intimate venue where the crowd was up close and the evening was magic, or a bigger festival where someone came up and shared a story of how something we did touched them in a personal way. My fondest memories have happened all over the place, but always there was a human connection that made it meaningful.
AHC: When you set out to write a song, how much does 'where the world is' in its current moment, culturally, politically, otherwise, influence the kinds of stories you set out to tell?
April: The answer to that question varies by the inspiration. Sometimes I’m writing for a person, or a memory of a different time and place, so the current world doesn’t really enter into it. Other times the situation we’re in right now in this world comes directly into play. For me, that’s a pretty conscious decision. My favorite songs are rather timeless though, so that’s also something I bare in mind. It doesn’t preclude me from referencing the current moment, sometimes it might be beneficial to the message to do so, but it’s something I weigh carefully in that regard.
AHC: Do you have any words of advice for other musicians and singer-songwriters out there who are just starting out and trying to find their voice and their way in this world? What are the kinds of things that you tell yourself when you begin to have doubts or are struggling with the creative process?
April: I think that doubts and struggles are not only normal, regardless of what stage you’re at in your writing, but also beneficial. I try to see those challenges in a positive light. Rather than suppressing them, take a moment to examine them, see where they are coming from and why, and just accept that it’s okay to feel that way or encounter those struggles. Our job is to learn from them and to become better at what we do by caring about them. I tell myself, “it’s okay” and instead of beating myself up about it, I choose to overcome. And I remind myself that the best way to do that is just to be honest. When I force something or try to pretend I’m something I’m not, it just doesn’t work. If I embrace what’s happening, that’s when I come up with my strongest music.
AHC: Do you have any new projects in the works you'd like to tell people about?
April: I’m always excited about all of my upcoming tours. Performing live has always been my passion. I tour with The April Verch Band, my trio, and also have a new duo with Joe Newberry. Joe and I have a new release coming out in a few months, and AVB is heading back into the studio this year as well, so that project is in pre-production. I find that music leads me down so many unexpected and wonderful paths, and I always looks forward to seeing what unfolds!
Keep up with April by visiting aprilverch.com/
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