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April Verch

Interview by Sue Kavanagh, December 2005

Kavanagh: April, you knew what you wanted to do by the time you were ten and you are doing it now. That's amazing! Which did you receive more of from the people that mattered to you, concerned warnings against your desired path or encouragement in support of it, and how much did their opinions matter to you?

Verch: Looking back, I think I received an equal amount of warnings and encouragement from people I respected regarding my choice to make music my career. I am a rather stubborn person by nature, I know most people would say that saying "determined" sounds better, and I am that too, but I am just plain stubborn as well, and so any warnings or discouragement just made me work that much harder to prove to myself and to those people that they were wrong. That being said, a few people, key people in my life, gave me both; they told me to go for it and to follow my dreams, but to be realistic and remember that it is a business, it is a hard way to make a living, and I think I probably paid the most attention to those people, and I realize now more than ever what they were trying to tell me and I am glad to have had their advice when I was just starting out. I always tried to be open to everyone's ideas and advice, but at the same time I felt strongly that this was the only thing in the world I could do that would make me truly happy, and I felt it was what I was meant to do. So I just took some things with a grain of salt, and filed other things as good things to remember, but really just tried to have enough faith that things would happen and doors would open or close as they were meant to, and I still try to do the same thing today.

Kavanagh: You've won many an award for your fiddling, and you've got U.S. management too. What other dreams and goals do you have for your musical future?

Verch: I've always had goals for my career and many of them were realized a lot sooner than I had ever hoped for; having a record deal with Rounder Records, having agency and management representation, being nominated for a Juno Award... But more than anything else I love to play music and to perform, and since starting my career as a band leader, a performing artist, it has become apparent to me that maintaining a certain level, once you have attained it, and building on it slowly and steadily is extremely challenging, and that has become my most immediate goal. Success and longevity in the music business, that's where it's at. I want to perform as many nights a year as I want, to have that demand and be able to fill it, I want to be able to share my music with people all over the world, to introduce types of music to audiences who may never have heard that type of music before, I want to continue to make better and better recordings, write better tunes, and I want to be able to focus on all of this without having to worry about anything else. It sounds simple, but I think that often, in order to make a living doing what you love, you have to spend so much time doing some of the business aspects of your art to get where you're going, that isn't easy to find the time and inspiration to just be an artist or a musician. It's a balancing act, and I've made great strides in this aspect since I first started touring full time, so that is one of my continued primary goals. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to do what I love to do more than anything else in the world, have people want to listen to it, get paid for it - it's amazing. In a way, anything else is just icing on the cake - you know, like the Grammy's I want to win and the records I want to make with Alison Krauss and K.D. Lang!

Kavanagh: This is an exciting time for you. Your new CD, "Take Me Back" will be released this mid January while you are in the midst of a very busy tour. Is this the most hectic time you've had musically and if so, how are you preparing for it?

Verch: I love being busy on the road and I can't wait for the tours surrounding the new release. I can't wait for the new release! I don't think this will be the most hectic time in my career thus far, but it will be among the most hectic times and I thrive on it. Bring it on! I am used to preparing for this type of thing, it takes a lot of forethought and planning, but over the years and tours you develop a pattern that you use and I have it down pretty well now. I like to have everything as organized as possible before we head out on the road, that's just my nature in general, and so I am always preparing for the next tour and it's a process that becomes second nature. You start preparing for the next tours while you're on your current tour, because there usually isn't enough time at home in between to get it all ready and sorted out. It's an on-going thing and in order to keep on top of it all it just has to become a part of your daily routine. Don't ask me how touring musicians ever survived without email and cell phones!

Kavanagh: I understand you write some of your own original instrumentals. Is lyric writing something you aspire to or do you prefer to leave that to someone else? (Please elaborate.)

Verch: I've been writing instrumental music since I was about twelve years old and it's something I really enjoy. I haven't written any lyrics yet... Singing is actually something I only started a few years ago, but I do have to say now that I am getting more comfortable with vocals, writing lyrics is something I've been thinking about quite a bit. I do aspire to write some "songs" now, as opposed to "tunes" and I have started to work on some, but there's nothing fine enough to share yet! I have a lot to learn and will have to keep working on it. I hope to do some co-writing at some point in the near future, to get me started and to pick up some "tricks of the trade" so to speak. I am fortunate to work with and know a few notable songwriters, so that should help somewhat - if I'm not to shy - it seems the better you know and respect someone the harder it is to put ideas out there on the floor when you're just starting out... We'll see.

Kavanagh: Who are your biggest musical heroes?

Verch: I have a different musical hero every couple of months and always have. I have always felt strongly about listening to a variety of music and musicians in genres I am passionate about, mostly because when I was younger a lot of my friends would pick one "musical hero" and then copy everything they did until they sounded like a little "clone" of that person. And for me, music has always been about personal expression and making a statement of my own. So I have a long list of important influences, but no musical hero per say. It's like trying to pick a favourite fiddle tune - forget it, I love too many - but the most recent one I've learned is my favourite just until I learn another new one. Usually my most recent "musical hero" is my newest find. There is so much out there and so much of it inspires me and plays an important role in what I do - I could never pick just a few.

Kavanagh: There are a lot of other interesting artists on your label, Rounder. Have you had a chance to meet many of them?

Verch: I have had the chance to meet a few of my "label mates" - especially a lot of the bluegrass artists. Rounder seems to attract not only wonderful musicians but wonderful people, I will say that, from my experiences thus far. I think it's because of the Rounder team, being down to earth and in the music business for the right reasons... I am delighted to be on the Rounder label and you're right, the roster is incredible, sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe I'm on the same label as many of the artists I admire so much!

Kavanagh: Do you get stage fright and what do you do to prepare for a show?

Verch: I rarely get stage fright, even in front of large crowds. Here is what gets me though - if there is a musician in the audience who I really respect and admire, or if there are friends/associates in the audience. And I don't have a great way of dealing with that really, except trying to forget they are there, which doesn't usually work!

Verch: As for preparing for a show, I try to be well rehearsed and warmed up. That isn't always easy on heavy travel days. Taking some time alone, even if it's just a few minutes, to get focused before a performance, and to warm-up mentally and physically is really important for me. We spend so much time with other people when we're on tour that a little bit of time by myself goes a long way to re-focus and find my energy.

Kavanagh: How many performers will be on stage with you on this tour?

Verch: I always tour with a trio of musicians: guitar, bass and hand-percussion (as well as back-up vocals).

Kavanagh: I don't know how much step dancing you actually do on stage, but probably enough that staying in shape isn't one of your problems while you are touring. But please share with us your thoughts on how you will you deal with other touring nuisances such as airport boredom and noisy hotel neighbours?

Verch: I have been stepdancing since I was three years old, and so my body just expects that amount of activity from me fairly consistently. And although I do a fair amount during a show, it's not enough to "keep in shape", so I do have to work out every day or as often as possible as well. I am never bored when we're on the road, whether in the van or the airport, there is always work to be done, emails to answer, and music to learn. I don't mind any of that, as it keeps things interesting. I guess my biggest tour nuisance is hotel germs, or I should say, my phobia of hotel germs! I immediately remove the comforter and disinfect doorknobs, phones, etc. with my little antibacterial cloths and then try to spend as little time in the hotel room as possible! Easier said than done - and yes, I drive the rest of the band nuts - but I can't help it!

Kavanagh: You must have quite the collection of little motel/hotel shampoo bottles by now?

Verch: Naturally they are all used by the time I leave, as I use them to disinfect my hands every time I touch something in the hotel room.

Kavanagh: On this tour you will travel back and forth between Canada and the U.S. From recent experiences and from news coming from fellow musicians or other travellers, what do you anticipate in terms of ease or hassle when crossing borders?

Verch: We have been touring cross-border for several years now and with adequate pre-planning and time for all of the paper work, processing etc. in advance of each tour, it isn't a huge hassle when it comes time to cross the border. We have work permits and keep informed of all rule changes, etc. We try to leave extra travel time to allow for any border waits or delays on days we are crossing the border of course, but it is otherwise uneventful and we hope to keep it that way!

Kavanagh: I read that you often share with your audiences that your dad told you, "Don't forget where you came from." Is telling folks this as much for yourself as it is for them - a way of staying normal in the face of applause and adulation? (Please elaborate.)

Verch: Yes, my Dad has always told me that (and still does), and the older I get and the more I travel, the more I understand why. In a way, I am telling myself that as well as my audience, but more as a comfort - remembering that I am still the same girl who started out in the Ottawa Valley and is still playing the music she learned and loved and that originated there - it's a reminder, a kind of comfort when I'm lonely from being away from home too long. But I also want my audience to know where I come from and to understand that the music I play is a part of something bigger - a geographical place with a rich cultural history. And I want them to understand that knowing that myself, and having them also know that is as important as the music.

Kavanagh: Please describe the Ottawa Valley (where you came from) for us.

Verch: The Ottawa Valley is a land of rolling woodlands and pristine waters. It's a good land - land for farming, making maple syrup, sporting and playing. It's a land steeped in the history and traditions of the immigrants who settled here and who maintain the traditions and morals of days gone by. People still go to church on Sunday, neighbours help out neighbours at the drop of a hat and the local community centre is where everyone gathers for weddings, funerals and carnivals. People work hard all week long, and on weekends they square dance, stepdance, play fiddle, piano, guitar and accordion. The four seasons display nature's grandeur better here than anywhere else in the world. People who live here know what they've got and they appreciate it, but they don't boast or carry on, that's not their way - perhaps that's why it's been a well-kept secret. If you come to visit, you'll feel more welcome here than anywhere else in the world, and you'll never forget, the "Ottawa Valley." In fact there's a good chance you'll never want to leave - however if you've grown up here, until you do leave, you can't truly appreciate how unique and marvelous it really is.

Verch: The Ottawa Valley is located in the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada. The region stretches from Ottawa, westward along the shores of the historic Ottawa River, to the northern tip of Algonquin Park. More than half of the Valley is wilderness: six million acres of waterways, woodlands and dramatic landforms including massive canyons, hills and valleys that began forming over six million years ago.

Verch: Visiting or returning to the Ottawa Valley, you will sense the spirit of the first settlers as you travel a route that displays great hardwood forests, wooden water towers, restored train stations and round houses, turn-of-the-century lumbermen's hotels, and log barns still filled each summer with grain from the farm. You will also notice a unique accent among many Ottawa Valley natives - a result of immigrants from many countries (France, Scotland, Ireland, Poland, Germany) settling in the Valley together. The combination of these settlers was also the driving force behind the music of the Ottawa Valley. Many of the immigrants to the Valley brought with them a passion for fiddle music. While the men worked in logging camps on the Ottawa River all winter long, they found that the fiddle, available and portable, was the perfect means of entertainment and relaxation after a hard day's work. Those without an instrument would use their feet to accompany the music, and the unique form of dance now known as Ottawa Valley stepdancing developed. Music and stepdancing was not only predominant in the lives of these settlers, it was at the heart of their cultural and social lives, and so it is today.

Kavanagh: On top of everything a musician has to do - travel, play brilliantly and smile lots, to name a few - a website seems pretty much essential these days. I've noticed that like you, some musicians now even have journal or diary sections. While this is very feasibly a natural extension of creativity and many fans quite like it, I can imagine that it is also just one more thing to do! How much time do you devote to your website and how do you feel about this aspect of the business?

Verch: I devote as much time as possible to updating my website. It's a great means for keeping in touch with people you meet on the road, and I know from personal experience, that it's nice to be able to read the thoughts and happenings of an artist you enjoy, that's why I have the diary section of the website. It's really hard to keep in touch with everyone when we're on the road - usually the relatively small amount of time we have online is spent keeping up with business and there isn't as much time to email friends and family as I would like, so the diary is a little something to keep in touch with those people, and also serves as a place where people whom I don't know as well can get to know me better. I think sometimes music can mean even more to a listener when they understand the artist performing it a little better. It isn't essential and it might not be for everyone - but it's there for those who are interested. So all in all, yes, it's another thing for me to do, but I enjoy it!

Kavanagh: I read in your diary that your mom saved your plants from groundhogs! It fascinates me that we humans spend time both attracting nature (birdfeeders and butterfly bushes) and trying to get rid of it (pest control) but anyway, which of the plants did the groundhogs prefer?

Verch: You're right - my husband and I built our dream house, the house we want to retire in some day, a couple of years ago so we could start paying for it now, instead of throwing our money away on rent while we're out on the road all the time... And we built it on a fifteen-acre maple bush that my Dad and Mom sold to us for a dollar for our wedding! We built there because we love nature - and I have nothing against those little groundhogs - usually! They weren't actually eating any of the plants; they were just digging them out of the pot and dumping everything on the ground. And they didn't seem to have any preference - flowers, vegetables, you name it, they seem to dig it! No pun intended! I don't think I really updated the diary on this problem either, so let me fill you in - my Mom kept the groundhogs away by putting moth balls in the top of the pots (of the flowers, not vegetables), which worked well, but eventually killed some of them. So there you have it, I might be done with my gardening until I'm not on the road so much and can monitor things a bit better.

Kavanagh: What are you listening to these days and what environment would we be most likely to find you listening to music, i.e. - tour bus, at home or in the car?

Verch: I listen to music a lot; I guess my most popular environments would be my MP3 player while I'm working out, in the vehicle while driving, and at home (while working and while relaxing). Yep, pretty much all of the time. As I type this I'm listening to Martina McBride's "Timeless". I'm also listening to Patty Griffin, John Hartford, KD Lang, and a bunch of bluegrass these days...

Kavanagh: You have done some stage acting too. Is this an aspect of your life that you plan to continue or is music becoming the dominant force?

Verch: My acting experience while growing up was with local theatre productions, and while I enjoyed it and I kind of miss being a part of that, it isn't something that ever was my focus and I don't think it ever will be. Although I hope to make my first music video soon, and maybe some of that early experience will get put to use in that way!

Kavanagh: What might surprise people most about you?

Verch: This is a hard one... I'm pretty much "what you see is what you get" and I think people who've met me or seen perform get a pretty good sense of who I am. It might surprise people that while I've always loved music, my first career ambition was to be an ice cream scooper. But my hands are always cold, even in the summer, so I'm glad I didn't follow through with it. I also have six fingers on my left hand, that's why I can play so fast.