April Verch is a step dancer, a fiddler and since 2003, a singer. Her music spans everything from the traditional fiddle tunes of her native Ottawa Valley, Canada, to blues, jazz, folk and Latin.
That’s quite a lot of ground for a musician to cover at 30 years old. But Verch, who has been step dancing since the age of 3 and fiddling since 6, is always looking to add another genre or skill to her already impressive repertoire.
“You can always do more of it,” she said, while on her way home to Ottawa on a rare break from touring.
A prime example — last year, she collaborated with Canadian dobro player Doug Cox, Celtic guitar virtuoso Tony McManus and bassist Cody Walters as the group Strung, releasing “Band of Gypsys,” an eclectic blending of the players’ different styles, last year.
Out of comfort zone
“I think it forced us all to kind of grow in different directions,” Verch said. “Just the way that it forced me to step outside of my comfort zone — it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m still playing that kind of music, but it stretched me in terms of trying different things on the music I play.
April Verch Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Eighth Step, GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
How Much: $22
More Info: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
“I’m a little more free to improvise and come up with different ideas, and definitely with collaborating at festivals and workshops with other bands, having that experience with different types of music that I didn’t have means that I could fit into it a little better.”
With plans to begin recording a new solo album, her eighth, in February, she is again trying her hand at a new skill — lyric writing. Her new material, which she describes as having a string band-type feel, is currently being road-tested, and audiences can expect some of these new songs to appear at her debut performance at The Eighth Step in Proctors’ GE Theatre on Friday night.
“I’ve written tons of fiddle tunes but no songs with lyrics until just recently,” she said. “One is really old country-feeling, which is something I really enjoy, I wanted to write something that sounded like Loretta Lynn might have sang it way back when.”
Verch will also be recording differently this time around. Live, she and her band — bassist and banjoist Cody Walters and guitarist Clay Ross — have been experimenting with singing and playing around one microphone. She’s hoping to try this technique in the studio now.
“I guess it’s the old-time string band concept, really — any of those string bands that play old time music tend to do it that way,” she said. “There’s something to be said for being right close to each other; it is a different energy for sure.”
Verch will be on the road with her backing band until Nov. 29. She will then head out with Canadian fiddle group Bowfire for the Holiday Heart Strings tour, which begins on Dec. 3.
She’s no stranger to heavy touring schedules. She’s been performing live and on tour since the age of 10. Before she graduated from high school, she’d already released her first two solo albums, 1992’s “Springtime” and 1995’s “Fiddle Talk,” and was touring and teaching fiddle camps.
Growing up surrounded by the traditional music her parents listened to, it was only natural for her to pick up both dancing and an instrument herself at an early age.
“My older sister was taking step dancing lessons, and I wanted to do everything that she did,” she said.
“And being around that music, I was drawn to the instrument and the energy of the music, but anytime we were around fiddling and step dancing, it was in a social context. Everyone was having a good time, and so I was probably equally as drawn to that. And plus, when you’re that age you try to make people happy, and when you start something that young, you’re still cute, and when you get up there and play and dance it makes people smile and that feels really good.”
Although she plays many different types of music now, Verch admits to leading a relatively sheltered childhood in the Ottawa Valley. She discovered country and bluegrass music in her early teens. “My parents are music fans, but they don’t listen to a lot of different types of music, just the local stuff,” she said.
Verch attended Berklee College of Music in Boston for one year, dropping out to pursue her career as a touring and recording artist. She soon landed a deal with Rounder Records, for which she recorded three albums — 2001’s “Verchuosity,” 2003’s “From Where I Stand” and 2006’s “Take Me Back.” It was Rounder that suggested she take up singing, which proved to be a challenge at first.
“I hadn’t really sung much, a little bit just with my family when we perform together locally,” she said. “When I signed with Rounder Records in 2000, they asked if I sang, and I said, ‘Not really.’ They suggested that I try it because it might open a few more doors. They said, ‘If it doesn’t work and you hate it, fine, but maybe give it a whirl.’ It took a long time to feel comfortable with it, because it was something so different and foreign compared to the rest of my performances.”
Her latest album, and first self-released album since 1998’s “Fiddelicious,” 2008’s “Steal the Blue,” featured even more vocal performances. While still featuring plenty of the Canadian reels that she grew up on, the album continues her move towards different musical styles.
The record has led to new successes for Verch. In February, she performed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics before a live and television audience of millions.
“I think it’s definitely helped to grow my audience, and it also gives me additional credibility with fans or people that have heard of you but weren’t fans yet, that kind of thing,” she said.
“There’s a lot that sticks out in your mind from having seen that, but also it’s something that’s kind of hard to measure, what effect that had on your career.”
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Categories: Life and Arts