August 14, 2008

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Following the Verbs
Soon to be called something else
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

When the Verbs play at Milly’s Tavern with the Artty Raynes Band next Saturday, Aug. 23, they’ll play their style of neo-bluegrass under the name of The Verbs.

At some point, the band that has played together for a year will change it, because they found a few months ago that there is someone else with the same band name. The other Verbs, based in New York City, are a self-described rock/powerpop band.

Perhaps if the Seacoast-based Verbs were only a garage band that only formed to play and would soon dissolve into other bands, they wouldn’t worry so much about their name. But frontman Chad Verbeck sees it differently.

“I’m more excited about this band than anything in my life,” he said.

The band has a tour scheduled for next year in Colorado, the state where New Hampshire native Verbeck started his musical career while a student at the University of Colorado. But he dropped out of school to focus solely on music. As a student, he was studying aerospace engineering and was a member of the Air Force ROTC, wanting to be a fighter pilot. He couldn’t do both.

While there’s a growing string band audience in this area, and the band is booked most weekends, Verbeck thinks it would be different if he had formed the same band out west.

“If we were in Colorado, we’d be blown up by now,” he said.

But there not, and they’re doing alright. Verbeck moved back to the New Hampshire five years ago in what he originally thought would be a quick stop.

“I started gigging incessantly, and I haven’t stopped,” he said.

It was mostly solo work at first and he slowly started to add band members, evolving into the Chad Verbeck Band, which did a mix of electric and acoustic music before morphing into The Verbs, an all-string band. It’s a quartet with Mark Aleo on mandolin, Rob Wright on stand-up bass and Heather Mike, who Verbeck calls “the Jimmy Page of the band,” on fiddle. All the members of the band sing back-up to Verbeck’s lead vocals.

“It’s been a long dream of mine to play in a bluegrass setup,” Verbeck said. “It’s a way I wanted to play all my life. I just didn’t know it.”

While Verbeck does much of the songwriting and storytelling, he calls himself the “baby of the band” musically speaking, learning much from his bandmates. He struggles with his guitar improvisation and harmony. He wants a better guitar improvisation, but he’s strong on his singing improvisation, changing and creating interesting lyrics on the fly. Some of the band’s favorite songs aren’t written, he said, and that’s partly because the song is never the same. If Verbeck pens the lyrics, some of the improvisation is lost, he said.

The challenge now is finding management who will get the band booked into the area’s larger venues, like the Paradise in Boston. It’s Verbeck who makes the gigs now.

“I can keep us busy, I can keep getting us paid,” he said. But the band is ready. “We’re building a following, but we’re almost to the point where we can say that we have one,” he said.

Verbeck is ready to go full-time with his music, but while he awaits his break, he works for the family construction business, which he’s worked on and off since was 10. They build log cabins. They’re growing in popularity here slowly, he said, but are in vogue in Japan.

“It’s almost a vegan-like movement in Japan,” he said. Some see the houses as more healthy because the logs allow breathability.

But even though the band gels together and can agree with creating a wide variety, a new name still eludes them. A couple of months ago, Verbeck handed me two sheets of paper with hundreds of names on them to see if I liked any of them. There wasn’t one winner in the bunch.

“We can’t agree on anything,” he said. “We’re so sick of thinking of a name.”

Instead, they focus on what they do well in a genre that they are sort of creating: acousticrockacanagrass, Verbeck says with a laugh.

“We don’t play bluegrass, necessarily. It’s not straightforward,” he said. “The Verbs is a four-piece, high-energy string band.”


Hear them
The Verbs w/ Artty Raynes Band
When: Saturday, Aug. 23, at 9 p.m.
Cover: $5