Pembroke’s Verch home for an all-star NAC show
April Verch returns home for an all-star concert as part of NAC’s Canada Scene festival
Pembroke-based fiddler and stepdancer April Verch has been putting her own spin on the Ottawa Valley fiddle tradition since she was a child and making a career of it for almost 20 years. Now 39, with fans on both sides of the Atlantic, the Berklee College of Music grad released two albums this year and returns home on July 8 for an all-star fiddle concert that showcases styles from across the country, part of the NAC’s Canada Scene festival. Lynn Saxberg managed to catch up with the busy musician, between teaching at fiddle camps and touring with her band.
Q: Tell me about your new recording, the April Verch Anthology.
A: It’s a celebration of my first 10 releases, with a couple of tracks off each release and a couple of brand new ones. It gave me a chance to look back and celebrate all the milestones along the way, and put something out so that new people who haven’t known me the whole time can get a sense of some of the earlier recordings. And for the people who have been with me the whole way who have been asking for some of the earlier releases, which I just can’t carry all of them with me anymore.
Q: What was it like picking the tracks?
A: It was actually enjoyable. I didn’t think it would be. I thought I would hear some of the earlier stuff and cringe because you know how it is to go back that long. But it was really cool. Each record ended up reminding me of a different point in my life and my career. It was a little bit more difficult to narrow down maybe than I thought it would be. We wanted to include a certain number of coals and styles, so that helped decide what tracks to include.
Q: Any observations on the evolution of your style?
A: I guess I was a little bit surprised. I always thought I got more eclectic and passionate about more styles as time went on, which is true. But I was surprised at how eclectic the recordings were in the beginning. I thought the earlier ones would sound more Ottawa Valley, and they did to a certain extent, but there was always some other stuff thrown in there as well, which I’d forgotten about.
Q: Is it important to you to keep experimenting with new styles?
A: I think what is important to me is just to play what I love. And you don’t know what that’s going to be. I think I’ve found my own sound, and that’s partly why I’m able to experiment with so many different styles. I’m comfortable with my sound and who I am as a musician. If I want to try to do something, I’m not afraid to do that because I don’t think I’ll sound like I’m trying to be something I’m not. There’s enough of me in there that I think it’s clear, ‘She’s not an Appalachian player but she’s playing a tune from that style, and it respects the tradition but it still sounds like April.’ I think that’s something I’ve gotten better at over the years. There’s no substitution for doing it and experimenting with it to get to that point.
Q: What style speaks to you now?
A: The last few years, I got brave enough to try more old-time American stuff, which took me the longest of any style to feel comfortable with. And so I sort of mastered that and lately I’ve been turning my attention to songwriting, looking ahead to the next project. I have been writing songs for a while, but it’s something I want to put a bit more time into and delve into a little deeper. I’ve also started writing more lyrics.
Q: What was challenging about the old-time American style?
A: The bowing patterns are quite different from the Canadian traditions and certainly from the Ottawa Valley tradition. There’s more of what I’d call a figureeight pattern and a different syncopation, whereas the Canadian fiddle is very articulate. We slur but we clip our slurs, and it was very hard for me to not sound like a Canadian playing an oldtime American tune.
Q : You also have a new recording, Going Home, with Joe Newberry, who’s a veteran oldtime/bluegrass player. What makes you click with him?
A: We’re both really grounded in the traditions that we come from. Me, of course, the Ottawa Valley stuff, and he’s from Missouri and grew up with the Ozark music. You wouldn’t expect that we’d have a lot in common, Ottawa Valley and Ozark, but my dad taught himself to play by listening to West Virginia jamboree on the radio, and Joe grew up with fiddlers who listened to Canadian and Québécois fiddle on the radio. So he says that a lot of the Canadian fiddle tunes I play sound vaguely familiar to him, even though he doesn’t know them. In addition to that, we’re both really passionate about sharing music that’s rooted in where we come from.
Q: You perform in Europe regularly. Why do you think audiences in other countries enjoy Canadian fiddle tunes?
A: I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s not always the music, it’s the fact that you’re sharing something that’s genuine. If you’re passionate and you’re talking about why you play it, where it comes from and the connection you have to it, that sort of translates to people. Even if it just makes them think about a similar thing in their life. There’s always a connection to be found that way if it’s coming from a real, honest place.
“I think I’ve found my own sound, and that’s partly why I’m able to experiment with so many different styles,” says 39-year-old fiddler and stepdancer April Verch.