When Donny Brown went to record his debut solo release, one decision came easy: the album’s title.
That moniker, the “Hess Street E.P.,” has a special meaning.
“I grew up in a musical household in a house on Hess Street on the eastside of Saginaw,” Brown, one of the founding members of the Verve Pipe, told the LSJ. “It’s the house that’s on the cover of the CD: 1619 Hess Street. I come from a family of seven kids, and I’m number six of seven.
“My older brothers both had bands, and our house was always the designated practice space.”
His parents didn’t mind the racket and would let the downstairs rocking out go late.
“They were the absolute best. My friends knew it, too, and so did my siblings’ friends,” Brown said. “Because my brothers were rehearsing in our basement or garage, there was always a drumset set up that I could go rock out on.
“Music, playing music, listening to music and loving music, was such an integral part of my family life growing up, I can’t help but carry that with me everywhere I go.
“That’s why the record is the Hess Street E.P.”
Listening to the album, you can hear Brown’s influences: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Elliot Smith. The music jumps from power-pop anthems to rich ballads to Dixieland-flavored songs. There’s lots of variety, which is a great thing.
For Brown, making the record was a familiar journey. He rose to rock star status in the ’90s, when the Verve Pipe ruled alternative radio with organic, introspective tunes “The Freshmen,” “Photograph” and “Cup of Tea.”
Now, Brown is stepping out on his own. He’ll play songs off the “Hess Street E.P.” Saturday at the Grand Ledge Performing Arts Center, plus new versions of Verve Pipe classics.
While Brown played drums for the Verve Pipe, the show will see him performing up front, with guitar in-hand, with a backing band, the Van Dell-Tones.
The album, Brown said, was a total Michigan effort.
“First, let me say that I could not have made this record without my four main recording friends: Andy Reed at Reed recording in Bay City, Ryan Wert at Lansing Recording, Glenn Brown at Glenn Brown Productions and Geoff Michael at Big Sky in Ann Arbor,” said the Lansing musician.
He mixed with Brown and Michael, mastered with Reed and edited with West. It all took place between his session work at the studios, so pretty much whenever his drums were set up for another gig, he recorded.
Other Michigan players included guest musicians Jake Greenwood, Ricky Nalett, Ray Kamalay and Dan Stechow, to name some.
“Friends would come by the house, and I’d play them the song, and they’d want to rock it out, so the record is full of appearances of people who just happened to pop in,” he said.
Writing a solo album was different than doing band work.
“This was one of the true joys of the process,” Brown said. “Previously, I would write and then try to fit the song into a ‘sound,’ shape it into something that would work or sound ‘right’ next to a set of previously released music and make it something that the band would be comfortable with. If I didn’t do this, I found that songs could be dismissed pretty quickly.
“So to not have that as part of the process and be able to let the sound and song go where I thought it wanted to was very fulfilling. Because of this, I think the record sounds like me.”
How to buy it
To purchase the “Hess Street E.P.,” visit http://donnybrownmusic.bandcamp.com/releases. The album is also available digitally via iTunes and Amazon.
About the show
Former Verve Pipe drummer Donny Brown performs. Also appearing: the Van Dell-Tones, Andy Reed, Chris Zehnder, Jake Bartlett, Scott Van Dell and Jake Greenwood.
•When: 8 p.m. Feb. 14
•Where: Grand Ledge Performing Arts Center, 820 Spring St. (inside Grand Ledge High School)
•Tickets: $10 in advance via www.seatyourself.biz/grandledgehs. $15 on day of show.