We caught up with Stef and Pat from Varsity to discuss the power of playing a new song live, their upcoming album, what they are looking forward to on tour with SALES, and more. Check it out below and make sure to follow them on social!
Hello, we are Varsity! The band consists of Stef Smith (lead vocals/keys), Pat Stanton (Guitar), Dylan Weschler (Guitar), Paul Stolz (Bass), and Jack Stolz (Drums)
You all grew up playing music, but none of you studied music while you were in college. How did you continue to keep your passion for music throughout your college years and know it was something you wanted to pursue post-college?
Pat: As a kid, I jumped around and played drums and piano for a little bit, but I never got into either one. When I got to college I picked up a guitar and started to learn how to play. College is a good time to learn because you have a lot of free time and are surrounded by people willing to help you.
Stef: We both went to Indiana University and there is a big music school there so I would use their practice rooms and facilities. I did take a couple of music classes and even took private lessons at one point, but it was mainly like Pat said. Growing up I did a lot of group-oriented things like choir and acapella groups, but college is where I started writing on my own. I had a keyboard in my room that I would spend my free time playing on. The music scene in Bloomington is cool too so aside from writing alone, seeing a lot of music there was inspiring and motivating.
With the band name “Varsity”, you have said that it was selected so that you could start releasing your music, but you always like hearing fans interpretations of the name. What are some of the best interpretations you have heard?
Stef: One time we all said we were part of a varsity dodgeball team and everyone believed it. People like making their own backstories and make puns out of it, but we truly just picked it so we could start releasing music. I am open to hearing interpretations of the names, but at the end of the day, everyone is technically wrong because it doesn’t have an intense story or deeper meaning behind it.
Pat: I wish we thought about it in terms of search engine optimization. It’s true, you can’t search “varsity” because we won’t pop up and you can’t search “varsity band” because high school bands will pop up. But besides that, I’m okay with it because it’s more about the music than the name.
In 2015 you released your first full-length titled “Varsity.”After releasing numerous singles and EPs you officially released your second full-length titled “Parallel Person” in July of last year. How did the band know you were ready to write and produce another full album?
Pat: It was the next logical move. We had been putting out single after single, which we like to do because it is less pressure than a full length. We were ready to spend more time on our work and were ready to head into the studio and make it. Listening to what we put out 5 years ago amazes me. It took us a while to find our footing, but now that we have more confidence in the studio it has made making albums more enjoyable.
Stef: Our previous album was more off the cuff and done in a weekend. When we have a collection of songs we are proud of that’s when we know it is time to head into the studio. We are more intentional now with how our recordings sound in the same space with the same engineer. The band did not know what it was doing at all when we first started producing our own music. Learning in the studio has contributed to us spending a lot of time there and experimenting with what we are capable of.
In the past, you’ve mentioned how valuable you find playing new songs during live performances to gauge audience reaction. What were the greatest benefits of seeing people’s direct reactions through this process?
Pat: I love playing a new song live. It is the best feeling when people respond positively to it. The other songs you’ve been playing for so long and everyone knows. When you get to surprise them with a new song it’s fun for all involved.
Stef: I know we played “Gordi” for the first time in Columbia, Missouri and that stuck out because I remember people really enjoying it. Going from only playing it for yourself to playing it for a crowd and seeing your excitement mirrored with audiences excitement is a rewarding feeling. The first time we played “The Dogs Only Listen to Him” it made the song more memorable to us. Seeing people’s reactions is the best way to know if a song works or not. Sometimes it doesn’t, we have a song that we are cooling on it right now. We were proud of the recording, but something about it live just isn’t translating well so we are trying to break it back down and see what can be improved.
You were recently signed with Run For Cover Records in October. The first two singles you released with them, “The Dogs Only Listen to Him” and “UFO”, were greatly received by the public. I know both were written based off of overheard conversations, but would you be able to share those two stories with our readers?
Stef: “The Dogs Only Listen to Him” was a story I had overheard from a lady talking on her cellphone. I was trying not to eavesdrop, but she was talking very loudly on the phone to who I assume was her friend. She was complaining about her spouse or significant other and wanted to break up with him. The only thing holding her back was that the dogs only listen to him. I made a whole backstory around it whether any of it is true or not I don’t know, but I let my mind play with the idea of what a couple’s story is like when the dogs only listen to him.
“UFO” I didn’t know would be a song when it first happened, but I was sitting at a coffee shop close by to a young couple. They were talking about their hopes and dreams for the future. I may have been being a bit cynical, but all I could think was how young and naive they were. I kept thinking about them and could only see it ending terrible for them.
I had the idea that I wanted a whole album to be based on conversations and odd things you can’t help but overhear. After these two songs, I’ve learned I don’t want to eavesdrop anymore and see these two as enough right now.
It has already been announced that Varsity will be releasing their full-length Run for Cover debut in 2019. What are the main differences you are experiencing with writing this full-length compared to your other full lengths?
Stef: The writing process has changed over time. It is more collaborative. The biggest difference is that now we know how we want to record. It is going to have more personality and may be less perfect on a technical level, but that is the trade-off. We are actively striving towards that and recording most of it live. In previous recordings we always second-guessed ourselves and it took the fun out of it at points. At this point, I am way more excited to record this album than I ever have been in the past. We are also recording in Bloomington, being there will bring back some happy nostalgic feelings.
Pat: I don’t feel as much pressure. Knowing how we want to record it has helped us pin down our sound for this album. We are also recording in chunks. Previously we had recorded in one swoop and then mixed it for a long time. It gets to the point where you don’t even know what you are listening to. It begins to sound like mush. Taking a different approach will hopefully help us from getting worn out and fatigued by the music.
You’ve said in a previous interview that recognition is the hardest thing about being a band in the current age. Back in November, you were listed by Paste Magazine as one of the 15 bands you need to know. What did this shoutout solidify for the band?
Pat: It is nice to be included in something like that, but I don’t seek out recognition as much as I once did. Starting out you want people to notice you, but at this point, my viewpoint has changed. Recognition does help depending on what your goal is. That used to stress me out and was something I had to deal with because recognition can also be tied to the idea of success and that isn’t a healthy thing to be solely focused on.
Stef: I think our priorities changed because you get recognition and you realize it only does so much and there is always more work to be done. I now think the hardest thing about being in a band is actually being in a band. Coordinating schedules and being committed to a cohesive idea with that many other people can be tough. I’ve changed my tune on that and it will probably change again as we continue with our band and our music. I don’t see making music as a competition. When I originally said that I think I meant that with all the access people have to make music today, getting recognition is harder because there is a larger pool of musicians.
In Chicago where music is a large hub, what would you say it the dynamic within the pool here?
Stef: I think certain personalities thrive better in a scene that is so communal. I wouldn’t change anything, but I personally am not good at navigating the scene so it can be hard. This isn’t anything new and I don’t think it’s unique to Chicago. You just have to find what are you good at in this environment.
Varsity’s first show of the year will be January 17th at Metro as part of TNK Fest. How will this show help kick off what the band wants to achieve this year?
Pat: It is the largest venue we have ever played, besides a Dave and Busters type place in Canada. We haven’t been playing shows because we have been busy writing this record so it will be nice to get back out there.
Stef: We are going to play some new songs and we are looking forward to seeing how people react. Snail Mail and LaLa LaLa are amazing too and we are excited to play on the same bill.
After that, in March and April, you are going on tour with SALES. You will be visiting a lot of cities that you have never performed in before. What are you hoping to achieve this tour compared to previous tours?
Stef: During previous tours, we put a lot of pressures on ourselves. This time we definitely hope to have more fun. We have played with SALES before in Chicago and our fan bases tend to overlap which created amazing energy to play for. Younger crowds tend to be more eager to talk too. When people come up to you after the show and want to chat I am always into it. Connecting to more people over the tour is definitely a goal of mine.
Pat: Yea, not putting as much pressure on ourselves results in a happier atmosphere. Going to new cities is not only fun to play for a new crowd, but also to see and explore a new city for yourself.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy
Header Photo by: Alexa Viscius