Interview with VARSITY: Chicago Origins and Embracing Challenges

Film images by  Bailey Vigliaturo

Film images by Bailey Vigliaturo

A new take on Chicago’s music scene, Varsity, are showing their true colors with Parallel Person, the latest release from the retro pop group. Led by singer/keyboardist Stephanie Smith, she surrounds herself with guitarist/vocalist Dylan Weschler, guitarist Patrick Stanton, bassist Paul Stolz, and drummer Jake Stolz. The band took time out of their packed SXSW schedule to answer a few questions about the making of Parallel Person, challenges they’ve faced getting to releasing the album, and goals for the rest of the year.

How did VARSITY come together?

The beginning of the band was a party I had at my house where I asked people to play music and show their art. Pat and Dylan played there and we had been friends for a very long time at that point, so I just asked if we could all play together. We had some lineup changes, at one point my brother was playing drums. It’s kind of an amalgamation drawing on people from different areas of our lives, but then it all came together maybe four years ago and it’s been the same since then. Basically, we were friends and started jamming together. Jake, Paul, and I are all from Oak Park, right outside Chicago, and then Pat, Dylan, and I met in college.

Being from Chicago, do you feel influenced by the overwhelming amount of artistry coming out of the city right now, or does this push you to be more creative?

It definitely makes us want to work harder because there are a lot of really good bands there, big bands too.

I wouldn’t say we are competing, especially since I don’t think we sound like other people, but I think the caliber of music in Chicago makes us want to be better. We’re always pushing ourselves and just have an eye on what’s going on around us. Musically, we aren’t influenced by other bands, but if I see a good performance in Chicago it’s super motivating to try new stuff.             

You guys have a second album coming out very soon…

Yeah, technically it is! We put out like an albums worth of material, kind of in-between the first record and this one. We did an album in 2014, but we made it really fast in our friends’ basement. It feels like we tried differently than the first time because at that time we were just recording all the songs we knew. This time we were intentional about what we were recording.

How does it feel having two singles from the album out? Any feelings about it?

They’ve been in the bag for a long time. We recorded the album like a year ago, almost exactly. Because we did the singles thing and put those out when they were done. This just took a lot more time, we all are pretty impatient. It was very exciting when the first song came out, and I think it will be really worth it to have the physical copy, and have our album all over the world.

What are some similarities and/or differences you found from the first album, all the songs in-between, and this one?

We’re better songwriters, for sure. In our first album, we were just playing all the songs we wrote and knew how to play and didn’t spend a lot of time arranging those in the studio. This one we didn’t really do live. We definitely used everything in the studio that we could and were a little more professional. With the singles, there were different levels of fidelity between them, and it was super hodgepodge-y because we were experimenting with different styles. It seemed like with the singles we would record them with the time we had on the weekends between work, and with the album, we took extra time when we realized that we needed to go back and put more work into it, so we were more patient and more deliberate.

 Do you have any takeaways or lessons that you’ve learned in the past four years that have carried on to now?

There’s definitely ups and downs. I don’t know if we’ve learned that yet because it’s something we still struggle with. Maybe it’s that we know there are ups and downs and we will experience them, but I feel like when we were first starting out we were kind of blindsided every time something didn’t go perfectly. It’s very rare that things go according to plan, but every band goes through that process. We’re a little more conscious about the fact that we do this all the time and it can’t always be awesome. We learned to tour because none of us had been in any touring bands before this. This is actually as far West as we’ve covered.

Any plans of touring this year?

We are touring the album out East in May, and hopefully the West Coast will be after that. We’ve met a lot of Austin people, we love it here, so we will definitely be coming back.

 Do you all have any goals for the rest of this year?

A goal of ours I think would be to go West since have never been. We also want to go to South America and Europe, but it probably won’t happen this year. We surprisingly have an international fan base. I think with that we learned that it has a lot to do with YouTube. There are two girls at the show here from Indonesia, and they’re studying here at the University of Texas, but they know us, that’s crazy. We get a lot of international requests on YouTube, but we’re still so small we can’t.

Is there anything we can expect from the new album, any secrets that you want to make public before it comes out?

Listen to it on headphones. There’s a nice treat at the end of the album, a longer song. Our longest song ever, and it’s my favorite. We just worked really hard on it, and we’re really happy to share it with the world. We hope that people enjoy it as much as we do.