Few bands do heartwarming indie pop better than Chicago's Varsity. The quintet's songs imagine a world where Belle and Sebastian ups-the-tempo and adds a healthy serving of jangly guitar solos. Since their scrappy 2015 self-titled debut LP, the results—like 2016's frenetic "Eye To Eye" and the woozy "So Sad, So Sad"—have been undeniable. The group's success so far is partly due to how they work really damn hard on every minute detail, almost too hard. "I feel like we spend a lot of time writing each song. We're pretty particular about the arrangements," explains guitarist Patrick Stanton. "We've had songs that take anywhere from six months to a year," adds lead singer and keyboardist Stephanie Smith.
Varsity's newest single from their yet to be announced upcoming record is called "Settle Down," which Noisey is premiering above, and it's an example of how their perfectionism almost got the best of them. When I interview the band about the track, they're about to headline a show at Chicago's Schubas Tavern. Each member is backstage sipping Tecates and speaking a mile-a-minute about how making the track pretty much kicked their ass. It's a weird thing to hear because in concert the song transmits band's tangible feel-good chemistry so expertly it seemed like there was also an ear-to-ear grin on the entire capacity crowd. For those not initiated into Varsity's inclusive club of pure fun, this kind of joy is not uncommon.
"I remember writing lyrics for 'Settle Down' a year ago and only finalized them last minute in the studio," recalls Smith. After countless months playing the song over and over again at practice, Smith had an epiphany to just write about the creative wall she was hitting and the nagging self-doubt that comes with writing, making the first line: "Do you have to look the part of mess up a work of art." When Smith realized she could write a song about not being able to write a song, the rest of the writing came naturally.
Guitarist Dylan Weschler jokingly sums up the process, "Have you seen the movie Adaptation? It's kind of like that." While not as layered and meta as Spike Jonze's 2002 film, "Settle Down" is an airtight pop jam that packs a lot of bubblegum-sensibilities into its three minute runtime. On the hook, Smith and Weschler trade vocals with the latter practically winking when he sings, "all I want to do is let you down/all I want to do is mess around." Complete with peppy handclaps, countless "ooh oohs," and searing guitar leads, the lean final product is pretty seamless considering how difficult it was for the band. "I just think it's funny the hardest song we had to write also ended up being one of the shortest things we've ever put out," notes Stanton.
To pair with the new song release, Varsity's also debuting a new video. "We would watch [directors Weird Life Films'] video for Joey Purp's "Girls@" video like all the time," explains Smith, also mentioning their one-shot clip for Twin Peaks "Walk To The One You Love." The charming clip, which also deals with the anxiety that comes with finding inspiration, stars Lena Kazer and Quinn Wermeling.
Catch Varsity on tour:
9/09 at The Way Out Club in St. Louis, MO
9/10 at Kaiju in Louisville, KY
9/11 at The East Room in Nashville, TN
9/12 at Masquerade in Atlanta, GA
9/14 at Comet Ping Pong in Washington DC
9/15 at Alphaville in Brooklyn, NY
9/16 at Crouch House in Philadelphia, PA
9/23 at Feline Fine Fest in Indianapolis, IN
9/24 at Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, OH
Josh Terry is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.