Guest Playlist: Varsity

“I’d say our music is… a grittier version of your favorite indie pop record. Steph can write a melody that’ll get stuck in your head for days.”

Last month we traveled to Chicago and met with Stephanie Smith (keyboard, vocals) and Patrick Stanton (guitar) of Varsity, a band that exudes nostalgia and high school-cool. The five-piece group met while studying in college, aptly named themselves “Varsity” post-graduation, and haven’t looked back.

The Chicago-based band is gearing up to play in Brooklyn, New York this week – RSVP to a show at Shea Stadium or Baby’s All Right. Hit “play” below on Varsity’s mix of music they’re currently listening to and get to know the band below:



Q: How did you all meet, and what are your musical backgrounds?

Stephanie: Pat and I met in college. Through a mutual friend we met Dylan, who is our other guitar player. When we were forming a band we had some lineup changes before we met Paul and Jake, who are in the band now. I had actually gone to high school with them and lost touch during college. We all just ended up in Chicago and we were making music, just not together. We’ve all in some way known each other since 2007 or 2008.

Patrick: But you and I didn’t play music in college at all. We would mess around a jam a little bit but we weren’t in a band or anything. None of that happened until after we graduated and moved to Chicago.

Stephanie: I played classical piano and took voice lessons my whole life. I never played in a band. It was always my goal but I was in choir or a cappella groups.

Stephanie and Patrick of Varsity for Classic Specs.
Stephanie Smith and Patrick Stanton of Varsity for Classic Specs.

Q: Can you tell us about your creative process? What goes into writing and arranging your songs?

Stephanie: It usually starts in practice with jamming together. A lick will come out of that, hopefully, or a line or a chorus. From there we’ll work on it for a while. Typically, we can work on something and just keep coming back to it in practices. Everyone writes their own parts.

Patrick: Yeah, it’s pretty collaborative, I would say.

Stephanie: Yeah, and pretty democratic, too. Certain songs are written by different people [of the group], but typically most of our songs are written together. 

Patrick: The foundation of the song is written by someone. You [Stephanie] or Dylan will come in with something and then it will get filtered through all five of us and end up sounding pretty different than the original idea.

Stephanie: I guess the finishing touch is that I write all the lyrics – and I write them last.

Patrick of Varsity for Classic Specs.
Patrick Stanton of Varsity dons the Classic Specs Knickerbocker sunglasses in Dark & Stormy.

Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER HEARD YOUR MUSIC BEFORE?

Patrick: I’d say our music is a mix between indie rock and pop. It can be really sweet and melodic and then pretty aggressive and dissonant in an instant. A grittier version of your favorite indie pop record. It’s pretty guitar driven but we do incorporate synthesizers. Steph can also write a melody that’ll get stuck in your head for days. 

Q: What have you been working on lately, and what’s in the pipeline for the future?

Patrick: We put out a full-length record almost a year ago. Recently, we decided not to stick with the record format. We’re releasing what we’re calling a “Double A-Side Single,” because you can kind of listen to music however you want these days. We’re recording and releasing little bits of music every couple of months. That’s what we’re trying right now and we’ll see how it works out. We will also be on tour soon.

Stephanie: I like listening to more digestible chunks of music. That’s why I think we don’t need to make a record and we can release songs here and there.

Stephanie of Varsity for Classic Specs.
Stephanie Smith of Varsity wears the Classic Specs Dakota sunglasses in Havana Tortoise.

Q: Tell us a bit a bit about the inspiration behind playlist you created.

Patrick: The playlist has a lot of our favorite songs as a band. It’s music we’ve been listening to while in the van or songs that we often take inspiration from when we’re writing our own music.

Q: Your practice space is in Logan Square. What are some of your favorite things to do in the area?

Stephanie: I like Fireside Bowl!

Patrick: They used to do old punk shows there. It’s weird, they have a small riser where they keep the bowling balls. It’s an old, divey place. There’s a bar called Cole’s that I’m a fan of. They always have interesting, cool, local bands.

Stephanie: Longman and Eagle. The back bar is pretty fun.

Q: What new music or up-and-coming artists are you listening to lately?

Patrick: Does it have to be new artists?

Stephanie: I know what you’re going to say.

Patrick: What?

Stephanie: The Smiths.

Patrick: Ah, yeah, The Smiths. I’ve been really into The Smiths lately, which is weird because I feel like I’m too old to just be getting into them. It should have happened when I was seventeen.

Stephanie: I listen to that band, Palm. They’re from Hudson in Upstate New York.


Check out dates for Varsity’s CURRENT tour schedule:

3/29 – Philadelphia, PA | PHARMACY
3/30 – Brooklyn, NY | Shea Stadium
3/31 – Brooklyn, NY | Baby’s All Right
4/1 – Washington, DC | TBA
4/2 – Columbus, OH | The House With No Name
4/16 – Beloit, WI | Coughy Haus
4/28 – Chicago, IL | Schubas Tavern


Learn more about VARsiTY.

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