Varsity Explores New Territory On New Record ‘Fine Forever’

“I do think that musicians are kind of historians, whether they know it or not,” Stef Smith of Varsity told American Songwriter.

Videos by American Songwriter

Smith’s assertion of musicians’ hidden secondary occupation is an underlying influence on Varsity’s work. On Friday, they released their third studio album, Fine Forever, via Run For Cover Records. The record is lyrically an introspective series of observational vignettes and musically a foray into new territory for the indie band, featuring clever arrangements and a more unified, ensemble sound. 

“I think these songs are like snapshots of what is happening right now,” Smith said. “They’re definitely snapshots of what was happening when I wrote them. A song is like a time capsule, for either the listener or the writer. When I listen back to a song we wrote back in 2015, I’m transported to where I was and who I was at the time. It’s a little time capsule for that time in my life.”

That is, for the most part, the reasoning as to why Smith sees musicians as historians, but the full impact of that philosophy manifests in the lyrics. Fine Forever features several tracks — such as “Sicko World” (a prophetic song addressing isolation and quarantining) and “The Memphis Group” (about the ‘80s design group) — which are almost like pieces of musical flash-nonfiction. Smith thinks this theme may come from her days as a documentary filmmaker.

“I love narrative nonfiction,” Smith said. “I studied documentary film and have worked on documentaries in the past. I think I get more inspired writing songs about other people — or other scenarios — rather than myself. These songs are vignettes that I can relate to, but they’re really about things, people or situations that I’ve seen. I try to keep them anonymous, yet relatable. I’m just very interested in biographies and documentaries, kinda peeking behind the curtain of other people’s lives a little bit.”

That lyrical exploration is evidence of Varsity’s growth as a band. Since debuting in 2013, they rode the wave of late-Obama era indie rock from its inception to its confusing and hard-to-pinpoint end. In 2015, the band released ‘So Sad, So Sad,’ a bare-boned tune drenched in chorus pedals and sprinkled with melody, which went on to become quite a hit with the youthful indie crowd… the kind of crowd that was into wearing ‘dad hats’ before Mac DeMarco became too mainstream. Now, on Fine Forever, we see a new kind of band. The tracks are decorated with a new kind of determination, a new kind of confidence and a new kind of musical expression.

“It’s the sound we’ve always been searching for,” guitarist Dylan Weschler told American Songwriter. “It’s a sound we didn’t necessarily know we wanted to make, but once it felt right and we were comfortable with it, it made sense. It’s definitely a product of going on tour a lot — we were playing so much that we could play our songs in our sleep. The sound of this album was informed and influenced by that level of skillfulness we had in playing together. It’s a live sounding record. At the same time, however, we got into a position when we were touring the last record where I don’t know if we were totally happy just playing shows all the time. I think we are a little bit more comfortable just writing songs and actually making music together instead of playing the same songs over and over again. So, we got to a point where we were like ‘let’s actually try to be deliberate in making a new album.’”

Smith agreed, adding that “before we made this album we were worried a lot. We were not quite happy, still not exactly getting what we wanted to get out the experience of being a band. We were going through that crisis of ‘are we a road band or are we a studio band?’ One thing we could agree on was that we really loved writing and recording. So, we just leaned into that super heavily for this album, because that is what we decided made us all the happiest.”

Even in the first minute of the record’s opener, “Runaway,” you can notice the growth in sound. There’s more beef to the new Varsity, more melody, more contrast, a more complex palette of moods. The writing, the production and the lyrical messaging have all grown into something much more lush and evocative… there’s even a saxophone on it!

“We’re getting better at understanding what our creative intentions are,” Weschler said. “We’re also getting more comfortable playing with each other. Both of those things have made us better musicians and I think it definitely shows in our creative process.”

Again, Smith agreed, adding that “I think the creative evolution is a result of becoming better musicians over time. That extends into playing our instruments better, dabbling into different time signatures and arrangements and just getting more comfortable with leaning into each other’s strengths. We made a point to have more cooperation, everybody contributed to the songwriting process. That’s what this album is.”

Listen to Varsity’s single “Reason To Run” below:

Leave a Reply

“Peace in L.A.,” Tom Petty’s Prayer for Peace