Stephanie Smith (VARSITY) on ‘Parallel Person,’ Confidence and Getting Personal
Chicago rock band VARSITY has released their second full-length album, Parallel Person (via Babe City Records), and their lead singer Stephanie Smith spoke to TIDAL about the band’s new confidence, her approach to personal lyrics and their democratic creative process.
How has tour for Parallel Person been thus far? Has there been any distinct difference between touring this album and the previous record?
It’s been good, really good for shows on Tuesday and Wednesdays. I really cannot complain, it’s been fun. I definitely think we are practically doing better on this tour. We are staying a little bit healthier, eating a little better, a little more sober. We are definitely less crabby. Touring behind this record, I think our general demeanor on stage, we are more confident and that is finding its way into the performance.
With the more polished, thoroughly-produced sound of this record, does it feel like the band is re-defined in any way?
I don’t think the band feels different; we definitely notice that the sound has been upped a little bit, a little more professional. On stage, we are still kind of gritty and rip it. We feel more confident being ourselves on stage. We feel we know the songs really well. We’ve been kind of sitting on this record for a year.
On songs like ‘Lied to You,’ ‘Krissy,’ and ‘A Friend Named Paul,’ there seems to be a circling of the theme of dependency in relationships and social identity. Are those issues you’ve had to address in your personal life that bled through to the album? What was your typical writing/creative process on this album?
I found that when I was writing directly from my experiences in my life there was no self consciousness, and it gave the lyrics a layer of meaning from that directness. It made me feel more genuine performing them. Those three songs are about specific people, so starting there allowed me communicate a more genuine feeling.
I think we all create in three different ways. We’ll create the sonic structure of the song first and have free-flowing lyrics that can act as placeholders. Usually, something from the melody will arise that can inform the rest of the lyrics. Some people are always writing, but I think it’s something I’m able to do more if I am sitting down. It seems to always come together eventually, but it can require several times of revisiting it.
There is no leader of the band. Someone will bring in an idea and everyone can shape it in their own way; we operate very democratically. Even the chord structures come from all of us playing around. By the time it gets to me writing, it’s a collage of everyone’s ideas. I think it makes the lyrics and music fit together well. It takes a while for us to finish songs, so they tend to go through edits and changes in that process, so maybe that’s why a collage-ish sound resonates.
Something that is really interesting about the band, to me, is the way the band operates. Whether it’s the consistent release of digital singles, or the democratic way the music is created, as you alluded to earlier. Were any of these strategies for creativity and promotion deliberate from experience or something that easily came together?
I think it was trial and error. I don’t think we had these grand plans to make this come together for how approach these practices. For the A-side/B-side release, I think they are more like double A-sides. It worked for the band to record and release like that, because we all have day jobs. When you record a song because you’re excited about it, you can put out quick and take in the feedback and reaction to it. When you’re making an album, you sit on these feelings you recorded for almost a year and then you put it out. So, I think it worked for the band to be able to release things in the manner that we do.
In ‘Lied to You,’ you sing, ‘I’m none of things that I thought I’d be by now.’ Which kind of hits hard and is a very relatable but personal thought. How do you know how much of yourself you want to reveal in your music?
That kind of acts as the theme for the whole album. I noticed that I wasn’t as engaged with my songs when I felt like the lyrics were not sincere and it created a disconnect. Being in the moment makes me more vulnerable, so I started to write from a more personal place. I think I made a few mistakes along the way, by using people’s real names in some songs. I’ve leaned more into writing the truth, as I see it.
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