Chicago’s Varsity make lush indie pop about human relationships. Their new LP—Parallel Person, released April 27th on Babe City Records—is a self-described foray into the “uphill battle of isolation and popularity.” Fittingly, single “A Friend Named Paul” sees singer and keyboardist Stephanie Smith describing what she calls a “one-sided” relationship; it’s a sweet, syncopated jam, its bright, melodic instrumentation acting as a counterpoint to the lyrics. We caught up with Smith and guitarist Pat Stanton to discuss the band's new album, playing at SXSW, and buying lava lamps in bulk. Varsity play Union Pool on May 5 with Poppies.
What are you guys doing right now?
Stephanie Smith: We’re shopping online for lava lamps.
Why are you buying lava lamps?
Stephanie: We’re trying to figure out a cool stage show for our release. This might not be a good idea, but we need to find out what the going rate is for lava lamps.
I could see how that could look cool on stage.
Pat Stanton: The show’s on 4/20 too.
I think you’re kind of obliged to buy the lava lamps then.
Stephanie: I’m glad you agree—we’ve been having a debate.
Pat: I just don’t know how many lava lamps we need on stage to make it look cool.
When you’re in your early twenties, it feels like everyone is putting up a front. “Kindness Is Hot,” Ben Katzman’s Degreaser new single off of their forthcoming EP, deals with the difficulties of contemporary early adulthood like relating with one another in an age of obsessive self image, inflated egos, online dating.
The song is a fast paced, theatrical ode to courtesy. Over a glam rock guitar riff, frontman Ben Katzman sings, “be cool / be nice / be chill / that’s tight!” The theatrical Kiss-inspired track contains a spoken word break, appropriately followed by a wailing guitar solo. In advance of the single’s release, we talked with Ben Katzman about astrology, authenticity, and working with Colleen Green.
AdHoc: When did you start making music?
Ben Katzman: I’ve always been playing. The truth is I’ve always been playing music. My mom, who’s an astrologer, did my zodiac charts and saw that I lacked communications in my Ninth House. And, after that, she started sending me to piano lessons. Ever since I started playing music, I stopped having rage outbursts. I was like, 8 or 9.
From rehearsing in the back of a restaurant to recording in an outdoor shed, Sun Voyager finally released their first LP, Seismic Vibes, earlier this month. The Orange County, New York-based band consists of Carlos Francisco on guitar and vocals, Stefan Mersch on bass and vocals, and Kyle Beach on drums. Together, they make psychedelic, earthy rock with a stoner metal twist. To celebrate their 4/20 album release show at Baby’s All Right, we talked with Sun Voyager about the scene in the Hudson River Valley, blogging, and recording their debut LP in an outdoor shed. You can grab a copy via King Pizza Records
It says in your bio that you began rehearsing in the back of a restaurant. What was that like?
Carlos: We started playing in the back of the restaurant when I was working in my parents’ place full-time [Cafe Fiesta in Highland Mills], and we had nowhere else to practice. [We would practice] after we closed shop. We would play in a shed or garage [most of the year]. When it was cold, we would practice [at the restaurant].
For her newest album as Half Waif, Nandi Rose Plunkett knew she needed a change. Just under a year ago, she and Half Waif guitarist Adan Carlo and drummer Zack Levine (who’s also Plunkett’s partner) relocated from their longtime home of Brooklyn to the much quieter, tinier town of Chatham, New York. They now share a home - and a life - in a small town not far from where Plunkett grew up in Williamstown, MA.
Living this close to home for the first time in years, with a long-term partner, away from the madness of the big city, Plunkett was able to approach her music more consciously than ever before. On Lavender, Half Waif’s sophomore album, she’s unsparing and honest as she explores the complex, potentially ephemeral nature of familial and romantic relationships. Although it’s not unfamiliar subject matter for Half Waif, over the band’s most assured and robust electronic art pop arrangements to date (not to mention some truly haunting piano ballads), Plunkett’s almost philosophical straightforwardness is profoundly bone-chilling, maybe even radical. “There’s something to be said for...crafting something with the conscious thought of, ‘Okay, I want to write the song in this manner. I want to come into it with this specific goal,’” she tells AdHoc over the phone, with Carlo also on the line, as she recounts Lavender’s genesis. Her deliberacy has resulted in a thrilling next step for an already exciting act.
Adan, how has being in Chatham, where you haven’t previously spent much time, influenced your writing with Nandi and Zack?
Adan Carlo: Being up here offered us the opportunity to really be 100% in a creative space. In a place like Brooklyn or even somewhere like Montclair...we wouldn’t necessarily be living together. We wouldn’t have been able to focus on [making Lavender] as much as we did. It was waking up, working on it…’til we were going to bed.
Nandi Rose Plunkett: We don’t really see anyone else except for each other. [Laughs] There are days that are just completely filled with making music. It’s great; we don’t have anything else to do. [Laughs]
Palberta embody dissonance so naturally that it’s hard to imagine any other modus operandi for the New York trio. The way they wield atonality is almost Schoenbergian in its bravado. Their confidence, built up over years of uncompromising performances, now allows their songs to shine bright through a distorted pop prism. True heads will know that small-scale anthems have always been nestled deep within Palberta’s thorny world.
“Roach Goin’ Down,” the title track off their upcoming 22-track release on Wharf Cat Records, is one of these gems, focusing on rhythmic execution and vocal communion. Cowbells and hand claps dance atop a propulsive beat, as twisted harmonies alternate between cryptic reflections: “A new life, sitting in a new house/ A new house, sitting in a new life.” Suffice it to say: “Roach Goin’ Down” slaps. In fact, it’s probably never been easier to shake it to a Palberta song. Will you join us?
Roach Goin’ Down drops June 15th on Wharf Cat Records. You can catch Palberta on their upcoming US & Canadian tour.
Featuring Ashley Kossakowski on bass, Johanna Kenney on guitar, and Roger Cabrera on drums, Groupie make contemporary garage rock with nods to 1990s riot grrrl sound and a political edge. On “5 Year Plan,” a song from their forthcoming sophomore EP, Validated, the Brooklyn band ruminates on what it means to be successful and the unachievable expectations that we often put upon ourselves. Over pulsating bass, precise drum patterns, haunting harmonies, and yelps, Kenney’s vocals convey feelings of confusion and vulnerability, which the song ultimately reinterprets as a source of empowerment.
“‘Five Year Plan’ encompasses the contradictions of our modern lives and the push and pull of doubt vs hope,” guitarist Johanna Kenney told AdHoc via email. “[The new EP takes the] first EP into a deeper, moodier exploration of vulnerability and resistance. We strive to challenge what it means to be a rock band in an industry that is still largely white male dominated,” echoes bassist Ashley Kossakowski.
In her early twenties, Allie Hanlon relocated from her hometown of Ottawa, Canada to Los Angeles. She describes the move as “being thrown into a big, busy place”; getting to know a new city was exciting, but she was still apprehensive about leaving everything she knew behind. Growing up in Ottawa, she’d been surrounded by people she knew; in Los Angeles, she felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Through that time of transition, one constant was Peach Kelli Pop, a pop project she’d begun in her bedroom in Ottawa. Over time and across borders, the project has evolved from a solo endeavor into a full-fledged rock band. The band’s new EP, Which Witch, is a departure from the upbeat, bright punk sound of previous releases, as it takes a more melancholy turn.
AdHoc: You started Peach Kelli Pop band in 2009 as more of a bedroom pop project. How has the project evolved?
Allie Hanlon: Peach Kelli Pop has changed in a lot of different ways. It’s been nine years now since I started the project. In that time, I had to learn how to essentially play with a full band. On top of writing songs, and then learning different instruments, I had to teach these songs to whoever I was playing with. That really changed everything—it definitely became a bigger, more complicated venture.
Also, in the time since I started the band, I immigrated to the US from Canada. That really changed things, because I was in a new place where I didn’t know that many people. I had to get out there and make new friends and collaborate with people. I’m not really an extrovert, so it was out of my comfort zone. I think when you have a solo project and you don’t play shows, it’s really easy. But when you start to perform, and you have to train people, it becomes almost like a full-time job. It’s definitely taught me a lot of skills: social skills, and also teaching skills, which I didn’t realize was something I’d be learning. It’s been really cool, and I’ve learned a lot from it.
I read that the song “Los Angeles” is about your move from Canada to Los Angeles. What was that like for you?
I was born and raised in Ottawa. It’s a really amazing city. I was with my family, who are awesome, and the people I grew up with, who were my best friends and who knew me really well. And that’s something that I definitely took for granted, because I had never experienced anything else.
When I was in my early 20s, I was really eager to move, to try new things, to see the world and to be on my own. And I got to do that. When I moved, I was thrown into this big, busy place. It was really exhilarating, [but] after a few years, I realized that having a support system is really helpful. And I didn’t really have that [in LA]. While I do have close friends, it’s not really the same as your family or friends that have known you since you were a little kid, you know? Even though I’ve been here for five years now, I still feel kind of new. When you’re in a place like LA, you can feel isolated to the point of being unable to tap into the abundance of opportunities that a place like LA has to offer.
In Ottawa, there aren’t the same kind of opportunities. In LA, you can make a living off of music and art, which is really cool. But it’s not as easy when you don’t have a support system. But, you know, I think lots of people in LA aren’t from here. So I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels like that.
In an age when the news cycle seems endless and dreary, it’s almost impossible to relax. Queens-via-Buenos Aires musician Tall Juan’s track “Kaya,” off of 2017’s Olden Goldies, is a hazy ode to toking up. It's also a cover of Argentine post-punk band Sumo. Over echoing guitar, frontman Juan Zaballa sings about experiencing feelings of anger and regret — until he “smoked a little Kaya,” that is. With reverb-heavy vocals and instrumentation, the song gives off a dreamlike quality. In the new video for the track, Zaballa nervously watches the news. In an effort to cheer himself up, he smokes a joint and is subsequently enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke as a mysterious blonde woman appears with a tray of donuts. The surreal video ends when the woman takes a hit, and begins to stuff donuts into Zaballa’s mouth.
Zaballa tells AdHoc that while arranging his cover of Sumo's “Kaya," he “took one line and repeated it twice.” He says that there are many ways to interpret the lyrics, and that there’s not a single, specific meaning he wants listeners to take away. Watch the video below, and catch Tall Juan with Mysterly Lights and Future Punx at Market Hotel (appropriately) on April 20.