EXCLUSIVE Review: Varsity – Lights

Artist: Varsity
Album: Lights
Label: We Are Triumphant

If you look next to the definition of “machine”, you’ll see a picture of our good friend Joey Varela. A few short months ago, his band Mirror:Mirror released their debut EP, Black & White, produced by the infamous Shawn Christmas. Sadly, shortly after it’s release… the band parted ways. His hunger for music never-ceasing, Joey decided to start a solo project titled Varsity. I know several bands from the FL scene and I can honestly say that Varela is one of the most impressive I’ve ever heard! His clean vocals shined throughout M:M’s EP but the second you hear his screams, your jaw will drop even further. He produced it entirely by himself, then Kyle Ritch (CayRitch Records) handled the mix/master process. If you’ve ever heard anything that Ritch has touched… you’ll know why he decided to go with him in the first place. Much like the greats of the genre (Dan Korneff, Shawn Christmas, Joey Sturgis, Cameron Mizell)… he knows exactly what he’s doing! The teaser for this project (now a full band) was a killer cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”. The material on their debut EP Lights, out on We Are Triumphant on October 21st, is a complete 180-degrees from that, though! Containing a re-vamped version of M:M’s crushing track, “Monster”  this EP quite obviously explodes with everything that Varela wanted to do with the band but couldn’t, due to the limitation of being strictly a “clean” vocalist in the band. Lights, put simply, sees him stepping away from side-stage and into the spotlight, where he belongs!

The album opener, “Enemy of the State” begins with a portion of JFK’s inaugural address before his heartfelt lyrics fill the listener’s ears.  The portion of JFK’s speech makes perfect sense for this track because it speaks of rebirth and renewal, which is just what Varsity symbolizes. This track speaks about the struggles of a talented musician. “You’re in it for the riches, the fortune and fame. You only want me for my name!” “Here I stand, feet stuck in the mud but I’m dreaming of sand. In an ocean that’s full of sharks, I’m searching for land”. The music industry is full of tyrants who want nothing more than to make a quick buck off of the talents of others. As I’ve seen my good friend Rob Walden (Exotype) say several times, “The music industry is a fast, cut-throat business”. It’s been stated throughout the years, you have to be careful who you trust, where you sign and what you do when you’re a musician because there are sharks waiting in the murky depths to swallow you whole at the first chance they get. It’s a track about destroying the perceptions of those who think they know you, giving a middle-finger as you climb to the top and never stopping until you’ve reached your dreams.

Then you’ve got “Monster”, a track about being abandoned by everyone, becoming cold to the ways of the world and, consequently, pushing the ones you love away. “There’s something lurking in me, I swear I’m not the only one! Tell me who have I become? I’m a monster! I know it’s hard to believe, I just want somebody to love me!” Whether it be relationships, family or life in general… we’ve all felt the feelings that well up when we feel like no one cares. When it happens so many times, we decide to put the iron bars around our heart to keep it from happening again. The longer we do this, the harder it becomes to remove those bars and it makes one become cold and, in essence, heartless. This causes us to push those who truly care away because we’re so used to being treated like dirt by everyone who says they care. “Monster” is a track that highlights that struggle and really conveys it in a way to help the listener grasp onto it if they’ve ever felt that way.

“Alien (The Grey)” which features Yasmine Colon, is a track about forbidden love. Starting out with a semi-eerie music box type intro, this track outlines the struggles when you are hiding a relationship that could be hazardous to you both if certain parties find out. “I’ve become predictable but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like it, I love it! If there is such a thing, I’m alien.” It’s you and your lover against the world, you’ll fight until the very end to prove that you were made for one another. When it comes to true love, this is exactly how you feel about things. It starts out as something strange and unknown to you but it blossoms into something that you can’t live without. You need that person by your side every second of the day and you feel a part of you is missing if they’re gone. The world could throw everything they’ve got at you and you’d still stay right there by their side, defending them every step of the way.

The last track I want to talk about is the title track, “Lights”. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s about being addicted to the rush that comes with being on stage. “Some days I feel like giving up, some days I want to cry. I get so close but I fall every time. I need a remedy, erase this from my memories. Take me back to a time where I couldn’t see the lights”. No matter how hard you try, if you’re born to be a musician, if you’ve got the talent, the potential and the drive… the stage is always going to call to you. One thing is for certain, Joey Varela and, indeed, the rest of Varsity are meant for the stage. Varela, especially, is going to continue to write, record and perform for a long time to come… no matter the outcome of any band he might join. He’s an unstoppable, unbeatable machine that has plenty to scream to the world about and he won’t stop until it’s all out!

Varsity is a band that refuses to let the listener feel like they’re all alone. They want to be a guiding light in the dark for all of those who feel lost. Lights is one step towards that and I guarantee that if you enjoy any type of post-hardcore… this EP will appeal to you. It’s heavy, yet beautiful. It’s upbeat, yet melancholy. It’s angst-ridden, yet hope-driven. In short, I haven’t found a better EP in this genre in any time before this. I hope Varsity stays around but, even if not, do yourself a favor and pick up Lights on October 21st through We Are Triumphant Records! You’ll be glad you did! Check out a taste by viewing both the studio and acoustic versions of “Happy” below!

“Happy” (Album version)

“Happy (Acoustic)” (Substream Exclusive Stream)