Interview: Joey Varela of VRSTY

On October 30th, I had the chance to have a conversation with long time friend Joey Varela, vocalist of NYC’s VRSTY. We discussed a myriad of topics, including their recent signing to Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Group, their label debut, Cloud City and what the future holds for the band, as well as his solo material. Read below and pre-order Cloud City, which will be released on December 4th!

BearlySinister: First of all, I’d like to, once again, congratulate you on signing to SpineFarm. It’s absolutely insane to see how far you’ve come and how hard you’ve worked since we met back at the beginning of 2014! Not only do they have a very impressive roster but you’ve also got an amazing team behind you! How does it feel to finally have found a deal that’s worth it and will help propel you forward in your career?

Joey: It feels nice, man. It feels good. I can’t tell you how much bullshit we’ve dealt with bullshit contracts that I saw where… pretty much labels who you think were established but have nothing to offer to make it seem like they would be helping you succeed. Being with SpineFarm is amazing.

BearlySinister: Yeah, I mean we had discussed this when you came to Topeka on tour and it was insane the deals you were being forced to turn down, left and right. It makes me so proud to see you guys in a position that will actually benefit you! So let’s talk about “Shameless.” You recently dropped the video, which was shot by Christian Lawrence (as most of VRSTY’s videos. Tell us a bit about the creative process behind bringing this video to life.

Joey: So Christian and I got the idea for the video and we wanted it to reflect what the song is about. Essentially, the song is about a guy who is in love with his toxicity. He knows it’s bad for him but he’s gonna do it anyway. We were tryna come up with a way to portray it and ended up with what you see in the video. The girl, Snow [Silver] who is a good friend of mine pretty much symbolizes my toxic traits, my toxic nature and how I dance with that in life. That’s essentially how we came up with the whole concept for the video.

BearlySinister: The song comes from your label debut EP, Cloud City, which will be released on December 4th. Besides being an obvious Star Wars reference, tell us the story behind the title.

Joey: *laughs* So that’s so funny, I get that all the time! So I am a HUGE Star Wars fan but Cloud City actually has nothing to do with Star Wars. Even though it’s IN Star Wars, it has nothing to do with it. It’s pretty much saying that I’m living here — like my body is on Earth and I’m living on Earth — but my brain is so fucked up that I’m literally living somewhere else. I’m building, what’s essentially a city, for myself in the clouds. I’m building something for me to escape in the clouds. That’s pretty much where I got the inspiration for that. But if you wanna tell people that it was influenced by Star Wars, by ALL MEANS, please do that because I am a HUGE Star Wars fan.

BearlySinister: We’ll just say it’s both! *laughs* So you worked with Andrew Baylis (Nine Shrines) for this release. What was the experience like?

Joey: Andrew is so amazing! I don’t know how to put that into words. He’s not only amazing at the whole mixing, mastering… y’know the stuff most producers are known for. He’s amazing at seeing the vision. I went in with a collection of songs and demos and he instantly saw — well heard — what I wanted to do and helped me get there without changing any of what I wanted to become along the way. That, for me, made the experience absolutely amazing. Andrew is literally the best at what he does.

BearlySinister: It’s definitely clear that some magic happened in that studio and the connection between artist/producer was a strong one! The EP features 5 new songs and re-imagined/remixed versions of “Wilt” from your BLCK EP. The latter features Gina Fritz, how did she contribute to the song and what was your favorite part about working with her?

Joey: Gina’s actually a good friend of mine, I’ve known her for a couple years now. I did that remix at home and there was an empty part, she just happened to be around at that time. I was listening to it on repeat and she was like “dude, you know what would be cool if you’re gonna do a remix? To have the girl’s point of view” I’m always singing from my point of view, so obviously these songs are all my stories but there’s never been the female perspective — what it’s like on the other side. She instantly wrote down her parts, sang them and laid them down and I absolutely loved them. She’s so easy to work with, she’s amazing!

BearlySinister: So you’ve shown off that song on IG live and, obviously, press now has a copy. The collaboration between you two turned out amazing, I can’t imagine it turning out any better than it did. The next question is a tough one and I almost ALWAYS get the same type of response when I ask it but what is your favorite song from Cloud City right now?

Joey: My favorite song from Cloud City is definitely “Dig,” by far.

BearlySinister: That song has one of the best choruses I’ve ever heard from VRSTY.

Joey: I agree! There’s just something about it! That was the first song we went into the studio to record. I fell in love with that song the moment we got the mix back. That’s the only song on the EP that I have not stopped listening to. I completely stopped listening to everything else except for “Dig.”

BearlySinister: I told you about my kid jamming out to “Shameless.” Every single time that song comes on, he will stop whatever he’s doing and headbang. My wife has been the same way with “Dig” since we first listened to it, she’s singing along with that chorus every time. We love the EP, in general, and my wife and kids know just about every lyric!

Joey: That’s awesome! Yeah, I want that song to blow up so big so that I can force the label to give us one more video and I want it to be for “Dig” *laughs*

BearlySinister: COVID has not stopped VRSTY, in fact quite the opposite, you are full steam right now. You’re gearing up to release another video! What can you tell fans about it and how does it compare to “Shameless?”

Joey: So the song is super different. “Massive” doesn’t sound anything like “Shameless” to the point that it might be a little polarizing for some people. “Massive” just has a lot more of a metalcore feel to it. I tried to make sure that every song on the EP had a different feel, to show off our diversity as a band, rather than giving you just one sound and that be it. The music video, itself, is absolutely insane! I haven’t seen the finished copy yet but what I did see was absolutely insane and I can’t wait to show people! I love that song! I’m also pretty sure that song is the heaviest on the record.

BearlySinister: It’s definitely the heaviest on the EP! So… in addition to the EP, you’ve mentioned on your social media that you’ve recorded an additional 12 songs with Baylis. How does that material compare to previous material?

Joey: The material for the EP was done in December of 2019, if I remember correctly. I’d been writing ever since, so when we went into the studio in August, I definitely wanted to do something that I hadn’t done before. Most people who know me, I’ve told them: “I’m never gonna write the same record twice.” So the record is an extension of the EP but it’s not the same things. You’ll find songs in different genres and everything else but it will be different. To me, the EP is great and it’s really personal. The record is where I get really deep and more into what makes me… me, as a vocalist. That’s the main takeaway out of everything that I’ve gotten out of recording this record. This album, that’s gonna come out WHENEVER it comes out, feels like me. It’s honestly like.. if I were to give the record one explanation it’s that the EP is the leadup to me being born and this record is the body that encompasses who I am as an artist. The record is insane, it’s absolutely insane!

BearlySinister: That sounds like it’s going to be phenomenal. It’s a really intriguing concept the way you compare the two and I can’t wait to hear! You have started doing livestreams/Q&As with other artists and people in the industry, what has been your favorite part about those?

Joey: I like talking to other people in the industry and picking their brains about what works for their band and what doesn’t work. What works in the industry and what doesn’t work. I think every band in the music industry has a different experience in the music industry and it’s cool that we can all come together and talk about it and try to find ways to fix things like that.

BearlySinister: You launched your Patreon yesterday. A lot of bands and musicians have begun using this platform to give fans a more BTS look, as well as offer exclusive material. You’ve already mentioned that you started working on some covers. What can you tell us about your experience with Patreon, so far?

Joey: I’m still fairly new to it but I have noticed that people seem to be really receptive of the fact that it’s an artist doing everything for himself, rather than the label telling me I have to do something. People know that a Patreon is all “Joey’s” stuff, like covers, behind the scenes stuff, I’m doing some handwritten, artsy letters for people and stuff. Vocal lessons, phone calls.. it’s all stuff I want to do because I owe everything to my fans. If I didn’t have fans then I wouldn’t be where I am today. I think people have started to catch onto that and really appreciate when an artist goes the extra mile for their fans, for people who support them.

BearlySinister: I absolutely agree and Patreon is a great platform for things like that. Over the years, you’ve talked about your solo material and have released a couple of songs. In addition to your work in VRSTY, you’ve been co-writing, what can you tell us about that?

Joey: I co-write for a bunch of bands, a lot of which I can’t get into because I’m working on some more serious stuff, when it comes to co-writing. Since recording in August, I decided that I want to do that full time and I’ve taken on a few bands who I think are great but just need a bit of direction. I love it! It’s helping me learn to be a better guitarist but it’s also helping me to understand music more, in terms of how things are put together and what labels/people in the industry look for.

BearlySinister: What can you tell us about your solo material?

Joey: I actually have a bunch of songs that I’m done with but because I’m with SpineFarm, we’re putting out a record and everything… I don’t want to bombard people with too much at one time. I’m gonna focus on the EP and then start slowly putting out my solo music. It’s definitely different! It’s not anything that you would hear on a VRSTY record, for sure!

BearlySinister: Outside of music, what keeps you busy during the pandemic? What are some hobbies you’ve picked up that you may not have, if not for the way things are currently?

Joey: I literally only work out and play video games now. I write music but I wasn’t really all that into gaming but I’m really into that and podcasts now. Those are two things that I’ve gotten super hardcore into and are things that I enjoy. There’s something about it that’s just… it’s more than just the gaming. I enjoy going online and talking to people, playing with people and them getting to know who I actually am. Rather than them just thinking I’m this rockstar, ’cause I’m totally not. Podcasts are something that I’m really into now… I like listening to people talk about everything! *laughs* I love ’em. I’m thinking about starting my own. I think it’d be cool to have people on my podcast and just talk a bunch of crap, share experiences and different life lessons.. things like that.

BearlySinister: I’ve listened to a few podcasts but haven’t really had the time to sit down and digest them the way that a lot of people do. Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of my questions but is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap this up?

Joey: If you’re a supporter of my band, thank you very much! If, at any point, you find yourself wanting to talk to anyone in the band, please DM us! We talk to everyone! Download or stream our music and if you can’t stream it, cuz you can’t afford a streaming service right now because of the pandemic, steal it! There’s this really amazing website called Kingdom Leaks… they love to leak our shit on there so just go there and steal it, I don’t care. Just have fun with it, man!