Three Great Things: Varsity

The Chicago indie-pop band talks Szechuan food, the Doughboys podcast, and the car games they've invented.

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. In this installment, Chicago-based indie-pop band Varsity share their love for a Szechuan restaurant in Ohio, the Doughboys podcast, and car games.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

1. Szechuan Food

Paul and Jake both lived in China and are pretty obsessed with finding good Szechuan food here in the states. We try to scout out a Szechuan place in every city we tour through when we have time for a sit down meal. Surprisingly, Szechuan Gourmet in Cleveland, Ohio was one of the best spots we found. You wouldn’t think that Ohio is the spot for Szechuan, but believe us. This place is a nondescript restaurant attached to a Chinese supermarket, which I’m pretty sure we found out about through a tweet by Cloud Nothings. We ordered enough food for ten people but somehow ate it all with a lot of sweating and beers. I still think about their lotus root with peanut dish, which I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. On a side note, eating a ton of Chinese food is a terrible pre-show activity unless you love being extremely bloated on stage.

We’ve also found some good spots in New York and Toronto; the best spot here in Chicago is probably Chengdu Impression. The best way we found to order Szechuan food is to let the person who knows the most about the cuisine order what at first seems like way too many dishes. In our experience, it will get eaten! Also, order a round of beers to wash it down, because Szechuan food is spicy! Our go-to dishes are dried chili chicken, home style bean curd, boiled beef, Szechuan string beans, and twice cooked pork. 

2. Doughboys

Doughboys is a weekly podcast hosted by comedians Mike Mitchell and Nick Wiger. They review fast food chains from around the country, and every episode is a blast all the way through. Both Nick and Mitch are weirdly lovable and hilarious, and they’re usually joined by an equally funny guest. There’s a beautiful contention between the boys, swinging wildly from cussing each other out over the temperature of salads to agreeing on which fast food chicken sandwich reigns supreme, and whether or not it deserves it’s spot in the Golden Plate Club. Things often get very heated, as both of them feel very passionate about their favorite food chains, and frequently grow frustrated and angry with each other. Sometimes they seem to take it very seriously and sometimes they don’t seem to care at all. There’s also plenty of regional pride to take part in, with Mitch being from “Quin-zee” Massachusetts, and Nick, a classic So-Cal Surfer Dude. 

This may sound like we’re shilling for the Doughboys, but we genuinely just love the show (Varsity can’t be bought). It’s my favorite podcast and I honestly look forward to it every week. Not only is it very entertaining to listen to them sling insults at each other, but the content is something anyone can relate to, especially a touring band. Due to our circumstances, we eat our fair share of fast food, not always by choice. It’s fun to hear Nick and Mitch tear apart some of these chain restaurants in excruciating detail. We’ve also taken note of chains that don’t exist in the Midwest, and will inevitably visit when we see one on the side of the road. Podcasts are the ultimate time killer while on the road, and this is the best one. 

 I give the Doughboys podcast 5/5 forks. #YusongDidNothingWrong

3. Car Games

Due to all the time we spend in the van we’ve had to figure out ways to keep ourselves entertained. One of our favorite games to play is Bomber, which is where one person names a movie then the next person names an actor in that movie and the next person names another movie that actor was in and so on. It’s actually an extremely hard game to play if you’re playing with someone who knows a lot about movies, but lucky for us none of us are movie buffs. We can usually go for a couple rounds, but if someone veers off into their genre of choice (mid-’90s action movies for Dylan and terrible rom-coms for Stef) the rest of us are screwed. This is a pretty common game, which we think it goes by some other names and there might be points or something, but none of us really take it that seriously. Plus, we pretty much all suck at it. It’s gotten to the point where Paul straight up refuses to play! (Sorry Paul!)

We also made up our own *patent pending* car game called Slogans, where someone comes up with a product name and then one by one we add a word to create sort of a catchphrase for it. At the end, the person who made up the product name has a nonsensical slogan that they draw from to tell everyone what the product actually does. The first time we played this game I almost peed my pants from laughing so hard (combined with being stuck for hours on a bridge heading into Montreal). Some of the brilliant products we’ve come up with are Lick-Ups , Dinky Ducks, and Marblies. There’s also a bonus round where you can pitch your product, Shark Tank style, to the rest of the group and see if anyone will invest. If you end up trying this game out please send us your slogans! 

(Photo Credit: Alexa Viscius)

Varsity came to fruition one night in 2013 when several Chicago musicians gathered for a “salon night” where friends shared stories and songs. Singer-keyboardist Stephanie Smith was set to perform solo, but was quickly drawn to the sound of guitarists Dylan Weschler and Pat Stanton and asked them to join her. Shortly after their first performance as a trio, they recruited Jake Stolz on drums and his brother, Paul Stolz, on bass to fully round out their sound and become the quintet that they are today. Varsity played shows in the Chicago area the following year and spent one weekend at Chicago’s Public House Studio to record their debut self-titled LP released in March 2015.

Varsity has since found success in the growing indie-pop space. The powerful driving vocals of singer/keyboardist Stephanie Smith over infectious guitar melodies and exciting rhythm has them frequently sharing bills with artists including American Wrestlers, Alvvays, Courtney Barnett, The Hold Steady, and Car Seat Headrest. The band has further explored and developed their sound across a variety of digital releases—often two complementary singles at a time —that have earned rave reviews and a growing audience with millions of plays on YouTube and Spotify.

(Photo Credit: Alexa Viscius)