This interview was done early this November in Minneapolis by Mandapocalypse. We drank coffee and beer, and chatted and laughed in a grimy basement before their practice for the Midwest Doomsday Festival. All photos are done by Twin Cities punk photographer ADAM DEGROSS.
PE: Varix! I remember your first show, and how ready, excited, and nervous you all were to be a band. Since then, it seems like you’ve all exploded with creativity, confidence, and punk ambition. Knowing you all personally, I’ve just got to say what stand-up, rad womyn you all are, and how stoked I am to know ya! Alright…. enough of the flattery, time to inform the punx about VARIX! First things first, who are you, and what do you do in the band?
Emily: I’m Emily, and I play the bass.
Angie: I’m Angie, and I play the drums.
Stacey: I’m Stacey, and I…. sing? (laughter)
Ashley: I’m Ashley, and I play guitar.
PE: How did you start up VARIX and come together as a band?
E: Very drunkenly….
Ash: Interesting question, don’t really remember, you were there, Manda! (laughter)
Ang: Well, I learned how to play a D-beat. Then Emily had a riff, and Ashley had power chords and distortion, and we were drunk, and that pretty much did it.
Em: We wanted to sound gross. Nasty.
Ash: We accepted early on it was going to be nasty.
Em: We embraced the nasty. (laughter)
Ang: But then at a point we worked on it and realized we had some songs and should get a vocalist. We really didn’t want to have a girl vocalist because we didn’t want to be a “girl band. J.P. Toulon (RIP) was actually going to be our singer early on. We saw Stacey could do it and we realized we were being sort of sexist not wanting her to do it at first because she was a girl. (laughter.)She came to a practice, yelled, and it was really great.
PE: What are your musical backgrounds? Did you play any instruments prior to this or in any bands? Or is this your first go-about?
Em: I played trumpet in middle school (laughter). I lived at the Rathole with a bunch of musicians, so it was intimidating to start playing music. My roommate Tony who is now in AGITATE started learning drums, and I started jamming with him playing bass. From there, we started ANNELIESE with our friend Matt. We played loud hardcore and eventually broke up, so I had nothing to do! Shortly after, VARIX started jamming and it was sick.
Ang: I’ve played bass for some years, in QUESTION, GANGLION, and ANIMALES &
BEASTS. Some harsh family stuff happened about 2 years ago where I was holed up with my mom in the suburbs and my brother, who is a drummer, gave me a shitty, stripped down, really basic kit that I just sat at and started playing. For a week straight, I played for 8 hours every day, trying to figure out how to play a D-beat, a 1/2 beat, figure out a fill, get the symbols in there, and eventually it worked out to doing that for like 12 minutes at a time. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with drumming.
S: I half-assed played the drums at some point and played the piano when I was younger. I’ve always been on the other side of playing music, hosting bands and setting up shows.
Ash: I played bass when I was younger. It was a similar situation where my best friend wanted me to play bass for a band, so I just did. I was in voice lessons from age 8 to 16. And now I’ve picked up guitar.
PE: So where were you at as individuals when you first started out? You mentioned briefly you were having a hard time and came together through madness, frustration and anger, but also it seems like you were all just wanting to have a good time.
Ang: For me, it was definitely both. My dad had just died and things were pretty intense. I didn’t work for a little bit and when I went back to work it wasn’t full time and I wasn’t in school. I had all this time and intensity and felt I needed to do something with it. Also, I just needed to have fun. At first, we practiced just to play and have a reason to get together every week and hang out and do something constructive while we drank. It progressed from there. For me personally, that was a really fucking rough year and VARIX was the thing I looked forward to every fucking week. It really kept me together. It was an outlet for everything. It was always so much fun though, too-even when we started and had so much trouble just playing our instruments. Well, besides Emily, she was fine. (laughter)
Ash: I definitely picked up guitar when I was in a bad spot. Angie was like, “You gotta do something with yourself, why not play guitar?” It’s about bettering yourself while in positions of sorrow.
Ang: It’s fortunate that we genuinely wanted/want to play really stripped-down music, so that any limitations we might have with technical ability aren’t really a problem…
Em: That was awesome though, ‘cause when we started, I had been writing more complicated riffs for ANNELIESE . For me, it was challenging just writing punk riffs and to simplify. It took some work creating pumped-up punk music and getting the hang of raw punk, which I love.
PE: Tour? Releases?
S: We toured at the beginning of this year. We went straight south and back. On top of that, we’ve done some weekend warrior stuff in the Midwest.
Ang: We have a demo tape out. This new label called Double Dutch did an LP comp with the most random DIY bands from Minneapolis. It’s a strange assortment, but I like that. In Minneapolis you get these DIY shows that are totally mixed bills and I think that comp totally reflects that. We’re about to be on a Profane Existence comp coming out, and have a 7” coming out on Discos Basura Records in a month or two.
S: The Profane comp’s all local too, with KONTRASEKT, FAVELA RISING, COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, IN DEFENSE, and PONX ATTACK.
PE: What kind of crazy stuff happened on your tour?
Em: Stacey has another dog now….(laughter)…VARIX has a mascot. The name is Torpedo.
Ash: We found a miniature wiener dog outside of Dallas, Texas that was abandoned at a truck stop. After a thorough investigation, Stacey decided to bring him home.
Ang: We were all outside, and this adorable wiener dog came up and put its head in Ashley’s lap as she was just sitting there and we were like,”OH MYGOD IT’S SO CUTE!” And so sad! Who would leave this little dog? We were also discussing how we needed to get it away from us before Stacey came outside. Well, she came outside. After no arguing, that dog was in the car with us 10 minutes later.
PE: Punk dog!(laughter)
S: We had 2 shows left, where we walked up with a little dog on tour in a punk vest.
Em: Yes! We found a pet store on our journey and had to stop and get her a vest. During a long drive, we sewed a patch onto it. It looked very badass.
PE: Are you all Minneapolis natives?
S: Me too….
Em: St. Cloud.
Ang: Suburbs! Nameless suburbs.
PE: So what drew you to Minneapolis?
S: I came here for school more than anything else. At the time, it was the furthest away from Appleton, Wisconsin that I could afford to go to without paying out-of-state tuition. That’s what got me here, though it’s the punks that kept me here. It’s funny because I have so much love for Appleton now. Up the Wisco punks!
Ash: I came for the graffiti scene. And the punks here are just as brutal.
PE: Can you describe what it’s like to be a part of the Twin Cities punk community?
Em: It’s really sick. It’s a very vast community and most shows we play are quite varied. It’s awesome not having strict genre dividers.
Ang: Most people here are very supportive of each other and DIY music. It’s very cool to see. Another thing about starting this band is that I’ve just been getting into more and more stripped-down music and been wanting to hear things that are just punk. I didn’t feel there was as much of that going on here as there might be in other places. There’s tons of DIY music and really good bands for sure, but it was cool starting up something I thought was lacking. I wasn’t sure if people would be into it, but everyone’s been really supportive.
PE: Do you feel like the scene is divided between Minneapolis and St. Paul? Or is there a greater scene because the cities are so close together?
Ash: I feel like it was really divided until recently. There was a Twin Cities United show and it seemed like people were making more of an effort unify the scenes.
S: I think it’s still definitely divided in a sense, but it’s been slowly evolving and changing, people are letting go of the issues that divided the two in the past. Some of the most energetic reactions we’ve had at shows have been from the St. Paul kids.
Ash: Yeah, St. Paul, off the wall!
PE:Do you guys go to shows in St. Paul at all?
S: There isn’t much over there in the way of DIY spaces lately, so I don’t get over there unless it’s a bigger show at a bar or something.
PE: Do you guys get shit or feel like you get special attention for being an “all girl band?”
All: Ugh…. yes.
Ang: How much time ya got?
S: Where do we begin?
PE: I remember specifically whenever I’d book you guys, you all being like “Do not write on fliers that we are all womyn!”
S: We used to be like FUCK YOU if someone would call us a “girl band” and are still a little uneasy about it, at least if using that as our description on a flier or something. That’s not who we are as a band. That said, we have embraced it a bit as we’ve seen that it is something people support and value. It sounds so cheesy but when people-ladies specifically-come up to us after shows or on tour and say they were inspired that we were women making music. It’s something you want to embrace.
Ang: It’s really fucking cool to see girls get involved when we’re playing. In Houston while we were playing it was all of us, then a huge circle pit of girls, which was fucking awesome. Almost everyone is pretty cool about it, and really all we want is to have a band, not a gender issue. But it does become an issue more often than it should, and even if it’s only one or two people out of an entire show that act fucked up about it, that’s more than I want to deal with it. I never really want to spend time fighting or explaining why sexism is bad to someone who’s not really listening to me anyways. But no matter where on the range from latent, i.e. “You know who you guys remind me of? SMASHING PUMPKINS! They had a girl, didn’t they?”, to blatant “seriously, I just want to fuck you,” just letting that shit go never feels right to me either…
S: Like hearing after the fact that while we were playing the SUBHUMANS show in Minneapolis someone was shouting, “Oh yeah, I’d totally fuck every one of them.” It’s sad to think people are that dense that they’d say that. We’re up here to play fucking music, that doesn’t mean we’ve signed up to be some object to degrade. It’s bullshit. I can’t even count how many times someone’s come up and been like, “Oh you play pretty well for a girl”.
Em: I feel people are also subconsciously offensive, and things are exposed when they talk to me. For example they say something such as, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting you to be very good…..but damn, you guys rule!” My response being, “Fuck you! What do you mean you weren’t expecting us to be good? Why would you even say that? Fuck you for coming to that conclusion.”
Ang: I really hate this pressure to represent women and women musicians. It is very satisfying to play well and our band is good and fuck yeah if we had something to prove, we proved it. But there is this added pressure being women, and I hate that, and I hate that if I fuck up it’s not just that I fucked up, I feel like it’s this bigger gender thing where women can’t really play music. And I hate that pressure! I just wanna do my shit and play in a band just like everybody else and have fun with it.
S: I think we’re lucky in the punk community of Minneapolis being that there is definitely more support and more active women here than I’ve seen in a lot of other communities. It’s really cool to see at shows where the whole front is women rocking out. Last time CHOOSE YOUR POISON played here I remember looking over and being stoked seeing the entire front of the show was ladies. Maybe I’m just more aware of this now that I play in a band. Or maybe it’s always been there, or it’s something that’s changed in the last few years. I’m not sure, but I like it.
Ang: It’s definitely true that there are a ton of really rad ladies in this city. I find it strange that even here when we play there’s at least someone that says something vaguely offensive about being a female musician. I feel like it would be easier here than other places, but it’s still an issue.
PE: How do you handle the fucked-up remarks? Do you let it slide or make an effort to call them out on it immediately?
Ang: If you say calmly to them, “This is not appropriate, I’m just trying to hang out,” or “No, you just need to be more respectful,” they just don’t hear it. But then if you get pissed, it’s like, “Oh, they won because now I’m angry.” It’s hard to win these situations. Especially when someone walks up to you and takes power over you, it’s a hard fucking thing. We wrote that song “Puke”about that. How nice it’d be if you could just vomit on somebody and win. This doesn’t turn out to be very practical in the actual applying sense, so lately we’ve found it satisfying to just point and laugh.
Em: I just don’t have enough vomit to regurgitate, unfortunately, and I don’t want to have to train myself to use bodily functions to prove a point. (laughter)
Ash: So, we tend to just point and laugh….. And get our homies to point
and laugh, too.
PE: So do you feel like being in this band has made you stronger as individuals?
Ash: I hate to say, it but most definitely.
Ang: Yeah. We’re ridiculously supportive of each other. It’s sort of silly at a point. Like if someone is having trouble picking out trail mix, we probably don’t need to be like “No, I got your back.” But really it’s pretty nice knowing I have this support base.
PE: So what are you involved in outside of punk? Interests? Passions? In school?
Em: I’m going to the University of Minnesota right now, pretty indecisive, not knowing what the fuck I want to do, but I’m really into art. I like to do that. I play bass. I love to cook, been stealing many gallons of vegetable oil from my work and deep frying everything. We made vegan donuts! And various fried things…. (laughter). If anyone has any deep fried ideas, please contact VARIX and we may make them, and maybe send you something we made in the mail-just one…. a very greasy package… with the nutrition facts by Ashley.
Ang: I’m in my first year of law school in New York. So right now my life is law school and punk. And there is no time for anything else. I eat food, and I put clothes on my body, and I take a shower like twice a week, and that’s all for now.
S: I graduated from the U of M a while back. I cook a lot, vegan/vegetarian cooking, I love animals & sort of live for my dogs and little cat. Uhm…. booking shows, natural healing, running, working out, trying to push myself physically and feel good, but then I also drink a lot…. (laughter)
Ash:I stay really busy. I go to school for nutrition science and study food, so I’m really passionate about food. I play guitar, do graffiti, (PTS!) do yoga, and run a lot. Those are my priorities in list of importance.
PE: Any issues personally, locally, worldly you’d like to address? Anything you’re particularly pissed off about right now?
Ash:I listen to Democracy Now and have been involved in much activism. I totally support the Occupy movements all over the world. There is a ton of crazy shit going on constantly. If you pay attention it’s so engaging, but can be really frustrating and deflating. You really do have to focus inward and focus on your community. If you have the time pay attention- there’s so much going on!
Ang: It is overwhelming. It’s hard to focus on just how fucked up everything is, because it does just make you want to drink, and just not do anything, and even give up.
Ash: But you can’t quit…
Ang: Just trying to do something, anything, to make a positive difference.
PE: Plans for VARIX?
Em: Varix forever.
Ash: No one knows what exactly is going on. We’re doing the best we can here.
Em: It’s a secret.(laughter)
Ang: We have tentative plans to do an East Coast long weekend tour this winter. We’re still writing riffs and trying to write new songs. I get back here when I can. We all want to continue to be a band, but if it stops being fun, we’re not going to force it.
S: I think we’re far too ambitious to stop taking on new projects. We had our “last show” a couple months ago, and yet we brought Angie back to play this fest in Minneapolis, and we find ourselves writing new songs and sending riffs back and forth through cell phones….
Ang: Or walking down the street singing a riff to Emily’s voice mail.
S: I have a feeling we’re going to just keep finding things to do as a band
Em: We have no choice.
PE: What are you listening to right now?
Em: TED NUGENT… the Nuge…(laughter)
S: Outside of shows, I kind of live off hip hop and soul.
Em: BO DIDDLEY, ROBERT JOHNSON.
Ash: Anything that I can run to, which is super high energy. Lately SLAYER, IRON MAIDEN, GAUZE, APPENDIX. Shit that makes you want to kick some fucking ass. I find myself playing air guitar when I run sometimes.
Ang: PROTES BENGT, KAAOS, THE CLASH.
Em: I’ve been watching a lot of ‘90s music videos lately.
PE: Any new bands you’ve seen lately and have been blown away by?
Em: KONRASEKT is the shit!
Ash: Yes, and WILD CHILD.
Em: I have this espresso machine…. I lure people to my house by making delicious coffee beverages.
Em: Otherwise I just really like whiskey. and coffee. Those two things. Water’s good. Chasing whiskey with water to balance things out.
Ang: The coffee beverages. Coffee with a shot of espresso with vanilla and some soy milk.
S: I drink my coffee black. Any kind of beer.
Ash: Coconut water! It’s the king supreme for sure. It’s the closest thing to your plasma, so if you’re on a desert island and your friend is bleeding to death, you can hook them up with some coconuts, and it will be good for them.
Any last words?
Ang: Punx rule.
Ash: Punx win.
S: Up the punx!
Em: Fry them!(laughter). Not the punx.. just various fryables.
Contact Varix at email@example.com