This is the first time Pigeons & Planes is publishing an interview with an act who has no music out. And "no music out" doesn't mean the music is only on SoundCloud or that the tracks out now are just demos. Los Angeles-based duo Junior Varsity hasn't made even one full song available to the public, just a few short snippets that serve as background music to an Instagram page with a modest 12,000 followers.
At the moment, they're planning back-to-back-to-back shows in Japan—over 5,500 miles away from home base in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, they did the same in New York and L.A, calling the series of shows "A F$*KING WEEKEND" and performing alongside artists like Jean Dawson, Quiet Luke, London O'Connor, and others.
So why are people showing up to watch an act with no released music? In the age of streaming, where abstract concepts of playlisting and view counts offer padded representations of fan base volume, dedication, and engagement, experience can’t be replaced. “Music is the centerpiece of it all, but it shouldn’t be the only thing," says Greg of Junior Varsity. "It shouldn’t even be the starting point, necessarily… We want people to know who Junior Varsity is without hearing the music.”
In taking such an unconventional approach, Junior Varsity has become a topic of discussion among other emerging artists, in pockets of the music industry, and for in-the-know fans on the bleeding edge. Here are two friends with a wildly ambitious plan, or lack thereof, challenging the traditional model of growth as an artist in the streaming era. And the most interesting part: it seems to be working.
After hearing about Junior Varsity through other artists and a major label A&R, we spoke with the duo to figure out who they are, how they’re gaining traction without any released songs, and why their unorthodox plan is connecting with so many people. Read the full interview below.
Greg, Zach, who are you guys? Where are you from and how did you get into music?
Z: I’m from the Bay Area. I had a piano in my basement growing up that I would write music on, and as soon as I was about 7, I knew I wanted to be a musician. Then I was in the hospital for a month right before high school, and there was a program at the hospital where they gave you a free gift every two weeks. I ended up getting FL Studio, which was my first production software outside of GarageBand. I moved on to Ableton and kept producing, then went to NYU for composition and that’s where I met Greg.
G: I grew up in New Jersey, right outside [New York City]. I was partying a lot, and I just love to be active. Somehow I found music along the way and, long story short, I wanted to make really activated music, so we did that.
How did Junior Varsity come together?
G: We met in school and were just really good friends for a while. We were both putting out music separately, and there was always the idea of being a duo. When it came to the point where we needed to do something with our lives [Laughs], we decided to make a band together.
Z: After working together so often for a few years, it eventually made the most sense to team up as a duo. As far as the name, I was on the junior varsity basketball team in high school, basically as a benchwarmer, and I remember thinking on the bench that “junior varsity” would be a cool name for a band. It was just a fleeting thought, but then Greg came up with it independently. It made sense.
G: I like the idea of being the underdogs, too.
I wanted people to be a part of this beyond just industry heads, because that shit is wack as f*ck. For us, it was just like let’s build Junior Varsity as a world.
How would you describe Junior Varsity’s music?
Z: I’m very interested in making music that I like, and I get frustrated by a lot of the music that I’m forced to hear on the radio and in Spotify playlists. So for me, the goal is to make something that is good in a way that actually speaks to me, and to bring some compositional elements to it.
G: I’ve been writing for other people for the last couple of years, and a lot of life changes brought me to the point where emotional fulfillment took precedence over anything. I think that came with making music that was just the rawest and most honest form of myself. I was tired of playing the nice guy for so long and putting other people first, so I started making music that was blunt.
Greg, what made you want to sort of step out of the shadows as a songwriter and take on the spotlight as an artist?
G: I wanted to rage.
How are you guys communicating Junior Varsity's value to people without any music out?
G: I think for us, it’s more about being bored with the singularity of music and how music is being released. To be an artist, drop a song, and then build a career off a single is just really singular and has been done the same way forever. For us, we finished this project, people started hearing it, and I didn’t want it to turn into some industry hype shit until we figured out the best way to release it. I wanted people to be a part of this beyond just industry heads, because that shit is wack as fuck. For us, it was just like let’s build Junior Varsity as a world. And obviously music is the centerpiece of it all, but it shouldn’t be the only thing—it shouldn’t even be the starting point, necessarily, because we can do all this other shit, too. When we build the world, it should all matter equally.
That idea of building the world is something that keeps people invested in artists like Tyler, The Creator after all these years, because it’s more than the music.
G: It’s 2020. People are smart. They can see when shit is just singular, you know? Me, personally, my favorite artists are world-builders, too. Zach and I both really fuck with The Gorillaz and the world that Damon created. I think if we have any intention behind anything we do or have done, it’s to make people feel something, and I think when you’re relying on a single to push your career, there’s not a lot of room for that. People just want to feel something, and you’ll feel a lot more when you enter a world.
Is the approach of breaking singularity almost a middle finger to the industry? Sort of breaking the mold that the industry has created…
G: I don’t care enough to say fuck you to the industry. [Laughs] That’s not where my energy is at. It’s funny that people think we’re trolling the industry. All of the momentum has just snowballed by itself. When we threw a weekend [series of concerts] in LA, 100 people came out on the first day. By the third day, 1,000 people had come out for the weekend. I think people are really fiending for an experience. Physical energy is being undermined right now and there hasn’t been an antihero in a long time to provoke that out of people and disrupt the industry the way that we’re unintentionally doing it.
Physical energy is being undermined right now and there hasn’t been an antihero in a long time to provoke that out of people and disrupt the industry the way that we’re unintentionally doing it.
And the live performances are meant as a physical extension of the music...
Z: I definitely think it’s about bringing people into the world and letting them get a physical sense of what Junior Varsity is. That way, when the music does come out, people will have an understanding of where it comes from.
G: I just love getting physical, man. I love fighting. It’s probably music first and then fighting second. I literally let people punch me in the face at the show, because again, human physicality is undermined as a way to really feel something. If you’ve never been punched in the face, you should try it.
Z: I want to fight less than Greg, but I’m down to watch. I’ll throw a punch if I have to.
G: It’s like good cop, bap cop between us.
You guys are also throwing a show in Japan. Why Japan?
G: I think people are doubting us and our abilities and this just further proves them wrong. We all wanted to go to Japan, so we’re throwing a show there
And how do you guys attract an audience in Japan?
G: If you throw a good enough party, people will be willing to go. We know enough people in Japan who also like to party, and on the music side of it we get to tap into local acts there, and they get some attention from the American eyes that we have over here. So it’s a win-win, going somewhere like Japan. Also, the kids over there really fiend a lot of the punk shit that we’re into. They’re down with that physical energy more than a lot of other places.
You recently released a merch drop themed against gun violence.
G: It’s about using our platform. A lot of the shit we do is for ourselves—for example, us playing in Japan gives us a really good excuse to go to Japan. But at the same time, Zach and I both really care about the political and social climate of the world right now, and we’re at a place where it’s becoming more and more accessible to make a change.
Z: Right, and we’re making things work financially—we don’t need money from merch right now, and we have the opportunity to amplify things we care about. We did the anti-ICE shirts a few months ago, and the anti gun violence shirts most recently.
G: I think that comes back to singularity. When has merch benefited other people? It’s beyond cool designs; there are enough cool designs in the world. We’re not in the position to play charity shows and stuff yet, so this is how we can give back. It all ties back to creating a world, too. There are certain things we really care about, and we want to align ourselves with other people who really care about similar shit.
How have you guys been able to fund Junior Varsity thus far?
G: When you have a will, you can finesse anything.
Z: As far as recording goes, I was working at a recording studio in East Hollywood, so I would get free time there. That’s how we recorded most of the EP. Also, I steal from self-checkout at Target.
Seeing how far you’ve come independently, are you considering a record label?
G: I think for us, it makes sense to go with a label, but it’s always case by case. Having a team in place who can amplify everything is what we’ve been looking for, but we’re not going to wait for that—we’re not stopping at all. I think a big mistake that a lot of artists make is that they wait to get the right team and use that as their starting point. Whereas for us, we want to put the people first. We want to have fun at the same time, and waiting around until a deal happens isn’t fun for us. Even with no music out, we’re getting to people as much as possible. We’re doing three fucking days in a row every time we perform. Like, you have three fucking days to come see us and hear the music, and they’re all for free.
If we woke up every morning expecting to sign a 10 million dollar deal, there’s pressure. Both of us are broke as f*ck and we’re both having the most fun we’ve had in our lives.
With more eyes watching—especially from record labels—do you feel any added pressure to release music?
Z: I don’t feel any.
G: I don’t feel any either, because we don’t have any expectations. If we woke up every morning expecting to sign a 10 million dollar deal, there’s pressure. Both of us are broke as fuck and we’re both having the most fun we’ve had in our lives. We don’t have resources for the most part. We built the resources. For funding shows, we just figured that shit out.
Any advice for independent artists trying to build a buzz?
G: When you don’t have a plan, you can never fail.
Five years from now, what do you want Junior Varsity to be known for?
Z: The guys who inspired people to steal from self-checkout at Target.
G: I hope I have only a couple broken noses by then.