By Sean Stroh
Pop punk may not be as strong as it once was in the early to mid 2000s but that doesn’t faze The New Varsity one bit.
Based out of Claremont, The New Varsity has gained buzz over the past few years for their memorable, emo-laced, pop punk product. The band, comprised of Kyle Feyk-Miney (lead vocals/guitar), Eric Putnam (lead guitar), Diante’ Thomas (bass) and Taz Reeves (drums), released their debut album Running Out of Time in 2013. Last August, they followed up with a six song EP titled Reflections.
Coming Up Magazine talked to lead vocalist Kyle Feyk-Miney about the state of pop punk, the recording of Reflections and the time the group was gypped by a promoter after winning a battle of the bands competition.
A few weeks ago, the band performed at this year’s LocalPalooza, which was more of a showcase instead of a competition like in years past. What was that whole experience like for the band?
It was super cool. We tried out for it the past few years but never got picked. We’d played with about half of the bands before so we had a bunch of friends there with us. It was awesome and just a really good time.
We played a lot from our most recent EP Reflections. We’ve been playing that six song EP as our set for the past few months. We also played our single “Last Day in November” as well which was fun since we haven’t played it in a while.
A few years ago, the band had a pretty terrible experience at a battle of the bands competition you guys won. Although you were promised $1,000 and a chance to record some demo songs, you didn’t receive anything. How frustrating was that whole ordeal and were you guys ever even given an explanation of why you didn’t receive anything for winning?
It probably would’ve been more frustrating if it happened now but we were just starting out back then. I had never even played in a battle of the bands before so it was kind of irritating to have the promoter say we were going to get a free recording with this producer and also receive a $1,000 cash prize sponsored by Guitar Center and not get anything. When they followed up and asked for the money, Guitar Center claimed they had never even heard of the competition.
We were so new that it was just cool to be able to play a bunch of shows since there were three performances as part of the competition. We just wanted to get our feet wet. If it happened today we would be a little more irked.
How did you guys all originally meet? Were you childhood friends or did you meet a little bit later in life?
Three of us actually went to school together. I have known Eric (lead guitar) since 7th grade. We knew Diante’ (bass) from school too though he was a few years behind us. We all played in different bands but would play at a lot of the same shows.
We found our drummer Taz by posting an ad on Craigslist. He was the third or fourth person to audition and we just gelled right away. He went to the same high school but was there a couple years after Eric and I were there. We shared a bunch of mutual friends and everything clicked really well.
On your most recent EP Reflections, the band actually recorded in a professional studio whereas for Running Out of Time you guys recorded out of makeshift home studio. How important was it to be able to sit down together with a singular focus in a professional studio instead of emailing demos and tracks back and forth?
It was super beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’re all super happy about the way Running Out of Time turned out. We literally recorded it in my bedroom which is where we have our home studio. On Running Out of Time it was kind of like we were writing and recording as we went and we didn’t have time to go back and fix things and make them our own in a certain way. So when we had the date set to go in and work with our producer Johnny Liu we already had the six songs written and had practiced them for four to five months. We got all the kinks out and knew exactly what we wanted to do. In the studio we had Johnny, an outside voice, who offered some suggestions and it was just way more beneficial. I definitely think it’s the route we’ll be going from here on out.
Do you follow any specific routine or set of vocal exercises when you know you have a show coming up?
I’ll warm up by singing along to some of my favorite artists. Jimmy Eat World is one of my favorite groups of all time. I love their sound and know all their songs. I’ll put them on my iPod and voice match the singer a little bit. The other thing that is no fun but necessary is that I usually don’t drink before we play. The rest of the band gets to though… (laughs)
Did you ever receive any formal vocal training?
It’s pretty much all self taught. I was in church choir as little kid so I guess you learn some basics there. I’ve been around music my whole life though. I played piano all throughout my childhood up until high school. I hated taking my piano lessons but my mom forced me. I self taught myself how to play guitar sophomore year I believe. I thought guitar was so much cooler but looking back now I’m thankful I had all the guidance that I had as far music goes.
What is the practice schedule like for you guys?
We usually do Tuesdays and Sundays. It’s usually not a big deal if we miss one here and there but we like to keep it twice a week just to make sure everything is fresh. We’re actually starting to get more writing sessions going so two practices a week really helps with that as well.
Besides the House of Blues in Anaheim, which SoCal venue is your favorite to play at and why?
I’d say my favorite is the Glass House in Pomona. We saw a bunch of our favorite bands play there when were kids. It’s got an awesome atmosphere and it’s right down the street from us so the home crowd is super supportive. The staff is so great as well.
What do you think of the current state of the local pop punk scene is?
It seems like everything moves in cycles. Pop punk kind of faded in the late 2000s but I would say that I have seen growth. It’s a small and slow growth but some of these other bands that are coming out and kind of getting back to the older style of pop punk is reinvigorating the crowd a little bit.
I saw you guys did a show hosted by Wiretap Records at the Slidebar in Fullerton a few months ago. Are you guys signed by them?
No they actually got in contact with us through social media and expressed interest in having us play their showcase. We’re not actually under any kind of record deal right now but they were really good guys to work with.
When I spoke to Rory O’Connell of Bristol to Memory, he emphasized his how it was his goal to not get signed to a record label. Do you feel it’s a bit unnecessary to be signed to a record label these days?
It really depends on what your goals are. With those guys, it’s completely understandable to want that freedom with writing and stuff like that. We actually made it our goal to get signed just because it helps with publicity and distribution. It’s true that there is a lot of freedom that comes with not being signed and that I totally get and understand. I think those bands who don’t want to be signed know you really have to market yourself like crazy.
Are there any upcoming or relatively unknown bands you are currently listening to that you would like to give a little shout out to?
Our boys in Hideouts. I love those guys they are so rad and some of the nicest people I know.
I’d like to call them a smaller band, but it seems at this point Assuming We Survive is the biggest thing out of this area. They have always been good to us and took us under their wing so I’m really happy to see those guys getting their name out there in such a huge way.