Q&A With the Method Actors’ Vic Varney, Playing Flicker Thursday

Editor’s note: This Q&A was originally posted in January. Varney returns to Athens for two sets at Flicker Theatre & Bar on Thursday, May 14. 

Songwriter Vic Varney is known to Athenians for his work with post-wave punks The Method Actors. Since his time in Athens, he has focused on a solo songwriting career. The New York City resident played Athens for the first time in over a decade on Saturday, Jan. 24, when he took the stage at Hendershot’s.

Flagpole caught up with Varney for a chat.

Flagpole: It’s been 12 years since you’ve played Athens. What have you been up to?

Vic Varney: Well, I moved to New York in 2005. I’ve been teaching English at NYU and have been playing up there at a club called the Living Room. I’ve been back [to Athens] pretty regularly. But, most of musical life has shifted over to the rest of my life up there. Just the other day, I was doing some recording in Nashville. With the extended break for Christmas, I’ve been recording an album with David LaBruyere, who used to live in Athens. That will probably be out sometime this year, but I don’t know when. It sounds great, though. I’m really excited about recording.

FP: How would you compare Athens presently to the time when you were most active here?

VV: That’s a good question, but I’ll be up front about this: I’m probably not the best person to ask about what’s going on musically in Athens, because I only occasionally visit here. I can talk with a little bit more authority about Athens in general. One thing that is very different… Athens has definitely evolved into being a town that is much more friendly to non-students than it was before. And that’s code for “adults.” When we were coming up, say 1979 to around 1985, a lot of bands came pouring into Athens that weren’t from here… It wasn’t really defined by a sound, per se. A club scene grew up, and there was infrastructure to support a lot of bands. And that is still going on.

One thing that has really evolved is the way downtown has bifurcated. As Clayton slopes down, you get one set of kids. You get Manhattan, the Flicker and 40 Watt. As it levels off around the Globe up toward College Avenue, it gets really Greek-y. So, that is an interesting phenomenon.

[Then], you’ve got places like Hendershot’s. There’s a whole generation of people that came up with the B-52’s and the Method Actors and Pylon, and they still go out! A lot of them are still really interested in music. Adults that like to go out, but don’t want to wait until 11:30 p.m. for a band to come on. But they’re still really interested in music. The fact that there’s now a culture that appeals to people other than kids is great. That’s kind of new. It used to be all kids. Twenty-five would have been considered old in the audience. 

FP: When the Method Actors retrospective was released, Peter Buck had some very kind words to say about you and the band. That must’ve been really exciting to have his endorsement.

VV: [Peter] wrote the liner notes. They were very generous.

FP: What does that mean to you?

VV: Well, Peter and I go back a long way. We are probably the only two people I know that were really into Nick Drake while he was still alive [laughs].

It means more to me that he wrote those notes—not because he’s rich and famous, but because he’s an acute listener. He’s a total record geek. It means a lot to me simply because he is an intelligent listener. Certainly, it gets a lot of attention if you slap a blurb like that on your record. Pete’s always been a Method Actors fan. It means a lot to me in the same way that any good listener hears what you do.

When you make music not just to make money, you are making it for the very few people who are hearing what you are doing. It means a lot. But it doesn’t mean any more to me than the few people that I will reach Saturday night in the audience… I call it “playing for Mona Lisa.” You’ll pick out the 12 girls in the audience who are really listening, and I can see them from the stage. But, Peter’s endorsement means as much as those listeners. When you get to where I am, you’re playing for a very few number of people. That’s an advantage of not being famous—people come to see you without any expectations. 

FP: I suspect your solo performances isn’t a lot like the Method Actors catalog. What can people expect on Saturday?

VV: I think the one thing that people that are familiar with the Method Actors will appreciate is that it’s about the song. The Method Actors were very loud, electric and reflective of a very particular period, a very particular culture. [I’ve] evolved out of that and am doing my own thing. I don’t really belong to a school or a style or anything like that. I just use that as a launching pad. It’s evolved in a great variety of ways… I’m really invested in the work. I’m not a genre artist. I always get asked, “What kind of music is it?” I always think, “That’s a good fucking question.”

WHO: Vic Varney
WHERE: Flicker Theatre & Bar
WHEN: Thursday, May 14, 8 p.m.