The Varve

Memories of a Girl Group with the Right Boots

Words & Images by Joe Beine

The Varve Was...
Jo Ann Gogue - Vocals/Sax
Carolyn Stage (Crampton) - Guitar
Sue Digby - Bass
Kat Astrophe (Zumbach) - Drums
Kelli Kozak - Keyboards
Anne Brent - Drums (Boulder incarnation)

The Varve
by Joe Beine
(from the "V" issue of OP Magazine, March/April 1984)

Varve was the name of a band of five inventive women who came together in the spring of 1980 in Boulder, Colorado, and blew apart in the fall of 1983 in San Francisco. Their early gigs in odd Denver clubs were crude, exciting, and filled with an abundance of energy -- enough energy (and daring for such a young band) to send them hurtling towards San Francisco in the fall of 1980. During the next three years they established a place for themselves in that city with a reputation for well executed quirky pop and spunky live shows that gave their ever-increasing audiences new reasons to dance.

The jerky, sometimes stop/start rhythms of Varve songs like "Decibel" and "Frictional Drag" were propelled by Sue Digby's solid bass lines and Kat Zumbach's deft drumming. A backdrop was added by Kelli Kozak's simple but often enigmatic keyboard runs and fills. Guitarist Carolyn Crampton alternated walls of thrashing chord patterns with biazzare riffs that often seemed to run against the grain of the song. Her and Kelli's guitar and keyboard exchanges were sometimes quite astonishing. Combine all of this with a unique vocal stylist, Jo Ann Gogue, who sang as if she were an alien come down to earth with no previous exposure to rock music, and the result formed the Varve sound.

That sound is not easily classifiable. The Varve were set apart from traditional "pop" groups by their mosaic-like mixture of seemingly haphazard elements arranged to form a cohesive noise. They wrote songs about Edie Sedgwick and Karen Silkwood. They invented a rarely seen dance craze called the Twitch. And they devised a whole series of twisted instrumentals about a mysterious woman named Wanda. ("Wanda's Got New Boots," "Wanda Goes to Church," "Wanda Comes Home from Church," "What's Wrong With Wanda?") I met Wanda once. She wore leopard skin cowboy boots and really got down on the saxophone, adding another dimension to the Varve sound.

For a band that seemed quite content to put musical ideas into places where they simply didn't fit, the Varve accomplished much in their four-year existence. There was such a lively spark created by these five women that it was almost a tragedy they couldn't maintain it longer. I think they will be remembered for bringing a unique touch of whimsy and excitement to a dying genre.

Varve Photograph/Mercury Cafe 1982 by Joe Beine
Wanda Plays Sax

Varve Discography

"Bamboo Curtain" 3 song EP (Risky Records)
"Frictional Drag" appears on Live at Le Disque compilation (Jump Records)
Wandafied (7 Song Cassette) (Cow-Op Industries)

Next Page...

Wanda's Got New Boots -- Denver, Boulder, San Francisco

Varve License Plate by Joe Beine

photographs by Joe Beine
Mercury Cafe/Denver, 12 November 1982
Kelli's License Plate, 1982

all material © Joe Beine Contact

webpage made May 2001

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