CALL IT TEAMWORK “I couldn’t even imagine doing this by myself,” explains Kimber-lee “Kim” Jacobsen (right). “I mean, then I’d just, what, come to the studio and have no one to talk to?”
By the time I arrive at their Lowell recording studio to talk to the teenage pop/R&B dynamos Varsity Girls, it's almost 10 pm, and I'm expecting to encounter an exhausted group of studio-tanned kids burned out after a full day of singing and more singing. But as I'm led by Jared Hancock — their manager, engineer, and all around co-conspirator — up to the vocal booth, the vibe is more akin to the early stages of a full-on slumber party, with all four V-Girls bouncing off the walls and spontaneously breaking into two-, three-, and four-part harmonies.
The mere mention that the Girls seem decidedly different from most tween-pop acts of the day elicits an almost reflexive "Yay!" from JiJi (Jillian Zucco, age 17). "That's really what we strive for," Kim (Kimber-lee Jacobsen, age 18) chimes in, finishing JiJi's thought. In some ways, what the four of them strive for is notable for what it isn't: their music isn't hemmed in by a particular genre, their image and lyrical preoccupations aren't lascivious or rebellious, and their appeal isn't based on any barely suppressed war of egos, like those of so many other pop vocal groups who've made it big. "People ask us who the lead singer is," explains JiJi, "and we're like, 'We don't have one!' " Simone (Simone Cardoso, age 15) concurs: "We're different, I guess, because we're all lead in this group." "I couldn't even imagine doing this by myself," adds Kim. "I mean, then I'd just, what, come to the studio and have no one to talk to?"
The Boston-based Varsity Girls are currently working out their own individual outsized personalities within the group, à la the Spice Girls or Kiss. Jillian (Jillian Jenson, age 18) is "kind of like the rocker free spirit." ("She's the harder one!" exclaims Kim.) Simone is "the kind of girl who like to play tricks and is really goofy"; Kim professes to be "the more laid-back one, more into, you know, just laying on the beach with a book." And JiJi? "JiJi likes boys!" proclaims Jillian, to a shower of laughter. JiJi demurs, admitting, "Well, I'm definitely into the more glamour stuff."
Yes, these Varsity Girls could appear to be a cynical enterprise. They are, on paper, a project thrown together by vocal-coach parents and a team of songwriters, producers, and managers. And their focus on staying positive and being good role models is a smart business decision that's helped them achieve some of their more notable accomplishments, like their ongoing promotional tour of New England Wal-Marts, or singing the National Anthem at both Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, or harmonizing on the theme song for this year's Nickelodeon HALO Awards. But it's hard to be cynical when you're in the presence of these four — you see just how in love with making music they are.