Interview with Kue Varo (Sled Island 2024)

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Kue Varo at I Love You Coffee Shop on Wednesday, June 19 2024.

Local alternative artist Kue Varo speaks on behalf of the band, Kue Varo & The Only Hopes in an interview with CJSW. Their album, Cowboy Witchcraft, released late last year and this year they’re back again at Sled Island to perform. Kue Varo shares the lore behind their stage name, the people she looks forward to seeing perform and hints on new work coming soon. 

Kue Varo & The Only Hopes will perform at the Ship & Anchor on Thursday June 20 at 11:00 p.m. and at The Palomino Smokehouse on Friday June 22 at 3:00 p.m.

Special thank you to Take Aim Media for organizing the Sled Island 2024 Interviews, and I Love You Coffee Shop for hosting us.


Catalina Berguno: Hello, Kue Varo. I’m pronouncing that correctly, right? Okay, awesome. So I just want us to take a moment for you to introduce yourself and tell me who you are, your band.

Kue Varo: Yeah, I’m Kue Varo. You did say it correctly. The band is Kue Varo & The Only Hopes. I myself have been performing in the Canadian music scene for around 14 years, since I was a teenager. With Kue Varo & The Only Hopes, about two years now. We released an album last October called Cowboy Witchcraft and it’s gone all right. So now we’re here at Sled, which is pretty awesome.

Catalina Berguno: Awesome. Thank you. And I found out through a basic Google search that you’re from Nanton, Alberta. I also hope I’m pronouncing that correctly. I was wondering, you grew up in a small town. How did that influence your music or just like your relationship with music?

Kue Varo: So Nanton, Alberta, very small town. My parents are actually both from Germany, so I’m a first generation Canadian as well, which sort of just made things a little different, culturally. Growing up in a home, you know, your Christmases, etcetera, have a few different things going on. Growing up in a small town, I think it was a lot of the quiet and the space that likely influenced me the most, just having this nice, peaceful sort of environment where I was free to create and also to retreat. I was homeschooled as well, so there was a lot of just me time going on. So then I had lots of time to practice and paint and write poetry. So I think it helped me start creating art and refining it at a young age.

Catalina Berguno: For sure. I know you moved to Montréal at some point and then moved back to Calgary. I was wondering the difference of the music scenes you’ve experienced? Like, what do you find the difference . . . what’s the difference between performing here in Calgary, (instead) of like other places you’ve been to?

Kue Varo: Music community wise, I think there’s really lovely, supportive people in both scenes. I’m happy to report Montréal has some wonderful, lovely folks. There’s a little indie label called Baby Horse Records, a lot of my friends are sort of spearheading over there and they’re lovely. It is a much more, I guess, long standing arts community in a way or maybe more developed and overdeveloped scene in total. So it’s not as easy to break through and there’s just a lot more going on. There’s a way bigger population. So everything is just sort of compounded, like threefold. Whereas here, I really love Calgary. I moved back here obviously because I love it. It’s a bit more straightforward in terms of starting out and where to go next and what your next goals are going to be, and it’s really starting to pop off, and I’m super stoked and proud to be a part of that in any way that I can and try to contribute to the local community here. So that’s why I’m here. I’m hoping that I can do my part. If that makes sense.

Catalina Berguno: No, that totally makes sense and I’m really glad to hear that it’s been a very supportive community and a pretty good experience so far, from what I’m gathering. One thing that I noticed was, like, Kue Varo kind of started a little bit around two years ago, and I found the name Kue Varo and The Only Hopes, very interesting title for the band name. Is there a story behind that or a reasoning? 

Kue Varo: Yeah so I’ve been performing under the name Kue Varo for a little longer than the band has been together. So that sort of was conceived and became its thing a bit beforehand. I wanted a name that was a bit more genderfluid, and just felt like the most amplified version of myself. My legal name starts with a K, so that’s why I spell Kue with a K, and actually the Kue comes from Star Trek’s Q and the Varo comes from my favorite painter Remedios Varro, and then The Only Hopes was because our drummer, Matt texted Bob E and said, ‘I gotta play with you, you’re my only hope.’ And then we laughed, because it’s like a Star Wars reference. So then we had a Star Trek reference and a Star Wars reference. I felt like they were my only hope because I’d just been through some crazy stuff. So yeah, that’s sort of how that came about.

Catalina Berguno: Awesome. I did not pick up on the reference and I watched Star Wars for many years. My cousins would be disappointed in me. They’re a huge Star Wars fan. So, I guess, how would you describe the music that you create?

Kue Varo: That’s such a great question. I mean, there’s the term ‘y’allternative’ going around. I think that’s a pretty good blanket statement, but there’s a lot of art rock, theatrical stuff going on, some occult references that make it seem a bit more witchy gothic. Really hard to pin it down, but definitely full of heart, if that checks out.

Catalina Berguno: Definitely. And going back to Sled Island here, have you performed for Sled Island before?

Kue Varo: So in our first year together we had a couple little performances with Sled. So that was, like, two years ago and I was extremely nervous. I didn’t even go to the artist lounge because I felt weird being back in Calgary, and was just, you know, a little anxious. So this is our first year at Sled where I feel like we’re a fully formed, more evolved band.

Catalina Berguno: Okay, and so would you say . . . do you expect this year’s experience to be very different from previous experiences?

Kue Varo: I think it already has been even though we have yet to play a couple shows that’s coming up next. But yeah, just in terms of feeling a little bit more grounded and having a footing to really look at the schedule and see who I want to catch and feeling way more integrated into the community again . . . yeah, it’s already a bit different that way for sure. 

Catalina Berguno: You mentioned there’s some performances you want to catch. Like, who are you looking forward to seeing performing?

Kue Varo: So the people that I’m most looking forward to are the band – I guess it’s actually Cherry Glazerr, which is playing right after our set. So we’re going to do our best to be professional and cool but also wrap up really quick and run our little butts over to the . . . it’s the Legion, right? I hope that’s correct, or else I’m going to be going to the wrong venue. But yeah. You know, I really like the local band, Ginger Beef, and I haven’t seen them perform live, and we’re playing with them at The Palomino and I’m really looking forward to their set. I’ve been listening to their albums, so yeah, I’m super stoked on that.

Catalina Berguno: That’s so exciting, and it’s such a coincidence that they’re right behind us right at this moment. It’s always nice seeing artists, kind of like fangirling or anything with other artists. For some reason that just always gets me.

Kue Varo: And I do it more with locals more than anyone else, as silly as that is, but in my imagination, I’m like, maybe we’ll be friends. And I just love . . . I don’t know. I’m super stoked on Calgary right now. I think it’s an awesome place. So anyone cool who’s making cool stuff, I’m extra excited about it.

Catalina Berguno: That’s awesome. And going a little bit, I guess, personal side, I noticed that by looking at your social media page that you like to dedicate some of your earnings to artists in need? Is that something that you’re passionate about?

Kue Varo: Yeah, since I started playing music a long time ago I have put together a few relief shows. And when the big scary thing hit a few years ago, I didn’t lose my job. I had a job but a lot of my full time artist friends were really affected by it financially so I was trying to do what I could, just to support other artists, really, but also just whenever anything comes up, and I can do whatever I can, I’m gonna do it.

Catalina Berguno: For sure. And you mentioned you released an album last year. Is there anything . . . are there other projects or, like, what’s in store for Kue Varo and The Only Hopes?

Kue Varo: You’re getting the real scoop. We may be recording this year, some more tunes and doing a whole bunch of stuff. And by may, I mean we are wink wink. So there’s a lot on the horizon, probably more to come in the spring but we do have a remix of Furthest Place coming out in July. You heard it first here, folks, so yeah.

Catalina Berguno: Awesome. That sounds really exciting and that kind of marks the end of my questions but before we wrap up, I wanted to ask if there’s something you’d like to add or anything you want to touch on?

Kue Varo: Oh. I just want to say thanks to my bandmates, Bob E, Easy and Matt, and also to Russ and Jess, because y’all have been super awesome and supportive and they’re not here right now to speak on behalf of the band so thanks to my cool band members and support peeps. 

Catalina Berguno: Awesome and thank you for meeting with CJSW today and have a lovely day.