Who Are…Speedy Ortiz

Annie Zaleski

By Annie Zaleski

on 07.12.13 in Who Is...?s

File under: A noisy, '90s-indie-rock throwback with ferocious smarts

For fans of: Dinosaur Jr., Helium, Polvo, Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Liz Phair

From: Northampton, Massachusetts

Personae: Sadie Dupuis (vocals, guitar), Matt Robidoux (guitar), Darl Ferm (bass) and Mike Falcone (drums)

Major Arcana

Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz began as the solo project of New York native (and ex-Quilty vocalist/guitarist) Sadie Dupuis. But by early 2012, the songwriter — who’s also working toward an MFA in poetry at UMass-Amherst and teaching expository writing — had enlisted several of her New England musician pals, including drummer Mike Falcone (whose band Ovlov frequently played with Quilty), bassist Darl Ferm (who had gotten to know both Dupuis and Falcone from booking their bands at Wesleyan, where he was a film studies major) and guitarist Matt Robidoux.

The quartet found kindred spirits in the Allston, Massachusetts basement scene, and they applied that DIY ethos to early national tours, focusing largely on house shows, DIY spaces and other unorthodox venues. (An entertaining look at these days is documented at the band’s photo-heavy LiveJournal tour diaries.)
The band recorded their debut, Major Arcana, with Justin Pizzoferrato (Chelsea Light Moving, Dinosaur Jr.) at his studio, Sonelab. The noisy record builds on the ragged sound of the group’s previous releases — specifically, off-kilter guitar lines and Dupuis’s hypnotizing alto — but piles on volume, aggression and sonic clarity. Dupuis smart lyrics (which are full of vibrant and, at times, violent imagery) are especially arresting, the perfect complement to Major Arcana‘s post-rock jolts and post-punk swerves.

Annie Zaleski talked separately with three-fourths of Speedy Ortiz — first, via a conference call between Dupuis (who was hanging at her mom’s house in Connecticut) and Falcone (who was gearing up to play a show with Gargamel, his ’80s metal covers band) and, several days later, a phone call with Ferm. The sprawling conversations touched on the advantages of the DIY scene, weird tour stories and how the band lives up to their “snack rock” moniker.

On the importance of cool college radio stations:

Dupuis: Before I was friends with Mike, I thought he was a great drummer. He used to DJ — and still DJs — at a radio station that I listened to when I was in high school [WXCI 91.7 FM in Danbury, Connecticut]. I probably found a lot of bands I liked via Mike.

Falcone: She called my radio show a few times. I didn’t know who she was yet, but I remember she requested songs.

Dupuis: I didn’t grow up near here, but I did go to high school not too far from the station where Mike works. And there’s nothing going on around here. You have to drive more than an hour to find any kind of cool record store. You have to drive more than an hour to find any kind of show spaces, even DIY stuff. It was very exciting to be able to get Mike’s show when I was in high school. It was the only good shit that was being played. [Before that] I was really into pretty commercial alternative rock, I think. Like, Letters to Cleo was one of my favorite bands when I was a kid. I’m stoked that they were a Boston band, even though I’m still kind of embarrassed to like them.

On cool dads:

Dupuis: My dad played keyboards in Television for like a week, before they apparently decided they were not a keyboard band [laughs]. Depending on who he’s talking to, he’ll either up-play or downplay the importance of this week-long duration. But I always thought that was a cool story.

On Justin Pizzoferrato’s studio:

Falcone: The main thing I remember about being in Justin’s studio, is he would have crazy stories about sitting in a room somewhere in England watching J Mascis and Kevin Shields have a conversation. And he said that after about a half an hour, the novelty wore away and he got really bored. He said they talked about guitars — but it was mostly Kevin Shields doing the talking and J Mascis would just nod and be like, “Yeah.”

On how academic interests inform Speedy Ortiz:

Dupuis: We have an academic schedule, which means a lot of vacation time, which we fill up with touring. I don’t know that teaching writing or taking classes about writing is necessarily an influence in how I write songs, because I think I come at them somewhat differently. But in terms of being exposed to different authors, maybe they’ll touch on a concept that will [seep into my] writing. I don’t know that any extra weight is added on that facet of my life. I wish it did, because it would probably be a cooler answer. The only thing is I scrutinize myself a little more lyrically than I would if I didn’t have to think so constantly about, “What’s the right word?” Other than that, I think it’s a pretty different process.

On touring and the DIY community:

Ferm: People are really, really supportive in the DIY community. I haven’t really met a lot of people that are conceited or show-offy. Everyone’s very humble, it seems, and everyone is very generous about spending money and supporting touring bands.

Touring’s just awesome. It’s an eye-opening experience, in a good way. Going to New Mexico was really insane [for me], because I don’t think I had ever seen desert before. It’s kind of freaky to see if you’ve just lived in hilly, city-ish areas your whole life. The south has a certain feel to it; Atlanta has a feel that’s different than New Orleans. Experiencing that is great, because most of my life has been stuck between New York City and Boston.

Going into the Midwest and seeing crazy punk kids that just live in Iowa City or something is [also] pretty amazing. They’ve developed their own community that you wouldn’t find out unless you walked right into it like we would, at these house shows or something like that.

On the decision to keep a band LiveJournal:

Dupuis: I just made it because I have a LiveJournal that I still use. Every band has a Tumblr now — a couple years ago every band had a WordPress, and before that every band had a Blogger. It seemed funny to pick the thing where it was most outdated in terms of blog presentation. And LiveJournal’s had an overhaul in the last year and a half since we started this account. You can now embed video. I kind of liked that you couldn’t do any of that [laughs].

Falcone: I thought it was kind of an absurd choice, which is why I thought it was funny.

On weird tour food:

Dupuis: When we were in Spokane, we stayed at this cool house called Marvin’s Garden. I was feeling kind of sick because I had been on tour for two months, and they made me a garlic scape tea with stuff they picked from their garden. It was like garlic flowers and some kind of citrus in hot water that they cooked in the sun [laughs]. It was helpful, I think; I drank a ton of it. They brewed the flowers of the garlic, and then they were having me eat garlic scapes, which was helpful. I think everybody hated my breath for a week.

On living up to their self-proclaimed “snack rock” label:

Ferm: Definitely my favorite tour snack we’ve had is poutine. When we were on the Canadian tour, Matt and I tried to eat poutine every single night, which was kind of a fun challenge, and then got to be a really gross challenge by the end — or a really not-great-for-touring challenge.

Dupuis: I eat a lot of kale chips. That’s probably my favorite snack.

Falcone: That’s a good one. I like nachos. Nachos and hummus are pretty good.

Dupuis: Mike’s our nachos expert.

Falcone: I don’t think I’m a nachos expert, I think that’s been overestimated.

Dupuis: The last time we did a two-month tour, Darl was working on this video series called, “Is It Nachos?” starring Mike. Mike would look at something and tell us if it was nachos or not [laughs].

Falcone: That kind of proved that I’m not a nachos expert. I think that chips and salsa constitute nachos. I think that’s good enough.

Dupuis: I think it has to have cheese. It has to have stuff on top of it; it can’t just be a chip and dip. Because then hummus would be nachos.

Falcone: No one bothered correcting me about it until Speedy Ortiz, so I just always called it nachos.