Moving on Up: an Interview with Speedy Ortiz
Photo: Shervin Lainez
As their name may suggest, Speedy Ortiz are cruising right along. They’re young, screamingly talented, touring the world, playing festivals like SXSW alongside their personal heroes, recording and releasing a new album—all while maintaining an effortless aura of unpretentious coolness. Singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis started Speedy Ortiz as a solo project while teaching music to kids at a summer camp, though it didn’t take long for it to take the shape of a cohesive group. Since then, they’ve been humbly slamming out some of the most genuinely interesting and alluring indie rock on the scene—and heads up: They’ll be passing through SLC and playing Kilby Court on May 29.
With rippling bass lines and coupled guitar parts, Speedy Ortiz write rock that simmers for just long enough before boiling over. Dupuis’ vocals move from tantalizing to tumultuous, fluently, over unruly musical arrangements. Her sassy lyrics complement the sweet build of tension that the quartet creates through unusual compositions and dissonant sounds. Speedy Ortiz play the type of music that would sound just as killer in a tiny garage as it would on a renowned stage—this is part of their irresistibility, being at home wherever they are currently playing. Speedy Ortiz have bumped elbows and played alongside crucial ’90s slackers such as Stephen Malkmus and The Breeders, and this only seems natural. In many ways, Speedy Ortiz’s sound echoes the atmospheric yet staggering sound of the aforementioned rockers, while incorporating striking elements of youthfulness in their songwriting.
Speedy Ortiz have the community-oriented music scene of their native Northampton, Massachusetts, to thank for their coming together to play with one another. “I met Devin McKnight because he slept on my floor a few times while he was on tour,” says Dupuis. “We’ve all known each other for quite a few years just from playing in other bands.” Members also shared a background in being classically trained. “We’re band geeks,” Dupuis says. McKnight notes that he’s always been inclined toward rock, but says, “I did fingerstyle guitar in a group called Badknight that was a little more sultry and jazzy.” In the same vein, Dupuis grew up in classical piano and voice lessons and began songwriting at a young age, though she found the genre switch fairly instinctual. “Writing has never felt tough to me,” she says, adding that she is inspired by the dissonance and unique time changes that came from her more traditional background.
Dupuis is able to flex her writing skills by putting together the majority of the arrangements for the band, which they then learn together and adjust accordingly. It’s worth noting that the trust and connectedness involved with this process is not something Speedy Ortiz take for granted. “We’re very in tune with each other, not just as musicians but as people,” says Dupuis. “You can play with someone who is super technically tight, but there is a certain magic that comes with an emotional connection.” The closeness they share as a band resonates in all areas of their music, whether it be writing new songs or exploring cities on tour—there is a natural growth that comes as they spend time together. In addition to the warm relationship they have one another, they also keep an intimacy with their local music scene. “We love to come home and play shows with bands we know and love. It’s just a big, fun party,” says McKnight.
With a long list of accomplishments to choose from, including being featured on Adult Swim and playing alongside some mighty respectable bands this year at SXSW (METZ, Angel Olsen and Steve Gunn), what they’re most proud of is their new record. Released April 21 on Carpark Records, Foil Deer is the result of time well spent. “It feels totally right. I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” says Dupuis. McKnight adds, “This album was recorded how it’s supposed to be, where you take 10 days and don’t go anywhere but the studio.” Indeed, Speedy Ortiz were able to take a full three weeks to allow their best ideas to come to fruition as they recorded at Rare Book Room with Nicolas Vernhes. “Foil Deer is about sticking up for yourself and self-care,” says Dupuis. “It would be gratifying to me if anyone could feel a little better about themselves after listening.”
It’s been two years since Major Arcana, Speedy Ortiz’s first full-length album was released, and while it may have been classified as a lo-fi indie gem, Foil Deer is a debutante. The intro track, “Good Neck,” rattles you with ripping guitar and drums whose time signature you can’t quite figure out, followed by a clear and lovely classical vocal riff by Dupuis. The album is a trove of peculiar combinations that come together geniusly. In “Raising the Skate,” Dupuis declares, “I’m not bossy—I’m the boss,” in a vocal pattern that almost feels like a hip-hop flow and has a “Bow down, bitches,” effect. As opposed to the more brooding melodies of Major Arcana, Foil Deer pops out at you in a polished yet cheeky way.
Speedy Ortiz will be heading out for a full U.S. tour soon. Keep an eye out for their 801 stop, and in the meantime, pick up a copy of Foil Deer—it might just give you a sassy spring to your step.
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