Speedy Ortiz Talk About New Music and Being Labeled as ’90s Rock – Exclusive Interview
The buzzing Western Massachusetts band Speedy Ortiz play dense, wiry alternative rock in the classic sense, wearing influences like Pavement and Yo La Tengo as a badge of honor. On their 2013 debut, ‘Major Arcana,’ and their 2014 ‘Real Hair’ EP, they string together chunky power-chord riffs and vocal melodies that are as dense as they are addictive.
Singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis sings of her conflicted feelings about escaping to Vermont and negotiates the details of getting ripped apart by tigers; drummer Mike Falcone, guitarist Devin McKnight (replacing Matt Robidoux, who went on indefinite hiatus back in May) and bassist Darl Ferm help build the trembling floor on which Dupuis stomps.
Speedy Ortiz are back from a whirlwind batch of touring, and now working on the follow-up to ‘Major Arcana.’ We caught up with them backstage at the 4Knots Music Festival in NYC last weekend, where they talked about the direction behind their new music, the lyrics to their new song ‘Bigger Party’ and the wildest rock show they’ve seen so far this year.
What are you guys working on now?
Sadie: We were on tour forever, and just got home a couple weeks ago. It’s the first time we’ve had any consecutive weeks off in this whole year. So now we’re working on some new songs.
I’ve been following your adventures on your LiveJournal.
Sadie: They’ve tapered off, though.
Yeah – the last thing I saw was from March.
Sadie: Fight him. [Pointing at Mike]
Mike: It’s not over.
Was there an impetus behind putting your updates on LiveJournal?
Mike: Because we don’t like Tumblr, we don’t like Blogspot.
Sadie: It seems funny.
Mike: Might as well go back to what was cool 11 years ago.
Sadie: And I use my own LiveJournal. I mean, it’s private, but it’s funny that I still use it – and thought it would be even funnier if it was a public forum for posting our updates.
Were you the one who was posting the mixtapes on there? I was so into those.
Mike: We kinda all did.
Sadie: Those were pretty evenly split four ways. We would all have a certain number of songs.
Mike: And we’d have some consensus picks and put ’em altogether.
You guys get labeled as “’90s rock.” And I think it happens because one music writer describes you that way, and then another one does and it starts to spread around.
Sadie: Yeah, I think that’s why.
You must not think of it that way – does it bug you?
Sadie: It’s excessive, and at this point, I think we’re pretty sick of it.
Mike: It’s something use to market bands of the moment, to generate ad revenue. Like, “Look here, these guys are ’90s!”
Darl: We pretty much only listen to Chic exclusively, so it’s kinda weird.
Sadie: Mac from Superchunk made a pretty good joke. He said, “Yeah, you guys sound ’90s. You sound like Sugar Ray.”
I was thinking Smash Mouth, but yeah, that’s close.
Darl: Anything from the ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ soundtrack.
Devin to Sadie: You do sound like Cee-Lo.
Pinning that “’90s rock” tag on you is a way for writers to describe your sound.
Sadie: But I don’t see how that could be a description. Like, “Here’s a decade.”
Well, people compare you to Pavement because they hear the angular guitars and the unconventional song structure.
Sadie: That comparison works for me, because certainly that’s a songwriting hero. I just wish it wasn’t the only one anyone ever used. From decades before and after the ’90s, there are just as many influences.
Dinosaur Jr., for example. They’re an ’80s band.
Mike: Dinosaur Jr. are an ’80s band, as were Yo La Tengo. I dunno, when we started, it seemed like we were hearing about a lot of bands and people were saying, “Oh yeah, ’90s,” but their first record came out in 1982 or something.
You just had a new song called ‘Bigger Party’ that came out as part of Adult Swim Singles. There’s a line in the song that goes, “I have to use these metaphors just to say I like you.” Is that about songwriting?
Sadie: Yeah, sort of. It’s sort of about the song that it’s in. Most of our songs I wouldn’t say are totally earnest about anything, but I did write that song to apologize to somebody for being a jackass.
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I was going to say, there’s also a line that goes: “I’m really a s—head.”
Sadie: Yeah, yeah. And I’m being funny, and being extreme. But, it’s hard to say a simple sentiment and not sound like a total cheeseball.
You know, that’s a good point. Because it sounds like it could be sarcastic, but only because it’s very earnestly stated. You know? You don’t necessarily hear people say “I’m sorry I’m a s—head” unless they’re being facetious.
Devin: The song title’s pretty facetious. We won’t get into the references.
Wait, what is it?
Sadie: [Laughs] We can’t get into it. We’ll embarrass people if we get into it. But I’m glad you like that one.
Devin: I like the “s—head” lyric.
Mike: It does kind of make it harder for us to get the song on the radio, I guess.
Sadie: I was thinking about that – how would we do a radio edit? We could do “dish head” – just like, reverse it.
Devin: Or we could just do a little record scratch.
Sadie: I got a little scared, actually, because I didn’t know if Adult Swim would allow profanity. And then I listened to all the previous samplers and it’s obviously common.
Does the Adult Swim comp have anything to do with what they do on TV?
Sadie:They play the song on TV. So, I was a little concerned that they would hear it and be like, “Nope.” But it was OK!
Who does the cover art of your albums?
Sadie: That’s me.
They’re great. How do you choose what you choose, and what’s your process for making them?
Sadie: I don’t know that there’s any real heady decision making that goes into it. We had the album done, and a sense of what the mood was and what fit for it. I work in a couple of mediums and generally like the aesthetic of collage.
Do you shut yourself in a room and listen to your music?
Sadie: [Laughs] No, I listen to other stuff. Usually I’ll just sit around for a couple of days at home, and some of it’s painting, and some of it’s sewing and some illustration. I just did my first album art for another band recently – this band Sundials from Richmond. They’re a pop punk band. They’re on Asian Man Records.
Oh, the ska record label? I don’t know if they do ska anymore, but they were started by the guy from Skankin’ Pickle.
Sadie: I think you’re right, I think you’re right. His name is Mike, right?
Yeah. Mike Park.
Sadie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s the label Sundials are on.
You guys have played these intense, sweaty basement shows. When you go in to record something in the studio, is the approach so different from that that you have to think about the music differently?
Sadie: For our first couple of recordings, we didn’t have any money or time, so we just did them fairly live sounding. But that’s not really how I think about it – when I write songs, I think of full arrangements and production stuff. So the demos would always have more going on than what we did on the first album. The Adult Swim song and another one we’re putting out later are sort of intentional choices, and not at all thinking about the live context. If the song’s good enough, and if you play it enough, you’ll find a way to do it live. I’d much rather have an interesting recording than one that’s exactly like what you’ll do live. If I want to hear a band live, I’ll go see the band.
So are you going into your next album with a more fully formed idea of what it should be?
Sadie: It’s going to sound different, I think. Pretty different.
Mike: More similar to the new song.
Sadie: More similar to the new songs, and farther in that direction. There’s one that’s coming out on a seven-inch in the fall. I feel like our records before are just like, guitars and being loud, and that’s what we would sound like live, and this music has a little more restraint and depth to it.
Mike: There’s probably going to be a little more separation between the studio versions and the live versions for the newer stuff. Which is good.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen another band do onstage this year?
Devin: Mark E. Smith [singer of the Fall].
Sadie: Mark E. Smith.
Mike: Excellent choice.
When was that?
Devin: We saw the Fall in France, and dude was just, like … oh my God.
Sadie: He was taking the microphone from the kick drum and singing into it. And just, like, throwing over drums.
Mike:It was the first time I’d ever seen someone pick up the microphone from inside a kick drum and scream inside of it and throw it.
Devin: He’d be pulling on his own mic and then he’d walk over to the keyboardist’s mic and take hers, and start singing into hers, and then throw it onto the ground.
Mike: He walks up to the guitar player and turns [the amp] up as high as it goes, so all the levels are f—ed.
Sadie: And then he has all these papers with him that he’s not even reading, but he’ll put on his reading glasses and he’ll pretend to be reading. He has one of the most amazing stage presences I’ve ever seen.
Mike: There was stuff being thrown at him, and it didn’t even phase him.
Devin: He is somebody’s cool grandpa.