|Photography by Eleonora C. Collini
Sadie Dupuis has it all. She’s talented, pretty, smart, funny, a little crazy and down-to-earth. Grown up in New York, she has always been surrounded by arts (thanks to her mum who is a visual artist) and has been writing songs and poems since she was a kid. After breaking up her first band Quilty, she started Speedy Ortiz as a lo-fi solo project in 2011 self-releasing the album Death of Speedy Ortiz and the Cop Sicker EP. The project then expanded into a full band when Sadie moved to Northampton, Massachusetts to pursue an MFA in poetry and met guitarist Matt Robidoux, drummer Mike Falcone and bassist Darl Ferm.
It’s their first ever UK tour and I join them at the Lexington before they play their second show in London (Photos). Sadie is so enthusiastic about the gig at Birthdays the night before. “It felt a bit like being at a Boston show where all your friends are going. Everyone was singing along, hugging each other, and dancing so much. It was very heartwarming. We stayed at the venue talking to people till pretty late and after a few seconds I was chatting with them it felt as if I had known them for kind of a while.” Matt and Darl are nowhere to be found so I just hang out with Sadie and Mike but everything is a bit chaotic. We have to stop halfway through as opener Joanna Gruesome need to soundcheck and we can’t find a quiet spot, so we are sort of forced to do interview and photo shoot in a few separate sessions. Everything is funny and all over the place, just like being at a University party.
Speedy Ortiz have just released the Real Hair EP (still on Carpark Records) which was recorded with long time collaborator Justin Pizzoferrato at his Sonelab studio, a huge space in an old factory in Easthampton, Massachussets, just ten minutes from where the band live. That’s the same studio where they recorded their debut album Major Arcana last year, but this time they were also joined by Paul Q. Kolderie, a famous Boston producer who has worked with bands of the likes of Radiohead and Pixies and recorded Speedy Ortiz’ first single ‘Taylor Swift’ b/w ‘Swim Fan’. “That single was done in just one day session”, Sadie explains, “just Mike and I, and it was actually the first time the two of us played together. Then Pizzoferrato did the overdubs.” Though Pizzoferrato and Kolderie had collaborated on that single before, the Real Hair EP is the first time they worked on a project together in person as a team and with the full band. “It was very interesting to hear them speaking together about sort of nerdy producers' stuff”, Mike recalls. Sadie wants to add that the new EP is different from everything else they have done so far.
Sadie always carries a notebook with her where she writes down phrases and whatever comes up into her head. “I typically write music first then go look at my notebook and see if anything I have written down can fit that slot.” Her lyrics are autobiographical for the most part but she also finds inspiration in other things like for instance comic books. She actually named her band after a secondary character in Love and Rockets, one of the first series in the underground comics shift from mainstream superhero narratives to darker, alternatives stories that happened in the 80s. The song “Black Hole” of her previous band Quilty is based on a Charles Burns’ comic book and the last track on the Real Hair EP, “Shine Theory” is inspired by a Usami Maki’s manga. “But it’s still autobiographical as that’s about my emotions when I read those stories and I modify the references anyway”. She then confesses me that she spent part of the afternoon at Soho’s comic book shop Gosh! looking for a couple of titles.
Speedy Ortiz’ songs tend to sound on the record as if they were arranged in a way that they already made sense in a live performance. “When I first record on home demo I don’t think of that at all “, Sadie specifies, “then I just decide whatever effect I can turn on and could sound cool on a weird lo-fi version, and when the band rehearse that we try to translate it in a way that works live.” Things may change in the future though as they are trying to gravitate towards having more of a discrepancy between what they record in studio and what they play live. “So far we have mainly done records where we kinda sounded like a band playing live which is cool, but in the future I would like to change things a bit as there are some cool effects I have been coming up with that you can’t replicate entirely live”.
Along with songs Sadie has always written poems since she was little too, that’s why she decided to pursue an MFA in poetry. Her thesis was submitted the day before we meet and as we speak it’s in the mail on its way to her committee. “As soon as we finish this tour we have just a couple of days off then I have to defend it in front of my thesis committee, then fly to DC and meet with the rest of the band as we’re starting our US tour.” It all sounds a bit hectic……
In pretty much every single article about Speedy Ortiz you will read tons of comparisons with American indie-rock bands of the 90s, something you can’t help but at least partially agree with. The comparison has been magnified by divulging things like that Sadie was in Babement, an all female Pavement cover band, the importance of which was apparently overstated. “ That was just for two shows! My friend and I knew how to play some Pavement songs so we just did a cover set at a gig which was like a College party and then we decided to do that again the following weekend though our drummer couldn’t make it. Then another friend of mine that worked for a magazine and came to one of the shows wrote about it in one of our first interviews and afterwards everybody picked up on that!” They were also going to start a Sebadoh cover band called Shebadoh (all those funny names!) but her friend moved to Florida so that will have to wait till she comes back.
Cover bands aside, have they started getting a little tired of the 90s music comparison? “Though that’s not totally representative of what we do we are frequently fans of the bands we get compared to so we can’t really complain”, Sadie points out. “There were so many other bands before the 90s we totally love and have been influenced by, but I understand that there are lots of similarities between our sound and some music of the early 90s.” Mike kids: “Yeah how come we are not Minutemen influenced?” In the end they both seem to be quite cool with it and agree that the 90s music category is pretty fashionable at the moment. “There is a sort of twenty-year cycle of what people want to write about and we are obviously in that decade at the moment. But songwriting is not about choosing what decade to sound similar to”, Sadie concludes.
As clearly all three of us are huge fans of that sort of 90s underground indie-rock scene, we start discussing our favourite records from that era and the ones we think that really changed music history. Mike and I agree that it will have to be something by Pavement, maybe Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, as they are that kind of band there seems to be a before and an after. Sadie first jokes saying it might be something by Fatboy Slim. “I am just taking it to the negative and ridiculous as sometimes we are asked stupid questions on what we think about 90s bands like Aqua or Fatboy Slim.” She then becomes more serious and admits that Either/Or by Elliot Smith is probably the album that has influenced her songwriting the most.” They carry on throwing names and finally seem to conclude that Spiderland by Slint is the right choice.
From “Tiger Tank” to “Ka-Prow” and the more recent “No Below”, Speedy Ortiz’ videos have always been pretty cool so I ask them how important they think music videos can still be today. “I really like them, but I don’t necessarily think they are super important as a promotional tool”, Sadie says. “People put up fan footage on the internet and that gets the same if not more views, and also you just tend to watch a video of a band you already like anyway. But on the other hand there were bands when I was a kid that I wouldn’t have known of if their videos hadn’t been awesome.“ Mike starts listing his personal favourites which range from anything Casey Raymond directed or Liars were in, to less obvious choices such as El Guincho “Bombay” from three years ago. “That was probably one of my favourites of all the time. It’s not that there is a proper channel that figures stuff for you, you just have to seek out for those bands, I mean there are channels like MTV but they don’t always work the way you expect them to. Also sometimes there are forgettable songs that have amazing videos like Wax “Southern California” directed by Spike Jonze which has this guy running on fire in slow motion.”
Guitarist Matt has reappeared and joins us just in time to talk about the Northampton music scene, something he knows better as Sadie is originally from New York and Mike from Connecticut. “It’s very small. It’s like a village where you see the same people at the shows you go to and pretty much every member of the audience does something creative like they are in a band or they are visual artists or something. It’s just a really active pocket for the small area that it is in itself. As a band I think we identify with the larger Massachusetts /Boston demographic. So we think of ourselves as a Boston band though technically we aren’t but what we do is closer aesthetically to artists from that city. Boston is very similar to Northampton just on a larger scale.”
While the influences are obvious and at times Speedy Ortiz' music may seem a bit derivative, with their angular, crunchy guitars, their flexible, oblique rhythms and surrealistic, witty lyrics, these Massachusetts kids have managed to create a distinctive sound that feels as nostalgic as refreshing. Let's keep an eye on them as they are definitely set to an even brighter future.
Originally published on The Line of Best Fit