Speedy Ortiz: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Post-apocalyptic guitar rock lullabies.
File next to: Polvo, Helium, Sonic Youth, Pavement
Playing: Red Bull Sound Select / WL15 Pre-Party, Thursday February 12 @ The Garrison

Blasting out of Northampton, Massachusetts with the strength of a dozen Saturn V rockets, it’s no understatement to say Speedy Ortiz have such a massive sound, it’s hard to believe there’s only four of them. The band puts their own modern spin on classic mid-‘90s indie-rock with the kind of riffs we used to call “angular” and Sadie Dupuis’ confident, affecting, Mary Timony-esque vocals. Speedy’s sophomore album Major Arcana (Carpark Records) was one of 2013’s best rock albums according to many discerning listeners, from Thurston Moore to Pitchfork. We can’t wait to hear them rattle the walls of The Garrison when they come to town for a special one-off show as part of the Red Bull Sound Select series, curated by Wavelength on the eve of our 15th anniversary festival, this coming Thursday (February 12)! Our own Jonny Dovercourt got up to speed(y) with Dupuis and drummer Mike Falcone via email.

Apparently the story of Speedy Ortiz coming together as a band began with Sadie teaching songwriting at a summer camp. Can you confirm/deny?

Sadie: I was the head of the music department at a small arts camp called Buck’s Rock, in Connecticut. One of the courses I taught involved writing a song in an hour based around a theme. Sometimes the students would need one-on-one help, but as the course went on I was usually able to write my own songs while the kids were working. I would try to record demos of the songs once the campers had gone to sleep, and that first batch of demos turned into the first handful of Speedy Ortiz songs.

What’s it like being a Massachusetts guitar band? Dinosaur Jr., the Pixies, Mission of Burma, and (in latter years) Sonic Youth are weighty progenitors. Do you consider yourselves a part of this lineage? If so, is it empowering or burdensome or neither/both?

Sadie: I consider us more akin to our contemporaries like Pile or Krill or Kal Marks–
really, there are more great Massachusetts guitar bands playing right now than I can name in a sitting. Which isn’t to say Mascis or Thurston aren’t huge influences —we’re super honored to have played with those guys. But there’s always been a good rock scene in the Bay State, and I think we consider ourselves more of our time than as part of a burdening lineage.

Mike: I could see the lineage thing working in a different, tighter scene, like Louisville for example, but Massachusetts has been so musically rich that it’s never really felt like our scene was a part of their lineage. We’re not even a chapter in that book. We’re a different book entirely.

Songs: do they start inside or outside the jam space?

Sadie: We don’t really work on a song unless I have it fully written and recorded, so we always have an idea of how the songs are going to sound before anybody else has played a note. But they’re very malleable to suggestions from my bandmates or organic ideas that come up while we’re arranging them for a full band.

Tell us a story about your favourite piece of gear, involving how it came to be yours, and how it didn’t let you down that one time.

Sadie: I got my Jazzmaster when I was 20. It’s Japanese from ‘93. I bought it from a dude in Bushwick [in Brooklyn] who was only using it to record feedback for his noise project. One time all my band’s gear got stolen out of my car — multiple guitars, cymbals, pedals, even a trash bag of clothing — and I was pretty devastated, especially about that one guitar. I immediately called every music store in New York with my serial numbers, hoping someone would try to pawn it, but gave up hope after a couple days and bought an identical replacement Jazzmaster from eBay. Luckily someone tried to sell it to a store I’d called and I got the guitar back (then sold the replacement one at a profit). So it worked out okay. But I never leave anything in the van anymore. I’m super paranoid about shit like that.

Mike: I love my Ludwig drums, but they break on tour too frequently. My favorite piece of gear that I own is a Tascam 4-track 424 MKIII Portastudio that I got from Daddy’s Junky Music for $100.

Holy shit I have the very same four-track!!! Speaking of recordings, Major Arcana was pretty damn awesome. When can we expect its follow-up to drop from the sky?

Sadie: It comes out April 21st. It’s called Foil Deer. Hopefully it won’t fall from the sky, though. That’s not very good for records.

You’re coming to Toronto to play as part of Wavelength, an artist-run concert series & indie community hub in Toronto. Are there other similar DIY initiatives in your neck of the woods?

Sadie: Yeah. We’re really fond of the shows Boston Hassle promotes. We like Allston Pudding, too. We definitely come from a background of playing houses and warehouses and veteran halls, so we’re usually more comfortable in those kinds of places.

Road food: danger or delicacy?

Sadie: All about that ramen.

Mike: Yeah, spicy ramen. Oatmeal is underrated.

You’re all alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Which everyday object do you use as your weapon of choice?

Sadie: SPF 45.

Mike: My iPhone 5 and my Twitter feed.

Photo credit Shervin Lainez