Speedy Ortiz seemed to pop up out of nowhere. One moment, they weren’t here. The next, they were everywhere. The indie rock band dominated 2013 best-of lists in the way that Michael Jordan dominated scoring titles in the ‘90s; they careened through their 2013 Carpark Records full-length, Major Arcana, like a freight train obliviously plowing down rain-slicked tracks.
Arcana is a savage collection of angular, merciless guitar blasts and singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis’ acerbic yet introspective lyrics. For what it's worth, fans of Pavement, Sleater-Kinney and Dinosaur Jr. are still busy wiping the drool off their mouths. Speedy Ortiz's shows got increasingly bigger, and the blogosphere was abuzz over the Massachusetts-based quartet, with Pitchfork bestowing their highly sought-after Best New Music nod to the album.
It didn’t always used to be this way, though. While en route to South By Southwest, Dupuis recounted a tale from a prior year’s show at the Austin festival: "We had this one showcase in a weird bar, which was a converted carousel, and it ended up being one of those places where the sound guy keeps telling you to turn down so impossibly low that there’s nowhere left for you to go. We’re not playing any weird carousels there this year ... so, hopefully, no one will tell us to turn down this time."
It’s safe to say Speedy Ortiz will be able to play as loud as they want for the foreseeable future. Set to embark on a West Coast tour with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, the bands are making a sold-out stop at the Casbah
on March 29. While driving through Texas, Dupuis talked with us about having her lyrics constantly misinterpreted, playing shows with her heroes and sexist sound guys.
Dustin Lothspeich: You’re going on a West Coast tour with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. Does it feel weird to be opening shows for an indie rock legend?
Sadie Dupuis: Oh, yeah, it’s totally surreal, but I think we’ve had a couple of surreal things like that this year that have made it less terrifying or less intimidating than it would’ve been. Like, we did a tour with the Breeders a few months ago. We’ve had a couple of "touring with our idols" moments that make it slightly less foreboding to step on a tour with people you really admire.
DL: Are you getting a bit more used to it?
SD: Well, I wouldn’t say that. We’re just really, really excited to be able to get to see them play every night and play with them -- and not feel terrified of f---ing up or being awful in front of them [laughs]. We’ve had a little practice playing with our heroes.
DL: Are you getting any pressure to make a follow-up album to Major Arcana right away?
SD: Luckily, we just put out this new EP [Real Hair]. I’m kind of astounded by how many people ask us, "When is the next album coming out?" It’s like, "Hey, we put out an album 10 months ago, and we put out an EP last month. What’s the hurry?" I mean, sure, people ask us that a lot, but we’re not going to have anything new for at least a few months because we’re touring through July. I don’t really know when there’s time in there to write something new. I’m kind of viewing it as: We didn’t quit our day jobs to be totally broke. We’re trying to work as hard as we can with touring, and whatever else.
DL: I read that you pursued a master’s degree in poetry before Speedy Ortiz took off, right?
SD: Yeah. I actually just defended my thesis last week.
DL: Oh, right on. Would you say working in the band has sidetracked that or added another element you can use in your studies?
SD: In some ways, yeah, I had to quit my teaching job to do this stuff. I had to take a lot of independent studies instead of attending seminars I would’ve really liked to take. In some ways, the timing was sort of bad for us to get busy. I almost wish it had happened, like, a year and a half later because I was getting a free education and a salary to take whatever classes I wanted. I guess it was a little disappointing, but I’m happy that I was able to finish a manuscript. In some ways, the fact that there’s this band that people have heard about, it might be easier to submit poems or send manuscripts around that would have otherwise been by just some recent MFA graduate. So, I guess that’s a cool bonus [laughs]. So, hey, if any publishers out there are looking for a person in a rock band ...
DL: Well, you know, a lot of bands take off and that becomes their whole lives.
SD: Yeah, it’s something that we’re all kind of piecing together right now. Our guitarist, Matt, also had to quit his two teaching jobs that he’d held long-term. He was very invested in the programs and the students. Our drummer, Mike, is getting his master's in library science, and he’s had to put that on hold for another semester, and it does sort of feel like we’re in this weird space where we kind of have to figure out how long can we put our lives on hold. Is this what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives? Is it realistic to even assume we could sustain this amount of touring? We’re in the very early stages of how to proceed as full-time musicians for the first time in our lives. It’s a little wild.
DL: Is it difficult writing lyrics now, knowing that a larger population of people will be dissecting them?
SD: Yeah, it’s definitely a little more discomforting now than it was before. I’m certainly letting people read into the songs more to find some truthfulness than is actually there. Songs that we had early on that were just kind of fictional scenarios -- people ask about them as if they’re totally real things. They’ll just assume it’s biographical. So I don’t know if I’ll necessarily change the way that I write songs because I think that would be kind of difficult, but it is weird to see how people interpret these things to be totally literal. Like, we have this song on the album ["Plough"] that multiple people have asked me, "Did someone really pick a virgin over you? Like, what the f---!" [the lyric reads, "Some virgin parchment you brought me to read/Why’d you pick a virgin over me?"] No, that is not real [laughs].
DL: I think a lot of listeners naturally assume lyrics are biographical or follow some linear arc in some way. But, more often than not, they’re way off.
SD: Yeah, when people ask what the songs are about – I’ve never been into ultraconfessional songwriting or literal songwriting. But it’s cool when people piece together their own kind of meaning from it, because if you were to ask me what it’s about, maybe a particular line has a certain kind of meaning but there’s not really an overarching confession to these songs. And it’s funny that people seem to think so. I think we’ve gotten a lot of assumptions that they’re hyperconfessional or ripped-from-journals -- but they're really not.
DL: I think it’s natural to assume that.
SD: I mean, I get it. I think it also has to do with the kinds of melodies we pursue or the kinds of sounds we’re recording. Maybe people think there’s more of a heart-on-my-sleeve thing than there really is.
DL: One topic I’d like to bring up with you is: Sexism in the music world. As a female lead singer/guitarist in a rock band, is that something you have to constantly deal with?
SD: I think we hope we just don’t encounter it. And whenever we do, it just seems so f---ing ridiculous that we can really only make fun of it. Like, last night, we were doing sound check before our show, and the sound guy kept referring to me as "girl guitar" [laughs]. Our other guitarist, Matt, was referred to as "stage left," but I was "girl guitar." We get stuff like that sometimes, but, generally, we’ve been pretty lucky that the bands that we tour with and the people we work with all treat us as equal humans. And whenever you have to deal with someone who doesn’t, then we just don’t work with them again. I think we’re lucky to have that luxury that we don’t have to put up with that kind of archaic attitude about female musicians, but I also think it’s pretty rapidly diminishing. We haven’t had to deal with too much bulls---. If anything, it’s tiny stuff like that. Or it could be that my bulls--- filter has an automatic amnesia function so that I forget about people being s---ty. It shouldn’t even be about being "lucky," either, but it seems like people as a whole have gotten over the supposed novelty of people who aren’t straight, white dudes in bands, and even though that’s still the group that’s most represented in rock music, I don’t think that it’s considered such a rarity anymore, because the numbers are starting to change.
DL: Well, that certainly seems to ...
SD: Oh, wait, hold on one second. [Dupuis tells her bandmates, "That’s that tubing thing I was talking about -- the Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels! Wanna go?] Anyway, sorry, I’m back. We just passed an ad for a tubing thing I really liked from when I lived in Texas. I was telling them about it a while ago, but I couldn’t remember the name. I was like, "It’s something German." Now we know the answer.
DL: Ah, that sounds like fun.
SD: We quit our jobs to go on water tubes.
Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.