Speedy Ortiz is probably sick of being compared to Pavement, but it's hard to ignore the similarities. Especially when you take into account the section of powerhouse frontwoman, Sadie Dupuis’ résumé that reveals her as a former member of Babement, a Pavement cover band from way back when. The band’s ‘90s nostalgia is ever-present (and they’ve got the LiveJournal account to prove it), but somehow they form a genre all their own. I’d call it indie-pop-punk-rock, if that can be a thing. Dupuis’ bare bones vocals ring out loud and clear over melodic riffs, and I can’t help but fall in love with her hooky choruses about how stupid love can be and what it’s like to feel (or not feel) all of the feels. After receiving tons of well-deserved attention for debut album Major Arcana last year, they've returned with a distortion-drenched gem: their new EP, Real Hair. We caught up with her about a bunch of things: her crazy comic book characters, figuring out your sexuality, vegan restaurants, and quitting her day job for the band’s big-ass tours.
How's your European tour going? Have you had much time for sight-seeing and being touristy?
The tour's been amazing. People are truly kind over here, from fans to promoters to sound engineers. And we've been able to play with a number of bands we love, like Joanna Gruesome from Cardiff and Jealousy Mountain Duo from Cologne, both of whom played several dates with us along the tour, as well as some bands we weren't already familiar with, like Empty Pools from Bristol and Cowtown from Leeds. We usually like visiting museums when we tour in the States, especially free museums, but we've had a stupidly tight schedule which hasn't left a tremendous amount of time for sightseeing. We got about 30 minutes in the Tate Modern (mostly in the Surrealist wing), and I took a few hours at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, which was running a cool Marcel Wanders exhibition, in addition to their incredible permanent collection. Got some cool new digs at a student-run fashion co-operative in Amsterdam as well. Plus we got to ride a few ferries and eat a few curries.
I love Real Hair. What was the songwriting process for it like?
Most of those songs were written and demoed as solo guitar and voice versions in May and June, right before we released our debut album. It was the first stuff I'd written for Speedy Ortiz in about six months. We were incredibly busy trying to promote the album and doing shows non-stop, so we didn't have time to learn them as a band until September. When I first played them for my bandmates, I don't think they got what I was hearing; the songs sounded quiet and sentimental to them, but I could hear what they should sound like in a full band iteration, so I re-recorded demos with more fleshed out arrangements, which included, like, 5 overdriven guitar parts, bass, programmed drums, keyboards. We more or less translated those into the tracks on the EP, just a few weeks before we recorded it last November.
What's the story behind the song "Shine Theory"? It's my favorite one on the EP.
I spent a year on the market, so to speak, in between two very long-term serious relationships, and I briefly dated someone who I considered sort of a celebrity, objectively quite attractive and talented and, to me, out of my league. But since I'd never really casually dated I had no idea what feelings were normal, or how to be interested in someone, or how interested I should be, or even what it was like to be interested in someone.
Later I learned a little about asexuality and realized I was demi-sexual, and it made a lot more sense to me why I couldn't feel attracted to this technically attractive person, and why I felt so resentful when anyone found me attractive or tried to tell me that I was (which is because I don't find anyone attractive outside of a serious, stable romantic context, including myself!). So it was a combination of feeling confused about sexuality and also starting to see some success in our band, which meant being photographed somewhat regularly and having to come to terms with the weirdness of other people putting me in a "sexual" context. Also, I was reading Uzumaki, so I took some of the spiral imagery from that, specifically "The Scar" issue. The title comes from a New York Magazine article by Ann Friedman about befriending powerful women, in particular Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland's friendship.
Whose idea was it to start a Speedy Ortiz LiveJournal? You guys must be the only band in existence right now to do that and it's amazing.
I've kept a periodically active LJ since I was thirteen, so I thought it'd be funny to do the same for this band. But Mike's really been the one maintaining it, for almost two years. Although he's slacking of late. I gotta remind him to do more tour updates and puppy photos.
I was so bummed to miss you guys when you played Irving Plaza with Los Campesinos! Are you guys friends with them? Their new album is awesome.
It's okay, I was so bummed to miss new episodes of Law and Order and Nashville and American Horror Story when we played Irving Plaza with Los Campesinos!. Just kidding, those were cool shows. And their new album--it's a good album! I like "Cemetery Gaits." Apart from e-mail, we didn't know them personally before we did those shows, but they're really nice people and project incredible energy live.
Who's been your favorite band to tour with so far?
That's quite hard to choose, since we've toured with so many bands we love. Obviously it was a dream come true to tour with The Breeders, who were just about the kindest people we've met, and amazing to watch every night. We also toured with a band from Boston, Grass is Green, doing an all-ages tour in January. They've been one of my consistently favorite bands of this decade, and are hands down my favorite musicians to watch live, and the fact that they're some of my best friends made it really fun and easy to be on tour with them. Chelsea Light Moving and Roomrunner were also great, and we're looking forward to starting a tour with Pile in a few days before going out with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at the end of March. Kind of insane to tour with so many of my all-time favorite artists in such a short period. We feel lucky!
I read somewhere that you teach freshmen writing and composition at the University of Massachusetts. What works do you teach?
My reading list alternated most semesters, and it was mostly a writing-intensive course, but I taught essays by David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, Nicholas Carr, Vonnegut, in addition to an assortment of articles current to the semester culled from a variety of sources (Wired, Slate, Salon, Spin, The Walrus, student texts). I actually turned in my resignation after last semester, though; it's kind of difficult to lecture twice a week when we're touring so much.
I know that you love Strange Matter in my hometown of Richmond, VA. Are there any great vegan restaurants in Northampton?
Strange Matter is a tour favorite! I don't think there are any expressly vegan places in Northampton, but it's such a hippie college town that almost every place has options. The Haymarket is a local legend for cheap coffee, fresh juice, and vegetarian food, ranging from tacos to paella to tofu scramble. It basically served as my office when I had to grade papers over the past few years. We've also got a good brunch spot called The Green Bean which does the best breakfast kale and biscuit combo imaginable. There's a decent Thai place, a Tibetan spot with excellent sesha momo, and even a video arcade called The Quarters that does vegan banh mi hot dogs. Above all, there's India House, which makes my favorite spicy curry in the whole world (better than New York, better than London, haven't been to India yet so can't weigh in there) and I'm probably going to order their aloo baigan within 12 hours of getting home.
What album would be the soundtrack to the past year of your life?
Enon's High Society was my most listened to album of the past twelve months. They were one of those bands that I got into because someone else told me my songwriting style was similar (Liz Phair and Eric's Trip also fall under this category). Nick Sylvester from Mr. Dream recommended I check out Believo!, and I was already a big fan of Brainiac so I obliged him. I don't really hear the similarities but I wish they existed. Now I love all their albums. I think their arrangements, lyrics, and production are amazing, quirky and emphatic but also subtle, occasionally emotional. Aspirational stuff for me at this point. I'm sad I never saw them play. Of new stuff that came out in 2013, I clocked a lot of hours with Swearin', Buke and Gase, Two Inch Astronaut, Pity Sex, Krill, and Kal Marks.
I heard you used to work at WXCI in Connecticut. What kind of music did you play on your show?
Apart from guest appearances on Mike's shows, I never DJed at WXCI 'cuz I never attended WCSU, but I used to listen to Mike on the air when I was in high school, which is how I found out about Space Needle, Ween, Marmoset, and a bunch of other bands. I DJed at WBAR while I was a student at Barnard College and occasionally sat in on my friends' shows at WMBR when I was in undergrad at MIT. There was an Optimus Prime mask in the station at WBAR that I would wear sometimes while on the air. I remember trying to book White Rabbits for a spring concert and getting totally shot down. They booked Liturgy instead, so no harm, no foul. On air, I tried to sound really husky like Minnie Driver in Grosse Pointe Blank and got told I had a scary radio voice, which I thought was a cool thing.
I know you used to draw comics. Can you tell me about any characters you've created?
In middle school I penned a fairly long-running manga series--I think maybe 10 volumes, all around 100 pages--fairly Sailor Moon-inspired. I had pink hair at the time, but I drew myself with brown hair and blonde streaks in the front, which wasn't my hairstyle until this year (living out my childhood fantasies, woop woop). The other magical girls in the series were all of my friends at the time, and the paramours always resembled my crushes. It's kind of funny to read them now, because they're a decent chronicle of whatever middle school drama I was experiencing. If I fell out of favor with a friend, that friend's representative character would become brainwashed in the story, or become a villain or get written off somehow. And whenever I had a new crush (frequent, because, like, middle school), I would come up with some ridiculous excuse to replace the previous romantic interest, like my character discovering that her love interest was actually her long-lost brother and having to leave him for the flashy new rogue superhero who played drums. So fucked. Now I do some autobiographical comics when I'm journaling, especially on tour, but nothing too elaborate or serious.
What's your musical guilty pleasure right now? Listening to any good pop lately?
We didn't have the ability to play music in the van on this tour, so I'm a little behind the times pop-wise, and kinda just listened to Blonde Redhead for the entire trip. I think I'm the only person in my band who liked "V.S.O.P." by K. Michelle or Sevyn Streeter. I'm decently excited to get home and catch up with Hot 97.