INTERVIEW: Speedy Ortiz

They may have only released their debut LP Major Arcana back in 2013, but already SPEEDY ORTIZ are a band whose name has been cropping up in ‘Best of…’ lists on both sides of the pond. Originally a solo project set up by Sadie Dupuis in her down time while working as a music teacher at a summer camp, she eventually expanded the project into a full band with the addition of Matt Robidoux (guitar), Mike Falcone (Drums), and Darl Ferm (Bass).

Stalwarts of the Boston house show scene, Speedy Ortiz have emerged at the forefront of a wave of guitar-driven, lo-fi bands making an impact across America’s North-Eastern corner. In the run up to their first ever UK/European tour, Soundcheck sat down with Mass. Garage-pop quartet SPEEDY ORTIZ to talk about the scene back home, their thoughts on being abroad, and hummus.

SC          Is this your first time playing in the UK?
Matt      Today is the first literal day.
Sadie     Today will be the first time.

SC          So what are you hoping for?
Darl        Good Vibes.
Mike      Yeah, we’ll be nervous.
Sadie     This hummus has already exceeded my expectations.
Mike      And if we’re judging it based on the hummus, this is the best show.
Darl        And the food too.
Sadie     Also we found at… what is the place called? M&S? They had whisky and ginger ale mixed together in a can, which we’ve never seen ever.
Darl        Yeah, that was pretty incredible, but also pretty dangerous to see at noon today.
Sadie     We picked it up as if to buy it, but then we put it back. Because it was noon.
Darl        I was really impressed.
Sadie     It seems unsafe to sell that at a travel stop.
Mike      At a truck stop? Yeah, I would say so.

SC          What do you guys know about British culture?
Sadie     Darl and I did an airplane quiz. It was like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” on the back of the seat. The only answers I knew had to do with Super Furry Animals and Duffy.
Darl        They didn’t have anything about British TV, but I love Peep Show and The Office a lot, and also Coupling. I’ve seen every episode of Coupling.
Mike      I like Look Around You. That show was kick-ass.
Darl        I love [Garth Merenghi’s] Dark Place. No one knows what that is in America, but it’s one of the funniest shows ever. The whole show is kind of, “Why is this happening?”, but it’s pretty amazing.

SC          A lot of UK publications like the NME are really getting behind you. Is that something you’ve deliberately tried to do, in attracting fans outside of America, or has that just happened naturally?
Sadie     I think it was that Laura Snapes (NME Features Editor) worked for Pitchfork before, and she’d done a review of the 7-inch we put out last year, and became, I guess a fan of ours, and through that a fan of our whole local scene. So she’s really kind of rallied behind us, and a lot of our friends’ bands like Krill and some other Mass. bands.
Mike      Having Laura in our corner is a good thing.

SC          With you mentioning the scene back in America, how have you gone about picking the bands you’re playing with on this European Tour? Is that something you’ve had any control over?
Sadie     We did with Joanna Gruesome and Jealousy Mountain Duo. I heard Joanna Gruesome a while ago and sent them an email, like, “Hey, I really love your band. This record is crazy good”, and I guess, coincidentally, they had just heard us for the first time that day as well, and had been listening to us all day. So we became email pen pals, just about nothing. I recommended this band Pity Sex to them, but they already knew Pity Sex.

SC          And the band?
Sadie     Yeah. “You should try pity sex!” Yeah, they already knew them, and I guess we’re doing some US dates with them. And then, during CMJ we played together, and I think the day after I was like, “Hey, they should play some of these shows with us in the UK”, and they were able to do all of the UK ones. We’re really, really excited, because when we played with them in New York it was at a venue called 285 Kent, and there was smoking allowed inside. I’m horribly allergic to cigarette smoke, so I was basically outside puking, because I can’t deal with it. So I kept running in and out to try and hear Joanna Gruesome, and then going outside right as I was about to dry heave because of the cigarette smoke. So I’m excited to see them in a more controlled environment, that doesn’t involve gagging.
Matt      Yeah, you can hear and see it.
Darl        We’ll actually get to talk to them, rather than them just walking off stage with their instruments and being like, “Hey”. “Hey”. And then the same thing after we played.
Mike      We didn’t get to talk to them too much in person.
Darl        Yeah, it was too chaotic.

SC          Are there any countries you’re particularly excited to play in?
Sadie.    Copenhagen. I know it’s not a country, but we’re excited to play there.
Darl        Yeah, I was gonna say that too. Denmark.
Mike      I have no expectations.
Matt      I’m excited for Antwerp.
Darl        Antwerp, yeah. Pretty much everywhere. I don’t think there’s a place I’m not excited to play.
Sadie     I’ve been to some of the places we’re going, but really only, like, a third, so really everything will be pretty new.David is our tour manager, and we’ve never had a tour manager before, and he gave me this fancy tour schedule in an app, but it thinks our drive tomorrow is twenty-four hours, and it’s only one.
Daryl      Where’s Legoland? I went to Legoland when I was ten. I had a pretty miserable experience. Someone smashed me into a roundabout and then laughed at me. I had to walk out of the car and leave. I couldn’t figure out – I guess you have to push it backwards? No one was helping me out, and this kid was just driving around in circles laughing at me, saying “I smashed him into the roundabout”.

SC          Reading about your live performances, I get the impression that there are a lot of DIY shows, with a spur-of-the-moment feel to them?
Sadie     There’s a mix of things. There are really great clubs in Boston too. There’s a brand new one called the Sinclair that looks like an old train station from the 40s, and they have a really cool sound system. So on any given night there might be a show on there that’s a big touring band and then a local support, or a show at a pizza place which is all local bands. Basically just this really bro-ey pizza place and it’s all packed out with all these punk bands playing in it. And there could be a house show going on on the same night too, so there’s really a mix of things.
Matt      I feel like, maybe two or three years ago, all the spots were houses out of necessity. The cops came down on that, so then the DIY promoters have done shows at other places, so we did our release at a burger place in a really busy, city centre part of Boston.
Sadie     But I think, even a couple of years ago, there were clubs in Boston like Great Scott’s or O’Briens, the promoters of which have always been really supportive of local bands, and are aware of the house show scene, so they worked to pick up some of that slack once the cops cracked down.
Darl        They were all in very similar areas, so people could go to Great Scott or O’Briens and then go to the house show that was later. You could just walk right there. Basically the shows that would have been house shows all got pushed to the venues.
Sadie     I think it’s still an interesting scene. A lot of the restaurants or bars are picking up slack where they wouldn’t usually have shows, and taking pretty much no cut.
Darl        Yeah like Tasty Burger is now a venue, and I would never have expected that, for a burger place to become a venue.

SC          Do you think working outside of major cities affected the way you were writing songs? Boston and New York both have big music scenes, but you were fairly isolated from them.
Sadie.    I don’t know if it affected the songs themselves. I’d just moved from Brooklyn, where I was probably spending a lot more time out of the house, going to shows every night, than I do in Western Mass, where I stay at home most nights. I think it probably changed the volume of stuff I was writing, because there was a lot of inside time. I don’t think it changed the way that songs come out. If anything, I felt that I found more kinship with the scene in Boston, where I had a lot of friends even when I was living in New York. So that was a somewhat intentional move, to be closer to a scene that I identified better with.
Mike      I think we’d all agree with that. At the moment that seems to be where most of my favourite unsigned bands are located.
Darl        I grew up in Boston, but didn’t know anything about house shows, or how much existed while I was in high school, and then in joining this band I got to discover house shows, and I’m definitely much more influenced by that kind of music now.

SC          So this might be a contentious thing. I read a comment you’d made about the “Gwen Steffani-fication” of bands. I found that really interesting, as No Doubt was my way into music.
Mike     Yours too, right?
Sadie    No Doubt was, like, my jam. That was my first big show that I went to as a kid, on The Return of Saturn Tour. I saw Adrian naked and I was really upset. I must have been twelve and I saw full frontal. I was like “whoah, whoah”.
Mike    Yeah, that was a big album for me. I had a dream about Adrian once. Like ten years ago. We just talked about drums.
Sadie   That was some of the first stuff I learned on guitar. We do like No Doubt. We were referring specifically to the ‘Don’t Speak’ video, where they crop out everybody. And it was specifically because, earlier that  day or the day before we’d done a magazine thing, which was ostensibly for a women’s fashion magazine that does music editorials. We probably should have known what we were getting into, but we’d been led to believe it would be a photoshoot for all of us, with clothing provided for all of us, and then we got there and they were like, “Okay, we’ll do one group photo, and then lots of pictures of Sadie in different outfits.” We know what we’re getting into a little better now.
Matt      But we are also really gross. I feel like it was really hot out, and we hadn’t showered for a couple of days.
Sadie     We had to wait outside for over an hour.
Mike      The make-up girl was gentle. I liked it.
Matt      We were just like “We have to all be in these photos, or we’re not doing them at all.” Well, I did that.
Darl        So we kind of ruined their photo shoot.
Sadie     They were like “We’re not going to run this editorial unless we get some photos of Sadie alone”, and Matt said, “Well I won’t appear in it then”.
Matt      So we were all in the photos, like a real band should be.
Darl        And hopefully that person’s still working there.
Sadie     But that’s where that expression came from. We were just confused about why someone would want to do that. It seemed to speak lyrically to the ‘Don’t Speak’ video. I have no problem doing that stuff, but if they want to do that, then I should have just gone, and you guys shouldn’t have had to go standing out in the heat, and not had your own stuff to wear.

SC          What do you find your relationship with the press has been like since you started breaking internationally as well as locally? Has it been really positive?
Sadie     We’ve been really lucky in that people have been really supportive and sought us out for stuff. I don’t think there are too many things that we’re sad haven’t happened. We never really expected any kind of press coverage, so we’re just happy any time anything happens, whether that’s a really tiny college radio station or an NME feature, we’re flattered every time anything happens.

SC          So how would you sell your tour? You’ve got a lot of UK fans who haven’t had chance to see you yet, but they’ve heard a lot of the hype.
Sadie     How would we sell it? We’ll share our garlic hummus with you. Mostly Darl’s quarter.
Matt    Let’s be realistic though. What if fifty people took us up on that? There wouldn’t be enough hummus.
Darl       No, you’d just have to split it up fifty ways. It’s not going to be a lot, but we’ll make it. Joanna Gruesome already have to split it up five ways.
Sadie     So everyone can have one two-hundredth of the hummus? Okay. Fractions of hummus free with every ticket purchase.
Matt      We’ll sing our hearts out.
Sadie     Instead of having a fog machine we’ll have a hummus machine that spits out hummus into the audience.
Mike      I’ll try to think of a joke every night that’s worth the price of admission. I don’t know how we would sell it. I can’t promise fun, but you should come. We promise that we’ll try to have fun.

SC          I have to ask because of this hummus thing. Do you guys watch Portlandia at all? It seems a very Portlandia thing to meet a band who are spraying hummus over the crowd? Are there any similarities between that and the scene you come from?
Matt      There are some scenes like that in Northampton, but not really the music scene.
Sadie     Definitely not in Boston.
Mike      I noticed a couple of similarities between Portlandia and Northampton. We were talking about it the other day.
Sadie     Both cities are lesbian capitals in the country. Northampton is the capital, but I think Portland is number two in lesbians per square mile. I’m not even kidding. That’s a real thing. It’s one of the most queer-friendly cities in the country, which is really cool. We don’t have food trucks. Northampton is a city but it’s really too small to have a lot of the things Portlandia spears. There are a lot of college students who like things with birds on them. Owl jewelry is seemingly very popular.

SC          I do wonder whether, with music scenes in America, you get pocket that become quite insular, and it wraps up in itself to the point that it becomes a bit ridiculous?
Sadie     I think the Boston scene is pretty insular.  A lot of people start bands with one other, and everyone’s toured with everybody.
Mike      There might be some stuff that I’ve noticed that might match up with what you’re saying, but I don’t want to say where.
Darl        I’d say Boston’s pretty insular.
Sadie     I think that’s just a token of a healthy, tight-knit scene.
Darl        I think there are a lot of scenes in America that are kind of like that.
Matt      One thing I think happens in the Boston scene is that people say that they’re trying to go for a band’s vibe with a song. Pile thinks they rip off Fat History Month and vice versa. The bassist will just be like, “Oh, I’m just ripping this band off”, and the other band will say the same.
Sadie     Krill just told me they have a Speedy song they don’t want to release because they think it will be too much of a rip-off, and then Jonah played a second of it for me and I was like, “I don’t hear that at all, but that’s very flattering”. I just heard, like, a second of it.
Darl        Jonah uses harmonics in that song on the bass and was like, “Yeah, I just took that from Pioneer Spine”, so that was kind of cool.

SC          So do you think the way that you’re writing is going to change now that you’re spreading your wings away from that scene, getting out and playing international shows?
Sadie     Certainly anything you expose yourself to musically can have an impact, but I think we’re still going to be ourselves, so if we change anything it will be altogether.
Darl        All those bands are spreading out a bit too.
Mike      We’ll know when it happens. Whenever the inspiration hits.

To read our review of Speedy Ortiz’s show at the Hare & Hounds, click here.

Adrienne Law

Soundcheck's Content Editor. Music Lover, box set addict and compulsive reader.