Despite not having access to texts on career counseling, I’ll go out on a limb and say rock star isn’t a commonly suggested career path for grads with MFA degrees in poetry. But Sadie Dupuis, who sports such a diploma from UMass, isn’t one to take the trodden path. As the singing and songwriting force behind Speedy Ortiz (which originally started as a solo project), she’s turned her linguistic and digital dexterity into essential modern indie rock. One moment her words spiral in densely verbose, abstract prose and the next she curtly cuts to the point, as when delivering the first line of the chorus on the defiant feminist anthem "Raising the Skate": "I’m not bossy, I’m the boss."
But it’s the sounds surrounding Dupuis's words that really set Speedy Ortiz apart from most bands that operate on such an elite lyrical level. Taking noisy touchstones from decades of underground indie rock, Speedy Ortiz creates a chaotic cacophony of plucked notes and quick beats that retains just enough of a pop undercurrent to repeatedly hook the ear. With a Fender slung low, Dupuis absolutely shreds (and to avoid getting totally Gwen Stefani in the "Don't Speak" video, without guitarist Devin McKnight, bassist Darl Ferm, and especially drummer Mike Falcone, Speedy Ortiz wouldn't be able to achieve its pure noise bliss).
Speedy Ortiz broke out (in indie rock terms) with 2013’s Major Arcana, which found its way onto many major publications’ year-end lists. In April, Speedy Ortiz put out its third LP, Foil Deer, which added layers of detail and a tad more pop polish to the group’s sound and received near universal acclaim. And if there's one thing the album makes abundantly clear, Dupuis isn’t going to shy away from speaking her mind anytime soon.
Before Speedy Ortiz heads to Barboza for a concert on Wednesday, May 27, we caught up with Dupuis to talk about the new record, women in rock, and some of her favorite Seattle bands.
One of the things I got a kick out of when first reading about Foil Deer was people bringing up the new electronic sounds a lot. But when I actually listened to the album, it’s not prominent at all; the synthy keyboard parts are used sparingly on a couple tracks. Is it weird to see people latch onto something like that?
I mean I guess it doesn’t bother me so much that that’s what people are latching onto, because at least there are slightly fewer ’90s guitar rock comparisons. [Laughs]
Oh, you’re sick of hearing "Oh, they kind of sound like Pavement" a million times? Over, and over, and over…
Yeah, exactly. But the keyboard part you’re talking about or little sound effects stuff, it’s stuff that we would’ve put on the last record if we spent more time on it or had been able to afford more than the few days that we spent recording it. So it’s not so much this is a new direction, it’s like we were able to get everything done that we wanted to this time around. It’s a little bit more representative of what the songs should have sounded like all along. I don’t feel like we branched out. I feel like we got it right.
While it’s not anything drastic, what inspired the sonic shift between Major Arcana and Foil Deer?
I think most of the reference points on the record are in terms of the production. There were a few bands that we went into the session knowing that we wanted to have at least some sonic comparability. One of the biggest ones for me was Enon; we’re all pretty big fans of all of John Schmersal’s bands like Brainiac and Vertical Scratchers. Nicolas [Veenhes], who recorded Foil Deer, had also done one of the Enon records that we were pretty big fans of. There were a couple of other bands along those lines, ones with dissonant guitar stuff, but it’s also really poppy. Early Blonde Redhead records were a reference point for me, and the Cardigans was another one that we all sort of discussed.
One of my favorite Foil Deer tracks is “Swell Content,” which might be the shortest Speedy Ortiz song, coming in under two minutes. Is there a process for you when honing in on a song’s length or brevity?
I don’t really like repeating myself too much, and I kind of admire songs where the most memorable part would only happen once. Guided by Voices was the reference point on “Swell Content,” so it makes sense that it’s short.
I’ve come around on shorter songs of late, probably just because I listen to Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt so much.
One of my favorite records from last year was this band from New York called Bluffing, and all their songs are under two minutes. They're supercatchy, and typically their records are like 15 minutes for a full-length. I just want to listen to it over and over again, and you can't do that with super long, drawn out songs. I kind of like getting to the point.
Was there anything you were reading when making Foil Deer that you feel may have seeped into the record either in terms of writing style or themes?
Sometimes I get into reading a lot of pop science stuff. And I was reading a couple different books both relating to the history of feminism, but also neurological feminism. It talked about perceived brain differences between male and female brains and how a lot of those are basically just imposed and/or formed based on rearing. Gender roles influence rearing, which can basically result in your brain forming totally differently. So I think a lot of the record sort of took on those kinds of issues, and specifically—as someone who, in the past, has not even wanted to be identified with regard to gender polarity—I think there was a lot of the record that was about that kind of nuance in terms of social conditioning with regard to gender. So that was definitely an influence. I read the book Cunt, which is a pretty cool sort of etymological look at that word and basically how women treat themselves and are treated by like the modern medical industry. I read Bad Feminist too. I was reading a lot of stuff like that.
How do you kind of strike the balance between wanting to sort of remove yourself from those gendered conversations while still championing music made by women? Like, it'd be great if women in the music didn’t always have to be discussed in terms of being “female-fronted bands” and it could just be “bands.”
Yeah, but maybe we need to see more an influx of female-identified performers, maybe as a majority, so it can be more normalized and we won't have to use the gender as an adjective in describing any kind of musician who isn't just a man. Let's have like a million more listeners [laughs] so we can change the ratios a little bit; so we can bring it back down to 50-50.
It's just so annoying to me, maybe just because I don't listen to that much dude rock. And I think Seattle is generally a bit better about it than a lot of other places, with the bands on Hardly Art and things like that.
I love Hardly Art and a lot of Seattle acts. Tacocat is one of my favorite bands of the past few years. I love Chastity Belt. Didn’t Tacocat do that piece that was like, “The Hottest Dudes in Rock”?
Yeah, that was Emily and Bree of Tacocat over at The Stranger.
Cool. But I think like what you were just saying, it's not just women who want to see more women in music; I think it's every kind of person. So it's heartening to hear you say what you just said. It's true of many people who are engaging with indie rock right now, there's sort of a clamoring for diversity than there has been in the past. And that's exciting. I just wish concert promoters would follow suit. [Laughs]
May 27 at 8, Barboza, $13