Speedy Ortiz’s 2013 LP, Major Arcana, generated a lot of that buzz everyone is always talking about, earning them nods of recognition outside of Massachusetts basements and a spring tour with Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. And now, the Northampton foursome is trying to figure out how to make it all work with the spotlight glaring in their faces. Like how to make shows accessible for kids too young to go to bars, and how to keep ticket prices down for kids without a 401K.
And in the midst of all that band-coming-of-age stuff, Speedy is working on the Major Arcana follow-up, the Real Hair EP, out February 11 via Carpark. From the singles we’ve heard so far, it looks like we can expect that same uninhibited, narrative-driven basement noise, with an extra personal kick. I called up guitarist/vocalist Sadie Dupuis last week to chat about all this. Guitarist Matt Robidoux and drummer Mike Falcone jump in on the call later. It was kind of like a party.
Let’s start off talking about the Real Hair EP. I read that the theme was inspired by the idea of identity and how people perceive you. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sadie: I think that a lot of the songs on the last albums were really focused on relationships with other people and feelings with other people, and I think that I didn’t have to do that quite so much leading up to doing this new EP. Also with the amount of busy-ness that we’ve had in this band and also working as a teacher and trying to maintain regular friendships, I was trying to have a sense of who I am and not really having a private life anymore. You know, even with the minimal amount of stuff we’ve been doing, it seems like a lot to me. I think taking photographs and doing interviews, it responds in a way to a public world. It’s really hard to have a sense of who you are, you know? Just the few times I’m not teaching class or playing a show, I think the songs are a way of trying to figure that out for myself.
So it’s more about self-perception than other people’s perception of you? It’s more of an internal thing?
I think that it was the fact that sometimes those two things clash, and at those moments it’s hard to make sense of what the heck you’re doing.
Yeah, for sure. Have you ever seen that Chris Rock documentary Good Hair?
Oh, yeah I have seen that.
Because when I first heard that the EP was called Real Hair, that was the first thing I thought of.
It wasn’t a 100% reference, but it was definitely an allusion.
So do you guys do your own album art? Because so far all your albums and EPs have had pretty impressive artwork, I think.
Yeah, I do all the artwork.
So when you’re coming up with an idea, do you have a bunch of different drafts and then choose a final one or is it spontaneous?
I kind of have a big concept of what I’m trying to do and then whatever comes out, comes out. I’m not a super trained or serious artist. I kind of just have ideas and try to make them happen, so then if it doesn’t come out I don’t have to be like, “I planned that,” because that’s cool too.
So can you tell me briefly about the “Speedy Curse?”
Oh yeah, Mike is probably the first one to talk about this. He’s the person who claimed it. It was from a couple different tours or shows we’d play, the cops would always come. Then the venues would never have shows after that. Or we’d play with a band and they’d get into a bizarre fight and break up the next day. So it was only a couple things, but we started looking for these things. So now anytime that anything goes even half-wrong we say, “Blame the curse.”
So it’s an all-encompassing curse rather than a specific thing?
I think it started out being that it was usually because our shows would get shut down, I think now we’ve kind of exaggerated it…Matt and I were at the radio station the other day, and at the same time both of us were like, “Oh no, it’s the Speedy Curse!” So we’re being a little bit more liberal with what we’re blaming.
So speaking of venues being shut down, I know you guys play a lot of basement shows and all ages shows. Do you do that intentionally just so that all of your fans can get in?
Yeah, in the past we wouldn’t play at places that weren’t all ages, and we prefer to play all ages shows. Like we played with Los Campesinos! the past couple days and they also prefer to do all ages shows. Like our Boston show was 18+ because in our Boston theaters it’s hard to make all ages happen. We try to do it DIY at a house or something. ‘Cause we were kids going to shows too, and we remember not being able to get into things. We’re aware that there are people who are high school age or in college who want to come, so we try to be as acceptable of everyone as possible, and that includes trying to keep ticket prices as low as possible. We do have a say. I mean, when we’re the support act we can’t be like, “Hey, why is this show $20?” But we can say that when we’re playing at another space, like “Hey, $10 is really expensive, can we do $5?” I think it generally works out and people are more inclined to come see us.
So do you think the vibe of the show changes when there’s a 21+ crowd?
Matt:Hey, this is Matt.
Sadie: I was just saying I think all ages shows are more fun.
Matt: I remember that Baltimore show was really fun. I remember seeing these kids that were in a band together that were like 16 or 17, and I made sure to say thanks for coming and gave them a free mix CD to support their decision to come see us. Hopefully they’ll be music-obsessed people like us when they’re older.
Sadie: I think a part of the difference is that when you’re playing at a club, people are just as likely to be there because they’re going out for drinks. I think [it's about] playing at the kinds of places that understand that kids want to come see music, not just get fucked up. It’s a better experience when people want to really have fun at a show rather than stand in a corner drinking. I think you get a way more supportive and enthusiastic energy in a less traditional space.
So I was reading your Pitchfork Rising interview and I was surprised—and not saying it’s a bad thing—but you were just naming names of bands that you didn’t like, and I feel like a lot of bands shy away from that.
Matt: I think we were equally as surprised.
Sadie: Well, Jen’s our friend and I think we thought we were just talking to our friend. I didn’t really expect her to print all of that stuff.
Matt: It was an exceptionally awkward interview.
Sadie: Let’s not talk shit anymore.
Matt: Well I didn’t want to go there, so when some names were being named I was like “Oh no!”
Sadie: It’s weird because we were just talking to Jen and we didn’t think it would be such a public thing, but whatever. Well, the dude from Surfer Blood beat up his girlfriend, so I don’t care about talking shit about him. And Yuck, Mike loves Yuck and I think they’re new album’s really good.
Matt: We’re not bullies in real life.
Sadie: It was taken really out of context.
If The Talkhouse had you review an album, who would you like to review?
Sadie: I just emailed an editor when I was drunk at 3 a.m. one night, and I was like “Hey, there’s gonna be a Nikki Minaj album in the next year and a half!” There’s no release date and no title yet, but I was like, that please.
Matt: When’s that coming out?
Sadie:There’s no release date, that’s why it was ridiculous I emailed him asking. Maybe this year. I think I might’ve emailed them on New Year’s Eve at like 2 a.m.
So Matt, what about you, is there an album or artist that you’d like to review?
Matt: Uh, I’m not sure. What is Deerhoof doing? I think I’d like to review the Guerilla Toss album because their reviews are all over the place. They’re a local band here. Did you read that Pitchfork review? I think they called them dance-punk revivalists.
Sadie: That really is an editorial angle.
Mike: Hi, I’m on the phone now.
Hi Mike. Now that you’re here, I know that up until recently you had a radio show and I also heard a rumor that you played Lil B on every show.
Mike: That started over the summer. Somebody was coming onto my show and started a Lil B segment every week. It’s been pretty difficult to find songs that don’t have any cuss words because he has kind of a dirty mouth. But yeah, it’s pretty interesting, we play songs like Ellen Degeneres.
So Sadie, this is for you. I know that you write poetry also, so would you mind improvising a short poem?
Sadie: I might have to bow out of this. Mike is a good rapper.
Mike: I am?
You should spit a few bars.
Mike: I don’t know if my brain’s in the right area for that. There’s a rap song on one of our tour mixes that me and Matt did.
Sadie: They did a song like, “Blowing up my wall, bitch.”
Mike: I think you can stream it online, it’s a bonus track, it’s on the first tour mix we did. A hidden track.
Well I’m definitely going to listen. I have one more question. So you guys are from Massachusetts. And your names are Speedy Ortiz, which you know, would you ever consider changing your name to Big Papi Ortiz?
Mike: Definitely not.
Never? What if they ever asked you to sing the national anthem at Fenway Park, would you ever change your name?
Sadie: If we get a season pass then we would do it.
Ok, that’s a good deal. What if they gave you snacks?
Sadie: I mean, Cracker Jacks are good.
Mike: We could get ice cream and Dippin’ Dots.
Ok, I’m going to let you go now that we’re talking about Dippin’ Dots.