Hometown: Northampton, Mass. ?
Members:Matt Robidoux, Mike Falcone, Sadie Dupuis, Darl Ferm?
Current Release: Major Arcana
For Fans of: The Pixies, Pavement, Liz Phair
“There’s just a lot of overall Gwen Stefanization,” says Speedy Ortiz guitar dynamo Matt Robidoux of why the Massachusetts-Manhattan cross-section four piece prefers to do interviews as a group, which is happening this very instant inside the band’s tour van that’s currently bulky with vinyl they raided from their label’s warehouse. From this media man’s perspective, the uneven attention is somewhat understandable considering frontwoman Sadie Dupuis’ lyrics, which neatly gel into candy-covered sound bites: “I got too many boyfriends to see you tonight,” “Why’d you pick a virgin over me?” “I’m getting my dick sucked on the regular.” That’s just the hot-button sexual stuff, but elsewhere Dupuis’ noteworthy ability to curl her voice around a line like “Laugh out of habit at the lump schematics” as a repeated chorus would stand out in any alt-rock year.
But having gone on later that night to see Robidoux perform such stunts as diving off a cinderblock on the ground-level “stage” at Philadelphia’s Golden Tea House, I can admit he’s right: this is a band with a capital B, a clatter of guitars and drums and the paranoia of releasing an uncharacteristically straight ballad called “No Below” that these reluctant rockers are somewhat afraid everyone is going to glom onto. They’d prefer winning people’s attention with that “boyfriends” song, their first single, titled “Taylor Swift” just because.
The first full-length Speedy Ortiz album, Major Arcana, was released to big plaudits this year, including a Pitchfork Best New Music designation, among lots of talk that they’re going to bring back such ‘90s major arcana as Pavement and Matador-era Liz Phair. Dupuis bristles at the comparisons between her voice and Phair’s, though after that Philly show she worries that she came off negatively toward Phair and insists she loves her anyway, all the way to 2003’s slick and under-appreciated Rock Me.
But they definitely don’t want to be seen as a woman-with-backup—a problem that’s led to Hayley Williams sporting “Paramore Es Una Banda” t-shirts—or a ‘90s nostalgia act. Pressed to reveal an influence that doesn’t bug them, someone eventually mumbles something about Black Sabbath.
“There’s so many amazing bands now that have members of both genders, it seems like it’s becoming less of a media selling point that there are women in bands,” says Dupuis, with some bittersweet confusion. “But at the same time, there are more women playing in bands.”
With that acknowledgment comes a more limited scope of comparable musicians—when I mention early That Dog to Dupuis, with Petra Haden’s screeching violin, she made a face. Not a fan.
“The reason why [the ‘90s comparisons] bothered me is because it seemed like it would be fashionable to be nostalgic about it,” drummer Mike Falcone says.
“We don’t have discussions like that, ever,” bassist Darl Ferm says.
It’s the age-old indie-rock tug-of-war, over whether deliberation is better or worse for a band, if it kills the natural skill or thinks out more intricate compositions. Their basement-rock recording approach to tunes that trickily shift meter and time signature, with all sorts of muddy fretwork, doesn’t sound like anything else—in the last 20 years anyway.
Nineties or not, it’s bands like Polvo and Helium who’ve covered this territory before, building messiness onto careful constructions. If Dupuis’ voice gets compared to Phair’s, I hope it’s just for the odd chords they both navigate vocally with such precision and ease.
But it’s not the ‘90s that make people want to hold up Speedy Ortiz as hope to go “back” to something, it’s their biting wit and specificity in a soupy indie-rock climate and oversharing pop landscape. The dark humor of a line like “why’d you pick a virgin over me” led me to believe that Dupuis was writing from the innocence of her younger past (which she admits to, though it was unplanned), and personally evoked when Brittany Murphy’s character in that ‘90s Rosetta Stone Clueless suddenly realizes she’s the protégé of someone less experienced, when she blurts out to Alicia Silverstone that she’s a “virgin who can’t drive.” A supporting character suddenly realizing she’s the protagonist after all. It would fit right in with the shy-combative relationships in Speedy Ortiz songs.
“Now I want to change my whole explanation,” Dupuis says.